Once again the United States faces the special horror of a mass killing — this time in Newtown, Connecticut.
And, as I said in an earlier column discussing gun control, "The commentary repeats the last mass shooting and will provide a template for the next."
There is a portion of the population that simply wishes to eliminate private ownership of all weapons of individual destruction. They would probably seek to eliminate bread knives if they could, demanding that all loaves come pre-sliced.
In contrast, the majority of the population supports individual gun ownership; it is not only popular but constitutionally protected — and these constitutional protections recently have been reinforced, striking down restrictive local ordinances that made legal ownership de facto impossible to exercise. And "concealed carry" provisions have gained substantial traction throughout much of the country.
Indeed, short of the confiscation of all privately-owned weapons, it is not possible to eliminate instances of the Newtown nature.
Remember that all of the weapons used in the killings were legally registered. Their owner was murdered by the killer during his attack on the elementary school. Reportedly, the killer attempted to purchase a weapon shortly prior to the attack, but existing regulations regarding a background check and waiting period prevented immediate purchase. Moreover, the killer had no criminal record nor apparently any adverse encounters with legal authorities; indeed, he lived with his mother in a community small enough that "everybody knows everybody," and he was not regarded as a threat to anyone.
There is a baseline suspicion among Americans regarding gun control. Americans never forget that the availability of weapons permitted effective Revolutionary War resistance against British oppression. It is myth, but a defining myth, that the U.S. constitutionally-protected right to own weapons maintains our freedom. It is not myth that a dictatorship seeks to disarm its citizens. And it is surely true, regardless of the type of government, that official security services would be very happy indeed if they had a monopoly of armed force and that no citizen had a right to own firearms.
Americans accept that there are dangers associated with firearms. We also accept that there are dangers associated with operating privately owned vehicles, water craft, airplanes and owning various items ranging from meat cleavers to step ladders. And we appreciate that there are dangers associated with mind altering substances such as narcotics, alcoholic spirits, tobacco, as well as consuming fatty foods. However, we are hostile to government efforts to play cradle-to-grave "nanny" and "protect us from ourselves." We know there is a Mrs. Grundy in many bureaucratic minds convinced that somewhere, someone is having fun — and it must be eliminated. Indeed, many of the pleasures in life are illegal, immoral, or fattening.
Both Canada and the United States have endured vicious shooting incidents. The "usual suspects" on all sides are baying and politicians are equivocating: abolish private ownership of guns/bullets (or at least special types of guns and ancillary equipment); sentence those committing gun crimes for longer periods; increase police/patrol numbers; and end restrictions on "concealed carry" of handguns.
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However, these shootings are both counter-cyclical and unpredictable. Crime and violence generally are declining in both the USA and Canada. Despite the steady increase of guns in the United States, gun-related crime has not increased commensurately. Nor are there disproportionate numbers of mass shootings in the USA — with a population 10 times that of Canada, the United States does not have 10 times the number of mass shooting incidents. As I have noted previously, mass shootings in the United States have been perpetrated with legally-obtained weapons; such appears also to be the case in Canada (Montreal's Dawson College in 2010).
And the worst mass shooting (combined with a bombing) killed 77 and injured upward of 300 in the shooting/bombing in July 2011 in Norway. Yes, in peaceful Norway.
The United States will not be altering its gun laws; indeed, opposition to gun control rises and gun sales jumped following the Aurora Colorado shooting and will probably rise again.
Nevertheless, again, I offer two (perhaps useful) observations:
— The incidence of "off their meds" schizophrenics is rising. A generation ago the delusional were institutionalized; today modern pharmacology permits them to function in society, but at potential cost. Schizophrenia frequently strikes brilliant young males and the Newtown shooter is widely characterized as highly intelligent; however, the medication is distinctly unpleasant physically and mentally. Their privacy rights prevent notification of family, employers, etc. But reporting suggests that the Newtown shooter, as well as the previous Aurora, Tucson, and Virginia Tech assailants, was mentally disturbed. Should "privacy" continue to protect schizophrenics?
— Renewed affirmation of constitutional protection for gun owners has also prompted "concealed carry" laws in many states. Connecticut's laws are very restrictive, including making it illegal to have a firearm on school property. Thus the shooter knew that nobody would be shooting back. Would concealed carry weapons users have made a difference? We'll never know — but in other instances they have.
We want both freedom and privacy; each has costs.
David T. Jones is a retired State Department Senior Foreign Service Career Officer and a frequent contributor to American Diplomacy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving for the Army Chief of Staff. He is co-author of Uneasy Neighbor(u)rs, a study of American-Canadian bilateral concerns and has published several hundred articles, columns, and reviews on U.S. - Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy.