It is a mistake however to either do nothing on the theory “Crazy people do bad things and we can’t stop them” or to willy-nilly start passing laws (especially ones like the assault weapons ban, which addressed only the appearance of semiautomatic assault weapons). Neither the First nor Second amendments nor the personal autonomy of the mentally ill can be absolute. Abraham Lincoln is generally credited with the expression “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Nor a death sentence for innocents in movie theaters, schools, malls and other gathering spots.
It would be a welcome change of pace to resist the urge to introduce a mass of legislation or to use action or inaction as a political weapon. It makes far more sense, as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) suggested on Sunday, to convene a serious commission to delve into the nexus of culture, mental health and gun laws. (In fact he’ll have free time next year and should head it up.) There is a huge body of criminology and other factual evidence to review that would assist in reaching some well-defined, sensible steps that would diminish (albeit not eliminate) these mass shootings. The more thoughtful the investigation and the better the information, the more likely agreement can be reached.
The worst thing would be a rush to introduce sweeping legislation unfocused on the issue at hand — generally young, mentally troubled males getting access to deadly weapons. It would serve the grandstanders’ purposes but accomplish little else. It is a misnomer to say we haven’t had a debate on gun control; what we have is an uninformed one untethered to facts and unserious in zeroing in on the worst crimes, mass murder of innocents. Maybe this time it will be different.