A Gun Guy Does Some Soul Searching After the Sandy Hook School Massacre

It’s funny how a single image can affect you more profoundly than a thousand others. When I see the collage of the faces of all those beautiful children murdered in the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre it’s just too much; it’s like trying to drink pain from a firehose. That picture could be of my first grader’s class, children whom I know by name and see regularly. My brain can’t conceive of all of them gone from something so … terrible? Horrible? Unthinkable? My thesaurus fails me. There’s no adequate word in the English language for so many children savagely murdered.

But then I see a picture of a father walking along the sidewalk, head low, to attend his child’s funeral. And suddenly that’s me. Crushed and dazed and about to see the body of my six year old lying in a casket. Whom just days before I had kissed on the cheek and dropped off at school. And I find myself with tears in my eyes. And my heart so full of pain I can barely stand it.

With 300 million people what can we do to keep the insane and hateful from murdering innocents? Should we make the particular guns used harder or impossible to get? Start putting more people in insane asylums, as we did back in the 1960’s? Give guns to teachers? Organize parent vigilance committees to wander the halls of our schools?

With this much pain experienced by every parent in the country who – like me – has seen pictures that profoundly affected them, it seems inevitable we’ll take action of some kind. It was inconceivable that this could happen once, and we’re all desperate to keep it from happening again. But what to do?

I am, as you can tell from this blog, generally a pro-gun guy. But I’m also a father, and pro-child first. So I think we have to look at every option honestly. And the first one I’ll cast aside is the extreme gun-guy concept of resolving the whole thing by “arming the teachers.”  Though this actually COULD work in theory, as it has in Israel, and I do know that with common sense precautions any teacher could handle a firearm  … as a father involved in his elementary school I know it has zero chance of happening.  At my kid’s elementary, and I think at a majority of Elementarys,  some  teachers may come from gun owning households and can handle a firearm but are a long, long way from being willingly armed guards. And the teaching culture is too far separated from that idea to think about bridging the gap even when children are at risk. So that leaves us with more Gun laws, involuntarily committing more insane people to mental institutions, or taking other actions to lock down schools.

Let’s take an honest look at commonly suggested gun laws first: A background check on all guns, an Assault Weapons Ban, a ban on Handgun Ownership, or A total Gun ban (some of those last would be unconstitutional based on the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions, but the Constitution can be changed and we are talking here about solutions regardless of the steps necessary to accomplish them).

And to make things clear I am talking only about mass shooters, who normally start out as non-criminals until the act is undertaken; this is much different than talking about gun laws and how they would affect the daily violence in our nation that is committed by criminals. As another note, some details of the Sandy Hook attack are still in dispute as of this writing. But the following is relevant analysis whatever the facts turn out to be.

Background Check on All firearms.

The shooter in this case apparently failed a background check to buy a firearm himself. So he simply stole one. Since most mass shooters show few legal signs of having issues, I don’t see how 100% background checks would make a difference.

Getting background checks as part of a larger strategy of de facto gun registration has long been a goal of anti-gun groups, but I don’t think any of the circumstances of recent mass attacks support it as a solution. A gun is no less lethal if its purchase is background checked and/or it is registered than if neither of those have happened. Some weapons obtained by the Columbine shooters were bought at a gun show without a background check, but other weapons they had were background checked. The bottom line is … none of these shooters had any problem getting all the weapons they needed.

Assault Weapons Ban/large capacity magazine ban

It’s still not completely clear what weapons the Sandy Creek shooter used, but he apparently had both an AR-15 and handguns available. Since we know that The VT shooter used only pistols and the Aurora Theater shooter used mainly an AR-15, either type of weapon is inarguably capable of mass murder of unarmed people.  Since banning one without banning the other will accomplish nothing, let’s talk about banning both.

Ban on Handgun Ownership and an Assault Weapon/large capacity magazine ban

I will not claim there is no difference between a steel and wood bolt action rifle and an AR-15 with a pistol grip, high capacity magazine, and a fore end covered with lasers and lights and whatever.

