Although I tend to be (somewhat reluctantly, but not very
reluctantly) pro-Second-Amendment, I was struck pretty hard by the contrast between the Sandy Hook mass murder of school children and the case in China in which a man slashed 22 school children
with a knife.
There's a certain type of pro-firearm person who is fond of saying "guns don't kill people, people kill people." A well-known response, of course, is that people with guns kill people
. That's not accurate, of course, but the idea is: people who are killed are often killed by people with guns
We don't get a great comparison in these two cases, of course, since the man in China seems to not have even been trying
to kill the children. He was trying to hurt them. But even if he had
been trying to kill them, a man with a knife is almost always less dangerous than a man with an AR-15 and two pistols.
But it's not clear what the role of such murders ought to be in our reasoning about firearms. Given what we know about people, and about our system overall, we know that there are going to be murders. And there are going to be mass murders. And there are going to be ones that are even worse than this one. A lot, lot worse. So it's not completely clear to me why some people seem to see this as an occasion for reassessing gun laws. We knew that roughly this would happen. We know that roughly it will happen again. That is the price of having a system in which very powerful firearms are very easy to get. If one person out of 300 million of us is crazy in approximately this way, people are going to die.
The thought has, roughly, to be: this and tragedies like it are the price we pay for refusing to grant the government a certain type of control over us. One might reasonably--or so I think--conclude that the price is too great relative to the payoff.
Anyone who thinks that the government is currently a threat that might require armed resistance is probably a nut. But we don't maintain our ability to fight back against the government because we think that it will go insane tomorrow, or next week, or next year. We retain our right to keep and bear arms because we think that the government will go insane some day
. Sadly, I think the probability of that is something approaching 1. That is, I find the belief that the U.S. government will always be benign, no matter how long it lasts, to be incredible. I wish I could believe otherwise.
I have found that it doesn't pay for me to have conversations about this with people who do not see, even in principle, why citizens might want to retain the ability to protect themselves against their governments. However I do think one might fruitfully ask about the relative costs and benefits of the two possible courses of action. On the one hand, we might give up our firearms and thus make it extraordinarily difficult to check the power of a malevolent government. We would also pay a day-to-day cost by making it more difficult to fight back against certain instances of crime. The payoff would be that criminals would be less well-armed, and massacres similar to Sandy Hook would be almost impossible to carry out. The other course of action is the one we've currently chosen: we retain a great deal of power to resist a malevolent government and to resist certain types of crime (e.g. "home invasions"), but the cost is lots of well-armed criminals and mass murders. One might reasonably conclude that, overall, the expected gain of the former option is greater than that of the latter.
One reason actual crimes may be relevant to our deliberations is that decisions about gun policy are generally at least tacitly grounded in facts about us. If enough of us were crazy, it might be obvious that we had to ban firearms. If there were one mass murder per week per state, for example, our calculations might look different.
Of course the other most salient thought here is that governments simply have no authority
to infringe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms...and that I haven't addressed.