Blaming guns invites more tragedies
The cries of, “Do something” about gun violence are again being heard as another school mass shooting goes on record.
What to do is the question.
Many would like to ban guns or pass more laws restricting clip size, tracking ammo, and other things that would have no effect. It is well to remember prohibition and the outlawing of alcohol. Instead of sobriety, more people than ever continued to drink at will. It is also good to remember that prohibition spawned the greatest criminal empires ever known.
In the 1930s Harry Anslinger, essentially the nation’s first drug czar, outlawed the previously legal marijuana, allegedly more for self-interest than actual reason. Since then the war on drugs has not gone well, resulting in the near destruction of several countries, hundreds of thousands of murders, and millions of addicts who are treated as criminals rather than people who need medical intervention.
Thanks to the illicit trade, drug kingpins are among the world’s wealthiest people.
History makes clear that banning or restricting things that people want is not effective.
People who carry out these mass shootings are mentally ill. Typically, these mass murderers are young males, 14 to 25, are outcasts, antisocial, and on medications (typically ritalin, prozac and other similar drugs.)
Of particular importance is the fact that they exhibit indicators beforehand suggesting that they are willing to act out against society in violent ways. The local police had many times interviewed the latest school killer before he carried out his act, and the FBI was aware of his threats, but nothing was done. Since the closing of the institutional hospitals for the mentally ill, there are few choices for the care of people with mental illness, particularly for patients and families with limited resources.
The obvious conclusion is that there are many more people are out there who are potential killers. If guns were eliminated, people capable and predisposed of doing these crimes would resort to other means, such as the pressure cooker bombs used at the Boston Marathon or the propane tank bombs used at Columbine.
Knives are readily available, as are motor vehicles to plow into school buses.
Instead of trying to further restrict firearms, there are two avenues — long-term and short-term — that policymakers should consider.
The short-term approach is educating the public on how to identify people who are threats and, most importantly, how to do something about what they know by reporting it to the police, school principal or other authority.
In the wake of these shootings we often learn that people knew something was wrong and saw characteristics of a person capable of killing. This was certainly true in Newtown, Connecticut before the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Some of the parents of the victims of that shooting have put together a program available to all called Sandy Hook Promise (https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/). This program teaches how to identify people with the characteristics that make them a potential threat, allowing intervention before they act.
Another prevention component are state laws, now available in only a few states, including Connecticut, that provide judges the authority to issue restraining orders against individuals judged to be a threat. A restraining order allows the police to monitor a person of concern, remove any guns or explosives from their possession, and to possibly install ankle bracelets so that they can be closely monitored.
The long-term challenge is to fix the mental health system in this country so that people with mental health problems are provided with alternatives. This approach should include having mental health professionals screen children starting in first grade for signs that they might become a problem in the future. This would provoke protests from some parents, while authorities would say they have neither the man power nor money to implement such screenings.
But doing nothing, or trying to blame guns as the problem, will only invite further tragedy.
John Courtney is a member of the National Rifle Association. He lives in Lyme.
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