Today, our nation once again morns the death of innocents. We try to make sense of the senseless. Our hearts are broken and as a nation we grieve. As a former paramedic, I can imagine what both the families and the first responders are going through. Yet before the bodies were even cold, both our president and our attorney general already began to to use this incident to advance their long held gun control agenda. Why? Simple: They cannot advance it on facts, so they must try to advance it based upon emotion. I submit to you that this is politics at is worst. They well not let this crisis go to waste. Solutions to these kind of issues need to be based upon facts and logic, not emotions - or they will prove to be no solutions at all.
As I write this, details about today's horrible events are few beyond the terrible basic facts: 25 people have been murdered and as many as 20 are young children. I am intentionally writing before all the details are in to demonstrate how predictable these incidents and the reactions to it are. By doing so, I hope to show that there may be solutions beyond the knee jerk reactions we are likely to see in the coming days and weeks.
First, it is very likely that when all the facts are in, it will become evident that the shooter(s) had evidenced multiple signs of mental illness for some time prior to today's murders. It may be that their behavior called them to the attention of law enforcement, and they never compelled them to be evaluated, or that they were under mental health care and the practitioner failed to hospitalize them, or that they were in fact hospitalized and there was little to no follow up after their release. This was the case in the Giffords shooting, the recent Colorado and Virginia Tech shootings, receptively. Even if none of the preceding is true, it is likely that friends and family had grave concerns about the person or persons who did this - and they failed to report them to someone who could do something about it. Given that both state and federal gun control laws prohibit those suffering from severe mental illness from buying or possessing firearms, this issue is huge. It is also true that people can be killed in large numbers with edged weapons (especially swords and machetes) and clubs (think Rwanda) as well as bombs. China has had a number of fatal school attacks using knives - and ironically a non-fatal attack today - but no weapon kills in the absence of a human mind choosing to use it. Any solution that is not centered upon identifying the mentally ill individuals who commit these acts and preventing them from acting will fail. At best, they will only limit the death toll, at worst they will provide the illusion that we have addressed the problem, when we have not done so. Science and religion both agree that the root of this unspeakable evil is the human heart and mind - if we really want to stop these mass murders, this must be the focus of our actions. This option is the only one that has real potential to stop these incidents before they happen.
Second, it will be established that the shooter took his own life prior to, or upon the arrival of, armed opposition. Law enforcement entered the school as soon as they arrived - and probably saved many lives by doing so, These individuals have thought and planned for some time prior to acting. Their planning includes how it will end - suicide, suicide by cop, or surrender. As soon as the first armed opposition arrives, they typically put their "end game" plan into effect - before they loose control. This is why - after Columbine - police changed tactics and now enter the scene as soon as possible - even without back up. It should also be noted that there have been cases where the armed opposition was not law enforcement, and they result was still the same. In one case, a teacher ran to his car (parked over 500 ft away from the school in order in order to comply with the gun free schools act) and retrieved his own gun with which he forced the shooter to surrender. In another, a citizen with a concealed weapons permit stopped a shooting at a church. Just as we have fire extinguishers and first aid kits in schools - along with people trained to use them - perhaps we should consider arming and training teachers so that the armed opposition arrives much sooner. (Of course, the weapons would have to be secured - but this is easily done.) This is done in Israel, and there have been no problems in decades. We have to face the reality - expressed by a police officer today - that when seconds count, the police are minutes away. This is why - according to USA Today - China posted guards at all schools after the 2010-2011 attacks. These guards stopped today's attack before anyone was killed. To dismiss this option on political or emotional grounds makes no sense. In addition, I predict that initial reports that the shooter was wearing body armor will prove to be false - as has been the case in several other recent incidents. Even if he was, this does not mean that the first armed opposition would not have been able to stop him. Outside of schools, virtually all of these incident happen in places where law abiding citizens are prohibited from carrying firearms - so that they will not face immediate armed opposition. One of the most consistent facts about mass shootings is that no matter where they take place, the vast majority end upon arrival of the first armed opposition.
Third, it will be established that the shooter broke many gun laws in order to carry out this mass murder. Both New Jersey and Connecticut have some of the most strict gun laws in the nation (according to the Brady gun control group). Yet, they did not stop this horrible incident. Norway - with gun laws that are much, much more restrictive than anywhere in the U.S. - recently saw three times as many children killed and more people (85 total) killed than in any shooting in U.S. history. (Again, the shooting stopped upon the arrival of the first armed opposition.) In Switzerland, virtually every home has a semi-automatic or fully-automatic rifle, along with other guns, and there has been exactly one mass shooting in their entire history. (They also have one of the lowest crime rates in the world.) There clearly is a place for gun laws (even the NRA believes this), but more gun laws are unlikely to stop these kind of incidents. Mexico has a near ban on legal guns, but is awash in weapons even more powerful than the ones used here (from all over the world, NOT just the US) because there is a demand for them. If we were to outlaw guns today, they would likely flood in from all over the world and become available to anyone willing to break the law - not to mention the millions of guns now in the illegal market.. Just consider how little success we have had stopping drugs from entering the country. However, these facts will not stop those who want to take firearms away from law abiding and mentally stable people from presenting new gun laws as THE solution. It isn't, and if the debate is focused upon guns, we are unlikely to take actions on other fronts - and we will likely see more incidents like today's mass murders.
Fourth and last, I predict that almost no one will be willing to face the hardest reality: When someone is willing to die in the process of killing others, that person is nearly impossible to stop - especially in a free society. Again, in Israel, in the 1970s terrorists were using firearms to kill large numbers of civilians in planned attacks. If armed security was present, they were the first ones shot. In response, the Israelis issued a huge number of concealed weapons permits. It worked. After a few shootings were stopped by armed civilians, the terrorists got the message. The shootings stopped. Of course, we all know what they started using instead of guns: Bombs. Since they were willing to die, stopping shootings did not stop the killings. Bombs are just not that hard to build. Anyone with an internet connection can find out how to build several types in a few minutes. Do we begin censoring the internet? Do we begin controlling road flares, baking soda and plumbing parts? We cannot stop people from make meth, how in the world would we stop them from building bombs? More than this, how do you stop someone who is willing and able to kill themselves, from using that bomb? The reality is that even totalitarian governments are unable to stop people from doing this - how can we do so without sacrificing our freedoms?
So, I am making these predictions before the debate begins and before were even know all the details. I do so in the hope that, in some small way, it will help to prevent the predicable and useless, usual response. We need to try something that actually might work. Sadly, we may have to accept that if China, with a totalitarian government and a 100% ban on gun ownership must post armed guards at schools, we may have to do the same - and we should not let political correctness stand in the way.
Finally, one of the wisest comments I have heard today came from a retired Alcohol Tobacco, and Firearms agent. He said that we need a community response involving everyone, so that we can identify people at risk to commit these crimes. He is right.