As reluctant as I am to even address such a horrific and tragic display of unthinkably inhuman cruelty as the December 14, 2012 massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, the debate regarding the necessity for stricter national gun control laws has unfortunately compelled me to do so. Several other recent shootings (most notably the Aurora, Colorado movie theater murders and the multiple homicide that occurred in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin) have elevated the public’s concerns about the issue of gun control regulations to a certain extent, though none have catapulted the debate into becoming the suddenly-inescapable hot topic of conversation that it is today. Everywhere, one can hear and read the words of shocked, confused, and angry individuals demanding an explanation for this inexplicable horror. Many of these people, due in part to the absence within them of a thorough and unbiased foreknowledge of the implications of their demands, are seeking emotional respite and the illusion of safety in as quick and easy a manner as can be conceived by their politically unenlightened and unimaginative mindsets. The individuals and their opinions being referred to here are those among us who are continuing to clamor on about the need for stricter government regulations of firearms (and those calling for their outright prohibition, altogether).
The conclusion that has naturally been drawn by many who favor gun control policies follows the simplistic line of thinking that, “if people kill each other with guns, then the best way to stop violent gun crimes is to simply take the guns away from people.” This is, of course, a cripplingly near-sighted (though admittedly somewhat logical, albeit fragmented) conclusion to draw in the philosophic short-term: if “A” (guns) plus “B” (people) equals “C” (violent crimes), simply subtract “A” from the equation and “C” should undoubtedly become obsolete! It is easy to understand why so many individuals often reach such a conclusion so hastily, but a further and more through examination of the many ramifications of the issue reveals that a solution that is as cut-and-dry as simply “taking the guns away” will do little to resolve the dilemma of gun violence at all, contrary though it may be to the beliefs of many.
Murder, for instance, has long been (and presently remains, for obvious reasons) both socially-unacceptable and prohibited outright, and yet people still continue to commit acts of murder every day. Governments even sanction such crimes when it is convenient for them to do so, chalking their sins off as “necessary acts of war,” despite the cruel and despicable nature of the many atrocities of battle. Every single day around the world, murderers with widely-varying motivations continue to take lives, despite the universal human taboo that is rightly associated with the grisly act of homicide. Murderers continue to kill, disregarding entirely the edicts of any laws, just as drug users in the United States risk fines and incarceration in order to continue to abuse illicit substances despite their having been forbidden according to the statutes of law. What unique characteristic might a firearm possibly possess that would guarantee its complete eradication from public accessibility if it were to be banned? If murderers still murder and drug users still use drugs (despite both having been made illegal), why would guns be any different? Wouldn’t they just end up in the hands of criminals, the hands of people who don’t follow the law to begin with–people like murderers? And what happens when only the criminals have guns? What then?
With regard to the prospect of gun prohibition as providing a solution to the recurring problem of gun violence, one of the most interesting and crucial points to consider about the Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Oak Creek shootings (as well as that of Columbine High School, among many others) is that each of the aforementioned crime scenes were, somewhat astonishingly, established prior to the murders that occurred there as having been “gun-free zones”. This is no mere coincidence, however, but is instead the direct result of the failed attempts to prohibit the access of individuals to firearms that may be used in self-defense. In fact, for reasons I’m about to explain, stricter regulation and/or prohibition of firearms will serve only to aid those violent individuals seeking to use guns to commit crimes. Due to the forceful disarming (via the rule of law) of those other individuals who may have been able to wield a weapon responsibly in order to stop a crime while it was still in the process of being committed, people who may otherwise have been heroes often become victims.
The location selected to become the scene of Adam Lanza’s horrific massacre, Sandy Hook Elementary School, served to be quite the convenient location for a madman of such caliber to be mostly uninterrupted while in the process of butchering 26 innocent children. The school, like so many others across the United States, had been established as a “gun-free zone” by the government, rendering the school’s teachers, staff, and students utterly powerless to defend themselves against the onslaught of aggression brought on without warning by Lanza on that tragic and fateful day. The school’s status as having been an area wherein the individuals who occupied it were denied access to firearms assuredly made the location an easy target for the diabolical plans of a renegade murderer like Lanza: after all, with no guns permitted on the premises, who would be able to stop him? The answer, of course, is “no one”–at least until the police were able to arrive at the scene and put an end to the spree of homicides (a spree which, thanks to the school’s “gun-free zone” status, left behind a staggering death toll of 26 young children before police managed to intervene).
