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Preventing Another Massacre

Preventing Another Massacre

Good laws will never abolish all evil.


It is remarkable how confident so many people are that they know what causes – and just how to prevent – horrific massacres like Friday's bloodbath at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

In a TV interview over the weekend, one observer insisted that the mass-murder in Newtown was all too predictable, given America's failure to implement an obvious and desperately overdue reform. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?" this individual demanded, showing no hint of uncertainty about exactly what needs to be fixed.

Who was that?

Was it Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, amplifying his call for Congress to take a "vote of conscience" and enact a nationwide assault-weapons ban? Or the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, who excoriates "the National Rifle Association and other apologists for murder" for resisting more aggressive gun control?

Was it Connecticut's departing senator, Joe Lieberman, resurrecting his longtime warning that the brutality that pervades American entertainment "does cause vulnerable young men to be more violent"? Or presidential adviser David Axelrod, enlarging on a plea he posted on Twitter: "All for curbing weapons of war. But shouldn't we also quit marketing murder as a game?"

Was it Liza Long, whose blog post about her son's psychiatric problems – "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" – went viral, leading to an appearance on NBC in which she argued that the way to deal with mass shootings is to deal with madness of potential perpetrators: "It's easy to talk about guns but it's time to talk about mental illness."

Was it former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, who contended on Sunday that the most effective means to prevent Newtown-style bloodbaths might be to ensure that school employees are armed? Was it Larry Pratt, head of the 300,000-member Gun Owners of America, decrying gun-free zones as a "lethal insanity" that gives homicidal gunmen an unconscionable advantage over their victims?

In reality, it was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who asserted within hours of the atrocity in Newtown that 26 innocent souls perished because "we've systematically removed God from our schools." If only Americans would let God in "on the front end," said Huckabee, schools ravaged by murder wouldn't need Him so often "on the back end."

It was a graceless thing to say, and Huckabee was rightly criticized for rushing to exploit a ghastly horror in order to promote his particular agenda. But Huckabee was far from the only offender. In the wake of Newtown there was no end of sanctimony from politicians and pundits who declared not just that America must do something to avert such terrible killings, but that they know precisely what that something is: More gun control. Less gun control. Better screening for mental illness. Restoration of school prayer. No media publicity for mass killers. A crackdown on hyperviolent video games. Armed guards at schools.

How can such terrible evil be thwarted? The desperate need for answers – better yet, for an answer – is always palpable after a Newtown, an Aurora, a Columbine. That urge to turn back cruelty, to find effective responses to anguish and pain, is so intensely human. The yearning for an end to suffering runs deep in our species, and at its best has been a powerful force for justice and progress. "We can't tolerate this anymore," President Obama said in Connecticut on Sunday. "These tragedies must end." At the level of heart and gut, who doesn't share that feeling?

Ultimately there is only one answer: the cultivation of human goodness.

But tragedy will always be part of the human condition. Some evils we can never hope to eliminate – not even with the best will in the world. No regulation or reform can undo all homicidal insanity. Still less can legislation guarantee universal integrity and decent character. It will always take more than law and politics to make men and women kind, honest, and moral.

None of the nostrums prescribed after this year's shooting rampages in Connecticut and Colorado would guarantee that nothing like them will ever recur. Stringent gun laws haven't prevented frightful massacres of students in Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom. There were mass killings in America long before there were video games – and long before the Supreme Court ruled prayer in public school unconstitutional.

Nightmares like the one in Newtown are rare. Yet a free society cannot make them absolutely impossible and still remain free. Good laws can do a lot, but they will never abolish all human evil. For that, there is ultimately only one answer: the cultivation of human goodness.

December 20, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 64

(45) Saul Moss, January 1, 2013 12:29 AM

Good & evil, a necessity

If only good existed with no evil, it would not extend beyond fantasy. What would be the meaning of good if there was no bad? Could a proton exist without an electron, dark without light or night without day? Human minds and perceptions are as diverse as the galaxies and stars in the entire universe. A pedophile sees another of his kind as normal and a thief does not see himself as hurting his victims. It is rather unfortunate that all religions portray a world where only good shall exist.

(44) Frank Adam, December 28, 2012 2:52 PM

"well regulated militia" (?)

The NRA and the rest of the "gun lobby" should re-read the second amendment which is primarily about, "a well regulated militia," to which the right to bear arms is a consequence in a time when a lot of people were forbidden as much, as part of their debarment from full participation in society. eg Jews were not called to serve before the Revolutionary Era as they were considered resident aliens/ foreigners in most of the World. The bottom line is the NRA is NOT a well regulated militia. The sort of multiple killings at Columbine, West Virginia Tech and Aurora are NOT, "well regulated militia." The Swiss and Israelis have fearsomely, "well regulated militia," and amongst the lowest gun deaths/ crime figures both in numbers pro rata the population, and as a percentage of their total crime figures. Historically the 2nd Amendment is a very close form of words to the 37th of the 39 Articles - near enough the English Constitution till the English Civil War - of the Anglican Church which the US Founding Fathers as good Englishmen till 1776, would have known by heart... "it is lawful for Christian men at the commandment of the magistrate [ie legal governmnent] to wear arms [ie swords and knives] and serve in the wars." In the same way that every word of Torah bears meaning when a constitutional usage shifts from, "wear arms," to, "bear arms," it deseves thought. By the 18th century - 1700's - swords were well obsolescent and more a gentleman's rank badge than serious weapons as were pikes; but pikes and muskets are borne in war and NOT worn in daily life as were swords and pistols. Whatever the arguments for hand guns, and in the countryside for shotguns and rifles, there is no argument for military light machine guns - a squad weapon in a trained unit - in the country of a nationstate at peace.

(43) Abe Fuchs, December 28, 2012 3:38 AM

I think character develpment education should be taught in schools.

I tried to promote character develpment education such as we know as Mussar or Midos develpment for a candidacy of mine in Queens NY but no one paid attention. Perhaps one day people will come to accept this idea.

(42) david hale, December 27, 2012 4:36 PM

i agree with everything you say about cultivating human goodness. but i will go one step further and say i believe that putting God's word back in schools would be a good seed to sow. The problem is not guns or knives, the problem is people. we need to fix the problem before it manifests itself. just like you don't stop abortion by blowing up clinics or killing doctors, you must start teaching good life principles early in life. no better way in my opinion than instilling God's word in our children.

(41) Scott, December 26, 2012 5:23 PM

I agree

I left the US last year to make aliyah and had to return this December for business. I don't think I ever truly saw the US until now. The different levels of incivility and public disregard for others opinions was astounding. I watched the so called news and all I saw was groups of people insulting each other for what would seem like ideological issues. The blacks and the Hispanics and the whites and the straights and the gays and the Christians and the Muslims and the atheists and women and the men and the rich and the poor all seem to feel marginalized and put upon a the same time and no one is shy about accusing the others of conspiring to take away their rights. It was horrible. No wonder the frequency of horrible acts by societies most impressionable members is on the rise. Most people simply stomach all the hate but think it resonates with the youngsters and those with mental health issues or going through a crisis. Add in the ridiculously lax gun laws and you have armed crazy people running wild. Personally I'm amazed that it took this long. And with more than one gun a person in circulation in the states gun control isn't the answer-it's mouth control. Attitude control. It's restoring civility to the public dialogue. Unfortunately, it's gone too far. I'm afraid we'll continue to see this stuff on a weekly or more frequent basis. especially since the 24 hour continuous news cycle makes the perps famous. Crazy people feeling marginalized with guns using unspeakable violence to become noticed. It's sad.

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