Isn’t ‘20 Children and 6 Adults’ Enough?

What will it take for reasonable conversation about changes to our gun culture? Patch columnist Heather Borden Herve asks if the number of Newtown’s dead is finally reason to say, “Enough.”


I’m tired of the rhetoric, from all sides. I’m tired of the pro-gun statistic fight against the anti-gun statistic fight.  

There comes a point where ‘this’ quote citation to defend constitutional originalism and ‘that’ quote citation to defend constitutional interpretation is basically like arms buildup. I’ll see your statistic and absolute proof that the Founding Fathers wanted us to keep our guns, and I’ll raise you my statistic and historically empirical evidence that they never could have imagined semi-automatic, rapid-firing reloading guns in the hands of citizens!

Quite honestly, I can’t decide if I’ve intentionally used that ‘arms buildup’ pun or not. Because I just don’t know what makes it through the rhetorical barrage anymore.

On each side, we find our numbers and quotes to defend our position and we’ll continue having the same argument unless we say, “Enough.”

Can we consider the possibility that a document that is almost 226 years old might need us to legitimately reconsider the context of 2013 when figuring out how to move forward? Can we consider that the unfathomable slaughter of 20 children and 6 adults in a school, a place once considered a safe haven, is a price too high to pay to ignore that?

Because while we may debate the certainty of what the framers of the Constitution really did want when it comes to the Second Amendment, what I think we can all agree on with absolute certainty is that the individuals who wrote it did respect thoughtful consideration, reasonable debate, and discussion without absolutist decree. If they were content with failure to change, we never would have had found ourselves independent of England’s rule to begin with.

The closest thing I’ve found to even begin to approach reasonable discussion about the gun rights debate is an article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg — a link to which was posted in one of the 110-plus comments of a Wilton Patch article I wrote last week about a local group that met with state legislators to talk about the issue. (I’m sure the reader who made the comment and link will be surprised that I’m citing it here, as he and I stand, by and large, on opposite sides of the debate.)

The Atlantic piece asserts that there are steps which could be taken to reduce access to guns and ammunition “for the criminially minded, for the dangerously mentally ill and for the suicidal, and that measures could be taken that sensibly restrict access to weapons and ammunition that “have no reasonable civilian purpose, and their sale could be restricted without violating the Second Amendment rights of individual gun owners.” However, he concludes, these efforts would be noble but “too late” to have any meaningful impact on the rate of gun violence.

He writes that it’s too late because of the number of guns — 280 to 300 million — in private hands in this country.

While I disagree with much of what the Atlantic writer asserts — from an emotional standpoint — I have to give the writer credit for speaking to experienced people around the country on both sides’ frontlines of the gun discussion: victims of gun violence, researchers, law enforcement officers, gun enthusiasts, and lobbyists and activists.

It’s a step toward acknowledgement of what each side believes; it concedes that each side has some ground, at the very least; and it starts to establish a foundation for how pro and con advocates might be able to stop ramming each other and start listening, if not conceding, to each other, “You’ve got a point.”

I acknowledge that I tend to come at this issue from my own, emotional perspective. Even this opinion column has to take a side, by definition, if not just by its headline. But the emotional arguments of gun-control crusaders that get belittled by the gun-rights activists are just as outsized as the fear-mongering assertions made by those same extreme gun-rightists meant to stop anti-gun advocates in their tracks.

But I suspect there are plenty of people in the middle who would like to figure out a way to move toward this rational discussion about how some changes can be made.

Haven’t we had enough of the killings to try? I guess not when some people think we don’t have enough guns, as if the solution to gun violence is more guns. Or that it’s too late to do anything about it because there are too many guns out there already, so why try anything at all?

We can keep headed the wrong way down the road, where more deaths are sure to happen, and just continue going the wrong way because we’ll eventually get to where we need to go. The world is round so all we have to do is circle the globe, we’ll get there eventually. But by then, there won’t be enough of us left on either side who say, “Enough.”

The Atlantic piece ends with Goldberg writing about gun-control advocate Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign, who asked, “’In a fundamental way, isn’t this a question about the kind of society we want to live in?’ Do we want to live in one ‘in which the answer to violence is more violence, where the answer to guns is more guns?’” Goldberg adds that in a nation with 300 million guns, it’s an irrelevant question.

That’s exactly why my initial question — “Isn’t ‘20 Children and 6 Adults’ Enough?” — needs to be seen as anything but irrelevant. It’s become the most relevant question of all.

