Gun control legislation will not put an end to gun violence. The flu shot will not protect me from a heart attack. But I got a flu shot anyway. I know full well that I may still die from a heart attack. I may get run over by a garbage truck backing up. I might very well fall down the stairs and break my neck. But I still got a flu shot.
It seemed like the sensible thing to do. Any measure that we can take that moves us in the direction of reducing risks to our health and enhancing greater public safety is not only prudent, but, I would argue, a moral imperative.
I bring this up after listening to those who argue against trying to limit the availability of heavy weaponry among civilians. I hear in their arguments a strange kind of logic, an assertion that since gun control is not the only answer, it should not be part of the discussion.
Well, the problem of violence is more complicated than just guns. How do we know it would have prevented the killer in Newtown (or Aurora, or Milwaukee, or Columbine. . . the sorry list goes on) from finding some other way to inflict such pain on a community? Well, we don’t, but we do know this: Other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemicals, poisons and explosives, are regulated and are difficult to obtain.
Public policy cannot create absolute certainty, just as a flu shot will not guarantee me a healthy winter. A renewal of the assault weapons ban coupled with amnesty for illegally owned weapons could well take us in the direction of greater sanity. (The Australians, who are close to Americans in their love of guns and hunting, have found both measures remarkably effective.)
If there ever were a moment that cries out for limits on the easy availability of such weapons, this is it. Mayors across the country, including our own Stephanie Miner and, most prominently, New York City’s Michael Bloomberg, have been pushing for years for an assault weapons ban and more serious background checks for gun purchasers. Police chiefs, including our own Frank Fowler, never miss a chance to advocate for measures to make guns less prevalent.
It’s not because they think there’s a simple answer. It’s because this is simply one step toward safety, and sanity. No one knows for sure what might have prevented the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. But we do know this: A young man with malice in his heart was able to easily gain access to a killing machine whose possession, in most civilized countries, is the prerogative of highly trained police or military operatives. And that combination has led to a tsunami of tears and a season of pain that will mark this generation of students for the rest of their lives.
Placing restrictions on the sale and possession of assault rifles will not “solve” the problem of violence in our society, nor will it prevent hunters from enjoying their pastime, nor keep private citizens who feel the need to carry a gun to defend themselves from doing so. It will not reverse whatever twisted thought process led Adam Lanza to do what he did. It will not bring peace to the grieving parents nor restore the lives of those who left their loved ones much too soon.
That doesn’t mean we should not enhance school security and explore other measures to protect our children. It’s not an either-or proposition. We can’t wait to solve the mystery of evil or to understand the disease process of this disturbed mind in order to take the first step.
So get a flu shot. Wash your hands often. And do everything you can to keep weapons like these out of circulation.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at