Deadly Rampage at Newtown Elementary School

12.15.12

After Connecticut School Shootings, Never-Ending Gun Debate Spins

The arguments for gun rights vs. gun control ramped up once again in the aftermath of the massacre at Newtown Elementary, as America’s mass shootings proliferate.

Within hours of Friday morning’s horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Ladd Everitt was planning an impromptu but urgent protest at the White House.

Everitt is director of communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and he hopes that if anything good can come out of Friday’s rampage, it’s change. Finally. 

“Silence is no longer acceptable,” Everitt told The Daily Beast. “If you can’t find the courage to stand up to the NRA after a classroom of kindergarteners gets killed ...” 

And off he went, just as President Obama was tearfully addressing the nation, and perhaps hinting that he agreed.  

“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” Obama said at an afternoon press conference. “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” 

No matter how inspired he is to do so, no matter how riled up your friends are on Facebook and Twitter, that “meaningful action” will be hard-won. If there’s any lesson from the past 15 years’ alarming spate of mass shootings, it’s that they don’t tend to inspire much more than rhetoric, from both sides of the debate about gun control. 

“People who are against guns say if people didn’t have guns, this wouldn’t have happened, therefore we can’t let anybody have guns,” says Edward Leddy, a professor of criminology and sociology at Florida’s Saint Leo College. “The other side is going to say if criminals are the only ones who have guns, criminals become essentially a protected class.” 

The shootings certainly haven’t led to tighter gun laws, Leddy notes. All that’s changed, broadly, in the era of mass shootings, is more states passing laws allowing more people to carry guns, on the theory that more guns in the hands of the law-abiding makes us all safer.  

“If you take guns away from honest citizens, it doesn’t reduce crime,” Leddy told The Daily Beast, reciting the age-old argument, “because honest citizens don’t commit crimes to begin with.”

Video screenshot

Demonstrators held a gun control rally outside the White House Friday evening, saying "today is the day" to end gun violence.

When the debate is pegged to a mass shooting, that argument gets tweaked a little, as people who spray bullets at dozens of innocents are almost always deemed “crazy” at some point, and with good reason, says Randy Barnett, professor of legal theory at Georgetown University. Then, the logic is gun-control laws don’t stop crazy people from doing crazy things. 

“Everything these crazy people are doing is already against the law, and sometimes punishable by death,” Barnett said. ”They still do it.” 

If you really want to change a law to stop the next mass murderer, gun control isn’t the appropriate focus, Barnett told The Daily Beast. Mental illness is. 

“If you reach a point where a homicidal maniac comes into a kindergarten classroom or a movie theater and opens fire, you’ve already failed.”

“I’m not in favor of this policy, but a policy that doesn’t seem to be on the table is reinstitutionalizing people who have mental problems, as opposed to having them all live on the street,” Barnett says. The worst thing you could ever have happen to you as an individual is to become the object of some crazy person’s attention. There’s virtually nothing law enforcement can do to protect you.” 

Nothing, that is, but pack your own heat and fire back, says Eugene Volokh, a constitutional-law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Which is why the past 15 years has seen a movement toward more liberal gun laws, not more stricter ones. 

At least, that’s how Volokh sees it. Everitt agrees that his side is losing the war on gun control, but he attributes that to the power of the gun lobby, not the prevailing of its logic. 

“There has been more fire on the pro-gun side,” Everitt said, “in terms of their consistency and sustained pressure on elected officials.” The only people who are taking the pro-gun argument seriously, he contends, are those “watching Fox News 24/7.”

Arguing that the solution to gun violence begins after someone has already started popping off rounds is ridiculous, Everitt says.

“If you reach a point where a homicidal maniac comes into a kindergarten classroom or a movie theater and opens fire, you’ve already failed,” he says. “No American, no kindergartener should have to go to a school armed with a gun and body armor to feel safe.” 

And so goes the never-ending gun debate, an argument unlikely to change much, even with a shooting as horrific as Friday’s. Before Obama’s press conference, White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters he didn’t want to field gun-control questions.  

“I’m sure [there] will be rather a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates,” he said. “But I don’t think today is that day.” 

Everitt disagrees, which is why his organization assembled that hasty protest only hours after the shooting started. Because the only way a tragedy like the one that happened in Newtown can make a difference is if people demand it, he says.

“That’s the only way anything ever changes.” 

"Until the facts are thoroughly known, NRA will not have any comment," a spokesman told The Daily Beast Friday afternoon.