As could be very reliably predicted, the forces of gun control have now fastened on the Newtown school shooting and bent it to their purpose, despite the fact that the details as we know them so far argue against it. But why would that stop them? An agenda is an agenda.
The guns the shooter used were legally purchased by his mother. Perhaps she failed to store them properly (there are laws about that, too, but it’s hard to oversee activity in a private home). Perhaps the guns were stored well and the perpetrator was very clever at gaining access to them. At any rate, I fail to see how anything other than the total banning of guns in the US would logically follow from this particular crime—and of course that would be an absurdity, since guns are always obtainable, especially by criminals, and only law-abiding citizens would be deprived of them.
If anything, this massacre should be the impetus for thinking how better to protect schools—which tend to be “gun-free” zones where murderers know they can come and fire away mostly unmolested. The Sandy Hook Elementary School (the actual name of the Newtown school that was attacked yesterday) had a recently installed security system that required visitors to be identified and buzzed in. Sounds good, no? Well, “investigators have determined Lanza forced his way into the school and was not let inside by anyone.”
So much for that.
People have also called for the preventive detention of the mentally ill. Well, there are an awful lot of mentally ill people in this country, and the vast majority are not the least bit dangerous; are we prepared to detain them all? Or do you trust the mental health professionals to predict which people will be violent and which not? I don’t. Every now and then we can tell, but that’s rare, and mostly hindsight.
To me the only answer that makes sense (and it won’t prevent all these incidents by any means) is to have armed guards at schools, or to allow properly trained and screened teachers to be armed. This has its own difficulties, too; for example, if an armed teacher is surprised and shot by an intruder with a gun, the perpetrator will steal the weapon and be even better-armed. And that’s only one of many bad possibilities; it’s not clear whether the net result of arming teachers would be good or not. I’ve known a lot of unbalanced teachers in my day.
The reality is that this sort of incident is very difficult to predict and very difficult to prevent, and that no solution is a perfect one. The very best one may be armed guards rather than armed teachers, but I’m not sure; who screens the guards? (I’d take a look at how Israel does it, but I’m having trouble finding reliable confirmation of my belief that they regularly have armed guards at schools, although I strongly suspect they have a good system.)
One interesting fact to ponder is that worst mass murders in US history have all involved explosives of one sort of other: the 9/11 terrorists used the incendiary power of jet fuel, set off by the planes colliding with the building; Oklahoma City involved a powerful bomb; and the worst school mass murder in US history was perpetrated in 1927 by a killer who used the fairly ordinary explosives of his era, purchased over time and in small amounts so as to not arouse suspicion.
These are very determined people.
One more question: why children as targets here? I know nothing about Adam Lanza’s psyche (initial reports being notoriously unreliable, I’ll wait to hear more), but in general children are chosen for the very reason that they are innocent and arouse our deepest protective feelings. What could be more cruel and more offensive than to kill a bunch of them? What could arouse more sorrow and rage and feelings of impotence? If a perpetrator wants to inflict maximum damage and grief, they are obvious targets—in addition to being relatively safe ones, because they are not armed (nor are their teachers) and cannot fight back.
The motive is ordinarily anger—but not usually at the children themselves, except that they are objects of love and affection and perhaps the perpetrator sees himself as not being equally loved. The anger is often at someone else: parents, spouse, siblings, the world—or, in the case of the Pied Piper, town leaders who had promised him a certain payment for ridding the city of rats, and then reneged on the deal. What did he do? Took away their children.
[ADDENDUM: The m.o. of the murderer as described here reminds me a bit of the killing method of Breivik, who targeted older children but children nonetheless, and gunned them down systematically and remorselessly.
The article also contains somewhat conflicting information about Lanza's prior mental health:
The gunman's aunt Marsha Lanza, of Crystal Lake, Ill., said her nephew was raised by kind, nurturing parents who would not have hesitated to seek mental help for him if he needed it.
"Nancy wasn't one to deny reality," Marsha Lanza said, adding her husband had seen Adam as recently as June and recalled nothing out of the ordinary.
Catherine Urso, of Newtown, said her college-age son knew the killer. "He just said he was very thin, very remote and was one of the goths," she said.
Lanza attended Newtown High School, and several news clippings from recent years mention his name among the honor roll students.
Joshua Milas, who graduated from Newtown High in 2009 and belonged to the school technology club with him, said that Lanza was generally a happy person but that he hadn't seen him in a few years.
"We would hang out, and he was a good kid. He was smart," Joshua Milas said. "He was probably one of the smartest kids I know. He was probably a genius."]