by Dr. Paul Gallant and Dr. Joanne Eisen
On April 20, 1999, after a year of planning – and signs of trouble ignored by parents, teachers, and peers – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on fellow students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. When the shooting stopped, twelve classmates and a teacher were dead. So were Harris and Klebold from suicide. Fourteen others lay wounded.
The response was predictable: guns were used in committing the mayhem, and so somehow, it happened because of them. And, of course, all gun-owners – responsible, law-abiding or not – collectively share in the blame.
More “reasonable” gun laws needed? (Apparently, 20,000 are still not enough.) Too easy access to firearms? (The Brady Law was supposed to fix that.)
To those convinced that the only road to a safer society means getting rid of all the guns, consider this: what if filling your vague prescription for an ideal world fosters the very climate which created Littleton?
According to University of Chicago researchers Drs. John Lott and William Landes, deaths and injuries from mass public shootings – like Littleton – fall dramatically after right-to-carry concealed-handgun laws are enacted. Their analysis of data from 1977-1995 shows that the average death rate from mass shootings plummeted by up to 91% after such laws went into effect, and injuries dropped by over 80%! (Colorado was in the midst of considering just such a law when Littleton intervened.)
Lott explained: “People who engage in mass public shootings are deterred by the possibility that law-abiding citizens may be carrying guns. Such people may be deranged, but they still appear to care whether they will themselves be shot as they attempt to kill others.”
Are you still convinced that guns are the cause? Why, then, the Littletons all of a sudden, when far fewer children today have legal access to guns, and familiarity with them?
Maybe that’s part of the problem. A July 1993 U.S. Department of Justice study found that “boys who own legal firearms…have much lower rates of delinquency and drug use [than those who obtained them illegally] and are even slightly less delinquent than non-owners of guns.” It concluded “for legal gun owners, socialization appears to take place in the family; for illegal gun owners, it appears to take place ‘on the street’ “.
Stricter gun laws have served only to change the pattern of firearm access, fueling the black market. Forty years ago, kids could buy a gun over the counter, and it was considered normal for them to carry guns around for hunting and recreation. No Littletons, then.
What else is different, nowadays? “Gun-free” school zones are new – could that have played a role? Lott pointed out that these, indeed, make schools safer – not for our children, but for those bent on harming them.
Would Harris and Klebold still have done what they did, knowing there was a good chance of being stopped dead in their tracks by an armed adult, thereby robbing them of the publicity they sought, and the success they hoped for?
That’s exactly what happened at a high school in Pearl, Mississippi, in 1997. Armed with a hunting rifle, 16-year-old Luke Woodham killed his ex-girlfriend and her close friend, then wounded 7 other students. Earlier that morning, Woodham had stabbed his mother to death. Always omitted is one small detail: Assistant Principal Joel Myrick retrieved a handgun from his car, and interrupted Woodham’s shooting spree, holding him at bay until police arrived.
A similar script played out last year in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, when local merchant James Strand used his shotgun to “coax” 14-year old Andrew Wurst into dropping his gun, and surrender to police. Wurst had just killed one teacher, wounded another and two classmates.
We won’t find any simple, single answer. But teaching our children that violence is wrong under any circumstances – even when necessary to protect their own lives – conditions them to be victims, and serves to devalue their lives in preference to the lives of the Harrises and the Klebolds of this world.
The quick and easy knee-jerk response to “gun-violence” and incidents like Littleton – “ban all the guns” – may sound compassionate, at first. But compassion like that is both misplaced and harmful, when truth and common sense are lacking.
Lott said it’s “unlikely” these incidents will ever completely disappear. And while they will always be devastating to those concerned – the victims, and the grieving families and friends – the “ban-the-guns” solution will, in the end, be far more disastrous, and cost many more lives.
Emotion aside, considering the facts and not merely wishful thinking, one thing is certain: gun control won’t stop the madness – it will only make it worse!