Do Something

I can truly understand the cries of those calling for greater gun control after the horrific elementary school shooting last week. Faced with so much pain, there is a natural desire to do something to ensure that such an incident can never happen again.

The impulse is a good one; unfortunately, on a large scale, emotional reactions aren’t well suited to being effective. The clarion call, “Do something” frequently leads to implementation of policies whose consequence are quite different from what was intended. Other times it leads to a vast waste of resources that are now no longer available for other important purposes. (For an example of this phenomenon, see New York Times columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof’s article revealing how some expensive programs meant to help poor children are instead harming them.)

How can we know if politicians who call for more gun control are reacting emotionally or, worse, exploiting a tragedy? How can we know if instead they are acting both wisely and in good conscience? My own litmus test is whether gun control is the sole item on the agenda. If the administration and Congress want to exploit this
tragedy, gun control will be the only issue targeted via legislation even if others are addressed with verbal platitudes. Politicians who truly seek to make America safer will need to put aside political considerations and personal proclivities.  Clearly, it is too simplistic to believe that if only there was sweeping gun control legislation mass murder in America would end. Is the goal to lessen violence (stopping all violence is impossible and anyone who promises that it is possible is lying) or to get rid of guns? These two goals are not automatically linked. Are we ready to have a mature conversation where all of us admit that the results might not fit our cherished pre-conceived notions?

There are dozens of potential areas to troubleshoot. We need to start with the question of whether there is an actual increase in horrific incidents such as school shootings or if we only think there is because of today’s instantaneous and constant media.  Among other things we must question what, if any, role various factors play, including media coverage, violent movies, books and games, the breakdown of the traditional family, changes in the way we deal with mental illness and the secularization of society where we may no longer teach that every human being is created in God’s image. And yes, we need to discuss the place of guns in society.  I would put anything and everything remotely connected in the initial mix.

Should there be a call for newspapers and news providers not to publicize the pictures and names of mass murderers? Should there be a law against doing so? If that makes you cringe because newspapers are protected under the first amendment, then you should cringe at tampering with the second amendment as well.

Should going to a violent movie become the equivalent of drunk driving or of lighting up a cigarette on an asthma ward in the hospital? Should buying a violent video game for your children or allowing them to buy it themselves place you on the social B list? Should the directors of and actors in violent movies pay a draconian tax to provide services for victims of violence? I am not suggesting these things, but any truly open-minded discussion of making major changes in our culture has to consider them. It also has to consider, as my friend Diane Medved writes, whether we simply cannot control the actions of random, unhinged individuals, no matter how impotent that makes us feel.

How will I decide if a politician is exploiting the Connecticut children’s deaths or trying to lessen the chance of a repeat incident? Will he or she acknowledge the lives saved by guns? Will he or she talk about potential mass shootings that were averted by armed citizens? Will he or she speak of the women not raped, the elderly not beaten and the schoolrooms not shot up, only because of the presence of guns and citizens willing and able to use them?  Will he or she admit how in many locations the police sadly admit that they only arrive after a victim is hurt or dead?

Is there an attempt to demonize the NRA and its members or recognition that millions of Americans, both for and against gun control, are loving mothers, fathers, and neighbors? Does this become a “we good people vs. you evil people” debate—the kind of debate to which this administration is prone? Do we only hear from biased individuals whose ideas are cast in concrete or is there an honest and open discussion based on independent research? The answers to these questions will tell me if I am seeing a government power grab or a real inquiry into whether the ways society has changed necessitates changing our laws as well.

There is so much that needs honest evaluation. I believe that most citizens who are signing petitions and urging gun control laws are well motivated.  I also believe that most citizens who oppose gun control measures are well motivated. Unfortunately, I can’t give the same benefit of the doubt to most politicians.   This is a time for the populace to be very much on guard.




10 thoughts on “Do Something”

  1. My main point has little to do with abridging legitimate rights for arms. I was trying to explain that it’s a very complex problem with complex, not single or simple answers. I’m not at all advocating gun confiscation or anything outrageous like that.
    I might not object to ban, or, perhaps, very high taxes on armor-piercing ammunition, etc. But we’re getting to the extremes of the question here. But I don’t intend to make you, myself, or anyone else a statistic.

