Friday, around 9:30 in the morning, local churches will join others across the nation in ringing their bells 26 times — once each for the 26 people killed last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — followed by a moment of silence in their memory.
Afterward, if not in the church sanctuaries, through much of the rest of the nation the debate will rage on regarding guns and violence in American society.
With this latest shooting, in some ways the most awful in memory given the victims were mostly 6- and 7-year-olds, the call for gun control rings out across the land, as if the answer to the problem of violent deaths in the United States is to do away with all guns.
Try and have a reasoned discussion with those calling for tighter gun controls and most will quickly fall to impassioned, even angry, arguments. That’s understandable. In light of what happened at Sandy Hook, emotions are high. We believe nearly everyone would gladly give up their guns if guaranteed mass killings would go away, if no more children would be killed by madmen.
But that is simply not going to happen — evil people will find ways to kill. Consider:
- On the same day of the shooting at Sandy Hook, 22 children and one adult were injured in a knife attack at a school in central China. Over the past two years there have been a series of such attacks in China, including one in which a man stabbed 28 school children — most 4-years-old — and another in which eight children were murdered in a mass stabbing attack. The day the perpetrator of that attack was executed, another man attacked and injured 16 students and a teacher.
- In 1996, Timmy McVeigh killed 168 people, including 19 children age 5 or younger, in Oklahoma City with a home-made bomb he and Terry Nichols made from easily accessible material.
- Derrick Bird killed 12 people and injured 11 others in Cumbria, England, in 2010, a nation with some of the tightest gun control laws in the world.
- In 2011, a gunman in Norway killed 92 people in a rampage. Again, a nation with stringent gun control laws.
These are but a handful of examples which show even with strict gun control laws, people will kill, and kill widely, whether they find ways to circumvent the laws and illegally acquire firearms or they choose another form of weapon.
We also can point out that mass murders in the United States have not increased in recent years, according to criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston’s Northeastern University (though we understand the perception that they have, given the ad nauseum reporting by broadcast media, saying the same thing over and over for days after attacks).
In fact, Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said mass murders in America have been on the decline for the past decade. Most surprising, he said mass murders in the nation peaked in 1929 (that is no misprint).
That’s not to say gun control should be overlooked. We can’t think of a single rational explanation for allowing assault weapons on the street, or even automatic weapons. Because guns are legal doesn’t mean all firearms should be legal. And it seems that while the total number of mass murders might be down, the number of people killed in them seems to be larger and more tragic.
So what’s our point?
That it does no one any good to point fingers at gun owners and say they are evil, or call the NRA a terrorist group or vilify this lobbying organization, any more than it’s productive to ignore the very real need for a thorough examination of gun laws in the United States and, perhaps, outlawing certain types of guns.
The loss at Sandy Hook is a tragedy beyond measure, and nothing that happens in the debate can touch the loss that community will contend with for decades to come.
It would be another tragedy, albeit of a smaller and less personal nature, if knee-jerk reactions carry the day.
Let’s have a reasoned, rational discussion, and do away with the emotional, shrill squealing coming from both sides of the issue.