As I have read today’s news stories rolling in from Newtown CT, I’ve been both saddened and angered by turns. I write this knowing that my beliefs put me at odds with many in my network of friends, but I feel compelled to break my respectful silence, even as my thoughts go out to the families and extended community affected by this tragedy . . .
We live in a world where there are violent, mentally ill, and desperate people. I’m certain we can all agree on that. The United States has a comparatively weak economic safety net, and a piss-poor mental health system that has been systematically under-resourced for decades. In the case of Newtown, it’s clear that both the social fabric of the shooter’s community and our collective failures in identifying and treating mental health issues permitted a dangerous person to commit horrific acts. This saddens and disappoints me.
On the other hand, when I consider today’s events, I also get upset at our collective naivety. Violent criminals, especially mass murderers like Adam Lanza, are drawn to low-risk “victim zones” where they can perpetrate their crimes to horrifying extremes before being stopped. There’s a reason that many of these awful events happen in school environments, and that’s because the perpetrators know that they, as the only ones armed, will have a significant window of opportunity to commit their crimes before there’s an effective response.
Would Lanza have attempted this had there been an armed school resource officer on the premises? Evidence from other incidents indicates that he would not — but it’s simply not realistic to expect that as a society, we can maintain an armed law enforcement officer at every school.
I get angry because had even a single teacher or administrator at that school been licensed and permitted to carry a concealed weapon after appropriate background checks and screening, today’s headlines could (would!) have read very differently. “Gunman kills 2, stopped by armed teacher” is infinitely preferable to today’s headlines.
Over 8 million US citizens are currently licensed for concealed carry, and they are the most law-abiding demographic group you could possibly imagine. Crime rates among concealed-carry licensees are vanishingly small compared to the general population, because it’s not the presence of a gun that causes violence — it’s a criminal with the motive and intent to commit a crime.
As a society, we need to rebuild our social and economic safety nets. We MUST make huge improvements in both mental health awareness and availability of mental health services. Parents and friends need to know the warning signs of mental instability and potential violence, and they need to ACT on those warning signs, and support one another through the difficult process of dealing with a loved one’s mental illness.
That does not mean that we should live in a world where the law-abiding are disarmed while criminals continue to use violence, including guns, to prey on the weak. For every incident like this, there are thousands where a responsible gun owner used force, sometimes deadly force, to prevent violence to themselves or their family.
Protection of my family, in every respect, is MY duty first and society’s second. When society falters in its ability to protect my family, my response is not to give up my ability to protect them and hope the criminals and the mentally ill will go along with the program.
I ask, instead, how we can better protect our loved ones against the inevitability of violent acts: through prevention, and deterrence, and if necessary, direct response. We have a collective responsibility to address this, and hoping that the police will be there to protect us is wishful thinking.
Hug your family and hold them close. Talk to them, and your friends and relatives, about the warning signs of mental health issues, not just today but as part of an ongoing conversation. Let us not react to today’s events by rushing to create a society of victims where criminals can assault the law-abiding with impunity.