In the immediate aftermath of this most recent shooting – like the ones in Aurora, at Virginia Tech, at Columbine High School – we came together in grief and asked each other how this could have happened. In conversations online and in my living room, by phone or by tweet, my friends demanded to know why this happened. The conversation turned inevitably, then divisively, to gun control.
All day yesterday, #gun was trending on Twitter, often followed by the words "ban" and "control." Following White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's statement that "today is not the day" for a discussion of gun policies, a petition to "immediately address the issue of gun control" was created on the White House website. Within hours, it reached its goal of 25,000 (at the time of this writing, that number has reached 80,393 signatures). And politicians on both sides of the fence have upped the rhetoric.
An average of 80 people die from gun shots every day in America (including from suicides). But as an overall percentage, this number has actually been decreasing since the late 1970s. Meanwhile, perhaps surprisingly, the number of guns in America, is actually rising from around 250 million in 2000 to over 300 million today.
Mass shootings are becoming more and more common. According to a Mother Jones investigation, of the 12 deadliest shootings EVER to take place in American history, six have happened in the last six years. Most of these killers, Mother Jones reported, obtained their guns legally.
But statistics like these don’t tell the whole story. In general, gun violence is decreasing, even as the states roll back their gun control laws.
Just hours before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Michigan's legislature approved guns in school. Kansas already has such a law. In March, Colorado joined the ranks of Oregon, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Utah when its supreme court ruled that concealed weapons were permitted on college campuses.
At least six states — Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Ohio — allow guns in bars. Some of these states have restrictions to promote public safety. In Arizona, for example, a bar can choose to prohibit guns, but only by posting a sign that meets certain restrictions. It must: a) be next to the liquor license, b) show a firearm inside a red circle with a diagonal red line through it, and c) say "no firearms allowed pursuant to A.R.S. Section 4-229."
The guns that Adam Lanza used – two semiautomatic handguns and a semiautomatic rifle – were purchased legally and registered to his mother. But in Connecticut, the gun control laws already made his possession of any guns illegal.
According to ABC's Z. Bryon Wolf, Connecticut has one of the strictest gun control laws in the U.S. Carrying a gun onto school property is a felony there, with exceptions if the school officials gave their approval, or if a gun owner has permission to "traverse" school ground with their unloaded gun for "lawful purposes" like hunting. Clearly, that did not stop Lanza.
Connecticut law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from owning a gun; Lanza was 20 years old. Connecticut also has a "safe storage" provision that makes it a crime if a gun is accessible to a minor; Lanza was not a minor. Rifles and shotguns can be purchased without a permit, after a two-week waiting period. Handguns, on the other hand, require a permit before either purchasing or carrying them.
But none of the restrictions applied; the guns were not Lanza's guns. Would stronger gun laws have stopped Lanza from killing his victims? Probably not; under Connecticut's gun laws, it was already illegal for him to possess a firearm.
You've probably read about the man who attacked over 20 children outside another elementary school in a Chinese village a world away from Connecticut. Unlike the attack in Newtown, there was not a single fatality; the man in China was armed with only a knife.
It just goes to show that someone who wants to kill innocents will try to do so. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't make it as hard as possible to succeed.
Already, Congress is receiving pressure to discuss stronger, new legislation. Exactly one month before Adam Lanza killed 26 people, the Congressional Research Service published a study on gun control legislation. The author, a crime policy specialist who anticipated increased debate in the near future, wrote:
"Would restrictions stop attacks on public figures or thwart deranged persons or terrorists? Would household, street corner, and schoolyard disputes are less lethal if firearms were more difficult and expensive to acquire? Would more restrictive gun control policies have the unintended effect of impairing citizens' means of self-defense?"
Lanza stole his guns from his mother; the guns laws already in place did not stop him. It would be easy to simply argue that, given these facts, gun control laws make no difference against violence. But guns that can cut through three people at a time, assault weapons, semi-automatic guns should not have been so readily available, whether legally or by theft. They are not necessary for the protection of a well-off Connecticut suburb. This, Jay Carney, is a conversation that should begin today.