The Right Opinion

On Newtown, Mourn First, Then Act

By Jonah Goldberg · Dec. 19, 2012

On Friday, in his moving and heartfelt statement in response to the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Obama said, “As a country, we have been through this too many times. … And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

There's just one problem: In a democracy, politics is a synonym for “democracy.” It is through politics that people with strong feelings and strong interests peaceably hash out their disagreements. When politicians say they want to do something regardless of the politics, or that they want to go “above” or “beyond” politics, what they generally mean is they want to do something regardless of the normal rules or what their opponents have to say or, often, the facts. This, after all, is the point of the expression “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

I've lost my share of loved ones in recent years (a father, a brother, a sister-in-law, a close friend and a mentor), though (thank God) I've experienced nothing that can match what must be the soul-eating despair that comes with the murder of a son or daughter. Still, one piece of advice you often hear in such situations is “don't make any big decisions” in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.

It's sound advice that is routinely and predictably ignored in the political realm. Right now, people are talking about putting metal detectors and X-ray machines in every school. I'm open to the idea. But barely a decade after 9/11 – another traumatic mass slaughter – how many people do you know who find the quick-started security system at airports reassuring and necessary? Imposing the equivalent of TSA screening at every elementary school in the country strikes me as the sort of idea people propose out of panic and despair.

But, again, that's sort of the point for some. It's really quite amazing. For 20 years, at least, we've been hearing about the dangers of “anger” in American politics. Angry white men are the scapegoats for all our problems, including several mass shootings that were perpetrated by the mentally ill. But now, in the wake of this shooting, anger isn't the disease, it's the cure. “We should mourn, but we should be angry,” insists E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. He continues: “The horror in Newtown, Conn., should shake us out of the cowardice, the fear, the evasion and the opportunism that prevents our political system from acting to curb gun violence.”

Except, our political system has acted to curb gun violence. Violent crime, gun violence and school violence have all dropped dramatically over the last 20 years, even as the number (and lethality) of guns in America has risen dramatically. It's not even obvious that mass killings are on the rise.

It seems that Dionne, and countless others, want to use fear, evasion and opportunism in the wake of this tragedy to win an argument they couldn't win when passion was in check.

Still, these sorts of sprees by the mentally ill have become all too frequent in recent years (though none, despite what you may have heard, involved “automatic weapons,” which are very hard to own and incredibly rare in gun crime cases).

A breakdown in our culture generally, and our mental health system in particular, seems to be making this kind of nihilistic mayhem possible and attractive to sick young men. This is a point the media should keep in mind as they provide precisely the kind of saturation coverage such men find seductive.

But while guns are easy to scapegoat as talismans of evil, and the media are always worthy of criticism, the mentally ill are different. Many of the “warning signs” for the Newtown killer could be leveled at literally millions of young men. Who among us doesn't know someone who was a smart loner with poor social skills in high school or college?

I think we need better mental health screening and treatment for potential murderers. I am also completely open to gun laws – limiting the sale of large clips perhaps – that would reduce this kind of slaughter. I don't know how to implement such ideas in ways that would actually work. Indeed, all I'm sure of is that we should be very careful about making big decisions when we are so angry and mourning so deeply.

© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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8 Comments

Howard Last in Wyoming said:

What about getting rid of the idea of gun free schools, also known as criminal and madmen safe zones. Israel has administrators, teachers, parents, grandparents and older students armed and trained. There has not been an incident in their schools when this program was instituted. Instead BloominIdiot wants to further disarm the victims. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And isn't "gun crime" a fallacy. I have yet to know of any gun that can load, aim, fire and think for it self. If someone is hit over the head with a 2X4, do we have lumber crime?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 1:20 AM

Bob in Oxford, CT said:

I hope someone will investigate why this guy wasn't in a facility. Newtown had a facility called Fairfield Hills. All of Connecticut's mentally ill used to go there. The state closed it down. Gave names to their problems and sent them out into society. I don't expect the MSM to investigate it, but maybe one of our journalists can. FYI. Oxford is a neighboring town. A close friend was on the seen as an EMS.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 8:55 AM

Dave in SoCal said:

We should not tolerate any further erosion of our 2A rights. Who is to say how many bullets one may need to fend of a home invasion? If someone is killed because they run their 10 round magazine dry while fighting off multiple armed assailants, their death will be on the politicians who took this easy way out.

One of the most relevant statements I've read about the folly of gun control laws: "But to ban guns because criminals use them is to tell the innocent and law-abiding that their rights and liberties depend not on their own conduct, but on the conduct of the guilty and the lawless, and that the law will permit them to have only such rights and liberties as the lawless will allow. ... For society does not control crime, ever, by forcing the law-abiding to accommodate themselves to the expected behavior of criminals. Society controls crime by forcing the criminals to accommodate themselves to the expected behavior of the law-abiding." - Jeff Snyder

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 9:42 AM

wjm in Colorado said:

School Busses have killed more students than guns! I am outraged, we must ban School Busses!
Liberals are mentally deficient morons, blaming the gun for the actions of the insane their own policies release to walk among us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 9:44 AM

Mikey in Southwest Idaho said:

First of all, they are magazines and not clips. Secondly, three ten-round magazines have the capacity of two 15-round magazines or one 30-rounder...a distinction without a difference. Regulating magazine capacity is as silly as prescriptions for Ibuprofen...my doctor once told me he could prescribe me 800 mg horse pills or I could just take four of the 200 mg tablets available at almost every store in the world. "Apparently," he said "the folks over at the FDA don't know that 200 x 4 equals 800." I guess the same holds true for those who believe that "limiting the sale of large clips perhaps -- that would reduce this kind of slaughter." All it would do is force the homicidal maniac to reload, which takes a skilled person mere seconds. Magazine capacity regulation is not a solution to the problem anymore than any other proposed infringements on our rights.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:01 AM

Tony in Texas replied:

This kid would have just took more guns if they were all single shot.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:44 AM

JC in Peoples Republic of Illinois replied:

Exactly. With only moderate skill, reloads can be done in well under 2 seconds.

Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 2:02 PM

JC in Peoples Republic of Illinois said:

Mr. Goldberg, I love your columns so please don't "go Sullum" on us with the gun-ban stuff, even if it's something as little (in your mind) as a restriction on magazine capacity.

Here's the magic question to clean up your thinking:
"Why do cops carry AR15's and pistols with standard/full capacity magazines?"

If your answer is, "To murder as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible, in the shortest time possible" - then logic has left the building.

If your answer is, "No good guy ever wished he had fewer rounds available when defending himself against bad guys" - then you have your answer.

Standard capacity magazines are a red-herring, and once you start down that path - freedom is in decline, and we might as well all be completely disarmed and ruled oppressively by the government.

For our protection of course. I mean, what if somebody did something bad? Better we should all be Winston Smiths ...

Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 2:00 PM