A few weeks ago, I wrote about the paradox of the United States from the standpoint of the belief system of its citizens that subscribes to helping each other, particularly in a time of crisis, but fails to see the need for a government that has the capacity to provide essential support in the wake of disasters, healthcare and infrastructure rebuilding. That was in the wake of the re-election of President Barack Obama.
This past weekend, we witnessed another mass shooting in the United States that has triggered another version of that paradox. A lone gunman – a youth – entered an elementary school and shot to death 26 people, including 20 children, ages six and seven.
The enormity of that tragedy has touched everyone worldwide. The question, “why?” is dominant as everyone tries to find some rationale for this senseless act of violence.
What is most amazing to me, hence the paradox, is that commentators – people who garner admiration through their regular appearances on television and in print media, not so much for their beliefs but for the saliency of their arguments, were suggesting that personnel in schools should be armed as another means of protection. It is the kind of positioning that makes you wonder: what are these people smoking?
On Saturday morning, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien interviewed U.S. Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack of California. While O’Brien kept pushing to get the representative’s position on gun control, Bono Mack kept trying to divert the issue to the question of mental health and its role in this and other similar shootings. The whole question of the ease of access to guns seemed to completely escape Bono Mack or, perhaps more appropriately, was not a matter for debate.
This interview was conducted in the wake of revelations that the mother of the alleged shooter, who was shot and killed before the Sandy Hook tragedy, was a keen gun collector and that guns registered to her were the ones used in the tragedy.
Bill Bennett, who is a frequent commentator on CNN and other national media, is a former Secretary of Education who served in Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Bennett suggested that there should be consideration of arming a member of staff in schools as another means of protection. He based his argument on the fact that the principal reportedly lunged at the assailant in an effort to stop him.
The emerging scenario is that arguments in the wake of these tragedies appear to be centered around mental health on one side, and what kinds of guns Americans can legally own.
Banning guns in private hands is a non-starter. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the source defence of this problem. It states: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Notwithstanding the “regulated militia” context, courts have seen fit to uphold challenges largely based on “the right of the people to bear arms” segment of the amendment.
One of the strongest defenders of this right is the very powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), which famously had the late actor, Charlton Heston, as one of its presidents. As of press time, the NRA has withheld commentary on the Sandy Hook tragedy. However, one can imagine that they are gearing up for a fight as demands for action on greater gun control ensue.
Notwithstanding my earlier “dismissal” of the mental health issue, it will be the prevailing argument used by the anti-gun control lobby. They may try to make it the central issue by acceding to the need for greater mental health screening. The counter argument has to be the right to privacy concerns, which could affect the individual in other circumstances. The result will be that the debate on greater gun control will bog down, yet again.
The fact that many states now have laws that permit individuals to carry handguns openly adds another layer of difficulty in increasing gun control measures. The “self-defence” argument will likely be the winning argument, unless people can be convinced that arming themselves makes the situation even more dangerous. That danger may not always be from the outside.
Most assuredly, the mother of the alleged gunman, in the case of the Newtown tragedy, never expected that one of her children would pose a danger and that she was exacerbating that danger by having guns in her home.
Of course, we in Canada are not immune to this discussion as recent events and the gun registry debate have shown. In the end, politics will win. The power of the lobby, having the resources to challenge pro-gun control supporters in elections, will hold sway and changes will be minor, at best.