It breaks my heart to even type these details; it was worse to read all the stories in which I collected them. The wan saving grace was the remarkable courage and sacrifice of the teachers who hid the children . . . then stayed in the classroom to buy those precious children time. And died, many of them.
Facebook and Twitter were naturally flooded with calls for a “serious conversation about gun control”, “real talk about how we handle mental illness in this country”, and “putting God back in the schools”, along with scads of suggestions, such as banning automatic weapons and making it illegal for the mentally ill to buy guns. On God in schools, I assume they didn’t mean that God killed little children for failing to start the day with a bible verse, but that we’d have been better off if Lanza found Jesus. I too would prefer a Lanza who’d taken the Sermon on the Mount to heart, but I have to point out that we had mass murder even back in the days when every little child lisped the Lord’s Prayer before class.
Unlike many libertarians, I am fine with a ban on automatic weapons. But no need to hop over to Change.org to start a petition to ban them; machine guns have been illegal in the United States since 1934, and since the 1980s, it has been illegal to manufacture and sell any automatic weapon. Apparently unbeknownst to Twitter, we have also already made it illegal for the mentally ill to buy or have guns, and have background checks aimed at prevented just that.
But beyond the strange calls to make serial killers pray more and outlaw things that are already illegal, the most interesting thing is how generic they were. As soon as Newtown happened, people reached into a mental basket already full of “ways to stop school shootings” and pulled out a few of their favorite items. They did not stop to find out whether those causes had actually obtained in this case.
Obviously, as the automatic weapons arguments show, some of the items in those baskets were not actually at all related to “causes of school shootings”; as far as I can determine, few to none of the mass shootings in recent decades involved automatics.
But even when the cause was correct–Adam Lanza, like many of these shooters, seems to have had some fairly severe mental health problems–the proposed cure didn’t have anything to do with the specifics of Lanza’s situation. I’ve seen calls to punish people who don’t secure their guns properly, but no suggestions about how you “properly secure” guns against an adult child who lives in the house, or acknowledgement of the fact that Nancy Lanza is beyond punishment. Presumably if she’s thought her son would do something like this, she’d have gotten rid of the guns long since.
“Make more mental health resources available” or “early identification and treatment of troubled children” is a fine answer to many cases, but Adam Lanza had all that you could wish for in terms of resources. It didn’t stop him from picking up a gun and going to that school.
What Lanza shows us is the limits of the obvious policy responses. He had all the mental health resources he needed–and he did it anyway. The law stopped him from buying a gun–and he did it anyway. The school had an intercom system aimed at stopping unauthorized entry—and he did it anyway. Any practical, easy-to-implement solution to school shootings that you could propose, along with several that were not at all easy to implement, was already in place. Somehow, Lanza blew through them all.
Perhaps we need to go farther. But how far? The one thing we cannot do, though this did not stop many people from suggesting it, is to ban “the types of weapons that make these shootings possible”. It is easy and satisfying to be for “gun control” in the abstract, but we cannot…