The Newtown atrocity
and "gun control"
By Massad Ayoob
Issue #140 • March/April, 2013
In mid-December of 2012, a mentally disturbed twenty-year-old whose escalating aberrant behavior had gone untreated and unchecked murdered his own mother, stole her guns, and entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. When he realized police were approaching, he committed suicide ... but by then, he had already murdered 20 helpless little kids and half a dozen almost equally helpless adults who had been unable to protect the children.
There had been mass murders before in America and elsewhere, some with higher death tolls, but what struck all our hearts with this one was that the killer had chosen the youngest, the most innocent, the most helpless of victims. And the national cry went up, "We've got to do something!"
A close cousin to the mentality of "We've got to do something" is the mentality of "Someone must be punished!" More than even they perhaps realized, a huge number of media denizens, politicians, and ordinary folks looked consciously or subconsciously for a target on which to focus their righteous rage. "Crazy people?" No, it had been politically incorrect to hate them for decades. But what did the media instantly make the symbol of the atrocity? The stolen Bushmaster AR15 .223 rifle, of course. And, from the outset, the mainstream media and certain politicians: Guns, and the people who lawfully owned them. A President who had long been anti-gun but had kept those leanings on a leash during his first term, now slipped the leash at the first opportunity after his re-election.
The result is probably the most focused attack on gun owners' civil rights in the long history of this highly polarized debate. The Backwoods Home editorial staff asked me to cover this topic for this issue, so given the short (deadline) notice forced by circumstances, some of what you're about to read now was taken from my series on these matters at the Backwoods Home blogs, beginning on December 15, 2012, at www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/MassadAyoob.
First line of protection
If my first reaction was that of father and grandfather, my second was that of threat manager. My life includes 38 years of carrying a badge and a gun, and more than 40 years now of teaching cops how to deal with lethal threat. The first thing I had to say on the Backwoods Home blog was this, from 12/15/12:
"The atrocity at the Connecticut elementary school will not be the last such horror, nor was it the first or even the worst. Go back to the year 1764, in what is now Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The first: during Pontiac's Rebellion in the wake of the French and Indian War, four "warriors" entered a schoolhouse and slaughtered the headmaster and 10 children. The worst: in 1927, a crazed monster beat his wife to death, then triggered a bombing in an elementary school in Bath, Michigan, killing 38 kids and several adults.
"I'll repeat what I said in the Wall Street Journal op-ed section and on the Today show in 1999, after the Columbine High School atrocity: if we simply prepared teachers to handle this type of crisis the way we teach them to handle fires and medical emergencies, the death toll would drop dramatically. We don't hear of mass deaths of children in school fires these days: fire drills have long since been commonplace, led by trained school staff, not to mention sprinkler systems and smoke alarms and strategically placed fire extinguishers that can nip a blaze in the bud while firefighters are en route. In the past, if someone "dropped dead," people would cry and wring their hands and wail, "When will the ambulance get here?" Today, almost every responsible adult knows CPR; most schools have easily-operated Automatic Electronic Defibrillators readily accessible; and a heart attack victim's chance of surviving until the paramedics arrive to take over is now far greater.
"The same principle works for defending against mass murders ... it just doesn't work HERE because it is politically incorrect to employ it HERE. After the Ma'alot massacre in 1974, Israel instituted a policy in which volunteer school personnel, parents, and grandparents received special training from the civil guard, and were seeded throughout the schools armed with discreetly concealed 9mm semiautomatic pistols. Since that time, there has been no successful mass murder at an Israeli school, and every attempt at such has been quickly shortstopped by the good guys' gunfire, with minimal casualties among the innocent. Similar programs are in place in Peru and the Phillippines, with similarly successful results.
"Unfortunately, in this country, logic has been buried under political correctness. Those in power whose ego is invested in brie et Chablis values that include scorn for the peasantry they accuse of "clinging to guns and Bibles" will never see that logic. Children will continue to die in "gun-free zones" hunting preserves for psychopathic murderers and the cowardly murderers will continue to surrender or kill themselves as soon as armed good guys show up ... far too late."
