DECEMBER 14, 2012: The Slaughter Of Holy Infants
Latest Outrage Stimulates Debate Over Preventative Measures
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
As we lament the recent murder of 27 people, 20 of them innocent first graders, we are all asking ourselves what could have been done to prevent this horror, what can be done to forestall the next incident. A serious discussion of possible preventative measures is overdue. Alas, we have heard it all before: More restrictive firearms laws, more and better mental health resources, clamping down on movies, TV programs and video games that glorify violence.
As a parent and as a 36-year veteran classroom teacher, school shootings affect me on both levels. We who are parents can only imagine the agony with which others waited hopefully for news of their children, the sorrow felt by those who learned that their tiny sons and daughters would never return. As a retired teacher, I imagine former students as victims.
The media refers to this act as a tragedy. A tornado or a tsunami is a tragedy. This was a crime, committed by a criminal. Let us begin by calling it what it is. Someone was so determined to cause as much heartache and destruction as possible that he was willing to trade his life for the opportunity. It has become a familiar story, but the killing field keeps expanding, the body count growing. One no longer feels secure in school, church, a shopping mall, a theater or a meeting with a congresswoman.
Gun control is the most frequent response. Having grown up in the rural Midwest, where guns and hunting were a way of life, I remain unconvinced. Given my first firearm at the age of 13, a single action .22 rifle, the gun safety lecture was drilled into me over and over by my dad and grandpa, two men I never wanted to disappoint. Wonder what ever became of those sorts of relationships.
I stopped hunting years ago, but I believe that people possess the right to defend themselves. A few years ago, seeking employment after the park where I served as a ranger had closed for the season, I went to work for a local outfitter as a gun salesman. Most of my customers fell into two categories. Many were pheasant or duck hunters purchasing shotguns. Many were single women, living alone in rural areas, concerned over their safety and wellbeing in a lawless society. I conducted the required background checks with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms before each sale. I have had no reason to regret any of my sales in the years since.
To question the effectiveness of firearms restrictions is not necessarily to oppose all restrictions. Does the average hunter/ marksman have any use for a bazooka, heat-seeking missile, fully automatic machine gun? The rifle used by Adam Lanza in the school massacre more closely resembles a weapon used by the orcs of Middle Earth than anything belonging to a turkey hunter or a night nurse fearing robbery, rape or murder as she heads home from work. Limitations upon large capacity magazines seem sensible, as well as limiting the sale or possession of certain so-called assault weapons, a designation that remains nebulous.
I doubt the efficacy of most gun laws. A former student murdered a deputy sheriff with a sawed-off shotgun, a weapon that has been illegal since the 1930’s. One of my inmate students in an Ohio prison once opined, “If I was out on the street, I could get you a gun in five minutes.”
“England,” a country that ceased to exist with the 1707 Act of Union, is often held up as an example of successful firearms legislation, and yet the laws of the UK failed to curtail the violence in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, heavily armed societies like Switzerland and Finland have miniscule crime rates.
The argument that more mental health resources need to be made available is a sound one. But one cannot be forced to seek meaningful counseling. By what criteria are we to determine whether a person is competent to own a firearm? Would the availability of more mental health services have prevented the massacre in Connecticut? Without exception, the perpetrators of mass murder have been described as loners; quiet, shy, polite. Such designations would have sent many of us to the psycho ward when we were teens. We cannot arrest and incarcerate people for crimes they may or may not commit.
Perhaps violent video games could be banned in the same way that children’s pornography is, but I would not trust any level of government to determine what materials citizens may read or view. Hitler and Stalin loved such practices.
I would place an armed police officer in every school building in the land. Will the public step up to the plate to finance such a plan?
We need to quiet the rhetoric, shun the name calling, and begin a sane and serious discussion of realistic preventative measures. There will be more mass murders. At this moment, in every municipality, someone is watching the grief and suffering unfold and muttering to himself, “Cool!”