Blame the National Rifle Association if you want, as many politicians do, for the wide distribution of guns in the United States. At least blaming the NRA is safer politically than blaming the tens of millions of Americans who own guns legally and responsibly.
Leading Connecticut politicians, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen.-elect Chris Murphy, raced to denounce NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre for arguing the other day that the best response to the elementary school massacre in Newtown would be to put armed guards in all schools.
Yet the first response of government itself throughout the country was to increase police presence at schools, and of course about a third of all schools, mostly high schools, already had a permanent police presence — not to protect students against rampaging outsiders like the one who attacked the school in Newtown but to protect students and teachers against other students.
Even before the NRA agitated the country with its proposal, a few political leaders already had been denounced as too bloody-minded for wishing aloud that an armed guard or teacher had greeted the gunman at the school in Newtown. But then who wouldn’t wish that the whole 101st Airborne had been waiting for him?
Simplistic as the NRA’s proposal was, at least it had strong relevance to what happened in Newtown. Some pending gun-control proposals have only modest relevance, like outlawing high-capacity ammunition clips. Other proposals have no relevance to Newtown at all but long have been compelling, like requiring background checks, waiting periods, and registration for all gun sales, not just those by gun dealers but private sales as well.
But relevance to Newtown particularly or to crime generally is not the objective of other political responses, like the proposal of two Connecticut state legislators, Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and Rep. Robert Godfrey, D-Danbury, to impose a 50% sales tax on ammunition, as if such a tax somehow would deter people bent on robbery or murder. The objective of such proposals is simply to disarm the country, especially the law-abiding. Newtown is being used as a pretext for that ideology.
Proposals like the ammunition tax distract from other weaknesses in arguments for more gun control.
First is the failure of gun-control laws like those establishing “gun-free” zones around schools, which are no more effective than “drug-free” zones, and laws forbidding ownership of guns by felons. Such laws don’t deter; mostly they just enable police and prosecutors to pile up lesser charges. The psychotic who this week shot four firefighters in Webster, N.Y., killing two, possessed an arsenal even though as a felon he was prohibited from owning weapons.
Second is the connection between gun crime and drug prohibition, where the cure is far worse than the disease. If the drug problem was decriminalized and medicalized, most gun crime would end.
Third is social disintegration generally, the raising of nearly half the country’s children in households without fathers, a catastrophe heavily correlated with physical and mental illness, ignorance, poverty, demoralization and crime. Social disintegration cripples all cities in Connecticut; New Haven had three shooting incidents last Sunday alone. But Connecticut has no effective policy response.
And fourth is leniency in sentencing for violent and chronic criminals. The psychotic in Webster had served only 17 years in prison for what the state considered mere manslaughter — beating his grandmother to death with a hammer. In Connecticut most murderers amass extensive criminal records but get long sentences only after killing someone, as if no one could have seen it coming.
Discussing these issues would impugn not just many gun control proposals but also the very construct of modern government and the muddle-headed liberalism that animates it. So the political power structure is glad to blame guns instead.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.