A Nation of Guns, Part I

By Beacon Staff

I was just about to start class when I learned of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. I quickly scanned a headline on my classroom computer, but I was in a hurry to begin my lecture. It was the last day of the semester and we had work to do.

As I clicked past the headline I blurted out, “Oh no, there was another school shooting.” Here in Wyoming that took on a particular meaning. I teach at Northwest College in Powell. Our campus was rocked by the news, just two weeks before, that a professor at another state community college in Casper had been killed by his son, who had burst into his classroom and shot his father in the head with a compound bow and arrow.

The professor, James Krumm, was mortally wounded, yet still struggled with his son long enough for his students to escape. The son ultimately stabbed his father, and then took his own life with the knife. The son also murdered the professor’s girlfriend, Heidi Arnold, killing her with a knife before he went to the college.

You may not have heard of what happened in Casper. It takes a while for the news to creep out of Wyoming. But you’ve surely heard about Newtown.

I think President Barack Obama has been spot on in the way he has conducted himself in response to Newtown. When he read the names of the 20 children senselessly gunned down at a memorial service a few days after the tragedy, I teared up. The president has handled himself more as dad-in-chief than as a political leader. But there have been moments when he hasn’t shied away from calling for action — yes, he politicked a bit. I’m OK with that. Not doing so does a disservice to the memory of those who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We can’t let them die in vain by failing to use the opportunity for change created in the aftermath of this tragedy.

But it is important that we use this opportunity to take “meaningful action” as the president described it the day of the shooting. So far the focus largely has been on calls for more gun control, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s unlikely to prevent future mass shootings.

It’s time we develop a sound, modern system for conducting background checks on all gun purchases, not just the 60 percent or so conducted at brick-and-mortar gun shops. And I will be shocked if high-capacity magazines withstand legislative efforts to ban them. We are also going to have to take a good hard look at semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15, though any ban written broadly enough to be effective will also ban a lot of semi-automatic rifles used for things like hunting deer. That won’t fly, nor should it. Remember, assault weapons have been outlawed before. But it turns out the law was easily circumvented by gun manufacturers. I have doubts new legislation will fix that.

Then there is the small matter that there are already millions of these guns and high-capacity clips in the hands of citizens. Unless you plan to confiscate them as well, criminals and the mentally ill will still find ways to get their hands on them. I’m not sure I support a new ban on assault weapons, but I am sure I fear a government forcibly disarming its citizens more than I do the crazed acts of a lone madman.

I do know what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t implement compulsory firearms training for teachers, then hand them a concealed weapon’s permit and a Glock and ask them to serve as the nation’s schoolyard police force. Teachers are already creating engaging lesson plans and stepping in the path of bullets intended for our children. Isn’t that enough?

Banning high-capacity magazines might not prevent another Newtown, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it anyway. Only three died in the tragedy in Casper, probably because, in whatever twisted logic the professor’s son used to justify killing, mass murder never entered the equation. But the question begs asking: If he’d entered that classroom with an AR-15 and a brace of 30-round magazines, would Fromm’s students have made it out alive?

I think we know the answer. The harder question is, “What ‘meaningful action’ can we take to stop it from happening again?”

I don’t want “nothing” to be our answer.

Next week: Hunters need to be clear where they stand.