A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
As part of "well regulated", it has been clear to me for awhile that there are certain people who are not qualified to own or possess firearms. Obviously, Lanza is one of those.
(1) This is a gun country. We are saturated with guns. There are as many as 300 million guns in circulation today (the majority owned legally, but many not) and more than 4 million new guns come onto the market each year. To talk about eradicating guns, especially given what the Supreme Court has said about the individual right to gun-ownership, is futile.
(2) There are, however, some gun control laws that could be strengthened. The so-called gun-show loophole (which is not a loophole at all -- 40 percent of all guns sold in America legally are sold without benefit of a federal background check) should be closed. Background checks are no panacea -- many of our country's recent mass-shooters had no previous criminal records, and had not been previously adjudicated mentally ill -- but they would certainly stop some people from buying weapons.
(3) We must find a way to make it more difficult for the non-adjudicated mentally ill to come into possession of weapons. This is crucially important, but very difficult, because it would require the cooperation of the medical community -- of psychiatrists, therapists, school counselors and the like -- and the privacy issues (among other issues) are enormous. But: It has to be made more difficult for sociopaths, psychopaths and the otherwise violently mentally-ill (who, in total, make up a small portion of the mentally ill population) to buy weapons.
(4) People should have the ability to defend themselves. Mass shootings take many lives in part because no one is firing back at the shooters. The shooters in recent massacres have had many minutes to complete their evil work, while their victims cower under desks or in closets. One response to the tragic reality that we are a gun-saturated country is to understand that law-abiding, well-trained, non-criminal, wholly sane citizens who are screened by the government have a role to play in their own self-defense, and in the defense of others (read The Atlantic article to see how one armed school administrator stopped a mass shooting in Pearl Mississippi). I don't know anything more than anyone else about the shooting in Connecticut at the moment, but it seems fairly obvious that there was no one at or near the school who could have tried to fight back.
Here's a picture of the guns Lanza had.
Any one of these is ideal for home defense. Joking aside, I am a little uncomfortable about the assault rifle. However, according to NBC News:
Lanza left the assault rifle in his car, [UPDATE:] What can I say, it's a fluid situation. The NYT reports that Lanza "fired a semiautomatic rifle loaded with ammunition designed for maximum damage." [/UPDATE]
(2) He was denied the purchase of a rifle at a sporting goods store (although this is unclear because I can't tell whether he was actually denied purchase or was just not willing to wait out the three-day cooling off period),
(3) The police recovered four handguns at the school, so somehow Lanza got ahold of two handguns that were not in his household [UPDATE:] Sheesh, the above NYT report contradicts the four-handgun story [/UPDATE]
(4) On Wednesday, he was in sort some of verbal argument with four staffers at the school.
Perhaps some higher level of vetting could be applied to assault rifles and similar classes of weapons
(although it wouldn't have made a difference in this case). Perhaps a stiffer penalty for those who don't properly secure their weapons. According to press reports, the two handguns were owned by Lanza's mom, and she paid a dear price for not keeping those guns out of the hands of her son. Perhaps, as Volokh suggests, if a couple of staff at the school had access to firearms, lives would have been saved.
UPDATE 1: Via Floater, Lanza's mom was a gun enthusiast. A dear price paid for such avocation. Apparently, Lanza was in the Newton school system but left.
UPDATE 2: This, to me, is sensible.
UW law professor Michael Scott has looked at the psychological profiles of the gunman in these mass shootings. He qualifies most as "disturbed" in one way or another, with a number of them seeking vengeance for some perceived alienation from society.
"Predicting future activity and future dangerousness is inherently difficult, but nonetheless, we can identify people who are in some form of mental crisis and try to intervene early on," Scott explained.
That said, Scott believes a number of factors have contributed to a recent spree of mass killings across the country, with five widely publicized shootings in the last six months.
"It's not uncommon to see a spade of these where one follows another one fairly soon after," Scott said.
Scott said part of the solution is paying more attention to mental health and helping these individuals before their actions turn deadly. He also believes it has become easier to acquire powerful combat weapons and large amounts of ammunition, making it more accessible to gunmen like Lanza.
Scott also said security could be improved in public buildings where these mass shootings tend to happen.
"We don't have to live in a fortress society," Scott said. "There are ways in which we can design buildings and develop procedures that don't have to be overly intrusive and don't have to restrict our routine activities, but still give us better protection."
By Scott’s count, there have been about 75 mass shootings in the United States since the University of Texas killings in the 1960s. Scott said 600 to 700 people total were killed in those events.
"It's never any one thing, so if we're trying to protect society, we need to make sure that we have a safety net that addresses all of the, at least the half dozen contributing factors that make it easy for or allow these shootings to happen," Scott said.
A couple of things. One, since Loughner slaughtered six in Tucson, I haven't seen any substantive legislation or policies that would effectively deal with those mentally ill who pose a potential violent threat to public safety. Another, owning and possessing a firearm is a right, no less of a right than practicing your religion, assembling a protest or speaking out on a controversial issue. But there's one difference, "well regulated" is attached to the right to bear arms. And, of course, with rights come responsibilities. We can regulate but we can't ban outright, although I think we can--and should--enact a ban on the ones with confirmed psychological issues. I don't think there's any one answer, or magic bullet if you will.