I choked up repeatedly while watching and reading the stories about the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Conn., and, throughout the mournful weekend, I pondered the question raised by everyone from stricken parents to mayors and senators on the news talk shows: What will be done to prevent similar sick-minded gun rampages in the future?
My early conclusion: Nothing.
Narrow political interests and the perplexing nature of the crime make inaction nearly certain. This has proved true after the 15 other multiple-shooting rampages of 2012, and it has been the case with all the other terrible incidents in past years. Yes, this time the tender age of most of the victims makes it especially horrific, but, though many hearts have been broken, the cold hearts at the headquarters of the National Rifle Assn. remain in deep freeze.
Even as the children of Newtown are laid to rest, the leaders of the NRA will not soften their absolutist stance for unfettered access to all types of firearms and, as a result, neither will the majority of Republicans in Congress who are in their thrall. Chances are slim-to-none that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will take rational steps toward managing the millions of guns in America, such as banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, as well as requiring background checks for all gun sales. Gun policy in the United States will continue to be dictated by extremists whose paranoid fear of black U.N. helicopters and the federal government far exceeds their concern about the shooting deaths of school kids or moviegoers or Christmas shoppers at a mall.
These 2nd Amendment zealots will argue that Connecticut's comparatively strict firearms laws did nothing to stop the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and they will be right, but maybe that means the laws should be more strict. The guns that Adam Lanza took with him to shoot down 6- and 7-year-olds and their teachers were purchased legally by the first of his victims, his mother. Lanza's primary weapon was his mom's assault rifle, but I expect pro-gun folks to talk as if he could have done equal damage with a baseball bat. Every proposed limit will be treated as an assault on freedom. Even the experience of Australia, where no mass shootings have occurred since very tough firearms laws were passed in 1996, is already being discounted on gun-rights websites.
Attention will be steered away from guns toward other pertinent issues -- most prominently, the adequacy of mental health treatment in the United States. Cuts to state and federal mental health budgets will be decried. But mass shooters are generally not people who have been enrolled in treatment programs, nor do they come from among the mumbling, delusional street vagrants who wander our city streets. Most often, they simply walk out of dorm rooms or their parents' basements with guns blazing. What are we to do when evil is so anonymous and unpredictable? Can we lock up every brooding loner in America? Can we demand a 911 call from every parent with a sullen boy holed up in his bedroom?
How about putting well-armed police officers in every school in America? Would that help? And after the schools are secured, what about the shopping malls and movie theaters and college campuses? Should they too be turned into armed fortresses? How much liberty must we all give up to protect the freedom of those who want to amass an arsenal?