The debate rages. The only thing that we agree on is we don’t want any more Sandy Hook tragedies. Everyone has their own solution. We have heard them all before because we have seen these mass shootings before. Columbine melts into Virginia Tech into Sandy Hook and inevitably into some future American school.
Our retention span is shockingly brief — about the time it takes to flick from one channel to the next with our remote control. Nothing seems quite as horrific as the massacre of innocent children, but alas, even this searing heartbreak will fade until the next tragedy strikes. We are easily distracted. It is one of the less admirable qualities of the human condition.
Both sides in the debate make possible solutions sound amazingly simple. The first step we can and should take is the realization that there are no simple solutions. When 77 people can be slaughtered in a country like Norway, maybe the apocalypse has begun and we just haven’t noticed. Yet it is much too facile, as some suggest, by the Norway example to conclude that our problem in America is no worse than anywhere else. In Norway a mass shooting is once in a lifetime while here it is seemingly an annual ritual of horror with only the names changed.
The National Rifle Association suggests we place trained, armed security guards in every school in America. The idea has been greeted with much derision. Opposition to the idea is that they are too expensive, not conducive to a learning environment or simply guns don’t belong in schools. I don’t often agree with the NRA. I find their “solutions” are mainly ways to distract us from imposing any bans or limitations on owning a weapon. But if we can tolerate armed security guards in other areas of our lives to protect us, I have no problem with doing so in schools where the commodity that we are protecting is so much more precious. We could even hire more police to serve the function. Of course, mass shootings don’t just occur in schools. They occur in any public place where crowds gather — movie theaters and shopping malls to name just two. And critics are correct that there are considerable costs involved. But they ignore the considerable costs involved in their own solutions.
On the other side of the debate, most of the talk is about restoring the ban on assault rifles and other semi-automatic weapons that Congress allowed to expire in 2004. We must also do a better job this time around in defining assault weapons, something we didn’t do under the previous ban. Once we reinstitute the assault-weapons ban, there is the problem of the estimated more than two million assault weapons already out there. In order for the ban to mean anything, someone must get those weapons off of the street.
In 1996, Australia faced a similar problem. In addition to imposing severe restrictions on gun ownership, the government imposed an 1 percent tax levy to raise $500 million in order to buy back about 600,000 guns. Since we have about three times the number of assault weapons in circulation, any buyback program would cost about three times as much. Would the public support a federal buyback program that would mean more taxes? And even if we did, would a Republican-controlled Congress that refuses even to impose a modest increase in tax rates on the wealthiest among us pass such a measure? We shouldn’t kid ourselves; the political hurdle is formidable.
One suggestion on which both sides of the debate seem to agree is the negative effect of violent video games and movies. But what most don’t realize is that video games are rated much the same way as movies. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board issues ratings for video games that have as little effect as movie ratings. In theory, ratings are a good idea, but in reality, they are ignored for the most part. There is no good way to enforce the ratings system without the cooperation of parents. Sad to say that many of the same parents that complain about their children being exposed to violent entertainment are the same ones who give in to their demands for popular video games and films. Government restrictions of these games’ and films’ content run into constitutionally protected free speech.
By outlining the difficulty of the problems we face in preventing another Sandy Hook, it is not my purpose that we throw up our hands and do nothing. But underestimating the difficulties ahead is a sure way to court failure again. It is a sure way to ensure that we will be wringing our hands in horror at the next Sandy Hook-type tragedy. We will have to pull together as a nation. Previous opponents of gun control will have to understand that banning assault weapons and tightening requirements at gun shows will not be a first step toward outlawing legitimate hunting or home-protection interests. Gun-control advocates will have to understand the legitimate interests of gun ownership, as America is a land of diverse cultures. Both sides must respect each other in order to get these killing machines off of our streets.
There is no better time to start than now.
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