No simple, easy solution

Published 8:50 pm Saturday, December 22, 2012

A week after the massacre of 26 young children and faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the nation is desperate for some simple, easy and failsafe solution to the problems of school security and gun violence. Unfortunately, the solution will be none of those things.

Before police had even cleared the bodies from the school, there were widespread calls for new legislation to control firearms. Limits on the number of rounds magazines can hold, bans on certain types of weapons and restrictions on the availability of various kinds of ammunition have all been suggested, and polls show support for some type of controls to be gaining.

Others have called for allowing teachers and principals to carry weapons that they could use to protect themselves and their charges if their schools were ever attacked. Some have suggested posting armed police officers or former members of the military at schools. The simple fact of having armed people on a school campus would serve as a deterrent to most such attacks as the one in Connecticut, according to those who have put forward that proposal.

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Others still have suggested the root of the problem is unaddressed mental health issues, suggesting that America has spent too many years treating the symptoms of mental health and not enough treating the problem itself. Or perhaps the problem is violence on television and in the movies, which has bloomed under the protection of the First Amendment. Or maybe the problem is graphically brutal video games, which have had similar free-speech protection.

Gun control, as with so many other things in our society today, is a polarizing issue. So, too, are mental health, security and the First Amendment. There is no American who will be unaffected by the changes we choose to make in the wake of this great tragedy.

Furthermore — and perhaps more important to a reasoned, civil national conversation — everybody on all sides of these issues loves their children and wants to see them safe. If we can’t understand that about each other — if we insist on demonizing the people who disagree with our methods, instead of demonizing the evil people who have committed the heinous acts that brought the nation to this point — then we have little chance of solving the problems.

These are not easy problems to solve. Solving them won’t be a quick process. And none of our solutions can possibly guarantee the safety of schoolchildren or theatergoers or weekend shoppers. Still, we have to do something. There’s not much common ground in America’s political or cultural debates lately. By acknowledging that we have similar goals and treating one another with respect as we attempt to achieve them, however, we can lay a foundation for implementing the best solutions available to us.