But honestly, it is NOT the difference between having a deadly weapon and not having a deadly weapon. To use a car metaphor, it’s more like the difference between having a beautifully appointed diesel truck with an automatic transmission, large capacity fuel tank, power windows,  and etc. and having an old gas powered pick-up with limited range,  no air conditioning or power windows, and a standard shift.

Can both of the above vehicles accomplish the same tasks? Of course. You just have to plan a little bit more with the less well featured truck, and it is less comfortable. But it has the capability.  And most of the features of the fancy truck (or the fancy rifle) are nice, but make no real difference in terms of functionality.

i.e. the “Pistol Grip” on an AR-15, oft cited by the anti-gun groups as making a gun somehow more lethal. Does a pistol grip allow you to handle a gun more easily? Yes. Does it make it more capable of shooting unarmed people or firing faster? Hell no. You can fire just as fast from an old-fashioned stock with no pistol grip, and since a mass shooter isn’t diving for cover or moving between cover like a soldier he gets no benefit from the greater maneuverability; he doesn’t need to. As soon as the police show up, or any real resistance, he’s either going down or he’s going to kill himself.  The pistol grip doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be a feature anybody cares about. As can be seen a sport shooter doesn’t actually “need” it either, as it makes little difference for anything but general comfort; but since it does make no difference, why would we want to arrest people for having it?

The large capacity magazine DOES make a difference, but not because of the capacity; it makes a difference because it can be changed quickly. In less than 2 seconds for someone with decent coordination.

With a bolt action rifle, commonly utilizaing an internal magazine, it is relatively slow to insert rounds and reload. So advantage AR-15. But to be honest and fair we also have to throw a standard pump style shotgun into the mix, commonly available and owned by most hunters and sport shooters, and used by both the theater shooter and the killers at Columbine.

While such shotguns normally only hold 5 to 8 rounds, they can be constantly reloaded while shooting (just jam rounds into a feeding port on the bottom) and once again if you are facing unarmed civilians you have more than enough capacity/speed to accomplish a mass murder at point blank range. So if we eliminate semi-auto rifles and pistols, we simply push future shooters to equally devastating and deadly shotguns. Not really worthwhile, but nobody is talking about banning such shotguns yet because they are ubiquitous to the 100 million or so American gun owners.

And while being limited to a bolt action gun or even a pump shotgun would make it slightly harder to charge brazenly into a theater or school and start shooting rapidly, would a man that crazy who couldn’t get an AR just give up and become a good citizen? Or with that much hate and rage and evil in his heart would he have adopted a plan based on what is available? i.e. Charles Whitman, who killed 16, most from a Texas Tower with a bolt action hunting rifle.

And while we shouldn’t necessarily limit ourselves to solutions based on current constitutional decisions, banning all handguns would definitely be unconstitutional and banning semi-automatic rifles probably would be as well.

AR-15 style weapons, because of their low price and flexiblity to accomplish about any shooting requirement, are reportedly the most popular style of rifle currently sold. Whether that’s true or not, I can definitely say that if you go to any shooting range around where I live nearly every window will have an AR-15 in it. Since the AWB of 1995 ended millions of American’s have bought one, including me.

Total Gun Ban/gun confiscation

This actually would have a profound effect on the ability of mass murderers to get guns. While its effect on the daily violent crime in this country, that contributes to many thousands of deaths each year, would be little, (when someone has money and a need and doesn’t care about the law, they get what they need – i.e. all the heroin addicts in this country) mass shooters generally are law abiding and don’t have connections with the criminal underworld. And are likely to be identified when they start clumsily looking for a gun. Ban all guns and there probably won’t be many more mass shootings (some will always happen, of course, but they will be more rare).

But once again … banning guns doesn’t get rid of the people with the hatred and rage in their hearts who commit mass shootings. And where there is hatred and evil and a will, there is a way.  The worst school massacre in this country also involved an elementary school and children, but no guns. The worst domestic massacre involved a Ryder truck and fertilizer, and the worst international terrorist massacre involved airline tickets and box cutters.

