Reader Jerry Spiegler writes…
Dear Mr. Farago,
I read your essay in USA Today and found much with which I can agree.
By way of disclosure I confess ignorance about guns, except they are rather expensive when I visit the local Cabella’s superstore. However, I am vitally interested in the truth.
Today I am 66 years old. The last time I fired a 22 caliber rifle was some 50 years ago. I missed the cardboard target and the wall of the abandoned rural barn to which it was nailed. So yes, I am that person who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Knowing this has given me a respect for firearms and has also kept me away from them. I have no grudge against hunters, collectors, or shooting sports enthusiasts. West Virginians view hunting as both a family tradition and a humane way of sharing nature with deer, beer, and small game that reduces suffering for all.
I strongly agree with your premise that no law or proposed law would have prevented Mr. Paddock from shooting 586 people and killing 59 of them according to the latest reports.
But that is not my purpose for writing today. Ultimately there are two points I respectfully offer. My first point is that random acts of horror that convey some aspect of forethought elicit a strong emotional response to “do something” rather than feel helpless and inconsequential; perhaps even vulnerable.
You are absolutely right that no law stops the individual from carrying out a murderous plan. But that is not my point.
What can be done is to reduce the number of killed and injured; a form of harm reduction. No law can be perfect because none of us are perfect. But we can manage risks and reduce harms.
My own preference would be to ban the add-ons that make large numbers of shells and continuous firing possible. Motivated individuals will always look for and discover workarounds. But impediments, while inconvenient to law abiding citizens, might reduce deaths.
My second point is that the solutions you suggested ask more of some people than they are reasonably able to give. You wrote,
We have to end the revolving-door justice system that returns dangerous criminals to the streets. We have to improve economic and educational opportunities for inner city youth. We have to find new ways to provide mental health care to teenagers, veterans and others contemplating suicide. We have to strengthen the bonds that tie us to each other, so we can help keep each other safe. We have to realize that we are our own first responders, and work to identify threats before they’re realized.
Yes, we want parents to stay off drugs, to raise their children to respect laws and social norms of behavior, to themselves be law-abiding role models and contributing members of the community whose children aspire to similar attainments. Sadly, seemingly reasonable expectations are not consistent with the manner in which some portion of our fellow citizens live their daily lives.
Again, the law cannot force people to “be good or do the right thing.” It can only punish them when they break the law and are caught. Challenging them to step up their game, as you have done, is aspirational at best.
Your suggestions quoted above would not have deterred Mr. Paddock in any way. We will never know his true motivation and will be unable to prevent others from repeating similar horrific misdeeds.
All that can reasonably be done is to identify high risk individuals such as convicted felons, violent individuals with a history of mental illness, and individuals with a stated intent to harm themselves or others and aggressively enforce the existing laws that make it hard for them to legally obtain weapons.
I understand these laws don’t work. But I also believe that we cannot punish our way out of these problems. We can only be vigilant and hopeful.