Psychologists will spend careers trying to sort out what drove Adam Lanza to gun down his mother, a half-dozen educators and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month. We may never understand, but I’m at least trying to identify a response to President Barack Obama’s call for “meaningful action” in the wake of the shooting.
Unfortunately, if our goal is to prevent future Newtowns, there’s little we can do to stop homicidal madmen. If instead our goal is to take “meaningful action” that will make positive social change, and may also have some ancillary benefit regarding mass shootings, then it’s time to get to work.
I find myself in surprising agreement with National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre and his call for more security in schools. LaPierre was tone deaf in the extreme when he spoke a week after the shootings, and that’s a shame. What we really needed LaPierre to do was reach out to the non-gun owning public who have legitimate concerns about gun violence in the United States. Instead, he offered a reiteration of the old NRA mantra: “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”
Still, when he suggested that we place an “armed guard” in every school in the country he was on to something. Of course he got the terminology wrong, but “resource officers” in every school is a fine idea.
I spent three years working at Glacier High School where I watched a number of Kalispell Police Department officers serve in the school. They weren’t armed guards who stood at the door each morning flaunting their firearms to scare unruly teens straight.
They were leaders, mentors, coaches and role models for the students whenever they could be, and authority figures when necessary. Our high schools are better learning institutions due to the presence of these trained officers.
Still, armed officers on campus will not prevent future mass shootings. The perpetrators of these horrible crimes are essentially on suicide missions, planning to die, and armed security at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University didn’t prevent those massacres. But it’s also nonsensical to suggest that armed officers might not prevent or minimize casualties under the right circumstances.
What else can we do? It’s well past time that we create a modern, computerized registration system for all guns and gun owners. If we can demand citizens register and present ID to exercise their right to vote, then there is no reason we can’t also require the same when citizens exercise their right to own guns. We might also require some form of training in responsible gun handling and safety as a requirement for gun ownership. The language of the Second Amendment links the right of gun ownership to the role of well regulated militia and its importance in providing security for the free state. I suspect a training requirement that echoes that language could pass constitutional muster. If Lanza’s mother Nancy had been instructed to make sure her arsenal was secured in a gun safe, maybe Newtown doesn’t happen.
We should also consider limiting access to, or banning, some of the gun accessories that facilitate the murder of large numbers of humans in a short period of time. High-capacity magazines are one obvious target. It might also make sense to design guns that don’t allow the quick exchange of magazines when they are intended for sale to the general public.
But gun bans are unlikely to be of much help unless they are accompanied by programs to confiscate the millions of semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines already in circulation. Guns proliferate our nation, but that’s a function of means intersecting with rights. Unless you’re prepared to try repealing the Second Amendment, the focus should be on solutions that fit our constitutional reality.
LaPierre — and my other favorite whipping boy Ted Nugent — have a critical role to play in our evolving debate about gun ownership. Too often they are prone to divisive and inflammatory language that appeals to gun owners, but offends many more citizens who might otherwise be supportive of Second Amendment rights, as well as those of hunters. What our community needs now is appropriate reflection, not just on our “rights,” but also our “responsibilities” as gun owners.
That may not prevent future Newtowns, but it is the right thing to do.
Rob Breeding writes, teaches and watches his kids play soccer
when he’s not fishing or hunting.