Why I’m not quite ready to give up on the 2nd amendment

I am horrified at the thought I may someday be that father making the lonely walk to his child’s funeral, and I want no other father to make that walk either. But I can’t get past the fact that knee jerk reactions to anything, however horrible, are often wrong. And sometimes the unintended consequences of such actions can be worse in the long term than the thing being legislated against. In this country guns empower tens of thousands of “average” citizens to defend themselves every year, and while my daughters will only be children in school a few years they’ll be grown women the rest of their lives. And I would like them to be empowered by gun ownership to face a dangerous world, because the vast majority of murders are still done by criminals who will not give up their guns and will always find a supply.

I’ll have a list of links below that explain why I think it’s not yet time to completely give up on gun ownership even after what happened, but to sum up at a high level:

  1. If it’s possible, I want my children to grow up with the same freedoms that I did. And the same traditions.
  2. I want my daughters to be empowered to defend themselves, as so many do in this country, with the best weapons possible.
  3. Recent history has shown that the 2nd amdment and civilian firearms ownership is as important in this world of laser guided bombs and Abrams tanks as ever (i.e. the Iraq war, where the strength of the US Army was mired in a low intensity quagmire of a war they were losing, until the Arab Awakening when fathers and “regular” men took charge of the situation with their small arms).
  4. Anyone who thinks a minority cannot be persecuted in the US should read Condoleeza Rice’s story of her father and other African American Males and their guns during the civil rights movement. The only question is when it will happen again and what group will be persecuted  (Christians? Gays? Some other group you belong to?).

So should we do nothing?

We will do something. We’ll have to as a nation or we’ll feel we’re just empowering the next such murderer. If the media is correct that may be gun laws of some kind or an “Assault Weapons Ban.”  I tend to think the hard push in this direction is from the usual suspects, as most American’s support the 2nd amendment, but in the weeks to come we’ll find how many people have shifted to an anti-gun position. And how many others, like myself, while greatly affected by this massacre, still don’t believe gun restrictions will stop the next one.

But if we do pass a new law … I just hope and pray it actually has a positive effect rather than just limiting the rights of all of us gun owners who had nothing to do with the massacre.

I do think we could get better at dealing with the insane. As has been noted elsewhere … back in the 60’s we tended to warehouse disturbed individuals because we had no real cures. These days we leave them to be homeless or imprisoned, but the reality is … we actually do have medicines to treat them now. We could not just warehouse them, we could help them, with a properly empowered mental health system.

But of course we’re a free society, and nobody should be committed against their will with any less due process than they are imprisoned. And then, like with prison, it should only be done when absolutely necessary.

More police or security in schools? I like the thought of this, but it’s danged expensive. While mass shootings are extremely rare, overcrowded class rooms are very common. One police officer is cost equivalent to 1.5 teachers. And which – overall – will protect our children more? Better education for the problems they definitely will face in the world or more police officers in schools for a problem they will most likely never face?

More guns in school? This is what most pro-gun guys argue for, and while I’m comfortable around guns I know it won’t make much of a difference. But suppose we did at least allow license concealed carry holders in schools? While most teachers wouldn’t embrace this empowerment, however much they love their students, there are a few that would and many parents that would. If I heard of some threat at my school I would like to race there and just hang out in the hallway with maybe some other like-minded parents — with the firearm I’ve been trained to carry on my person and wouldn’t hesitate to use to defend my children or others. But the laws won’t allow it. Of course a police officer at school in these situations would be best, but in most jurisdictions there are more schools than cops on duty at any time, and if something is happening not every cop can be at a school

How about a real solution?

I think we need to approach this issue holistically, as is discussed in this fantastic article about how well fire marshalls and rules have dealt with school fires. Though every school is well equipped with alarms and sprinkler systems and teachers drill several times a year to get out of a burning building, there has not been ONE STUDENT lost to a fire in 50 years. That, my friends, is success! And the success wasn’t gained by banning some types of matches or fire accelerants.

We’re going to have a discussion on new laws on firearms, but they are doubtful to work even if passed and will be contentious, drawing energy away from finding real solutions. But what could work is a plan on designing/redesigning buildings and training teachers on how to handle these situations. And maybe even getting parents like me involved. Because it’s not just insane kids we have to worry about, it can be terrorists as well.

