My inbox is overflowing, obviously, with letters from partisans on all sides of the gun debate. (E-mails prompted mainly by this article.) The geographic split is huge, and troubling for those who would like to see America a more unified place: Those correspondents who identify the state of their residence and are opposed to gun control are mainly -- overwhelmingly, really -- from the South and West (and a bit of upper Midwest). Those who are opposed to concealed-carry are mainly Northeasterners. Much of the mail is entirely sane, and non-insulting, but a large proportion of it (large, even compared to what I get in my Middle East mailbag) is filled with invective. Although I have to admit, I do enjoy getting mail within the same hour accusing me of being a "gun-grabbing libtard" and a "NRA-ass-kisser."
The argument from the Left frequently boils down to the accusation that my belief in the right of law-abiding and government-licensed individuals to be armed in order to participate in their own defense means that I want to recreate the Wild West in modern America. The argument from the Right comes down to this: Any regulation of guns (I support most of the proposed gun control regulations advanced by the Brady Campaign) means that I'm willing to see the Constitutional rights of my fellow Americans impinged in order to satiate the collectivist desires of liberals who so cowardly they don't want to even protect themselves.
Here are two letters that are typical of my mail. The first is from someone who thinks that my call for more stringent gun control makes me something of a socialist wackjob:
You are such a block head. The NRA has a valid point. The DVDs and violent films that have made mass killing 'fun', have a lot to do on why we see so many deranged young killers out there. This Newtown killer was immersed in that killing/game culture. If you cannot see that, you need to stand back and take an objective look. It would also help a lot, if you refrained from drinking that Obama, cool aid. Remember, most of the Hollywood elite, all of Congress, are protected by their personal bodyguards. Why should they feel threatened as I would if I did not have the ability to protect me and my loved ones.
Give up my guns, and just call 911 and wait 20 minutes? Never.
There's this, from the opposite side:
Do you really think most Americans can be trusted with guns? You're out of your mind. Everyone walking around with guns is a nightmare. What about the rage that is inside people? If they have a chance to bring out their rage, what do you think would happen? We'd have blood in the streets everyday. How could you write an article that means more death all around? Shame on you.
There are plenty of letters like this one, however:
Straight to the point here: Thank you for writing in support of a hybridized approach to gun control and gun ownership rights, rather than coming down in support of one of the standard, simplistic, for-or-against arguments that we usually see or hear. Thank you for seeing this grave and complicated issue as something more than an easy choice between two opposite, all or nothing positions.
It is unfortunately rare that public discussions seriously address the challenging complexities of the issues faced by this country. Issues are typically presented to the public as though only two possible solutions could ever exist, one liberal and the other conservative. Democrat versus Republican. Blue versus Red. It gets tiresome, diminishes the level of the discussion, and actually makes it more difficult to ever move to an effective solution because it prevents us from fully examining the issues and seeing them clearly.
It is reassuring to read your opinion piece that recognizes valid points on both sides of the gun control issue, and that looks for a solution that blends support for both public safety and individual rights. Perhaps it may help some people to see that we need more than one-step thinking on this and other issues. I hope so.
I'm going to keep addressing different issues surrounding this issue on Goldblog, but I wanted to take quick note of an argument I find particularly weak, the "Columbine-had-an-armed-guard-and-look-what-happened" line we've been hearing about so much lately. (I'll get to Wayne LaPierre's idiocies later, but everyone else seems to be dealing with those.) This is from The Atlantic Wire:
It's kind of like the first time two days ago that LaPierre told the nation that we needed to put an armed guards in every American school to prevent more school shootings. This, despite the fact that there was an armed guard at Columbine High School in 1999, but 13 people died from gunshot wounds anyways.
It is true that the armed guard at Columbine did not stop the two shooters. But deriving definitive lessons from a single incident seems unwise, and discarding the idea of armed security nationally because it failed at Columbine seems precipitous. The Secret Service failed to keep JFK alive. Did this mean that we should have discarded the idea that our presidents receive Secret Service protection? The CIA failed to stop the terrorist plot that resulted in the attacks of 9/11. Did we discard the idea of intelligence-gathering after 9/11, on grounds that it didn't work in advance of the attacks? Or did we try to make the CIA better at its job? More quotidian examples abound: The police in Chicago have failed to stop the murders of more than 400 people this year. Does this mean that the concept of policing is fundamentally flawed? Or does it mean that Chicago has to work harder to get this right, to devise policies that result in the most effective deployment of government resources? On occasion, the burglar alarms in private residences fail to sound. Does this mean that all burglar alarms are a bad idea?
I tend to think that placing police officers in our country's schools would represent a waste of money, in large part because school shootings are exceedingly rare. (In point of fact, roughly a third of all schools already have armed security officers.) But the fact that a cop in Columbine failed to stop the massacre there is not an argument that all cops will fail to stop all massacres.
UPDATE: A fuller rendering of just what the armed officer at Columbine actually did, from Daniel Foster in National Review:
(I)t isn't like the deputy was sitting around eating doughnuts during the Columbine massacre. He traded fire (that is, he drew fire) with Harris for an extended period of time, during which Harris's gun jammed. The deputy and the backup he immediately called for exchanged fire with the shooters a second time and helped begin the evacuation of students, all before the SWAT teams and the rest of the cavalry arrived, and before Harris and Klebold killed themselves in the library. Harris and Klebold had an assault plan -- a sloppy plan, but a plan nonetheless. They had dozens of IEDs, some of which detonated, others of which did not. And there were two of them. In this highly chaotic tactical environment, the deputy acted both bravely and prudently, and who knows how many lives he saved by engaging Harris.
UPDATE: From one Goldblog reader, who thinks all talk about school security is diversionary:
I'd like to comment on your poking holes in the the "Columbine-had-an-armed-guard-and-look-what-happened" argument. When you have failures of institutions like the Secret Service, the CIA or the Police you try to improve the institution. Fair enough. But how do you improve security at schools? More and better trained arm guards? This doesn't seem plausible (to me at least). Perhaps you have to have schools as secure as Courthouses and other public buildings. This too doesn't seem economically possible or welcoming for kids.
I'd like to discuss improving access to mental health care and how doubtful a solution that would be for preventing another disaster. I'm somewhat familiar with this as I've a child with pretty significant learning disabilities who would act out (not violently thank goodness). At any rate, locating competent counseling services is extremely difficult and problematic, even for the most well intentioned parent with lots of resources. Schools programs are designed to handle things like learning disabilities, depression, school refusal. Their resources are overloaded. Furthermore they need the cooperation of both the students and parents. It's not clear any broad based community mental health program would have helped Adam Lanza.
What's the solution? Who knows? Limiting access to semi-automatic weapons and large clips might mitigate these incidents. However this isn't going to happen any time soon.
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