Human Action

In the wake of the senseless shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut we attempt to ease our collective pain by latching onto the only hope of extracting anything useful from this event, that is, to learn from what is now history so that it is never repeated. But what have we learned? Superficially this shooting is no different than any of the other mass killings: heavily armed killer walks into an area designated as a “gun free zone” and then proceeds to open fire on the unarmed. For example, it is a deliberately ignored fact (or rather an inconvenient truth) in the mainstream media that the Cinemark theater chain (where the infamous “Dark Knight” shootings took place in Aurora, Colorado) had a “gun-free” policy. Several of the victims were recent veterans who could have expeditiously put down the shooter had they been permitted to carry arms into the theater. It is highly improbable that the following is mere coincidence: with only one exception (Gabrielle Giffords shooting in 2011) every public shooting in the US since 1950 in which there were at least three fatalities have occurred in gun-free areas (schools, malls, post offices, etc.) The killers may be sociopaths but they aren’t stupid. Such shootings do not occur at police stations or gun shows for a reason. If you are still unconvinced that gun-free zones simply inform evil-doers where they may proceed unmolested then I issue to you the following challenge: place a “this is a gun-free zone” sign on your front lawn. Still feel safe?

Eliminating gun-free zones is however not a panacea. It ironically suffers from the same “whack-a-mole” problem as extreme gun control. For example, if you could achieve the holy grail of gun control, i.e. eliminate all guns, then would-be killers would simply convert to other methods of mass killing (knives (see the oddly coincidental knifing of 22 children in China), explosives, gas, biological, etc.) some of which have a much greater potential for inflicting harm than guns. Yes, one could outlaw each of those weapons in turn but given their prevalence in warfare (and food preparation) it’s simply naive to think such weapons will not “leak” into the civilian population. Likewise, if would-be killers know that armed citizens could be anywhere, then they will engage in more stealthy killings. You can’t shoot back at what you can’t see. There are a lot of ways to kill people without exposing yourself to harm (it’s the entire modus operandi of warfare). So while eliminating gun free zones would help in those situations involving crazy and stupid and/or suicidal, it would not help when crazy and smart is a factor.

The sad fact is that nothing can ever solve the cancer of random mass killings. Humans are random, willful beings whose actions and interactions are impossible to predict, monitor and manipulate with 100% effectiveness. Absent the Panopticon of an Orwellian police state there is nothing government can do to “solve” this problem. If laws could actually alter human behavior then our prisons would be empty. The only possibility of a solution comes from the collective actions of all of us. To the extent all human action is influenced by the actions of others we each have it within our power to potentially alter the actions of others by making each of our own actions positive ones. For example, many of these killers were outcasts, loners, just a little bit different than the rest of us. These differences invited mocking and ridicule which only exacerbated the isolation of these individuals. The killers are not “victims” nor are their unreasonable actions in any way justified, but just because a response is not justified does not mean we should expect it wouldn’t occur. Negative actions invite negative responses (whether such responses are justified is irrelevant to the goal of eliminating such response). We should always be mindful that we do not live in a vacuum and that our actions may have far reaching consequences for others. The “Golden Rule” may not solve the problem, but I’m quite certain it can’t possibly make it worse.