But precisely because these are human, and therefore fallible reactions, we must be careful not to act too quickly, out of emotion, and without reasonable caution. Policy changes should be made with cooler heads, not the broken hearts we carry now.
First, there is the question. Because we’ve been here before, too many times, we know it’s sometimes phrased, “How could this have been prevented?” Less often — and less sensitively — it takes the form of the declaration, “if we had only (fill in the blank), this wouldn’t have happened.”
The truth is, we will never know what steps might have been taken to prevent this tragedy. The actions of Adam Lanza were not foreseeable, in any meaningful way. He was troubled, it seems, and his mother reportedly found it difficult to “reach” him.
Yet Lanza’s “trouble” was Aspergers Syndrome, a condition with no discernible link to violent actions. Indeed, those with this condition are more likely to withdraw rather than to confront, to be the victims of violence than to be the perpetrators.
Lanza is also said to have been an avid player of video games (reportedly, the violent “Call of Duty” games). Were those a factor?
As we mentioned, we’ve been here before. Violence in video games is nothing new; the industry itself created the Entertainment Software Rating Board to assign ratings to games. Yet there are no laws governing who can purchase games rated “M” (for “mature”) or “AO” (“adults only”). Retailers have their own policies, and many restrict the sales of these games to teens, but not all do so. And many are purchased online, or by parents who are only dimly aware of a game’s content.
Then there’s the statement — “Someone should do something.” When we say it, we usually mean government should do something. And the “something” here is clear: restrict access to at least some types of firearms.
That’s what President Obama meant when he spoke to the families in Newtown.
“No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction… in the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds” in an effort “aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”
Democratic lawmakers say they’ll re-introduce the “assault weapons ban” that was in effect from 1994 until 2004.
Yet it’s unclear whether even that ban, which was allowed to expire, would have prevented the Newtown shootings. Lanza’s AR-15 might fit the description, but he also carried handguns that wouldn’t — and the Virginia Tech massacre was carried out with just such handguns.
For now, let’s set policy aside.
It’s time to mourn the children.