In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school, our nation has entered into a necessary and overdue debate about gun violence. While the debate is necessary, we can never lose sight of the fact that it took the murders of 26 people, 20 of them kindergartners and first graders to bring this dialog to the forefront of our national conversation. That’s an incredibly high price.
The discussion has been wide ranging. Some blame the mental health system. Some blame violent video games, movies, TV shows and music. Some blame the lack of prayer in schools. Some blame guns. There are no simple solutions, certainly none that will prevent every future act of gun violence, and certainly none that will satisfy the demands of the entire spectrum of public opinion. The fact is that there will always be guns. There will always be criminals and mentally ill people and gun owners who are irresponsible, maybe by habit, maybe in an ill-timed momentary lapse. The mixture of these factors can and will result in fatal tragedies. Anyone telling you that their solution will change these basic facts is either lying or naïve.
Now, it’s interesting to note that while the pro-gun control side of the argument is willing to look at mental health and violent media as factors, the anti-gun control side is willing to blame everything but guns. The loudest voices claim that the Second Amendment places fire arms beyond regulation, or at least beyond the current meager regulatory scheme that has failed to stop far too many massacres. At the same time they are willing to attack First Amendment protected areas like media and even church-state separation, although I’m not aware of any policy suggestions in those areas beyond putting prayer back in schools (which would fail a court challenge in any case).
Ultimately, the two sides offer a stark contrast over views of how to strike a balance between safety and freedom. Ultimately, on the freedom issue it’s a question of a tipping point. Some believe that any increase in regulation jeopardizes our individual freedoms and America as we know it. I see it differently. I think there’s a tipping point, an unknown one and a variable one. I believe that we can engage in trial and error under the guise of reasonable regulation. I have enough faith in our nation and its citizens to recognize a policy that takes us down the wrong path and to correct that policy through the political process.
That leaves the question of safety. The fact is that we live in a fallen world. My kids go to schools nestled in neighborhoods. All around the schools are homes and in those homes are people who struggle with finances and job loss and divorce and alcoholism and drug addiction and mental illness and any of the maladies that afflict modern society. This is true for all of us, all our kids. What is also true is that some of these people have guns.
Under these circumstances, how can any of us feel safe sending our kids to school? How can we feel safe going to work for that matter? Some people believe that such a sense of safety and security could be bought by placing armed guards at schools or even arming teachers. The idea is that the best way to defend against a gun is with another gun. Now, don’t get me wrong. If there had been an armed guard at Sandy Hook and that guard had killed the gunman in time, no one, least of all me, would find fault with that.
Could it happen that way? Sure. Is that the only was such a scenario might play out? No. It’s never that simple. The guard could be killed first. The guard could miss, leading to a running gun battle in a school. What about a hostage situation? What if the gunman is a student?
Do we want to rely solely on deterrence? That’s what it is. It’s saying that a gunman attacking a school would be met with deadly force. It’s comparable to the Cold War when a big part of our strategy was to tell the Soviet Union that if they attacked us we would annihilate them and vice versa. Some people say that worked, but that entire period was characterized as having been held in a balance of terror. I for one don’t want the safety of my children reliant of being on the right side of a balance of terror.
We can do better. I would much rather have a society secured by an adequate mental health system, a robust social safety net, a cultural turn away from violence and effective and reasonable gun control legislation. Let’s face it. Implicit in the pro-gun argument is that the best way to protect against violence is to promise more violence. The answer to violence is violence. Is that what we teach our kids? I don’t think so. The answer to violence is to divert violence before it happens.
Now, is there a place for police in schools? I would not rule it out. My high school had a resource officer. He was a plain clothes cop and carried a service revolver in a shoulder holster under his sports coat. He was a popular and respected part of our school community. As far as I can tell, he was an asset in making our school safer, but it’s not because of the gun. It was because he knew and cared about the students. I think he made the school safer, but I can’t remember an incident that would have had him drawing his gun. He helped to divert the problems before he had to.
That’s what we have to do as a society. Let’s put all our collective creativity and problem-solving skills to work to find solutions to the problem of gun violence. No solution would be perfect. No solution will satisfy everyone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. Isn’t the safety of our children worth the effort?