Sandy Hook: So now what?

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 19, 2012 09:56 am

We weep as a nation for Sandy Hook Elementary.

We seethe with anger at the senseless slaughter.

But neither our tears nor or rage will reduce the chances of future tragedies happening, any more than our similar, and understandable, reactions to Thurston and to Columbine prevented Virginia Tech or Aurora.

So what would accomplish this vital goal?

The answer, we believe, is twofold:

First: How we deal with the people who would commit such atrocities.

Second: How we manage the places, and in particular the schools, where they would commit these acts.

We haven’t mentioned guns. This might seem a curious omission in discussing crimes carried out by people wielding guns.

Here’s why we don’t believe gun control laws, such as a revival of the assault weapons ban in place from 1994 to 2004, would have an appreciable effect on protecting our children, and our society, from the next Adam Lanza.

There are so many guns.

We state this not as a value judgment — opinions vary, obviously, on whether the number of guns in America is a good thing or a bad thing.

It’s plain fact.

The sorts of gun control laws that are in effect now, or that well-meaning people have called for since the Sandy Hook shootings, would do little if anything to prevent mentally unbalanced people from getting semi-automatic guns and ammunition for them.

The only way to do that is by gathering the vast majority of such guns that exist now, either through mandatory confiscation by the government, or by encouraging legal owners to turn in their guns, or by a combination of the two methods.

But with millions of guns in existence, this task simply is not feasible.

Then too there are significant legal hurdles to the confiscation part of that equation.

The other obvious flaw in focusing on guns is that they are not a necessary ingredient in the massacre of innocent people.

Killers in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places — including Oklahoma City in 1995 — have slain dozens or hundreds with bombs made of ordinary, readily available materials.

The bottom line is that people who intend to kill indiscriminately have myriad ways to do so.

Which is why we believe the focus of America’s efforts, legislatively and culturally, should be to identify and deal with such people before they brandish the weapon of their choice. And in the inevitable cases when we can’t prevent that, we need to reduce the vulnerability of their targets.

To the first point, we encourage changes to laws, both state and federal, that would make it more likely that people who could be prone to committing mass murder are identified and treated.

This is a difficult task, to be sure, one for which there is no foolproof solution. The vast majority of people who are “a little different” will never shoot up a school or detonate a bomb next to a federal building.

Yet neither do such people attack without ever giving a hint of the potentially murderous trouble that lurks in their flawed minds.

To the second point, we think schools should make the “lockdown” strategy something nearer the standard rather than one employed only during the rare emergency.

This isn’t to say our classrooms should be turned into prisons.

But the simple act of locking doors, which requires no legal action and impinges on no one’s rights, could save lives.

Although the Sandy Hook tragedy has devolved into a predictable, and predictably polarized, debate over guns, on the positive side of the ledger, everyone abhors what happened.

We hope this universal outrage prompts us as a society to try to deal with this terrible problem in an analytical rather than an emotional, or political, way.

Keeping guns out of schools might well help. But keeping murderers out absolutely will save lives, and that should be our foremost goal.