It’s hard for me to believe it’s been less than a year since the terrible, tragic actions of a disturbed young man took 27 lives in the State of Connecticut. I believe in armed self-defense precisely because I value the lives of myself, my loved ones, and the innocents of our society, and precisely because when the predators and the madmen come for me and mine, I’m prepared to stand between them and their prey.
Yesterday, the Connecticut State Attorney’s office released their preliminary report on the Sandy Hook massacre, and it’s interesting, if unsurprising, reading. It contains more detail about what happened, but not even speculation about why it happened. But it did include a couple of interesting facts which make what I think is an important point that people often overlook: “Crazy” is about motive, not method. And this is why Gun Free Zones and other gun control laws that only control the law-abiding are doomed to fail to prevent future tragedies.
Before I explain what I mean, I need to clarify something. When I use the word “crazy”, I am absolutely not meaning to denigrate all people with mental illness. Several of my friends and family members struggle with varying kinds of mental illness, against a healthcare system that too often fails to give them needed help until much too late. But they’re not prone to acts of homicidal madness. Their suffering, too often, is directed inward, but they’re good, decent, hardworking people. So I’m not talking about them. When I say “crazy” I’m talking about the people whose mental illness leads them to do unspeakable, destructive things, harmful to themselves or others. Fortunately, this is only a very small percentage of those with mental health challenges. Unfortunately, the Sandy Hook murderer was one of them.
The State Attorney’s report doesn’t tell us why the killer chose to shoot his mother multiple times in the head and steal her guns. We don’t learn exactly why he chose to target the school near his home, or what was going on in his head when he fired those fatal shots. We don’t know what he was thinking when he put a Glock 20 to his head and fired the final gunshot that ended his life. And, in a way, those answers don’t matter, because those answers won’t help us prevent the next madman intent upon mayhem and destruction.
But what we do learn is that he planned his crime meticulously. He kept spreadsheets of data about previous mass shootings. He researched the Columbine Massacre extensively. GPS records show he drove to the school at least once in the days before the shooting, perhaps to gather reconnaissance about his targets. He had attended the school years earlier as a small child and was familiar with its layout; investigators speculate this may be why he chose that target. We can surmise that he planned his attack carefully and, knowing the occupants of the school would be unlikely to mount an effective resistance, we can surmise he was confident he’d be able to carry out his plan.
And this is the point I’d really like to make: His motive was unquestionably rooted in crazy, evil, disturbed thinking. Whether he acted out of rage or hatred toward society, or because a little voice told him to slaughter innocent children, his motive for the killings was not a rational one. But the fact that the reason for the killings was irrational doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of rationally planning the details of his attack. Indeed, all the evidence suggests he planned very carefully.
And this is why gun-free zones and magazine capacity limits and all the other stuff the anti-gun crowd waves around is doomed to fail: A crazy, disturbed person intent upon mayhem and violence and slaughter is still capable of recognizing that a gun-free school is a place where he can carry out his evil designs relatively unopposed. He’s capable of stealing or even fabricating the instruments needed to carry out his plan. (Propane tank bombs, anybody?) He’s capable of finding vulnerable targets and finding the holes in their security. The fact that his motives aren’t rooted in rational thought doesn’t mean he’s incapable of rational thought in the service of them.
The State Attorney’s report makes clear that several school staff members encountered the shooter en route to the classrooms where he committed his mass murder. Some were shot, even killed, and others hid and survived. Could one of them, armed with a lawfully carried concealed weapon, have stopped the attack before 20 innocent children lost their lives? Unfortunately, we’ll never know that, but without those law-abiding armed citizens, the children of that elementary school had no chance.
Believing that declaring an area off-limits to guns makes the people within it safe is magical thinking. It might help us to sleep better at night believing our kids safe at school, believing that schools are somehow impervious to violence. But the disturbed, disordered, and evil people who would commit these acts of mayhem don’t buy into the magical thinking. They look at a gun-free school and they see a vulnerable soft target.
So here’s the ultimate question, I think: Do we want to feel that our children are safe at school (because we’ve declared the schools magical gun-free zones), or do we want to know that our children have a fighting chance because the adults who care for them have the means and training to defend them? I know which choice I’d make.
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