Almost a week after that appeared in the blog, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA walked into an ambush of a press conference in which he also recommended an armed
presence in schools. The media went ape on him, one of the Rupert Murdoch newspapers printing an entire front page that read "Gun Nut: NRA Loon in Bizarre Rant." (Funny ... years before, Bill Clinton had made the exact same recommendation of armed guards in schools ... but the mainstream media chose to overlook that.)
Mental health care issues
Anyone who actually deals with the violent mentally ill can tell you that the American system for helping and sequestering them is broken, and has been for decades. It certainly became a focus for the "we've got to do something" mentality, but it just as quickly became apparent that both political poles were going to keep arm's length distance from doing anything meaningful in that quarter.
On the left, it was the ACLU itself that was instrumental in closing down asylums, "de-institutionalizing" potentially dangerous mental patients, and "mainstreaming" them back to the streets. The criminal justice community and the emergency medical community can tell you how many of those abandoned people who couldn't live normally found a "mainstream" that swept them into homelessness, living in the streets, and eventually ending up in prison ... or dead ... after committing horrible crimes that forced their imprisonment, or carrying out violent attacks which forced good people to kill them in lawful defense of selves and others.
On the right, from the tightly-knit military community to the gun owners' groups, there had already been concerns about soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder being ignorantly and falsely designated as a danger to themselves and others, and stripped of such civil rights as firearms ownership. In a time when even the psychiatric community was vehemently divided as to what did and did not constitute mental illness for the forthcoming DSM-5, the fifth edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, who the hell was going to be able to predict the next mass killer? As obviously important as it was, this issue was too complex and volatile for lawmakers and editorialists alike to touch.
Logically enough, and in a similar vein, many analysts have pointed out the inescapable fact that a huge percentage of the perpetrators of mass murders have been on psychotropic drugs. "Psych drugs" from Ritalin to Prozac and beyond do indeed have a history of occasional bad side effects. These are often caused by the patient going off them without medical supervision or permission, which brings us back to the issue of unsupervised mental patients. The doctors tell us that something occurs called "decompensation." The epilepsy sufferer who has been controlling his seizures with Dilantin is likely to suffer the worst grand mal seizure of his medical history if he suddenly stops taking it. Similarly, if the paranoid schizophrenic who has been stable while taking Lithium stops "cold turkey" instead of tapering off, he is likely to soon act out the worst psychotic break of his psychiatric history.
Understood ... but we are back to mandated, supervised care issues here, and the huge civil rights issues that accompany them. Let me leave "big pharma" accusations out of it, just as I leave "NRA as a death merchant lobby" out of it, and simply say this: Psychiatric medication is not my field of subject matter expertise. However, there are strong arguments that for every medicated patient who snaps and does something horrible, there are a great many more who benefit from those drugs, as do their friends and families and neighbors. When the thing does more good than harm, it needs to stay. If you think about it, the fact that GUNS do far more good than harm is one of the greatest arguments for maintaining gun owners' civil rights. I see hypocrisy at the edge of the "ban psychotropic drugs" argument, another reason I for one tread lightly there.
Hardening the easy target
It is easy to see why blaming gun owners was the easy choice for political and media people seeking a target for the nation's rage. A general public which does not really understand either firearms or the dynamics of human firearms is vulnerable to the BS that is being spewed by anti-gun extremists and a strikingly sycophantic media. Much of the public apparently still believes that semiautomatic firearms and automatic firearms are the same thing. To be legally correct, "semiautomatic" firearms fire one shot for every pull of the trigger, and only one; a true automatic weapon is a machine gun that hoses a sustained rat-tat-tat-tat for so long as a single pull holds the trigger back. And what of those scary more-than-ten-round magazines which became such an issue after the Newtown atrocity? The question arises, who needs those for anything but nefarious purposes?