Robert Jochim January 10, 2013 at 12:20 PM
The Constitution cannot defend itself; it's naive to think that those with tyrannical aspirations died out 226 years ago.
David Chesler January 10, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Thank you for a broader look than many. In the time I was making a transition from what I'd been taught in NYC public schools 30 years before Heller to my current point of view (the NRA is too conciliatory) I made my mentors answer three related query threads about gun control: - What is protected by the 2nd Amendment? - Ignoring for the sake of argument any fundamental _right_ to keep and bear arms, is gun control a good idea? - If it were a good idea, what could be done practically in this country today? I think it's useful today to address those separately. And it also helps to make sure we're talking about the same things with the same words (semi-automatic means one shot for one trigger pull; assault rifles are by definition capable of optionally firing more than one shot for one trigger pull; .223 is a low-powered round; why would someone want an expanding round? Why would someone want a teflon-coated round? Do guns really work like they show on TV?) If someone is so prejudiced that they can't be bothered to spend an afternoon learning some shooting fundamentals and chooses to remain willfully ignorant, there is little point in further discussion. To answer your headline, no, 26 is not enough. Surely a tragedy, but just as we tolerate many more deaths from auto accidents and medical malpractice because of the benefits, same with guns. I'll see you 26 dead and raise you Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
Anthony January 10, 2013 at 09:52 PM
The sad fact is that there is true evil in this world. We saw that in Newtown. No matter what laws are passed or what bans are in place, not much will stop these monsters from attempting to do harm. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke). all these proposed laws will do is make it harder for the good men to fight the evil. Stop blaming the tools and blame those bent on inflicting the pain.
Rocco Frank Milford Independents January 10, 2013 at 11:28 PM
After the Sandy Hook tradgedy, like most people with a soul and a conscience I was deeply saddened, I spent every day since this terrible event thinking about what can be done to secure our schools, protect our children and give parents, like myself peace of mind while our kids are in school. Having never lost a child I can only imagine how beyond words, and the terrible emotional strife and pain those parents in Newtown must be experiencing, all I can say is they are all in my prayers and in my families prayers. Seeing an article like this today, in the wake of this tradgedy really concerns me, it demonstrates that there is not only a crisis of violence in our country, but a crisis of evil and morally and socially challenged people, people who are dependent on daily medication to treat far too many disorders. This sad event should not be used as a propaganda to dismantle our Constitution, this is the time to come together as a people and reaffirm and take personal responsibility for ourselves and the safety of others. Lets remember that Kool Aid did not kill several hundred people, it was an Evil man by the name of Jim Jones. Evil people by nature will persist and continue to do evil and taking rights away from everyone, including "the good guys" is Un-American and reactionary. The most terrible time to legislate is during a crisis, I think the country needs time to think before legislation is passed that will result in a social calamity of armed resistance.
LAM January 11, 2013 at 12:40 AM
I think a nut with a miltary style weapon comitting mass murder is the real danger, not the paranoid delusional fear of a coming tyranny. That being said I see no reason why those who want guns for sport, hunting or personal protection should be denied them if they pass detailed background checks. A mental health data base would go a long way towards keeping guns from the mentally ill. But as usual we have to deal with 2 extreme viewpoints dominating the issue. On one hand we have the NRA who fight even against stricter background checks and let's face it would say there is a right to own tanks and combat jets if someone aquired them. One the other side any attempt to protect society from sociopaths is fought tooth and nail by Liberal groups such as the ACLU, who seem to feel a psycho with violent tendencies should walk freely among society. Ironic isn't it, that both extremes feel that dead Americans are an acceptable price to pay for their extremist views.
LAM January 11, 2013 at 12:42 AM
So then dead children to you are an acceptable price to pay, so that anyone can have unfettered access to military style weapons?
LAM January 11, 2013 at 12:55 AM
Another paranoid response to responsible gun regulation. If the NRA supported tighter background checks, registration of firearms, closing of gun show loopholes and computerized sharing of firearms data between law enforcement agencies there would be no need in my opinion to ban even semi automatic weapons. It is the NRA's strident resistance against any reforms that helps allow nuts to get their hands on weaponry in the first place. As to the supposed "social calamity" of armed resistance, what will happen is actually quite simple, turn your weapon on law enforcement? Bye, nice to have known you.
LAM January 11, 2013 at 12:57 AM
But evil is toothless or can cause much less damage if denied access to military style weaponry. Makes it easier for good to stop the evil.
Gary Tobin January 11, 2013 at 01:47 AM
The Great Constitution. If we the people, or the government - who ever you feel is in charge, restricted or removed the 1st Amendment we would not be talking or chatting about the 2nd Amendment. Remove the 1st and the 2nd Amendment and we'll be FREE.
David Chesler January 11, 2013 at 12:37 PM
Yes LAM, same as it's an acceptable price for us to have cars and doctors. True we've had a lot more nuts with weapons (not sure what you mean by military style) but tyrants have proven a lot more dangerous the few times they've come to power. Setting aside the tyrants, estimates range from 500,000 to 2,500,000 times a year that people legitimately use guns in self defense each year. No need at this point getting into the actuarial estimates of how many of those prevented a homicide, and how many "merely" ended a home invasion, rape or mugging, adding in how many would-be criminals chose to avoid the risk all together, to realize there are risks and life savings either way.