For something many times more horrifying than the recent school shootings, which seems impossible but is not, recall what happened in Beslan, North Ossetia.  Terrorists killed hundreds at a school, and Terrorists could not care less about gun laws. If they can’t get guns locally, they’ll smuggle them in, as part of the plan.

Some Helpful Links and Background:

ABC’s 20/20 tries to prove armed citizens are useless in mass attacks, but proves the opposite

Assault weapons: Myth Produced Mayhem

Non-gun mass murders – The Butcher’s Bill

REAL common sense gun laws

Should Christians own guns? WWJD?

Why YOU should oppose gun registration

My manifesto on self righteous anti-gun people

7 comments to A Gun Guy Does Some Soul Searching After the Sandy Hook School Massacre

  • Well structured thoughts. But too many words for most people, I like the 2nd Amendment and adding militia to the schools, unpaid and volunteer and trained. Making the Gun Free Zones won’t work. And there isn’t any money in Washington for anything you love.

  • The worst school killing of children was a bombing, the Bath School Disaster, in Bath Township, Michigan on May 18, 1927. 38 elementary school children were killed along with two teachers and four other adults – and the bomber himself. In total at least 58 people were injured. The bomber was school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe, 55, who died in a car bomb he set off after he drove up to the school as the crowd gathered to rescue survivors from the burning school. 1927.
    Killers don’t *need* guns to kill. They’re not as wide-area effective as bombs, and in Afghanistan and Iraq where full-auto AKs are easily the norm, IED’s are the weapons of choice.

  • DG

    Israel does NOT arm its teachers. The linked article itself says that only 2.5% of civilians are allowed firearms and undergo rigorous screening and training.

    • Israel doesn’t arm teachers automatically, it’s true. But it allows trained teachers to be armed. Here’s another story on the subject: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/12/27/armed-teachers-guards-key-to-school-security-in-israel/

      Do we want to pass a law for that all teachers MUST be armed? Of course not. Would it make sense to let some teachers who are willing to do so and are willing to take adequate precautions carry arms to school? Hell yes. (though this might be less than 1% every defender is a positive.)

      And yes … private OWNERSHIP of guns is low in Israel, but private ACCESS to guns is high. Every Israeli male (and I’m not sure if all, but a lot of females) go through mandatory army service, including in the reserves. I don’t know all the details, but most are allowed to take their weapons home. Check it out.

  • DG

    Regarding killers not needing guns to kill: This is true. But the argument is invalid. If it were valid, we’d deregulate all weaponry and anyone who could afford a nuke, or an f-22, or VX gas could get one. So what if they make a mistake and destroy a city. It’s the price we pay for liberty.

    • Ah yes … the classic “but then everybody could own nukes” strawman.

      To put this simply … when the constitution protects a right, be it to free speech or to arms, there must be a compelling reason to legally limit it — a reason which must meet different standards depending on what the court has ruled. i.e. you can arrest people for yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire, because they are trying to begin a stampede in which people can get hurt. But any limit must pass a standard of some kind. A ban on people not owning nukes is rather easy to support, wouldn’t you say? As I’ve pointed out, however, a ban on a specific type of rifle is not supportable.

      For more detail …

      It can be argued that the constitution does allow ownership of any weapon, as it basically did back in the day. But (almost) nobody makes this argument anymore.

      The constitution is accepted to protect the ownership of personal arms that are in widespread use. While this would/should include AR-15′s and pistols, it would not include nukes.

      But in any case … no one is arguing for legal ownership of nukes or nerve gas. I’ll gladly accept, and even insist on, that limitation on my right to bear arms. And having such a WMD (which requires a great deal of effort to build/get the parts for) would make a person more dangerous than other common weapons at hand — such as a speeding car or an axe. Duh.

      But, as I’ve stated, a semi-automatic rifle does NOT give you any more lethality than a non-semi automatic weapon, and so should not be regulated in a different manner. It’s either try to ban pretty much all of them or look for a different solution since a partial ban would be useless. Duh again.

  • Mike W

    Stephen, you are truly gifted with the talent of writing and persuasion. I thank you for your creative insight and urge you to not give up on your dreams of becoming a famous writer. Thank You