Today's tragedy in Newtown, CT underscores a continuing problem that the United States has with handguns: there are too damned many of them, and they're sometimes in the hands of the wrong people.
Frankly, an outright ban on handguns or widespread licensing would have only limited success; much like laws prohibiting ownership by convicted felons. After all, these jokers are not with a good track record on being law-abiding in other ways.
But there are some things that can be done, and things that shouldn't.
1. Mandatory severe sentences for people who bring handguns into public buildings, like courthouses or schools, for instance.
2. Some better screening of entranceways to those places.
3. Really stiff penalties for armed robbery, and other crimes in which a gun is involved.
4. Register as many of the damned things as possible, and have a no-b.s. waiting period before any purchase. This would reduce impulsive shootings on the part of people who are not weapon-holders.
5. Broaden restrictions on assault rifles. And, who knows, maybe crew-served weapons as well. You can never tell how far gun escalation may go.
6. Re-think the idea that letting teachers and administrators come to school armed would serve as a deterrent to such sorry episodes as in Newtown, CT, or the one in Huntsville a few years ago. That's too much of a N.R.A. fantasy, folks.
Anyway, two thoughts along these lines.
a. Handguns are limited in accuracy, and only at short range. Additional shooters, even trying to shoot the shooter, might simply put some additional casualties due to "friendly fire." And most owners of handguns have unduly rosy perceptions of their own skills or the accuracies of their guns.
b. And, when the police come, they have the additional problem of distinguishing the killer from the defenders. Imposing on them this additional choice decision puts them at unnecessary risk. If I was a police officer, the most self-protective thing I could do is shoot anyone with a gun and inquire afterwards!
I taught on the university level for over 40 years in two different institutions, and in that span of time never had an occasion to use a gun. And I'm sure that most teachers on any level have had similar histories. I know how to use a handgun. Would my bringing a gun to work (e.g., U.N.A. or other workplace) have been a good idea? No, podner. It would have been pluperfectly stupid. How ready would I be? Or anyone else who knows guns. And what condition would my weapon be in? Most daily life is ordinary. And ordinary life leaves you unprepared for this occurrence that may involve one chance in a million.
There's an illusion that we have about the present times: that things are more unsafe than they had been. In fact, Stephen Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature presents convincing data that says otherwise.
A child nowadays has a better chance of living a long life unscathed than ever before in history, but there is absolutely no certainty. Life offers no guarantees.
Every day is a gift that should not be taken for granted.