A week ago Friday, a deranged young man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and took the lives of 20 children and six adults. We all mourn this loss as a nation and I, like many of you, will pray for strength and healing for the victims.
As the father of four, I can think of no more horrific image than that of someone pointing a gun at a six-year-old and squeezing the trigger. School should be a safe place where children can learn and we can develop the next generation of Americans.
We must, as a nation, have a serious discussion about what caused Adam Lanza to embark on his murderous rampage and what can be done to prevent tragedies like this one. As with many things, politics has found its way into this discussion over the past week. Politicizing this tragedy does a disservice to us all.
We need to come together as a nation rather than pulling off into separate camps. I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment but I am willing to discuss our gun laws in the context of preventing another tragedy.
Some in Washington believe the answer is reinstituting the Clinton-era assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. While the AR-15, which Lanza used, looks militaristic, it is actually not an assault weapon because it fires one round at a time.
In fact, Connecticut has the fifth most stringent gun control laws in the country, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The state actually already has its own assault weapons ban, which, while it bans 35 types of weapons, does not prohibit the use of the AR-15.
More stringent gun laws do not necessarily prevent gun violence. Germany, which has some of the most stringent gun laws in the world, including psychological evaluations, has had three mass school shootings over the last decade. In Norway firearms are permitted only with a documented need had a mass shooting that killed 69 at a children’s camp last summer. In contrast, the Czech Republic has very relaxed gun laws with no restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon has had no mass school shootings.
Here at home, there are several incidences when citizens lawfully carrying a weapon have been able to stop crimes. Earlier this month, a man carrying a concealed weapon helped stop a shooting at a mall in Happy Valley, Ore. In Pearl, Miss., a vice principal was able to immobilize the gunman in a school shooting.
Lanza broke at least five laws before he fired a weapon. While a new gun control law may satisfy the feeling that we must do something, would it be effective in preventing another tragedy?
We must also bear in mind the Second Amendment’s protections for the right to bear arms. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects guns “in common use at the time.” Currently the AR-15 is one of the most popular rifles in America.
Gun control can be part of our national dialogue in response to this tragedy but we need to put everything on the table. There are media reports that Lanza suffered from mental illness, which could have played a factor.
At this point, we don’t know whether violence in the media, Lanza’s home situation or some other factor is at play.
Rushing to put another law on the books could instill in us a false sense of security. We need to better understand this situation and what we can do to prevent another Adam Lanza.
Would better access to mental health have preventing this tragedy? Could we better educate parents about violence in video games or movies? Could we, as a society, provide better support to parents in raising their children?
I know that I am not alone when I say that I am committed to doing anything in my power to better protect our children and to address the causes of senseless violence. I want to make sure we get it right.
Rep. Jack Kingston serves the 1st Congressional District, which includes Bryan County.