The Newtown, Conn., tragedy would better be described as a national convulsion — and rightly so. Listening to the talking heads and politicians on TV, reading commentary in the paper, and thinking in the wee hours of sleepless nights leads me to agree with most that three main elements are involved in lessening repeat tragedies.
Gun control proposals that almost always follow each such event include: banning, insurance, licensing, prohibitive taxation of ammunition and reloading components, background checks, registration, national database and, eventually, confiscation.
The three main elements listed above are:
■ Gun control. Guns are neither good nor bad. They are merely inanimate mechanical devices. They do not direct themselves to seek out targets — the people controlling them do that. There are some 20,000 federal, state and local laws already on the books — mostly unenforced.
I have conflicting feelings about semi-automatic, high-capacity military assault weapons. Big-game outfitters and guides say they have never seen one used for game hunting. Almost any solid frame bolt-action or single-shot rifle is more accurate for target shooting. A cylinder-bored, 12-gauge shotgun loaded with six 1 1/8-ounce buckshot shells is just as deadly and more practical for home defense. However, I do not advocate banning assault rifles again. I feel a little nostalgic about the .30-06 Garand, the .30-caliber carbine and the Model 1911 .45 ACP pistol (clips hold eight, six and seven rounds, respectively) that we used in World War II. Perhaps the veterans of Vietnam and the Middle East wars feel the same about their weapons. The 1994 ban had no effect on reducing assault rifle violence before it expired in 2004.
■ Mental profiling. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The shadow knows!” This quote comes from very popular 1920s- to 1950s-era comic books and a radio program once starring Orson Wells that I listened to as a teenager. It is a fitting prelude to any discussion of the mental health aspect of mass shootings. A few things that mass shooters seem to have in common: they are male, most are younger than age 25 and often of higher intelligence, they are social “loners” who might have displayed cruelty to animals and a fascination with guns as children, they are often suicidal and they typically come from dysfunctional families. Psychiatrists prescribe counsel by friends and relatives, and sometimes report aberrant behavior to authorities.
■ Media violence. The goal of movies and video games seems to be to exceed the violence level of the previous ones. Assault weapons, fiery car crashes, explosions and general mayhem are the theme — justified by the producers by the mantra of the First Amendment. Young children are not able to discriminate between reality and make believe. They virtually live and take part in the violent video games they watch. Some grow up with the violence imbedded in their subconsciousness.
As expected, the president signed 23 executive orders Jan. 16 concerning assault weapons, closing the gun-show loophole, stiffening penalties for lying on background checks, etc. It will be interesting to see what Congress does about that, if anything.
There is now talk on TV that universal background checks be required for private person-to-person gun sales. That would mean buying a gun from, or selling one to, a friend or neighbor would require a check. Be prepared to contact members of our state Legislature if it gains any traction. This one really makes my scalp tingle.
Omar M. Campbell