David Chesler January 11, 2013 at 12:40 PM
LAM, are you suggesting there is a need now to ban semiautomatic weapons? Please explain what good would come of registration of firearms? The American Revolution, the Russian experience in Afghanistan, recent events in Libya, and the ongoing tragedy in Syria show what armed resistance can achieve.
David Chesler January 11, 2013 at 02:28 PM
LAM January 11, 2013 at 02:59 PM
@ David Chesler: When pro gun people play the protect from tyranny card, most people tune out legitimate points you might otherwise make. for a tyrant to take power in this country, he or she would need the backing of the vast majority of the military and law enforcement. If you cite history you should understand history, teh American revolution was won only after we aquired a TRAINED force of regulars known as Continentals. Even then we needed help from France and Spain. The fighting record of American civilian militia in the Revolution, War of 1812 the war with Mexico even the Civil War was won only after many defeats and when military discipline was finally instilled. The National Guard when called upon to fight has performed far more effectively because of their training then any civilian armed mob. As far as Afghanistan and Libya go in both cases you have a populace that has from their childhood been fighting whether against rival tribes or even rival families, they are lands where the real power is in the hands of warlords. Most Americans main concern especially since the mid twentieth century has been how to pay the bills and how to raise their families. The security provided by law enforcement and the military has been what makes our culture for the most part safe and thriving.
LAM January 11, 2013 at 03:08 PM
@ David Chesler: We both know the term military style weapons is describes semi automatic versions of weapons the military uses. If we had full registration, background checks for EVERYONE who purchases a weapon and a national database for the mentally ill who pose a threat to society linked to background checks, then in MY OPINION there would be no need to ban semiautomatic weapons. Both sides of the debate need to back off the absolutist stands they have taken.
LAM January 11, 2013 at 03:13 PM
@ David Chesler: Even one person killed is a tragedy, whether you believe it or not tighter regulations to keep guns out of socieopaths hands will save lives and WILL NOT infringe on the right of SANE people to excercise their Second Amendment right.
David Chesler January 11, 2013 at 03:27 PM
It's a term so broad as to be meaningless, and it addresses nothing. Many people think "semiautomatic" means "you pull the trigger and bullets keep coming out until you release it". (The TV newsmagazine piece that got me into this, which was mainly about how they give out gun licenses like candy [so I went to my local PD to find out] kept using background footage of full-auto while talking about semi-auto.) Many firearms are developed for the military -- if you're a designer/manufacturer and you can win a military contract, you've got a good business. That doesn't make their design particularly dangerous nor unsuitable for civilian use. I know very little about long guns but I understand the AR-15 famly is favored because of things like reliability and a carbine length being useful in many situations. The focus in the early 1990s was on cosmetic features like bayonet mounts and flash suppressors, so the manufacturers complied and removed them. What good did it do? Again, are you saying there is now a need to ban semiautomatic firearms? And again, what will a registration system do? We know quite well who owned the gun Adam Lanza used.
David Chesler January 11, 2013 at 03:30 PM
It depends on the person killed. Of course we all want fewer innocent people killed, but how can you make such a blanket statement? What is the particular regulation you have in mind? How would it distinguish between the sociopaths and the sane?
LAM January 11, 2013 at 04:21 PM
@ David Chesler: First off I don't believe any safety measures are going to be 100% effective. Having a database of dangerous mentally ill people (doctors would be required to file reports) cross referenced during a background check would weed many out. James Holmes the Aurora CO shooter's doctor knew he was psychotic yet had no obligation to report that fact, he was able to legally buy his weapons. Same with the VA Tech shooter. Not a 100% preventative but lives would be saved. Tougher background checks would also help prevent violent offenders from having access to guns. The arguement that there already sufficent background checks, is pure BS because the NRA has been able to water down the laws so that even criminals and those on the terror watch list are able to pass them. Then anyone pretty much can buy a gun at a gunshow anyway as the control at them is laughable to say the least. I am only abdicating SANE regulation of firearms not confiscation of nor outlawing them.
David Chesler January 11, 2013 at 04:45 PM
The no-fly list is an embarassment and shouldn't be held up as an example of how the rights of innocents will be assured. Agreed, and not throwing at you, that things aren't going to be 100%, but that's where you get to "What are the downsides to going from 99.99% to 99.999% to save 26 lives?" None of your examples would have failed a violence background check. Please spell it out more, using Adam and Nancy Lanza as case studies, what you are proposing, and how it would help. The mental health practitioners have already sold most of their Hippocratic oaths by becoming "mandated reporters", and their clients are aware that what they say can be repeated and used against them, to the detriment of that clinical relationship. How much worse would it be if people feared that seeing a mental health practitioner for something minor and treatable could lead to them (and perhaps all of their immediate family and close friends) losing their right to have guns? Holmes might have been at the margin, certainly in retrospect his pshrink should have had him committed, but in general it's the ones who aren't getting help that are the danger. Anyone can buy drugs on the street, but there is no drug pusher "loophole" -- same for the gun show. If criminals are willing to commit further felonies, more laws won't help. And once again, what is registration going to help?


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