Just after 9:30 a.m. on what is now one of the blackest Fridays in our nation’s history I was behind my desk. My American Studies II students were taking a test, and I thought I’d take a brief moment to see what was on the news. To my horror I discovered that there had been yet another school shooting. This time the victims happened to be around my daughter’s age, and that sickening feeling you get when something terrible has happened to children set itself deeply inside my stomach. For a moment the thought of sharing this news with my students passed through my mind, but something stopped me. It wasn’t the test. I could tell them when they were done. I think now, though I’m not sure, that I instinctually understood news like this should not be trivially passed along with no time to digest the magnitude of 20 children being slain in cold blood.
The tragedy had me brooding all day. When the day finally ended I left to pick up my children. In the van and on my way I turned the radio to MPBN for news, on which there was on-going coverage of the shooting. Just as I pulled into the drive-way of my daycare provider an official statement was being given by the Connecticut state police. The statement was brief and to the point: 18 children had been shot to death at the school, two more were pronounced dead at the hospital. Several adults had been killed, both teachers and administrators. I waited a minute more for additional details but I couldn’t stand it any longer and started to cry. In complete disgust I turned off the radio and quickly composed myself. My daughter, Maddy, 4, and my sons Benjamin, 3, and Samuel, 1, were just inside and needed their daddy. I needed them. I needed to hug them. Extra hugs and kisses and love-you’s were given throughout the night.
Now that some time has passed, not much to be sure, I feel like some things need to be said. I know what my immediate thoughts were: ones of horror and disgust and anger. But other thoughts, ideas and sentiments, that have been growing in the back of my mind suddenly took shape and formed definite edges after hearing about Newtown. In many ways I think we knew what kind of discussion needed to take place and I was glad to hear a small chorus of people saying that now, more than ever, we need to talk about guns.
Ironically there had been an article written just weeks before the Newtown atrocity on guns and gun control in the Atlantic Monthly. The title, The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control), seemed to aim for the middle road in America’s debate about gun control. It was pragmatic to say the least. The author, Jeffrey Goldberg, argues that at minimum we should enact tougher laws which make access to guns more difficult. However, Goldberg also advocates for a more armed citizenry, and goes on to ask, “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?” This idea, that more people carrying guns would actually reduce the amount of gun related crime, is almost as old as guns themselves. It’s also an idea that we need to abandon.
Despite statistics from gun advocates, gun related crime, especially homicides, goes down when there are more restrictive laws. For example, if you look at the statistical data from this interactive map put up by the Guardian (a U.K. publication) it becomes clear that the countries with more restrictive laws save more lives. Canada, our more peaceable neighbor to the North, only witnessed 173 gun related homicides last year (0.51 per 100,000 people). When compared to the United States, which witnessed 9,146 gun related homicides in 2011 (2.97 per 100,000 people) the difference not only becomes clear, it also becomes grounds from which conscionable legislators should act. Another article by New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof nails this point home with poignancy. He writes, “…the solution isn’t just to mourn the victims — it’s to change our policies. Let’s see leadership on this issue, not just moving speeches.”
Yet when conservative gun advocates are met with the facts the reaction seems to be more entrenchment, sometimes behind data that can’t be substantiated. For example, some statistics are derived from interviews with criminals that have a history of violence. While I’m sure that there is a kernel of truth to what these inmates might say regarding deterrence, we have to keep in mind that these statements are made in a post-incarceration mind-set. There is simply no way to know whether a determined criminal may still commit his crime even if he knows that the potential victim is carrying a Glock. But that’s just the point – criminals should know that potential victims could be packing “heat” and are still committing crimes at one of the most embarrassing rates in the industrialized world. Americans have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world (89 for every 100 people) and our love of guns is no secret. So what does this mean? It means that gun ownership (including conceal and carry) is not a deterrence and adds to the possibility of more innocent people being injured or killed.
Still, some conservatives, including my friend, Aron Gahagan, insist that arming more citizens is the answer. When I made a few comments on Twitter regarding gun control a debate erupted between Aron and I over how a gun ban has affected crime (especially homicides) in Great Britain. Aron cited this article to prove that things have gotten worse in Britain (England/Wales) since the gun ban of 1997. I think what should stand out is the ideological nature of the article, and not any proposed statistics, which when examined show that England is a far safer place than the United States. With subtitles like, “Creating A Monopoly Of Force” the aim of the article is clear to any who read it. The author’s primary concern is not the safety of the citizenry as much as it is a defense of an “Anlgo-American” tradition. If one looks at these statistics it is obvious that the average number of gun related homicides per year went down after the ban. The United Kingdom witnessed only 41 gun-related murders last year (it had only 18 in 2009). But according to Aron’s article violent crime is on the rise in England and Wales. Despite this contradiction, Aron, and those of his political ilk, would have us add guns to a crime surge. The insanity of this position is only explainable by being married to an ideology that values “liberty” over lives.
However, before my readership (of which there is few I’m sure), thinks I’m for a gun ban like the one in Great Britain I should state my position in more detail. I’m for more gun control, not a complete gun ban. I’m for stricter rules on who can get a gun, how they can get a gun, and where they can have a gun. My primary concern is with hand-guns, with which most crimes in this country are committed. However, I do think assault weapons should be banned. I know these are controversial views in the land of the 2nd Amendment. But the second amendent should be looked upon as a responsibility as much as it is a right. Furthermore, it would be idiotic and naive to suggest that if we made stricter laws that the mass shootings like the one in Newtown would be completely prevented. I agree with Jeffrey Goldberg that enacting some restrictions (or especially a ban) would be too late. But can anyone argue that the lives saved by more restrictions on guns would not be worth it?
Perhaps we should concentrate more on the complex nature of mass shootings (i.e. the mental illness factor) and crime in general and the solutions to these problems. Perhaps we should address the abandonment of God in our culture rather than simplistically thinking that more guns can solve the crisis of violence in our land. Alan Jacobs sums up this point with great perceptivity when he says, “But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies.” He goes on to say that such a society is built upon a nefarious and paranoid version of mutually assured destruction.
As a teacher I want my students to enter the world with knowledge, confidence, hope, and above all a sense of safety. A sense that our institutions, while imperfect, are capable of making our nation safer. President Obama is right that we have failed in this regard and that we have a moral obligation to try harder and to do more. As a father I want my children to think of school as a place of learning and excitement, not a fortress. I pray for the families of Newtown and for all who suffer from acts of horrendous violence. May the God of all comfort give peace to them through Jesus Christ. But let us also pray that we come into a maturity about this issue, so that one day our country will see less death and more life.