Sandy Hook Elementary and a Perspective on Guns
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, with 26 dead, is horrific. It is especially horrible because of the 20 small children who were intentionally, brutally, targeted in a place that we would like to think of as a child’s sanctuary.
There are those who attribute such mass murders to too many guns in this country, or lax gun laws. There are those who attribute such crimes to a general, increasing moral decay. Neither perception is correct.
Horrible though it is, the Sandy Hook attack is not the worst elementary school mass murder that this country has witnessed. No, that would date back to the Bath School Disaster of 1927: Michigan farmer and school board member Andrew Kehoe murdered his wife, firebombed his own farm, then blew up the elementary school, killing 38 schoolchildren, six adults and himself, and wounding 58 others. Why? Well, his farm was in foreclosure and he was angry about property taxes funding the school, but does that really explain it?
No. What explains it, I suspect, is that Andrew Kehoe and other brazen, showy mass murderers, are highly disgruntled people who are out to do a lot of harm to others before ending it all for themselves in a very public suicide. His motivation was just as angry, selfish and hateful as the various motives of today’s mass murderers. And while Mr. Kehoe had a rifle on the front seat of his car bomb on that May day in 1927, he didn’t even use it. Our worst murderers are not shooters; they are bombers. The Virginia Tech shooter killed 32; the Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 (including 19 preschool children) and wounded 780.
But when firearms are used in an atrocity, guns are the immediate focus, the quick fix. Sadly, with enough guns to arm nearly every man, woman and child in the country, that genie is long gone from the bottle. We won’t be getting rid of the guns anytime soon. As for gun control, clarion calls to tighten down the laws may make us feel like we are doing something, but it will not help, and in fact, more gun control might only make things worse.
Adam Winkler, in his Wall Street Journal article, points out that the history of gun control and mass shootings seems to show that as more barriers to gun ownership are put in place following highly emotional and publicized crimes, mass shootings become more common afterward. We have made it more difficult for underage, criminal, or mentally ill people to obtain guns legally. We haven’t had much success in keeping them from obtaining weapons illegally. The underage shooters at Columbine got an 18-year-old friend to provide them with weapons. The shooter at the shopping mall in Oregon stole his friend’s weapon. The shooter at Sandy Hook stole his mother’s weapons.
Russ Vaughn, writing for The American Thinker, also makes some valid points that mass shootings generally take place in defenseless gun-free zones, where the criminals know they face little risk of intervention until the police show up. Recent headlines show us that the Sandy Hook incident is sandwiched between shootings at an Oregon shopping mall on 11 December and an Alabama hospital on 15 December. Easy pickings. We don’t see mass murderers attacking places like firing ranges or gun shows, where there are a lot of armed people. A shooting spree would be very, very short and certainly not one-sided.
Some observers took Vaughn’s observations to mean that we should arm the teachers. No. That is not their job, and they won’t be willing, prepared, or good at it. But how about an armed security guard, instead of an unarmed one? Just two days before the Connecticut incident, school security guards in Washington State made the argument that they should keep their guns on-campus: “The fastest response is the quickest way to quell violence.” But the Sandy Hook security guard was unarmed, without a prayer of quelling the violence.
Earlier this month in the Atlantic online, Jeffrey Goldberg pondered whether, with some 300 million guns in circulation in the US, “Mightn’t allowing more law-abiding private citizens to carry concealed weapons—when combined with other forms of stringent gun regulation—actually reduce gun violence?” For his article, Goldberg interviewed several victims of high-profile shooting rampages. Understandably, they have become strong advocates for gun control, and when Goldberg presses them on the question of whether more law-abiding citizens should be armed, the reaction is reflexively negative. “That kind of speculation doesn’t solve anything,” said one. ”It just makes sense that if people are walking around armed, you’re going to have a high rate of people shooting each other.” Goldberg, arguing the other side, notes that there have been a number of cases in which armed citizens have stopped a violent attack.
Both thought processes can sound logical, but they are riddled with emotion or anecdotal evidence. For some quantifiable facts, we can turn to a study by the Cato Institute, which concluded that:
“Outside of criminology circles, relatively few people can reasonably estimate how often people use guns to fend off criminal attacks. If policymakers are truly interested in harm reduction, they should pause to consider how many crimes — murders, rapes, assaults, robberies — are thwarted each year by ordinary persons with guns. The estimates of defensive gun use range between the tens of thousands to as high as two million each year….
Federal and state lawmakers often oppose repealing or amending laws governing the ownership or carrying of guns. That opposition is typically based on assumptions that the average citizen is incapable of successfully employing a gun in self-defense or that possession of a gun in public will tempt people to violence in “road rage” or other contentious situations. Those assumptions are false. The vast majority of gun owners are ethical and competent. That means tens of thousands of crimes are prevented each year by ordinary citizens with guns.”
That’s pretty significant. I’m not advocating arming every citizen, nor lax gun laws, nor vigilantism, but the Cato study – and the self-defense concerns of law-abiding citizens – deserves as much consideration as the calls to ban guns.