Wisdom From Sandy Hook

In four years of high school, no day was more memorable or enjoyable than the one in which someone called in a bomb threat.

As any number of my childhood comrades would affirm, there was something perversely exciting yet whimsical about being hauled off en masse from the classrooms to the football field for a few hours on a sunny spring afternoon while administrators combed the school building for anything that might go “boom!”

Maybe it was the perfect weather, or the opportunity to break in the field’s brand new artificial turf with a game of “Duck, duck, goose.” Maybe it was simply the prospect of having an extra day to study for a big physics test or to catch up on some long-neglected sleep. (One group of geniuses decided to pass around a joint under the bleachers. Took them nearly five minutes to get caught.)

Whatever the reason, the sudden and imminent prospect of the school blowing up really made our day.

Of course, these happy memories are predicated on the not-unimportant fact that (as you probably guessed) the school didn’t blow up after all. Following a thorough search, nobody found anything suspicious and the whole episode ending up being a ridiculous hoax, as nearly everyone on the field assumed it was from the start.

We got lucky.

Reflecting on the silliness now, on this very somber anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I can only shudder at how very unlucky we could have been, and in any number of ways.

At that time—namely, the mid-2000s—my high school had no security apparatus to speak of. Backpacks and lockers were rarely searched, nor were the identities of those entering the building at the morning bell subject to any particular scrutiny. We had no metal detectors and, until my senior year, no security cameras to keep us young’uns in line.

As with myriad other public (and private) spaces across these United States, if someone truly wished to plant an explosive or strap himself with firearms and unleash holy hell, precious little would have stood in his way.

In the end, whether any particular school—or church or federal building or marathon or whatever—falls victim to some vile atrocity mostly depends upon the bad luck of having a crazy person in one’s midst with the will to carry it out.

A tragedy like Sandy Hook occurs and people ask, “Why did it happen here?” Given the realities of living in a free and open society, one could just as well ask, “Why shouldn’t it?”

To a degree, the nature of American life guarantees that, sooner or later, something horrible is going to happen somewhere and there is little, if anything, we can do about it.

Now then.

In the national conversation about gun control, this inevitability factor is conventionally used as an argument for less regulation, not more. It goes like this: Since violent, homicidal people will always exist, and since (some) such people will always find a way to acquire the weaponry they need, any form of gun control is futile and counterproductive.  It would only weaken the defenses of the good guys.

Per contra, if there is any single lesson I have learned from the many gun-related debates of the past year, it is that inevitability is as much an argument in favor of gun control as it is the reverse, and that those on the pro-regulation side might want to cite it more often than they currently do.

I put it to you in the form of two questions.

First: Were federal and/or state laws to make it impossible for an individual to legally purchase a so-called “assault weapon”—that is, a gun capable of killing the maximal number of people in the minimal amount of time (and with the minimal amount of effort)—is it not reasonable to surmise that the total number of individuals who possess such trinkets would, over time, decrease?  Even if only by a little?

And second: With an assault weapons ban on the books, would not the total number of innocent people killed in mass shootings also go down?

Once and if you conclude that an assault weapons ban (or something similar) would, in fact, reduce the total number of assault weapons in circulation across the United States, and that such an occurrence would result in fewer total people being killed or wounded by them—and, therefore, by firearms in general—then the onus is very much on Team Second Amendment to demonstrate why such legislation is nonetheless a bad idea.

Why, in other words, is the death (or likely death) of a maximal number of innocent children a necessary price to pay for this apparent freedom to own an instrument that is designed, among other things, to cause those very deaths?

Yes, there is evil in the world. Yes, there will always be villains who get a hold of deadly, illegal weapons. Violence committed upon innocent bystanders is inevitable.

However, to then say that we cannot and should not attempt to limit the extent of these inevitabilities is an absurd leap of logic that demands the highest and closest of scrutiny in the days and years ahead.


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