For a Safer America, I’ll Take Progress Over Perfection

Children PlayingMy plan had been to blog something humorous this afternoon, or at least try to, but after today’s horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that’s not going to happen.  I can’t find much humor in anything.  Even sarcasm fails me today.

By coincidence, this morning I was scheduled to read to four- and five-year-olds at a colleague’s daughter’s pre-school.  By the time I got there, I’d already heard the terrible news.  As I read to them about a frog who played t-ball on a team (appropriately) called “The Giants”, I stared into their innocent, rapt little faces and felt crushing sadness.  I met their teachers, who were kind, loving and patient with the kids.

Despite the high security at this downtown San Francisco location (I needed to be on a guest list and show an ID to get past security guards) students and staff are still vulnerable.  If someone is violent, vengeful, unbalanced and determined to hurt someone… he will find a way to work his evil.  But that doesn’t mean we should do away with badges, screeners, security guards and guest lists.  We must do what we can to stay safe, and prevent violence.

One of the arguments I hear frequently against gun control legislation is, if a crazy person wants a gun he’ll get one.  Gun control won’t stop him, so let’s not make any changes until we find a perfect solution.

This violates one of my favorite maxims:  Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.

Hand holding gunFederal law prohibits most convicted criminals from buying, owning or transporting a firearm.  A background check of a would-be gun owner must also ensure that he/she has not been ruled mentally defective or been committed to any mental institution, is not an illegal alien, has not been dishonorably discharged from the military, has not renounced his/her U.S. citizenship, and does not have a restraining order or domestic violence conviction (even a misdemeanor).

On paper this should be reassuring, but in the coming days we’ll likely discover that today’s gunman was an American citizen who had never been committed to a mental institution, or convicted of a serious crime – which would have meant his gun ownership was perfectly legal.

Does this mean we should do away with background checks because they don’t successfully stop all homicidal gunmen?

Or maybe we’ll find that this angry, destructive man couldn’t pass a background check – or never even applied for one.  Perhaps he just stole his guns (plural) from a neighbor or family member.  Even so, the same question would apply.

If the gun control laws we have in place today aren’t protecting us, does that mean gun control is bad?  If this theory were applied equally throughout our lives, modern America would resemble the wild, wild west.  Drugs would be legal, because clearly criminalizing them has not been effective.  And why bother trying to enforce maximum blood alcohol levels, since every weekend brings drunken driving arrests all over the United States?

So why would we refuse to introduce tighter gun controls, just because they won’t prevent all gun violence?  Wouldn’t even a reduction be worth it?  How many more innocent victims must there be, before we get serious about limiting access to firearms?

As I said, I won’t be surprised if we discover that the Connecticut gunman bought his guns legally.  But I’ll also guess that people close to him knew he was troubled.  He may have dabbled in counseling, but probably never received consistent, in-depth psychiatric care.  If this sounds familiar, it’s not your imagination.  It was the same story in Tucson, Arizona and Aurora, Colorado.

Too bad guns are so much easier to get than ongoing, quality mental healthcare.

Above all, it’s NOT a matter of education.  (I heard this argument on Fox News recently after the murder/suicide of NFL player Jovan Belcher.)  Today’s perpetrator was very, very knowledgeable about guns.  He knew they were great for killing people, first off.  He also knew the difference between a semi-automatic Bushmaster .223, a Sig-Sauer and a Glock.  He knew how to load them, and shoot them with deadly accuracy.  He knew he’d need a bulletproof vest to carry out his mission – which included killing himself, before police could do it for him.  This guy was nothing, if not educated about guns.

Some will cite 2nd Amendment rights, but I’d argue that the 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, Connecticut had constitutional rights too — to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  What about those rights?

I want to believe that leaders in Washington will finally sprout a collective backbone, and hammer out gun control legislation that — while not perfect — will make America safer.  But somehow I doubt it, based on the puerile squabbling about the fiscal cliff we’ve witnessed recently.

Will someone finally be brave enough to lead the charge?

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