Before the mourning for those poor babies killed in the Connecticut school shooting even begins, well-meaning state and federal legislators will pen hundreds of bills aimed at stopping such an incident from happening again. In the business, this is called knee-jerk legislation, and in the time of crisis and overwhelming emotion, these bills usually seem to make their way into law in one form or another. Caring citizens want something done and legislators want to appear responsive to those needs. Our law books are filled with good intentions.
Nearly every major reform to U.S. gun laws has come on the heels of a mass shooting. From Al Capone’s Valentine’s Day Massacre to Columbine to Virginia Tech to Gabrielle Gifford’s shootings, the nation mourns and then legislates accordingly.
In recent history, the Columbine shooting seems the most relevant to this discussion. A great deal of time and effort went into the “whys” behind this dark shadow in our history. This kind of killing didn’t happen in normal, white bread suburbia.
In May 2002 the Secret Service published a report that examined 37 US school shootings. They had the following findings:
- Incidents of targeted violence at school were rarely sudden, impulsive acts.
- Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.
- Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
- There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
- Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
- Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.
- Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
- Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
- In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
- Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.
If you take a look at each segment of this report, you can see where new policies and laws in today’s culture have taken hold such as Zero Tolerance, which came into the forefront during the Reagan Administration in his War on Drugs efforts and expanded exponentially over the years after each horrific incident inspires new ways to put a thumb in the dike.
As the details come out about the Sandy Hook shooting and the troubled young man who perpetrated it, we will probably see very similar traits as the study above outlines. Two things come to this writer’s mind when the details emerge; did someone know about his plan and could have stopped it and why aren’t teachers allowed to carry a gun on school property. Both instances take personal responsibility into the equation. All the laws in the world will not stop a disturbed and determined person from creating tragedy, but an individual person can.
Be prepared for the onslaught of knee jerk legislation. If national election trends are any clue, personal responsibility is not a “feel good” solution for most of our country.