With the echo of gunfire from the gut-wrenching tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School barely fading, the anti-gun zealots in this nation have gone wild.
Headline-seeking lawmakers exploiting the deaths of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook are stampeding to attack gun ownership, the National Rifle Association and the Constitution. They blindly ignore the truth: Gun control does not work as advertised and disarms only the law-abiding, leaving dangerous "no-gun" zones wide open to disturbed killers.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., leaped to ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds -- as if that were not simply idiotic. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was railing for gun control as the cops were arriving at Sandy Hook. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is reintroducing the so-called "assault" weapons ban - discarded as ridiculously ineffective in 2004.
President Barack Obama shamelessly used Sandy Hook to push his fiscal cliff proposal and he put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of efforts to develop concrete gun control and mental health policy proposals. (If there is any good news for gun owners, Obama's putting Biden in charge might be it.) Obama says he will support banning certain types of semiautomatic guns. Such a prohibition, it must be noted, was in effect when two emotionally crippled misfits murdered a teacher and 12 students at Columbine High School.
CNN's self-righteous Piers Morgan gave voice to gun banners when he exploded during an "interview" with Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, calling him "an unbelievably stupid man," and "dangerous." For good measure, he railed, "You shame your country" Talk radio callers asked, "Why do you need an assault gun to hunt rabbits?" The ninnies have been in high dudgeon.
Across the nation, the frenzy's fallout was predictable. Prices shot up; stocks went down. Firearms and magazines and ammunition flew off store shelves last week as Americans scrambled to buy whatever they could find to beat a ban by an overzealous government panting to enact draconian, unworkable laws to dodge the tough issues. If the buyers could make a tidy profit after a ban, so much the better.
Make no mistake. We have had our share of tragedy. "Mother Jones" magazine reports at least 62 mass murders -- more than four victims -- carried out with firearms across the country since 1982. But a recent USAToday article offers perspective. Statistics, it says, suggest such crimes precipitously spiked in the 1990s and 2000s -- perhaps driven by gang shootings -- but showed "no discernible trend."
The newspaper quotes James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northwestern University as saying that despite the hoopla, there has been no "uptick" in mass shootings this year. "It's awful," he said. "Yet this is not an epidemic and we're not seeing a new upward trend."
The truth is, he said, that deadly school shootings are rare -- and getting rarer. Schools, statistically, are the safest place for children, Fox said.
"When you consider the fact that there are over 50 million schoolchildren in America, the chances are over 1 in 2 million, not a high probability," he said. "And most cases that do occur are in high schools and less so in middle schools -- and hardly ever in elementary schools."
But the numbers offer no solace for families left behind.
Dewey Cornell, director of the University of Virginia's Youth Violence Project and a forensic clinical psychologist, says preventing such tragedies calls for broader approaches to mental health and violence. "Real prevention begins long before there is a gunman in the parking lot," Cornell said.
That is the problem with this nation's phony gun control debate: It distracts from the real issues and too often substitutes dogma for fact. Most, if not all, of the mass killers in the recent past, for instance, have been mentally or emotionally disturbed.
Instead of fretting whether an isolated, despondent mass killer should be limited to one 30-round magazine or three 10-rounders, or a semiautomatic rifle with a pistol grip instead of one without, with bayonet lug or without, why are we not trying to identify and treat those most likely to star on the evening news? What about arming teachers? Or more community policing? Or Hollywood's unhealthy fascination with violence?
The gun control part? It's just political theater, and, to paraphrase our pal, Piers Morgan, unbelievably stupid.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.