By now just about everyone has heard about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
We are deeply saddened over the loss of so many young lives in this shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, our hearts reach out to the families of those who lost their lives in this horrible tragedy.
The familiarity is what should horrify us the most: A school shooting with a bunch of people dead, many of them children. This time, it’s a 17 dead, the shooter a 19-year-old who had been expelled from the school.
What can we do? What should we do?
The answers are not easy, and they inevitably involve a trade-off: accepting the unacceptable, or restricting our freedoms. The three big ones are freedom of the press (publicity gives oxygen to these kinds of acts, so restricting coverage will reduce copycats); the right to bear arms (guns don’t cause human evil); and due process (targeting potential mass shooters, or mentally ill people in general, is possible, but requires us to curtail Americans’ civil rights before they have actually committed a crime).
It is by no means clear that any of these solutions would be more effective than the others, and each of them involves punishing a very large number of people in order to stop the evil-doings of a very small number of people.
Gun owners are used to hearing, almost in the same breath, “we’ll stop shootings by banning all guns” and “nobody’s trying to take your guns away.”
As always, human beings are the real weapons of mass destruction, and the tools they choose are not the causes of violence.
Defensive measures are a hollow promise. It’s prohibitively expensive to provide every school, movie theater, workplace, hospital or other “soft target” with an armed guard.
Nor is there a handy social or religious answer. The sickness that leads people to this kind of act may be in some ways emotional or spiritual, but history gives us no reason to believe that there is a key to preventing an angry minority of people from going bad. There never has been, and there never will be.
There are only easy answers if you are willing to sacrifice rights you don’t care about, and that other people do. That’s never been a kind of solution Americans could pursue without embarrassment and regret. Unless and until we can find a better, more reliable way to identify potential mass shooters early, we have to acknowledge the nature of the choice before us: Punish many innocent people or remain mostly defenseless against the malicious few.
Nobody wants to make one side of that trade. But nobody wants to face the other side either.