I agree with President Obama that “meaningful action” should be taken in the aftermath of the murders in Connecticut to ensure that horrors like that don’t happen again. After considering it as carefully as I could, my tentative conclusion is that the only really meaningful actions must take place in our hearts rather than in the laws.
As Robert Leider points out in the Wall Street Journal, the factors that the mass murders of the last several years have in common are guns and mental illness:
In addition to guns, the common denominator in most of these mass shootings has been mental illness. Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech), Jared Lee Loughner (Tucson, Ariz.), James Eagen Holmes (in the Aurora, Colo. theater), and now Adam Lanza all had significant mental health problems. As the country turns its attention to overhauling its health-care delivery system, we must discuss improving access and delivery of mental health care to those who need it. As part of this conversation, we need to update federal firearm laws as they relate to persons with mental illness—laws that currently are primitive and rooted in stereotypes.
The measures I’ve heard proposed so far would be ineffective in preventing incidents like the ones that have transpired or even in reducing their likelihood. There are already over 200 million guns in the United States. Any reasonably good machine shop can produce a high capacity magazine and banning them would merely produce a lively black market. Just as with alcohol and now drugs, anyone who really wanted them could get their hands on them.
I don’t see how social stigma can be effective in the context of television, movies, and video games that glorify violence. Or with an armed constabulary.
I presently have two firearms in my home. They’re both “long guns” and neither has been fired in living memory. One is a Civil War vintage rifle that probably belonged to my great-great-grandfather and the other is a shotgun my dad received on his 12th birthday. When my wife and I discovered a pair of pistols that had been stuffed into our basement ceiling by a prior owner, we immediately called the police and had them taken away.