Semiautomatic firearms and "high capacity" magazines
There are lots of sound reasons why ordinary law-abiding people need those semiautomatic firearms with magazines that can hold more than 10 cartridges.
"For one thing, defensive firearms are meant to be "equalizers," force multipliers that can allow one good person to defend against multiple evil people. To allow one good person to defend against a single evil person so much stronger and/or bigger and/or more violent than he or she, that the attacker's potentially lethal assault can be stopped. History shows that it often takes many gunshots to stop even a single determined aggressor. Most police officers have seen the famous autopsy photo in the cops-only textbook, Street Survival, of the armed robber who soaked up 33 police 9mm bullets before he stopped trying to kill the officers. Do a Google search for Lance Thomas, the Los Angeles area watch shop owner who was in many shootouts with multiple gang bangers who tried to rob and murder him. He shot several of them, and discovered that it took so many hits to stop them that he placed multiple loaded handguns every few feet along his workbench. That's not possible in a home, or when lawfully carrying concealed on the street: a semiautomatic pistol with a substantial cartridge capacity makes much more sense for that defensive application.
I teach every year in southern Arizona, and each year I see more Americans along the border with AR15s and similar rifles in their ranch vehicles and even their regular cars. There have been cases where innocent ranchers and working cops alike have been jeopardized by multiple, heavily armed drug smugglers and human traffickers in desert fights far from police response and backup. A semiautomatic rifle with a substantial magazine capacity can be reassuring in such situations.
"In the last twenty years, we have seen epic mob violence in American streets. During the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, Korean storekeepers armed with AR15s kept their stores and livelihoods and lives from the torches of inflamed crowds because the mob feared their force multipliers. There have been bands of roving, violent predators as lately as this year during Superstorm Sandy. And the "flash mob violence" phenomenon of recent years has left many urban dwellers picturing themselves as the lone victim of a feral human wolfpack.
"And, if you will, one more stark and simple thing: Americans have historically modeled their choices of home protection and personal defense handguns on what the cops carried. When the police carried .38 revolvers as a rule, the .38 caliber revolver was the single most popular choice among armed citizens. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, cops switched en masse to semiautomatic pistols. So did the gun-buying public. Today, the most popular handgun among police seems to be the 16-shot, .40 caliber Glock semiautomatic. Not surprisingly, the general public has gone to pistols bracketing that caliber in power (9mm, .40, .45) with similar enthusiasm. The American police establishment has also largely switched from the 12-gauge shotgun which was also the traditional American home defense weapon, to the AR15 patrol rifle with 30-round magazine ... and, not surprisingly, the law-abiding citizenry has followed suit there, too.
"The reasoning is strikingly clear. The cops are the experts on the current criminal trends. If they have determined that a "high capacity" semiautomatic pistol and a .223 semiautomatic rifle with 30-round magazines are the best firearms for them to use to protect people like me and my family, they are obviously the best things for us to use to protect ourselves and our families."
And, about the Second Amendment
The Feinstein bill about to be presented to Congress is nothing less than Draconian in terms of gun owners' civil rights. It would ban firearms that have been responsibly owned by American citizens for more than a century, would prevent their legal transfer to one's designated heirs, and would require many of those arms to be registered as if they were machine guns. History shows that registration of firearms precedes and facilitates their confiscation by totalitarian and genocidal entities, a pattern repeated heavily throughout the Twentieth century. For that reason alone, it is abhorrent to American values.
History and biology alike tell us the predator preys on the helpless, and that only strongly-armed good people prevail against strongly-armed evil people. It is equally true in the macrocosm of nation-states, and the microcosm of individuals protecting the innocent one (or more) at a time. Yes, there are evil things which jeopardize the innocent. But any impartial, professional evaluation that is driven by logic and history instead of by blind and uninformed emotion tells us that only the countervailing violence of the Forces of Good can defeat the violent Forces of Evil.
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