By John Stark
Many readers of Atlantic Monthly were startled a couple of weeks ago when they opened their December issue to find an report suggesting that violent crime might be reduced if more law-abiding citizens carried guns.
Among other things, this article by Jeffrey Goldberg directly addressed mass slayings like the Dec. 14 slaughter of innocents at a school in Newtown, Conn. Goldberg’s article appeared before that catastrophe, but the event naturally focused even more attention upon it even within the magazine and its website. Two of its best-known writers, James Fallows and Ta-Nehisi Coates, have already weighed in, challenging some of Goldberg’s arguments.
Fallows agrees that any attempt to ban guns would be no more than another futile example of the prohibition of something that millions of people will go on doing, no matter what the government says. But he also argues that it would be a big overreaction for large numbers of people to arm themselves so they can defend themselves against the next gun-wielding lunatic in a mall or a movie theater. He notes that the likelihood of anyone actually being confronted with that scenario is “vanishingly small.”
Coates’ short piece is an extended contemplation of the issue rather than advocacy of a position. He does note that sane, previously law-abiding people have used their guns to kill people inappropriately at times: ”What do we say to the ghost of Jordan Davis, shot down over an argument of loud music, by a man who was quite sane?”
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, in his “The Factchecker ” blog, takes a look at the research on whether concealed-carry laws have helped reduce crime. The bad news is, researchers are divided on the issue. No quick answer.
UPDATE: Here is a piece on Huffington Post by the mother of a deeply-disturbed 13-year-old boy that will give most people a very deep chill. Perhaps you have already read it. Lots of people on Facebook are sharing it–people on the far right as well as the far left, among my own FB posse. She titled the piece “I am Adam Lanza’s mother,” and it describes life with an intermittently homicidal and suicidal boy. Mental health professionals tell her that her best option is to get her son charged with a crime so that he can be incarcerated.
But it seems as though Adam Lanza was nothing like this woman’s son. The Washington Post reports. Until last Friday, the police in Newtown did not know who he was. As of now, there appear to have been no major warning signs before the slaughter.
I introduce this topic with some misgivings. This debate is already raging almost everywhere else, it seems–including on Facebook, where some longtime-friends seem to be coming to virtual blows over the issue. It’s not as though the world needs one more place to talk about guns. But there may be value in having a local venue for the discussion. As you craft your comments, stop and ask yourself if your comment is adding value to that discussion.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen has weighed in this morning, calling for improved mental health services as well as a limit on high-capacity ammunition clips:
“My family and I join all Americans in grieving for the children, teachers and staff who had their lives taken from them in the vicious attacks at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Larsen said. “As the first children are laid to rest today, we must pledge never to forget the victims of this senseless act of violence.
“From the attack on Congresswoman Giffords that left six dead to the shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, Oregon and Connecticut, it is too painfully clear that we must take meaningful action to make our communities safer. The 2008 Skagit County mass shootings that killed six brought this type of tragedy to our home. No single law can prevent the actions of a madman, but that is no excuse to not take action.
“I continue to hold my position that Congress should reinstate the assault weapons ban and ban high-capacity ammunition clips above 10 rounds per clip, as proposed by Rep. McCarthy. These military-grade weapons serve no legitimate purpose in civilian life.
“We must close the gun show and private sale loopholes and strengthen background check requirements to make sure that criminals and the mentally ill are unable to purchase guns.
“Gun control is part, but not all of the solution. Mental illness has been shown to be a factor in some of these mass shootings. Mental illnesses are often misunderstood and under-diagnosed. Health providers need to give mental health the same attention that physical health is given. Congress should direct more research into mental illness and provide more funding for effective care of mentally ill patients.
“We have not seen the last of violent crimes in our country, but if Congress and the President act, we can make our communities safer and shrink this cycle of violence.”