  2. We’ve heard nothing but comments from “children” on TV. I don’t mean those children. I mean the adults who think and act like children when they discuss these horrible events. I’m talking about the politicians and news commentators. We’ve heard comments ranging from sending suspected people to mental hospitals to all out gun confiscation. It is my contention that it doesn’t matter at all WHY somebody shows up at a school, mall, church, airport or even a military base and starts shooting people at random. The only issue that should be discussed is what to do when this happens. So, here’s my thoughts. I would like the Rabbi to ask if by some miracle it was possible to go back in time to September 11, 2001 and this time have the pilots of those ill fated flights armed with a handgun and an armed Air Marshal on board…either…or ….or both, would there be anybody who would deny this chance to change history? The same holds true for the massacre at Sandy Hook. At least four adults came in contact with the shooter. Had any one of those four people been armed, trained and ready to use a gun, it is quite possible and more than likely that many, if not all, those lives would have been saved. The question is simple. If we could go back in time and have a “do over”, is there anyone in the country who would vote not to do this? The presence of one more gun at the scene just might have changed history. If we could have a replay….something like the movie “Groundhog Day” where the same scene kept happening over and over with a little different result each time, who would say “no” to that? Therefore, if everyone agrees they would like to take the chance and have another try to change history…and it’s OK to have another gun on scene then…why would they deny people the right to have a gun on scene now? Also, by posting the “This is a Gun Free Zone” sign at that school, they most certainly sealed the fates of those kids and teachers. It’s childish the way we are handling this subject. The only answer is to allow mentally balanced and prepared people to carry concealed weapons everywhere.
    The idea is ludicrous that if we just figure out who is going to start shooting people, we can somehow prevent them from doing it. The guy who killed 22 people in China with a knife a few days ago did not have a gun. It’s not the knife or the gun or the bomb or the car. The only question is what to do about it once those evil people start doing what they plan to do.

  3. As a Rabbi, surely you realize that the Jewish people were systematically exterminated by a little known despot called Adolf Hitler.. who instituted Gun control in 1935.. bringing his “civilized” society into the “modern era” .. and as such.. millions of your bretheren were rounded up and murdered, defenseless against tyranny.. Jews have been persecuted for centuries in countries all over the world.. allowing governments to be the only ones to have arms.. is a recipe for Historical auto-repeat. A massacre is tragic .. .. but as the book 1984 by George Orwell puts it.. “One death is a tragedy, a Million deaths is just a statistic. .. as a gun owner, i don’t intend to be a statistic.

  4. the argument is often made that the 2nd Amendment was written long ago, and therefore only muskets should be allowed.. first i would note that 200 years ago.. muskets were the front line military weapon of the day. second.. military “style” rifles are just that.. “style” .. they LOOK MEAN .. they still only fire 1 bullet each trigger pull.. an actual military weapon, shoots many bullets with a single trigger pull.
    aside from that.. if you used that same argument on the 1st amendment.. this forum here we’re discussing on, wasn’t available 200 years ago.. then we the people would be limited to just parchment paper and yelling.. because fancy things like twitter and the internet send out information far too quickly and it isn’t covered under the constitution “speech” or “press” clause.. clearly i am not actually speaking or using a “press” ..
    none of my weapons are designed for hunting.. several are designed for “sporting” aka.. shooting paper targets (or potatoes, they’re fun.. they explode!) .. i’ve never hunted.. no interest in hunting.. but i do have an interest in self defense, defense of my home and family, and, if needed, defend the country.. sounds far fetched.. but look how many countries have fallen/changed hands/ collapsed governments in the last 10 years.. the US is young… Even Rome fell.

  5. Criminologist, professor and author John R. Lott, Jr. has well documented in his book More Guns, Less Crime (now in its 3rd edition) that virtually all mass shootings in the last 5 decades have happened in gun-free zones.
    Politicians are the fathers of gun-free zones. As a consequence, most of us send our children to gun-free public schools. If we choose to fly on commercial airlines, we must by necessity do so by passing through gun-free airport terminals where we are effectively made to suspend our Constitutional rights until be arrive at baggage claim. Maybe we should rename it baggage and Constitutional rights claim.
    In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of our nation’s founders wisely articulated reference to our unalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Unalienable means God-given. We have a God-given right to defend ourselves in order to preserve our lives, our liberty, and our private property.
    During the 1970s and 1980s, prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, there were folks here in America pejoratively referred to as Freezeniks. These were people whose ultimate goal was America’s unilateral nuclear disarmament. They advocated having America dismantle our entire nuclear weapons arsenal under the assumption that the other nuclear armed nations would follow suit.
    Today, advocates of more gun-control legislation are today’s Freezeniks. They advocate unilateral disarmament of American citizens. Of course, they don’t see it that way, but effectively that is what they want. Orderly law-abiding citizens will be the only ones disarmed by new laws, just as the United States would have been the only nuclear weapon free nation among those nations that possessed nukes at that time.
    The fact of the matter is that humanity cannot un-invent firearms any more than we can un-invent controlled nuclear fission/fusion or the wheel for that matter. All of these can be used for good or for ill.
    Extending government mandated gun-free zones to include the entire continental U.S., Hawaii and Alaska may be the dream of some. I can assure you that it is also the hope of our adversaries.
    During a brief window of time in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, the West had access to their archives where we learned beyond any shadow of a doubt that the KGB was behind our Freezenik movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Any surprise that the Soviet Big Brother wanted unilateral disarmament? It would not have come as any surprise to the 18th century Irishman who was disarmed of his firearms by the British Parliament during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The shillelagh was not so much of a walking stick as it was a weapon, carried by necessity in lieu of a firearm.
    Lord Acton was correct, and we as a nation are apparently in the process of repeating history. We have had it too good, for too long. We are quick to sue our neighbor for the horrible injustice of spilling our McDonald’s drive through coffee on us. We dial 911 because that same drive-thru window says “Sorry, we’re out of Chicken McNuggets”. We whine and ask “Why does anyone in our society need a semi-automatic weapon?” For the same reason our Libyan Ambassador in Benghazi needed one. The shooting front for the war on terror may be “over there” now. What happens when it arrives here? We’ll be left with two options: call a lawyer, or dial 911.
    The very spirit of this great nation as captured in ink on parchment by Thomas Jefferson will be surrendered to our adversaries when we relinquish our right to defend ourselves using firearms. We will once again become a nation of vassals, and ultimately – slaves.

