In the wake of the terrible tragedy in Connecticut last week, first and foremost we wish to send our thoughts and prayers to the families affected. The horror of such an occurrence is as sobering as it is inexplicable.
As a result of this recent mass shooting, we again hear the Left clamoring for more restrictive gun laws. I empathize with their desire to “do something”, but we must carefully think through and evaluate the repercussions of reactionary politics and subsequent legislation.
First, these misguided efforts are based on the flawed assumption that the gun, and not the individual, is to blame in these situations. The Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban (now expired) both had no significant effect on gun homicides. The weapons used in the Newtown massacre were legally purchased by the family of the shooter, so no legislation could have prevented him from having access to them. Unfortunately, crazy people and criminals will get access to weapons no matter what you do. Gun laws only take firearms out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, because criminals/unbalanced people don’t obey the law.
I remember my father telling me when he was an adolescent in the late 1950s, he and his friends used to bring their shotguns to school all the time and leave them in their locker because they would go hunting after school. No one ever remotely thought to shoot up the place, or even to try to steal them. The same story went for some family friends in rural Pennsylvania as recently as the late 1980s.
Why did these tragic events not happen back then? Obviously guns were as available then as they are now. What has changed? Here’s my take: The traditional role of the family and community being supplanted by the State. Let me explain.
The proper hierarchy of social cohesion in America used to be (and should continue to be) family, community, and THEN the State. That means, if you have an issue or need help, your first recourse should be to turn to your family. If they can’t help or aren’t there, you have your community (friends, neighborhood, civic association, church, etc). Only after those two options have been exhausted, should one turn to the State.
But over the past 50 years, the creeping authority and responsibility we have ceded to the government in the name of “helping us” has eroded the effectiveness of the first two institutions. As the State takes over these traditional civic roles, we distance ourselves from each other, managing through a “middleman” (the State) what should invariably be individual personal relationships. We then slowly lose our ability to interact on an interpersonal level, leading to withdrawal from society and increased conflict with our neighbors, mainly because we don’t know or understand them. It’s very simple—-if you know someone on a personal level, it’s much harder to kill them.
Further, how effective can laws generated at the Federal level be when they don’t take into account the small community dynamics of towns like Newtown or Columbine or rural Pennsylvania or any other small slice of American suburbia. One size fits all legislation rarely works in our diverse country. That’s why our founders were adamant about the necessity of maintaining a small, limited Federal government.
Any knee-jerk legislation would merely be an exercise in politicians peddling the illusion of control so that they can feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, crazy happens sometimes. You can’t explain it, codify it, compartmentalize it, or reason with it. And you certainly can’t legislate it out of existence.