On December 14, 2012, a man entered an elementary school in Newtown, CT, and killed twenty kindergarten students and six adults. Since Columbine in April 1999, there have been thirty-one school shootings in America and fourteen in the rest of the world combined. The Sandy Hook tragedy is the second deadliest mass shooting since thirty-two died at Virginia Tech in April 2007. This horrific incident is sure to reignite the dysfunctional discourse about gun control versus Second Amendment Rights. We have heard and engaged in this ad nauseam. Now it is time for responsible citizens and responsible political leaders to forego their long held positions and confront the reality of a severe problem festering in our society. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his 1963 Eulogy for Martyred Children: "We must not be concerned merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the philosophy, the way of life that produced these murders."
No Americans should have to put their lives at risk when they go to a shopping mall, a movie theater, a political gathering, college, high school, middle school or ,above all, elementary school. Yet since the spring of 1999, at least, this has been the lurking threat which all Americans have to cope with. Something or some set of things is profoundly wrong in American society. The partisans and ideologues have had their day. They have told tales full of sound and fury and done little or nothing and the bodies keep piling up. Now the bodies are tiny and most of the latest set of coffins will be small. Enough is enough! It is time to cancel the screaming match and launch a serious study of these deplorable events, to find commonalities and causal factors, to develop and resolutely implement preventative actions.
The money previously expended to advertise for the opposing points of view can be pooled to finance the highest quality investigation ever conducted into this virulent social malfunction. Genuine experts must be found and employed and all obstacles must be cleared from their inquiries. Sound reasoning and unbiased thinking must be diligently applied to the identification of the underlying problem[s] and then, to the specification of effective counter measures.
If mental illness or social maladjustment is a causal factor, as seems likely, means must be found to identify people afflicted and to interdict them before they go on a rampage. These is not to suggest that mental problems be further stigmatized, but that we must seek true understanding of the role they play, if any, and take effective, responsible action based on that understanding. For example, adolescent depression is wide spread and a subset of depressed people called “angry depressives” is thought to be virtual human IED’s where gun violence is concerned. Effective treatment of adolescent depression on a general basis could help all adolescents including those who happen to be angry depressives. This could have an ameliorative impact on violence generally and gun violence in particular. If after careful consideration the evidence bears out the worth of such interventions, they should be initiated and continued with full and adequate resources.
Whenever such a deplorable event occurs, comparisons are made invariably to other countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Just as invariably objections are raised that these countries do not have the Second Amendment. Usually this leads to people talking at rather than with one another. However habitual such discordant exchanges have unfortunately become, they are exercises in futility and must cease because they prevent the constructive dialogue America so obviously needs.
Let us consider who wrote the Second Amendment, when it was written, and what it actually says. The Second Amendment was written by James Madison and his allies as part of an effort to keep a promise to add a “Bill of Rights” to the recently ratified Constitution. The Second Amendment was written in the summer of 1789 and ratified along with the rest of the Bill of Rights in December 1791. In Madison’s original language, the Amendment read. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.” It is clear Madison is talking about what we now call “the military.” This is why he exempts conscientious objectors. He was also concerned about “the best security of a free country.” Madison and many of the Framers were suspicious and fearful of a professional standing army. Consequently, they sought to ensure adequate military strength by having an armed citizenry. In this respect, the approach is similar to that employed to this day by Switzerland. As ultimately enacted, the Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This order of words makes it clear that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” is a means, not an end. What the Second Amendment is trying to ensure is “the security of a free state.” Today, we might think of this as maintaining law and order or keeping the peace. Note that in both its original and its ratified version, the Second Amendment contains the term – well-regulated. Madison was not advocating some wide open arms trade where the fabled conditions of the “wild west” became the norm for American society. Madison was advocating a method he believed was conducive to “the best security for a free country.”
It is indisputable that our current experience and situation is not “the best security for a free country.” When people are murdered in mass shootings at shopping malls, movie theaters, houses of worship, college campuses, public gatherings, civic centers, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools, the nation and its people are not secure. When young people are shot dead while walking home or sitting in a car outside a convenience store, the nation and its people are not secure. When 11,493 firearm homicides happen in the United States as reported by the Center for Disease Control “Leading Causes of Death” for 2009, [31 deaths per day], America and Americans are not secure. The first step to solving any problem is to recognize that it exists. We must recognize that despite having a clear personal right [per the Supreme Court] to keep and bear arms, America and Americans are not enjoying the best security for a free country. It has come to light that the weapon used to kill the victims in Sandy Hook was a Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle. This type of weapon has one and only one real purpose: killing people in large numbers efficiently. How can the ready availability of such weapons make America and Americans secure?
It is also time to recognize that having a personal right to own and use firearms do not mean safety regulations are anathema. Americans have a personal right to own and use motor vehicles, airplanes, and boats and in all these cases ownership and use are regulated. Imagine the carnage on the roadways and waterways or in the airways if there were no sensible regulations. Even with regulation, vehicular accidents cause almost twice as many deaths as firearms when homicides and suicides are considered. Therefore, regulation is not a magic elixir that banishes lethality from our lives. Nonetheless, nobody seriously argues that preventing avoidable deaths with sensible measures is not a worthy endeavor.
Every adult has the solemn obligation to champion and ensure the safety of every child. Any adult who fails to do so is at best negligent and at worst repugnant. Forty-six years after Charles Whitman killed his mother and wife in Austin, TX, before climbing the campus clock tower and killing thirteen others and wounding thirty-two, the time for silence is past and the time for serious investigation and responsible action is upon us. Expressions of condolence, shock or outrage are insufficient. Repetition of the familiar charges and counter arguments is pointless. We must not yawn and move on. It is time to think; it is time to learn; it is time to act.
The moral worth of our society will be proven by the actions we take to ensure the future safety of our children. A failure of public sentiment and political will now will mark us as scoundrels, cowards, and frauds for years, if not decades, to come. “How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?” The answer my friend is blowing in the wind; the answer is blowing in the wind.
We must at long last “be concerned about the system, the philosophy, the way of life that produced” these tragedies. Let us resolve to never again look upon the corpse of a murdered child and ask ourselves why we lacked either the courage or the commitment to do everything we could have done to prevent this appalling outcome.