  6. People today seem to lack a fundamental understanding of what the federal government is, how it was created, and what “rights” are.
    The people sought and created a government via constitution. the constitution is the contract between the people and the government that allows the government power. In addition, it LIMITS what that power is.. it “enumerates” various functions of government and identifies certain rights that the people wanted to clarify that pre-existed the creation of that government. among which are freedom of the press (to exploit ad nausium, the current tragedy) freedom of religion, and of speech (to allow westboro baptist to make donkeys of themselves) to own and use weapons and specifically allows the states, and the people to reserve powers not granted to the federal government.. that is.. if it ain’t in the constitution, it ain’t in your power.
    they are NOT privileges granted by a government at its magnificent benevolence, to be taken away when it feels its subjects no longer deserve that privilege.. or by popular vote.. aka MOB rule. currently the “mob” is anti-gun and anti-2nd amendment. the constitutional protections with enumerated rights are specifically there to protect the minority from the MOB majority.
    its funny how when a tragedy happens that the “they” seem to want to restrict the rights and freedoms of all the people who DIDN’T do the heinous act.
    as to video game and movie violence etc .. ain’t it funny how Canada doesn’t seem to be affected by those things? maybe because its just as silly to point a finger at movies, TV and Video games as it is to point it at inanimate objects such as guns.
    We don’t and will likely never know the motivation for these type of tragic events.
    (i personally like the theory that it has to do with the shooters father’s [yeah even the colorado movie shooter] eminent testimony in the LIBOR scandal.. because it seems that “following the money” makes more sense with more tragedies than inanimate objects or artistic fantasy)
    so just like the previous 5 presidents, more rights will be restricted, more freedoms will be taken away.. in the name of the children.. and solve nothing. to speak against it is to be labeled a looney.
    i say… lock and load. with 100million gun owners.. if even just 5% of them fought back against confiscation.. thats 5 million people fighting back.. even if only 20% of them scored a kill before being wasted.. thats a million dead treasonists. (who no doubt were “just following orders” as we heard about in Nurenburg. ) a very costly way to “keep the children safe”.

  7. These are very good arguments that need to be carefully considered before any action or change in the Law is taken. However, is there really a need for the modern weapons of warfare in the homes and neighborhoods of society. Surely that have only one purpose – to kill. The ‘right to bear arms’ may have been more relavent 200 years ago than it is today. There is a big difference between guns that were used in the ‘wild west’ than the semi-automatic weapons of today that can kill many in a few seconds.
    Regarding the monitoring of those that kill who have mental health problems or personality disorders: it is not possible to totally prevent such incidences without incarcerating at least ten percent of the population that at any one time will have a mental illness.
    It is therefore necessary to look at the things that can be changed effectively and meaningfully. It is not possible to make sure that those who own guns do not at any time have a mental illness. It is possible to withdraw the sale of semi-automatic weapons to the general public.
    There is also a fundamental question that requires serious consideration. If weapons of warfare are needed to save lives or keep the peace in neghborhoods and communities something is seriously wrong.

  8. The urban populace tends to vote for the party of handouts, the rurals favor conservative values. Likewise, urban citizens favor control of weapons, but the rural ones support freedom to arm themselves.
    My own roots are deep in the land. My mother’s country family owned guns. A shotgun stood armed and ready behind the kitchen door and no one ever touched it unless dire need arose. But it was there. My aunt was raised deep in the swamp, and she was so good with a weapon that she bested her husband’s army officer buddies in marksmanship. She needed skills in weaponry to survive down in the swamps, to neutralize the threat of an approaching bear or rattlesnake.
    Yes, there are plenty of politicians to pander to the prevailing popular whim, and would take away our guns as a matter of principle, for then we can no longer stand up to the scoundrels in charge. However, mark these words well: when guns are outlawed, then only criminals will own guns. And when they come for you, by all means call the police. But you may be dead before the police arrive.
    I am hearing that despite the occasional psychopathic massacre, overall violence is declining. Scripture teaches that evil is out there. We will never banish it entirely. And shouldn’t we be ready for it?

  9. You have it exactly right.
    There is a complex of issues that lead to these tragedies. Better control of some weapons might be a piece of the puzzle, but I fear that it’s an “easy fix” which will satisfy the demand to “do something”, but which will leave everything else that needs to be addressed undone.
    It seems to me that a much larger problem in American society is the the sense of pessimism and hopelessness. People who carry out these crimes must feel that they have nothing to lose because they don’t see a future for themselves. If life is only oriented to the external and material, especially in a sinking economy, despair rises.
    A sense of higher purpose, i.e. the spiritual goals of religion, while also not sufficient in itself, is a necessary component to transforming American society for the better.

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