December 26, 2012
On the evening of December 14, when the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School was quite rightly the only subject on everyone’s minds and lips, I was in my car listening to talk radio. I tuned to one station and then another before choosing Dennis Miller’s program. I was eager to hear Mr. Miller’s take on the day’s sorrows, but I was astonished to hear him and his guest (I’ve forgotten who) discussing … the fiscal cliff. How could this be? It was as if the massacre hadn’t happened.
It took me a few seconds, but then I remembered that Mr. Miller broadcasts live from Santa Barbara, CA, in the morning, but here in Los Angeles his show airs on tape delay in the evening. And so for those fleeting moments I was taken back, in a way, to the time before I or Dennis Miller or his guest or anyone else outside of Newtown, CT, had heard of Sandy Hook Elementary School. How pleasant it all seemed that morning, how trivial were my own worries, and how horribly, horribly different the day would turn out to be.
That fiscal cliff seems not to be such a big deal after all, does it? And now we have all but abandoned talk of fiscal cliffs and begun our “conversation on guns.” Or have we?
Based on what we’ve heard so far, this “conversation” amounts to little more than an attempt by one side to shame the other into silence and acquiescence. If you refuse to admit that you, the gun owner, are part of the problem; if you dare to suggest that the public at large would not be less safe but safer if more law-abiding citizens were allowed to carry concealed handguns; if you refuse to acknowledge what is so patently obvious to your enlightened betters living in colonies along both coasts — which is that firearms are inherently evil and have no place in a civilized society — then you are an abettor in the slaughter of children and deserving of public scorn if not imprisonment and even death.
Indeed, this “conversation” has been marked by ignorance and emotionalism on the part of those who would see Americans surrender their guns in advancement of the utopia envisioned in such places as the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Manifesting this ignorance and emotionalism for all to see was CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, who, while engaging in what was purported to be a “conversation on guns” with economist John Lott, seemed gobsmacked when Mr. Lott presented an argument in favor of fewer restrictions on citizens carrying concealed weapons — an argument based on his own extensive research. “I have to say,” stammered Ms. O’Brien, “your position, your position completely boggles me, honestly. I just do not understand it.”
That she did not understand Mr. Lott’s position was obvious, as she was so completely boggled that she failed to address even a single one of the points he made, instead veering off on tangents that did little more than reveal her own lack of knowledge on the subject at hand.
But Ms. O’Brien was the very picture of professionalism when compared to her CNN colleague Piers Morgan, who embarrassed himself and his network while in his characteristic high dudgeon during a “conversation” with Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. Like John Lott, Mr. Pratt is well versed in the research involving gun crime in America, and he attempted to present this information to someone he must have assumed would be willing to hear it. Mr. Morgan was deaf to it all, resorting to language that revealed him to be not only supercilious but boorish as well. “You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” he asked Mr. Pratt. Some who view the exchange might come to a different opinion as to which of the men is stupid.
All the heated rhetoric that has followed the horrors of Sandy Hook obscures the legitimate questions we so yearn to have answered: could the gunman have been stopped, and can future madmen be prevented from carrying out similar crimes? Is there a law that might have been passed, are there steps that might have been taken, could anything have been done to protect those precious children and those who cared for them?
I suspect that those who seek a legislative solution to crimes such as this one are on a fool’s errand. It would be difficult to tabulate the number of laws the gunman broke in the course of his murderous spree that morning; to think the enactment of one or a dozen more would deter such a man is to engage in childish fantasy. And talk of banning “assault weapons” is equally naive, not least for the fact that the very term has no real definition other than to describe rifles that some people find scary-looking.
I am neither a member of the National Rifle Association nor an avid shooter. But I have carried a gun as a tool of my trade for more than 30 years, and have come to appreciate the advantages of being armed in those moments when a deadly threat presents itself. That said, I am not among those who would place a weapon in the hand of every teacher. For one thing, not every teacher is qualified to handle one. There is no shame in this. Using a firearm for self-defense requires a certain mindset and level of proficiency that few teachers — indeed few people in most professions — possess. (Though I suspect the number of teachers hoping to achieve that mindset and level of proficiency has just increased.)
But the mere possibility that one or two staff members at a school might be armed may offer just enough deterrence to inspire second thoughts in any but the most determined assailants. And if such a determined assailant proceeds with an attack, is it beyond the pale to hope for intervention by an armed teacher? Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) appeared on Fox News Sunday on December 16, and he was widely derided (here, for example) for expressing the wish that the principal at Sandy Hook, who died in the attack, had “an M-4 [rifle] locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”
For those who find that absurd, a question: is that scenario not preferable to what actually occurred?
There are limits on what the law and government agencies can do to protect the public. Though I’ve been a cop for 30 years, nearly every day of which has been spent on the streets of Los Angeles, I can recall only a handful of times when I was able to interrupt a violent crime in progress, either by responding quickly to a radio call or by coming across it randomly while on patrol. You’ve heard the expression: when seconds count, the police are minutes away. It’s trite but no less true.
But there are some things the government can do, and it’s all the more unfortunate when laws already on the books are ignored to result in tragedy. Such was the case in Los Angeles recently, when a failure in the criminal justice system had fatal consequences. On December 2, four people were shot to death in Northridge, in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. A suspect was identified and arrested, and detectives learned that by all rights he should have been in jail at the time of the killings.
The suspect, Ka Pasasouk, had been arrested for possession of methamphetamine, a felony in California, and an officer for the L.A. County Probation Department wrote a report outlining why Pasasouk was ineligible for probation or a drug diversion program: he had an extensive criminal record, including an arrest and conviction for robbery. Given these facts, Pasasouk should have been prosecuted for the drug charge and sent to prison. Instead, a deputy district attorney offered a plea bargain that put Pasasouk back out on the street. Two months later, the D.A.’s office now alleges, he shot and killed four people.
Even when the criminal justice system is functioning optimally (but does it ever?) these lapses can occur. We in the trade have a name for people who rely on the police and the justice system to keep them safe: we call them victims.
It may sound uncivilized, but so be it. When the Bad Guy shows up with a gun, there are just two questions to be asked: where is the nearest Good Guy with a gun, and how long will it take him (or her, as the case may be) to arrive, get a sight picture, and if necessary squeeze the trigger? Everything else is wishful thinking.