‘In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
The massacre of the innocents in Newtown, Conn., was not engineered by Herod, but by a 20-year-old, armed with two pistols and a rifle, all of them common models, belonging to his mother, whom he had murdered before he descended on Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The torment of impotence in the face of evil impels us to do something, even if most conceivable actions would do little good, or do it only over the long haul. Ban large magazines? Smaller magazines are easy to change (Gabby Giffords’s assailant was tackled while changing his magazine, but no one stopped the Columbine killers in mid-spree); while this could help, its impact would be marginal. Ban semi-automatic weapons? Then mass murderers could switch to shotguns, which (when sawed off) were deadly trench-warfare weapons in World War I. Insist on a universal regimen of background checks, to prevent guns from falling into the hands of the deranged? That might stop more crimes, but it would not have stopped this one: The Newtown killer is believed to have had nothing worse than Asperger’s syndrome, a mild ailment, and the guns he used were not his.
Shall we rethink gun-free zones, on the grounds that they create a false sense of security and forestall citizen reaction? Recent mass shootings have occurred overwhelmingly in gun-free zones: Virginia Tech, Columbine, even Fort Hood (military personnel keep their arms locked while on base). The movie house chosen by the Batman killer was gun-free (other movie houses in Aurora, Colo., were not). Administrators and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School died while heroically defending their charges — the principal and guidance counselor tried to wrestle the killer to the ground; one teacher boldly told him that her students (hidden in a closet) were at the gym. If one of them had been armed, the carnage might have ended sooner. But it will be a long time before most schoolteachers, especially women, will choose to become Amazons. Hiring an armed guard for every school would be a more expensive alternative.
Shall we reverse the last-century push to deinstitutionalize the mad? That effort, the spawn of dubious psychology and loose libertarian rhetoric, cast a tribe of helpless souls onto the streets; many of them have ended up in prisons, while committing mayhem along the way. This would be a worthy long-range goal, but it will be a while before that tide reverses (institutions will have to be rebuilt and refunded). Even then the rare murderous event would still occur.
Is it time to fight media violence, the ceaseless bang-bang of movies and video games? (Watch the liberals jump ship: It’s the Second Amendment they want to attack, not the First.) If Hollywood adopted a new production code, that would be no bad thing. But it would be both impossible and undesirable to police the Internet.
The gun-control lobby knows what it wants: modern Britain, where most guns are essentially banned. There are fewer mass murders there (though not none — see the 1996 massacre in Dunblane, Scotland). There is also a sky-high rate of robberies and home invasions, which the police show little interest in investigating and which a cowed populace cannot resist on its own. This result does not trouble wealthy gun-banners like Michael Bloomberg (now joined by Rupert Murdoch), who will always have their own security.
Failing a general ban, Democrats hope for partisan advantage in being marginally more anti-gun than Republicans (once Senators Manchin and Tester have adjusted their pro-gun views). President Obama offers his usual palliative Lincoln-lite rhetoric.
Americans own guns because their right to do so is a historic feature of Anglo-American liberty: A citizen may protect himself and his home — in the last resort even against the state. But Britain’s experience shows that liberty may erode, like barrier islands in the face of storms.