In Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper just told the Denver Post’s Ryan Parker that “this has got to stop.” That, I presume, will be the consensus of a thousand hastily scribbled columns. “What are we going to do,” the media will ask, and they will think no further than that. Doing, you see, is the way we show we care.
In the end, though, nothing will happen. And that’s a good thing. Everything that the shooter did today was already illegal. He walked into a school with a firearm. That’s illegal. He shot at people with intent to kill and maim. That’s illegal. He attempted to commit premeditated murder. That’s illegal.
The suspect’s age and identity haven’t yet been released. Nevertheless, we know that he was a high school student, which means that it is entirely possible that he was too young to own or borrow a firearm. If so, that would make his having one in his possession . . . yep, illegal. If he wasn’t under 18, then he either a) stole the gun; b) bought it privately without a background-check, in violation of the rules; or c) successfully passed through the system that was designed to stop him. The first and second of these options are flatly illegal under any circumstances. The third would once again demonstrate that background checks do nothing to stop those who would massacre others. Indeed, if the shooter did pass a check — as most do — what do critics propose that we do in response: pass the law again?
After Sandy Hook, progressives publicly advocated for three things. They wanted universal background checks, which Colorado already has; they wanted a limit on the size of magazines, which Colorado already has but which isn’t relevant in this case because the shooter used a shotgun (literally nobody is suggesting doing anything about the availability of shotguns — has that changed?); and they wanted an an “assault weapons” ban. Colorado has no such ban, but, again, that doesn’t really matter here because the shooter used a shotgun not an “assault weapon.” Let’s be blunt: Unless you’re advocating banning all firearms, linking your policy preferences to this incident is going to prove as futile and as counterproductive as it did after the abomination at the Navy Yard. Everybody knows that nothing being proposed would have stopped this. Cut out the dramatics.
All in all, it strikes me that the “do something!” crowd have three options: (1) they can try to “do something” about guns that would actually reduce crime, (2) recognizing that of all soft targets schools are chosen with disproportionate frequency, they can try to ban or limit schools, or (3) accepting reality, they can try to do something to make schools safer. Given that no public policy initiative is ever going to go so far as to ban shotguns in Colorado, and that this incident has literally nothing to do with any of the gun-control movement’s proposals, Option 1 seems an unlikely choice. Option 2, which is banning schools, seems unlikely, too — all told, people rather like them. Which leaves us with Option 3. This involves discussing things that are regularly lambasted: things such as locking down schools as we do prisons, adding metal detectors across the country, hiring armed guards, and allowing staff who own guns and carry-permits to carry their weapons into schools. Do any of these appeal?
Alternatively, we could do nothing. Indeed, I suspect and hope that this will turn out to be the case. Despite what they might say in the immediate aftermath of a shooting, Americans are not thrilled by the prospect of turning their schools into prisons or bank vaults, and they are unlikely to agree to do so en masse. Nor, apparently, do they have much interest in passing gun-control measures that are either patently useless or already on the books. They will be shouted at for it, and they will be unjustly accused of all sort of ugly things, but conservatives should calmly and respectfully insist that calling indiscriminately for action, although undoubtedly cathartic, is no solution at all – even as we acknowledge sadly that the problem is one that we would all desperately like to solve.