Another semester, another school shooting. In our America, the only thing more likely than a deranged individual dealing with his grievances at the point of a gun is a freshet of prose afterwards demanding that something be done about gun violence, unless it means limiting the right to carry a gun.
Nancy Lanza had the right to bear arms. The 52-year-old New Hampshire native bore at least five of them into her home on Yogananda Street in Newtown, Connecticut. According to reportage in The New York Times, she owned Sig Sauer and Glock pistols, a couple of hunting rifles, and a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-auto rifle with a 30-round magazine. On Friday morning, her son entered her bedroom and put four slugs from one of Nancy’s guns into her skull. Then he took three of Nancy’s guns to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the 20 year-old shot to death twenty first-grade children, six women and finally himself.
Though this bloodbath has displaced almost all other news in current consciousness, its perpetrator will be as unremarked by history as Luke Woodham. Fifteen years ago in Pearl, Mississippi, that 16-year-old killed his mother at home, then took a rifle into the local high school, where he killed two classmates and wounded seven more. He’s currently serving three life terms in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.
This shooter will be as little known as Seung-Hui Cho or Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold, all of whom committed mass school murders before killing themselves. Remember Peter Odighizuwa or Frederick Martin Davidson or James Easton Kelly? School shooters all, in 2002, 1996, and 2000 respectively.
It is right to forget such killers and remember instead their homicidal acts—61 mass shootings in America in the last 30 years. The injustice is that so little has been done to prevent the recurrence of these events.
Even as autopsies continued in Connecticut, the daily roll call of gun violence covered the nation. There was a murder-suicide at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas and a double murder in Madison County, North Carolina, where that accused gunman also took out the family pet. In Oregon, two drunk guys attempting to disassemble a loaded .45 wound up with gunshot wounds for their trouble. Here in our city, a man took a pistol into St. Vincent’s Hospital and wounded three people before police gunfire ended him.
It never stops. People shoot and kill each other everywhere every day, to the point at which we become inured to the idea that this is just the way things have to be.
The National Rifle Association might tell you it’s because the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. (That’s just a guess, because at our deadline, the NRA website still carried no reports of the Connecticut killings in its newsfeed.) Its usual defense varies little from that voiced by Wayne LaPierre, executive veep of the NRA, at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference. “Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules,” he said. “That’s why we own guns. We’re not giving them up. The Constitution says it, we believe it, and that settles it.”
Interestingly, many subjects of the Bill of Rights—freedom of speech, freedom of the press, due process, the right to petition—deemed absolute initially have been modified repeatedly by activist Congresses, presidents or magistrates. Only the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, has not been markedly infringed, thanks in part to the lobbying efforts of the NRA, which in the last election alone spent more than $17 million on candidates who “vote right.” (Though, according to the website Media Matters, the pistol pushers did not get many of those elected, having “failed to elect their preferred candidates in six of their seven top targets for the U.S. Senate” and having two-thirds of the House incumbents they endorsed lose out.)
A key phrase in that Second Amendment is “a well-regulated militia.” Suffice to say that the army of gun owners in America today is not particularly well-regulated. As many have noted, it is easier to buy a gun than to cast a vote, and if one finds retail purchase too cumbersome, there’s always a gun show sale somewhere nearby.
America has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with 300 million firearms owned by 309 million people, and, according to the Center for Disease Control, from 2005-2010, a yearly average of 31,000 citizens in our country were firearms fatalities.
You can do the percentage. Maybe not everyone in America needs to have a gun.
Upon a national consensus that cigarette smoking constituted a public health risk, a massive effort in the public and private sectors has attempted to reduce that risk by making cigarettes more difficult to market, more expensive to buy and drastically restricting where they can be consumed. It hasn’t been easy, but tobacco use is trending downward nationwide. Lives are being saved.
Perhaps it is time to change the status of gun violence from constitutionally protected privilege to public health risk. Time at last to regulate that militia.
It’s a nice goal. Realistically, what’s to be done? Don’t ask the Gun Owners of America. Larry Pratt, the group’s executive director, said Friday that ”Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands,” apparently because stringent gun laws kept any adults at Sandy Hook from packing heat.
Don’t ask the president. On Friday afternoon, Mr. Obama said that the day will come to have a debate on gun control, “but today’s not that day.”
I guess we can’t even ask God. According to Mike Huckabee on the Fox News Channel, it’s no surprise there’s carnage in the classrooms because “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”
No, the only person who can make a real difference is you. So ask yourself, and right now’s as good a time as any: what’s to be done?