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Following Sandy Hook Mass Shooting, It's Time For Reasonable Gun Control

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A 6 year old girl covered in blood was the sole survivor of her first grade classroom at the Sandy Hook elementary school Friday December 14th.  Imagine the simultaneous relief and horror her mother must have felt when she saw her after the massacre.  Seeing the look on her mother's face, this innocent little girl said, “Mommy, I'm OK....but all of my friends are dead.”  

Sandy Hook Elementary School

The well known death toll this time: 20 children; 6 teachers and administrators; the lunatic killer and his mother.  In the days following the Sandy Hook shooting, I often heard , “We have to do something, THIS TIME.”  Have the men who make our laws been roused from their apathy by 20 slaughtered children?  It's hard to say. Five dead children was clearly not enough.

We had that many killed and six injured at the Amish school shooting; five more killed at the Indian school shooting; five killed and 30 injured all the way back in 1989 at the Stockton school shootings. The Oklahoma shootings; the Arkansas shootings; Columbine; the Batman premiere in Aurora CO; Virginia Tech; so many we lose track. Shooting a congresswoman in the head while killing 6 and injuring 14 had no real effect on our unwillingness to keep guns from dangerous  maniacs. Speaking at the Sandy Hook memorial service, President Obama said “These tragedies must end.”  Senator Feinstein is proposing we reinstitute the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.  So maybe 20 is finally enough. Or maybe we have to wait for 50 dead children, or 100 might be the magic number to take serious preventive action.

I haven't seen our nation shocked like this by anything but natural disaster since 9/11.  The monstrous nature of this attack is hard to process, even in a culture accustomed to grisly violence. In Berks County, PA, graduates of a local high school put up green and white ribbons in support of a classmate who was the father of one of the victims. Alone in my living room watching football on Sunday, I stood up along with the stadium crowd for a moment of silence for the victims. They shot 20  flares in the air during the televised Sunday night game.

 It all seemed absurd, and totally inadequate.  There is an element of our community who would just as soon see business as usual. Guns sales in the USA were $31 billion in 2011 according to the FBI, and that's only the legal sales which are a mere fraction of the total. They also did 16.8 million background checks in 2012, but nearly half of all gun sales don't require background checks. How stupid is that? Bob Schieffer said on Face the Nation that it is harder for him to get a driver's license than it is to get a gun. According to ABC news 1.6 million children live in a home with a loaded, unlocked gun. The real number is surely higher.

On average, in America 30 people are killed with a gun every day, with another 50 or 60 gun suicides. In England, it is 60 gun deaths per year.  So it is obvious something needs to be done. The devil lies in the details.  We aren't going to ban guns, (which account for 11,000 of the 17,000 annual homicides), any more than we are going to ban cars (35,000 deaths) or cigarettes (450,000).  With a car, you need to be able to drive it safely, with cigs, smoke them where others don't have to breathe your exhaust. Someone on the terrorist watch list should not be able to get a gun anywhere.

Same for convicted felons and those with a record of violent crime. The ATF should not be selling assault rifles to Mexican drug gangs. (Yes, they actually did that; it was called Operation Fast and Furious). The mentally ill should not be able to shoot people, but here's where it gets tricky.  The National Institute of Health estimates there are 2.4 million schizophrenics among us; 5.7 million manic/depressives and 14.8 million severely depressed individuals. And these are only the most dangerous of the many forms of mental illness. I worked in a mental health clinic while researching my novel “A History of Insanity” and I guarantee that if you knew how many people you pass on the street every day who are talking to demons and spacemen you'd be amazed. Not everyone, in fact a tiny minority, of the mentally ill are going to be heartless murderers. If you ban seriously mentally ill people from having weapons through some national database, how many people are never going to get treatment?  And treatment sometimes does more harm than good.  The Sandy Hook killer was in treatment and on medication.

In the near future we may have new diagnostic methods to help identify those who should never bear arms. But these same scientific advances could also be used in ways that are more frightening to me than crazy people with guns. Mind control, depriving voters of certain political views of their freedom and so on.

Snowball's Chance AdWe don't want to turn schools into armed fortresses. There is a place for responsible gun ownership in modern America. Hunters and those seeking protection of their homes from violent criminals are perfectly reasonable. Though some gun control advocates will point out that you are more likely to be shot by your own weapon than to use it to defend yourself, it is still an option you might want when someone is trying to break your door down in a home invasion. The widely held belief that the second amendment means an armed populace can protect us from abuse of power by the government does not add up, unless we are arming ourselves with tanks and cruise missiles. Let's not do that.

There is a way to find sensible laws to keep deadly weapons from the kind of monsters who will shoot up a first grade classroom. It won't be easy, and given the recent track record of politicians of both parties on all levels of government, it seems unlikely. But if this terrible day does not get politicians to act like statesmen for the good of the public, nothing will.

For crying out loud, 20 is enough.

Contact Darryl Mars at darrylmars@comcast.net

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