The popular debate that has arisen in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is but the latest chapter in our nation’s ongoing saga of individual liberty, arms regulation, and irrational violence.
To move forward on an issue that touches on so many concurrent factors, we must be willing to confront one of the key differences that marks our nation as such a strong outlier in gun-related deaths: lax controls on access to firearms. New regulations must preserve the basic freedoms afforded by our Bill of Rights, but with the perspective that the right to bear arms exists to protect the rights of life, liberty and property, rather than as an end unto itself.
To be fair, regulating firearms is not the only way to keep schools safer; technology can and should be adapted to improve response times and impede intruders of any sort. Enhanced safety guidelines could also serve the dual purpose of securing and updating school facilities, and where feasible, armed security personnel provide an effective deterrent to most would-be assailants. However, the issue stands that our schools will never be perfectly equipped to repel fanatics and sociopaths armed with assault weapons, and there are common-sense reforms that can lessen the probability of that happening, without radically limiting rights of self-defense.
Shortly after the Newtown shooting, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark laid out a series of plausible reforms that would work to increase accountability for shootings as well as limit the ability of guns getting into the hands of those unfit to use them, without restricting access to law-abiding citizens. Universal background checks, even for private sales, and the integration of databases to recognize both prior offenders and those mentally unfit to wield a firearm would go quite a long way toward preventing mass shootings in general, not just in schools. Additionally, biometric safeguards (to prevent unwanted access within a household, as occurred in Newtown) and the optional tagging of weapons with microchips (so that owners can see if/when their weapons are being improperly utilized) would allow for greater security without limiting the right to bear arms.
Striking closer to the root of the problem, though, the safety of a school is inextricably linked to the safety of its community, both by virtue of location and the people who comprise it. As such, school safety benefits when gun trafficking loopholes are closed, when increased accountability measures such as microstamping of firearms and comprehensive ballistics databases are instituted, and when the root causes of crime and delinquency are addressed before they precipitate violence.
All told, we would do well to proceed with caution when it comes to restricting liberties, even in small measures, but we owe it to our nation’s children and educators to make the hard decisions here. It’s time to stop passing the buck and move forward on sensible gun reform, for everyone’s sake.