Nationwide, the debate over gun rights, social mores and school safety took a sharp turn in light of the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed by a young man with a history of mental illness.
Adam Lanza used a legally obtained semiautomatic assault rifle to commit his mass murder spree in Newtown on Dec. 14, according to State Police. Weston schools were put on heightened awareness after the incident, and the district, the Weston police, and town officials are taking a close look at safety and security issues throughout town.
The Weston selectmen are acting quickly to modify the town’s existing gun ordinance. Nationally, the discussion about gun control and mental health is heating up.
Gun control advocates have been circulating the idea that guns should be regulated like vehicles — mandatory liability insurance for accidents, annual registration requirements, aptitude tests for licenses, and also titles and tags at point of sale, along with inspections at regular intervals.
Gun rights advocates claim this would serve to allow only people with means to own guns, and those with little money would not be able to pay for the additional requirements.
Japan, a country with the most strict gun control laws among developed nations, manages its firearms in such ways. Japan also has the lowest rate of gun-related deaths of all developed countries, according to a study by National Rifle Association member David Kopel, whose findings were published in the “Asia Pacific Law Review” in 1993 and still considered relevant by legal experts.
Gun rights advocates often disagree, and many point to Chicago’s strict gun control laws having little effect on its high rate of gun violence. However, that city’s gun control measures do little to control how people can obtain guns outside of city limits, and gun laws in each state vary widely.
One of the most comprehensive examinations of gun control measures and their effect on violence was undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2003, but because of the wide array of laws among states, grandfather clauses and interpretations, the study failed to conclude whether gun control measures decrease gun violence.
“This is a critical period for focused research on the effectiveness of firearms laws in reducing violence in the United States,” the authors of the study stated. “Although [this study] found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of these laws in preventing violence, research should continue on the effectiveness of firearms laws as one approach to the prevention or reduction of firearms violence and firearms injury.”
Connecticut is commonly cited as having some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. This data comes from various sources, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a recent study by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence comparing CDC data on firearm-related deaths to each state’s level of gun control.
The study concluded that states with strict gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths. Connecticut was ranked No. 4 for its level of gun control, and scored sixth-lowest in gun deaths, according to the study. Other studies have not been conclusive, and according to a recent report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, this is a symptom of the NRA’s strong lobbying.
“The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997,” the report stated.
Major efforts to block research were successful starting in 1996, when pro-gun Congress members cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget, which was the amount the center spent on gun injury research the year before, the report continued.
NRA press conference
On Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, the National Rifle Association held a press conference, after a week of silence, in response to the previous week’s shooting. Wayne LaPierre, the association’s executive vice president, presented the idea of placing armed guards at schools, and stated that gun-free school zones “tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said.
Congressman Jim Himes (D-4th District) called ideas of arming teachers or civilians to take down shooters “insane.”
“On the surface level, you think, I could take down a shooter,” Mr. Himes said. “That’s just not realistic.”
Just having a gun in the household increases the chance of death, Mr. Himes said.
“Gun violence is an enormous cost on our society, financially and emotionally,” Mr. Himes said, and for this reason he would consider supporting an array of solutions.
The congressman carefully noted that the goal of legislation should be to reduce “horrible gun violence,” not necessarily to get rid of all guns.
For many, gun control versus gun rights is only a portion of the conversation. Many point to a breakdown in the family structure, violence in the media and video games, along with a rise in mental illness, as potential factors contributing to the increase in mass shootings.
In 2011, a study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that more than 45 million Americans — or one in five adults — suffer from a mental illness. Of these, it’s estimated that 62% failed to receive health services for their illness.
“Too many Americans are not getting the help they need, and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed,” stated Pamela Hyde, an administrator with the organization.
The study also noted that 42% of these people didn’t seek help because of unemployment or lack of health care.
“It’s disconcerting that one in every five Americans suffers a mental illness and of those many fail to receive adequate treatment,” wrote Tyger Latham, a Washington, D.C., psychologist, in Psychology Today. “How is it that one of the most prosperous and economically advanced countries in the world has failed to care for its own? This strikes me as a question we should be asking ourselves and one in need of immediate attention.”
Reports have indicated that Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, sought to commit her son for his mental illness but that she was having trouble navigating through red tape.
As the state and nation begin to heal from the Newtown tragedy, people from all walks of life have serious questions to ask of themselves and their elected leaders about what steps to take, if any, to try to fix whatever is broken.