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Simple, Logical Questions

Key questions that must be asked when responding to questions of "gun control".

With all the conversation about the murders of the elementary students in Connecticut, the question of gun "control" is again being raised by actvists and politicians.

Suggestions range from micro-etching ammunition to posting armed guards at the schools.  I want to suggest a couple of simple questions that should be asked to help evaluate any and all of these suggestions.  Most suggestions involve changing the law, which is hard to un-do, and no matter what changes are made, there is always a downside.  The current debate is useful and necessary.

The first question: If the proposal had been in force before the shootings, would it have stopped the shooter?  If the goal is to "stop the tragedies", then we must ask if the proposal would have done so in the case in Connecticut.

Most of the suggestions involving gun control would not have stopped this shooter.  The guns used were violently seized from their rightful owner.  The school was already "gun free".  The shooter likely could not have legally qualified to buy firearms.  Most of the legal changes being suggested, like locking up guns, and being "careful" about who can acquire a gun would have done no good in this case.

There are lots of legal changes that sound like a "good idea", or would give activists reason to claim to have "done something", but would the proposal have actually prevented this tragedy?

Second question: As opposed to what?

This is a vital question that must always be asked.  We must always measure the proposal versus the status quo, and versus other proposals that might be better.

There are thousands of schools in this nation.  School massacres are unspeakable, but fortunately rare.  Resources of all kinds are finite.  We could put 30 foot concrete walls and a moat around every school.  Even that might not have stopped this shooter, but the cost would be prohibitive in any case. (The shooter could still have shot his way in even with the most formidable defenses.)

Costs are always counted.  We talk about a single life being so valuable that "no cost is too high", but this is simply false.  There are lots of examples, and this is one, where the amount of effort that we are willing to expend to get a job done is limited.  This is because when we expend resources on one thing, they are always taken at the expense of other efforts.  If we spend $5 billion dollars building walls and moats, that is $5 billion that we don't have to spend on TSA or military salaries or bank guards.  Every choice weighs benefits and costs.  Like it or not, the rarity of school killings factors into the effort we are willing to expend to prevent them.  It appears that something should be done, but whatever it is, it must be measured and balanced against the costs.

Measuring the cost might seem callous, but is not optional.  Costs always matter.

Lastly, I want to put in a word about the atmosphere in schools.

I travelled in Europe in mid 1980s, when the US airports had not yet become armed camps, and Europe was struggling with the Red Brigades and the PLO.  When I saw German guards in the airports with grim expressions and loaded machine guns, I did not feel safer.  It did not give me a desire to "hang out" in the airports.

That said, I'm glad the Europeans acted firmly.  They ended up catching the Red Brigades, and I think in the end the armed guards did their jobs, but it was an unfortunate measure, costly in multiple ways.

I agree with those who insist that you must fight fire with fire.  The only truly effective way to stop an armed murderer is an adequately armed "good guy".  Further, being the "good guy" seldom can be delegated to "someone else".

I want our schools to become safer, but I do not want to have our school children surrounded by armed guards, or metal detectors.  There is value in the low-key atmosphere they have today, and that is worth preserving.  The challenge is to do this and also improve security, and at appropriate cost.

Maybe one solution would be to find the people like this shooter who are running around loose, and get them off the street before they have a chance to do more harm.

Would this have stopped the tragedy in Connecticut?  Let's count the cost....

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Susan February 09, 2013 at 11:13 PM
"Maybe one solution would be to find the people like this shooter who are running around loose, and get them off the street before they have a chance to do more harm." Interesting that you would choose to "get them off the street" (lock them up) before they have committed a crime. What happened to FREEDOM and innocent until proven guilty? Yes, we need to make it easier for the families of adult children to get or force them to get help but we certainly cannot start locking people up because they show some signs of mental illness. Another issue in this case that should be considered is if there should have been guns in the home where a mentally ill person lived. His mother seemed to know about his illness but still gave him access to the guns and even taught him how to shoot them...if I remember correctly. It is unfortunate and sad that she was his first victim, but I wonder if there would have been 26 more victims if he did not have such easy access to those weapons.
Donald Lee February 10, 2013 at 02:53 AM
The shooter killed his mother, possibly to get the guns. I don't think we know whether she "gave him access". There is a serious tension between public safety and prior restraint. The principles of freedom, ordered liberty and justice say that you can't lock anyone up for something not yet done, but it is sometimes clear that people are a threat before they act. The law does not allow (or should not allow) prior restraint except in extreme circumstances. The hard part there is - what is "extreme"? Traditionally, we have erred on the side of freedom, and there have been costs. Is our freedom worth that cost? The reason we put people in jail, or asylums is that they are not trustworthy with the freedom they hold. In the case of jail, they have already shown this. In the case of asylums, they are somehow shown to be incapable of handling the responsibilities of being free. The latter is a very, very difficult issue. When are people so obviously "irresponsible" that the law can lock them up before they have committed a crime? Doing so too easily steps on people's freedom. Making such commitment too hard seems irresponsible. This is a very hard question. There are tradeoffs. I add a quote from Gen Douglas MacArthur: "There is no security (safety) in this life, only opportunity." Thank you for posting.
Susan February 10, 2013 at 03:07 AM
Donald, I'm not sure I've said this before, or will say it again: I think we entirely agree on your last comment. On a side note; it truly is nice to see that we can publicly disagree so vehemently on one issue and two hours later agree on another. I really do love this country and the free speech which includes the sharing and debate of ideas. No matter who is right or wrong, no matter what the issue, we are allowed to express our ideas, opinions, and maybe more importantly, why.
Donald Lee February 10, 2013 at 03:38 AM
I agree. The 1st amendment is 1st for a reason.
Donald Lee February 10, 2013 at 03:41 AM
Which one? The "thank you for posting." ? ;->
Susan February 10, 2013 at 04:40 PM
No, no, it was the entire comment. :) I don’t think a person’s political views define the person. Even if we irritate each other on occasion because of our frustration, I prefer to keep that separate from on overall opinion of who an individual is as a person.
Susan February 10, 2013 at 04:41 PM
I've carefully read what so many of the responsible gun owners have written in the last two months. I think this has to come down to: 1. Defining the mental health issues that would disqualify someone from purchasing a gun. 2. Designing a national data base for gun sellers to find out if someone is disqualified. The seller would not be able to see why someone is disqualified, just that they are. 3. Making it somewhat easier to force those adults with very serious mental issue to get help. 4. (And this relates to my first comment here) We need to make sure that irresponsible gun owners are held MORE responsible. There should be laws about having guns in a home where a mentally ill person has been flagged, which Lanza probably would have been if we had the system already in place, but of-course I don't know this for sure. 5. The punishment needs to be much stronger for those who do irresponsible things with guns. We recently had a local story about two young men driving down a highway and shooting at signs. Had these young men known that the consequences were much stronger, they may have thought twice before acting this way. But these are just my ideas, and for the most part, they don’t fall in line with what is being proposed by our legislators, who I feel have really over-reached on this one.

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