A common reaction I receive from those who praise the notion of gun control as being a solution to prevent the future recurrence of such heinous acts is that, “if teachers were all armed, then who would stop them from going insane and shooting their students and co-workers?” My response has always been unwaveringly simple: the other teachers would stop such a criminal. If teachers–and this argument is not at all exclusive to teachers, but extends to any other line of occupation, as well–were given access to firearms and were mandated by their employers to become well-educated on how to safely and effectively use them in defense of themselves and/or others, individuals on the premises of the school (or other such business) would not only be stopped in their tracks by a defensive bullet before being able to rack up nearly as high of a death toll as at Sandy Hook, but would as a result also be far more reluctant to even attempt such acts of violence.
Think about it: would you as an individual be as likely to rob a bank if you knew with certainty that many, if not all, of the people inside were armed and prepared to defensively retaliate? I’m inclined to assume logically that such foreknowledge of potential danger would serve to deter any criminal from committing an act of treachery, and that this discouragement to commit a crime would be shared by both the customers and employees alike of the bank in question. It is for this reason that the nickname “The Great Equalizer” has been affectionately assigned to the modern firearm: in a well-armed society, no one is immune to swift justice, and no one is granted extra privileges which provide unfair advantages over others (such as are granted by a scenario in which only one individual, generally either a criminal or a member of law enforcement, possesses a weapon and is therefore able to exert power over others who are present and unarmed).
And while it is true that the possibility remains that a teacher themselves might one day become violent and attempt to commit such unthinkable acts, those around him or her who are also armed (namely the rest of the teaching staff) would almost certainly be able to put a stop to the violence far more quickly than would have been possible in any other set of circumstances. In any scenario where waiting helplessly for the authorities to arrive is one’s only pitiful alternative, the scope of the crime is inevitably much greater in magnitude and the body counts are always higher in number (the Sandy Hook incident being no exception). In any case, there would be almost no potential for a death toll of victims that is as staggering and high in count as that of Sandy Hook’s. Perhaps several casualties might come to result from such an altercation at most, but certainly not dozens.
A prime demonstration of such a scenario that had the potential to have been fatal to many, but was averted by proper use of a firearm occurred very recently, on December 16, 2012 (only two days after the incident in Sandy Hook). A lone gunman, Jesus Manuel Garcia, attempted to take the lives of theater-goers in San Antonio, Texas before being apprehended by armed off-duty sergeant Lisa Castellano, who had been working at the movie theater as a security guard that night. When Gargia continued to threateningly approach her, weapon drawn, after having been instructed to lower his gun and remain still, Castellano fired four times, wounding Garcia and preventing what could have easily become a potential repeat of the recent killings in Aurora, Colorado. Only one man besides Garcia was wounded in the altercation, having been struck by one of Garcia’s shots. Both men are expected to make a full recovery, and (thanks to both Castellano’s heroism and her preparedness for self-defense), no one was killed that night. It is heartbreaking and unfortunate that the events in some of the more recent shootings transpired much more tragically than the showdown that took place inside of the movie theater in San Antonio that night; had circumstances been different, there would doubtlessly have been far fewer fatalities.
Another example of how guns can save lives is the 1997 case of a high school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi, where sixteen-year-old gunman Luke Woodham decided to lash out against his classmates with murderous wrath and was subdued by the school’s Assistant Principle, Joel Myrick, before leaving the premises (presumably to continue on with his deadly killing spree). Myrick, despite having knowingly violated the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act, had taken to the practice of keeping a loaded handgun in his desk, “just in case something like this ever happened.” Thanks to Joel Myrick and his conscientious foresight, an unknown number of lives may very well have been saved. It remains to be speculated upon, however, whether or not Woodham would have ever even attempted to commit such atrocities in the first place, had it not been for the Gun Free School Zones Act and its guarantee that no one would be able to fire back at him.
Perhaps knowing that any act of murderous aggression attempted on school property would surely result in retaliation with deadly force would have prevented Woodham from ever considering such a violent course of action. As I mentioned before, the understanding by an individual that others within close proximity to him are also armed would have a significant effect in deterring such outbreaks of violence and criminality altogether: acts of violence would simply no longer be worth taking the risk to commit in the first place, unless the criminal harbored a personal death-wish (and even if so, the outcome of death tolls would still be lower in such cases than in instances of gun violence that take place in allegedly “gun-free zones”).
I’m sure that most people would agree that every single life counts and is worth saving, and it is because of this that I encourage everyone to objectively consider the issue of gun control with an attitude that is diplomatic to both reaching an understanding of the factual realities that surround this complicated issue, as well as to the application of such truths in the form of reason to guide us to a solution to this problem.