How Many More?
Yesterday a troubled 20-year-old kid named Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother with a gun she owned. He drove her car to an elementary school, shot and killed 26 more people, then killed himself. Of the dead, 20 were schoolchildren, no more than seven years old.
Lanza used two semi-automatic handguns – a Sig Sauer P226 with a 15-round magazine and a Glock with a 17-round magazine. Back in the car he had his mother’s semi-automatic rifle, a Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine, with a magazine holding more than 30 rounds.
Lanza did his work in two adjoining classrooms. He apparently shot 26 people in those classrooms. Only one of the people he shot survived – an accuracy rate that suggests that Lanza shot his victims at very close range. It isn’t clear yet, but the two handguns’ magazines together held 32 bullets. It is possible that Lanza killed 28 people without even having to reload.
The Sig Sauer handgun Lanza used was designed for use by the United States Army, and is used by the Navy SEALs. The Bushmaster rifle is also a military weapon, and the magazine was designed for use with M16 service rifles.
The guns were registered to Lanza’s mother. We have to suppose that Nancy Lanza, like so many American gun owners, kept firearms in her home for protection. But firearms in the home do not keep the peace; they threaten it. When will we learn?
Americans have the highest gun ownership rate in the world: for every 100 American civilians, we own 89 guns. Second place goes to Yemen, with 55 guns per 100 civilians; that is the company we keep. Iraq is eighth, at 34 per hundred. In England the rate is six per hundred. South Koreans own one gun per 100 civilians. Small Arms Survey estimates that American civilians own more than 40 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns.
With literally hundreds of millions of small arms floating around the American public, there is simply no way we can protect ourselves from mayhem by firearm. Gun registration is pointless when a person’s switch flips and he (it is always “he”) decides to take as many lives as he can and still take his own. Law enforcement is unavailing when readily available firearms can take 28 lives in a fraction of the time it takes to respond to a 911 call. Barring gun ownership by the mentally ill is fruitless if the family, friends and neighbors of the mentally ill have guns in their homes.
In response to a rash of airline highjackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and four more highjackings on the morning of September 11, 2001, we have turned the air travel system into a nightmare of bureaucratic intrusion into our personal privacy. In exchance for virtual strip searches and strangers poking through our luggage, we have purchased a measure of security for air travelers. We could do the same for all our public gathering places, from sports stadiums to movie theaters to elementary schools to bars. We could submit to routine and frequent full-body scans, and raise the price of virtually everything in order to pay for that kind of security.
Or we could do something about the proliferation of guns. How many more babies must die before we realize that this is the only answer? How many times must our President cry for the dead before we get serious about the killing?
December 17, 2012 – Media reports subsequent to this post indicate that Lanza used the Bushmaster assault rifle to kill his victims, that he shot as many as 11 rounds into each victim, that he used one of the handguns to kill himself as police arrived, and that despite emptying “numerous” 30-round magazines Lanza still had “hundreds” of rounds of unfired bullets.