We can stipulate that what happened in Newtown, Connecticut was horrible. But we really can't change it very much. In a long but very good article, Megan McCardle explains why:
Unlike many libertarians, I am fine with a ban on automatic weapons. But no need to hop over to Change.org to start a petition to ban them; machine guns have been illegal in the United States since 1934, and since the 1980s, it has been illegal to manufacture and sell any automatic weapon. Apparently unbeknownst to Twitter, we have also already made it illegal for the mentally ill to buy or have guns, and have background checks aimed at prevented just that.
But beyond the strange calls to make serial killers pray more and outlaw things that are already illegal, the most interesting thing is how generic they were. As soon as Newtown happened, people reached into a mental basket already full of "ways to stop school shootings" and pulled out a few of their favorite items. They did not stop to find out whether those causes had actually obtained in this case.
Obviously, as the automatic weapons arguments show, some of the items in those baskets were not actually at all related to "causes of school shootings"; as far as I can determine, few to none of the mass shootings in recent decades involved automatics.
But even when the cause was correct--Adam Lanza, like many of these shooters, seems to have had some fairly severe mental health problems--the proposed cure didn't have anything to do with the specifics of Lanza's situation. I've seen calls to punish people who don't secure their guns properly, but no suggestions about how you "properly secure" guns against an adult child who lives in the house, or acknowledgement of the fact that Nancy Lanza is beyond punishment. Presumably if she's thought her son would do something like this, she'd have gotten rid of the guns long since.
"Make more mental health resources available" or "early identification and treatment of troubled children" is a fine answer to many cases, but Adam Lanza had all that you could wish for in terms of resources. It didn't stop him from picking up a gun and going to that school.
What Lanza shows us is the limits of the obvious policy responses. He had all the mental health resources he needed--and he did it anyway. The law stopped him from buying a gun--and he did it anyway. The school had an intercom system aimed at stopping unauthorized entry--and he did it anyway. Any practical, easy-to-implement solution to school shootings that you could propose, along with several that were not at all easy to implement, was already in place. Somehow, Lanza blew through them all.
There's a lot more at the link and it's worth your time. One other point that McCardle makes is quite important:
I'll merely point out what Jeffrey Goldberg has already said, better and at greater length, in The Atlantic: the discussion is moot. You can't ban guns. That ship has sailed.
You can't ban them because the Supreme Court has now ruled, twice, that you can't. You also can't ban them because there are hundreds of millions of guns in circulation in the United States--no one knows exactly how many, but we are either approaching, or well past, one gun per adult citizens. Other countries that banned guns started with a less absolutist attitude towards civil liberties, and also, a lot fewer guns.
We don't know where any of those guns are. So how would we get them? House to house searches? I keep getting these mailers from the ACLU saying that whatever administration is currently in power is "gutting" the fourth amendment, but the old girl still has a little life in her--enough to preclude any such measures. At best, you would take guns away from the people least likely to use them: the folks law abiding enough to trundle down to the police station and dutifully surrender their weapons.
And that's assuming that you can get to the point of banning guns. You can't. Somewhere between 40-60% of American adults own a gun; they will not vote for your gun ban. Others who do not own guns are nonetheless opposed to banning them. Even if the events in Newtown changes some of those minds, the structural obstacles are pretty much insurmountable. Since Heller, a ban would now take a constitutional amendment to implement. A constitutional amendment would take either a constitutional convention, or 38 states to ratify. You need only look at a map of the United States to see that you will never get enough votes at the state level. I doubt you would even get to 25. A constitutional convention is even more unlikely.
It is well nigh impossible to take the emotion out of the arguments, especially when we are presented with the horrifying reality of nearly two dozen murdered first-grade students. Six and seven year old children should not be meeting their Maker. But we're not going to do anything meaningful because there are no meaningful things we can do, given where we are right now. You can't make 300 million guns disappear. And the sooner we stop the magical thinking, the better.
Cross-posted and comments welcome at Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood.