Just like many of you, I've been transfixed this weekend watching the TV news coverage of the slaughter of the innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
And like a bad case of acid reflux, the national debate has begun -- for the umpteenth time -- over the issue of gun control, an issue liberals have simply ceded to the right for lo these many years.
There was a time when I would have argued that the United States' gun laws should be as restrictive as those in Great Britain or Japan.
See also: -Since Jared Loughner's Tucson Massacre, Six U.S. Shootings Have Been Deadlier, Including Today's Shooting in Connecticut -Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Police Chief Daniel Garcia Cautiously Assure Local Safety in Response to Newtown Shooting
But having watched these horrific massacres repeat themselves over the years, and being aware of the fact that most gun enthusiasts I know (some of them die-hard lefties) are law-abiding and not inclined to violence, I accept that there's no silver bullet, pardon the term, for the problem of gun violence in America, much less for such mass killings.
For instance, according to the New York Times and other outlets, the mother of Adam Lanza was a law-abiding gun enthusiast who liked to play Bunco with her female friends.
Indeed, from the admittedly thumbnail portraits offered so far, she seems as if she was fairly normal. (NB: That depiction is evolving, as some have suggested in the comments to this post below.)
If she had not been the victim of her own son on Friday, one can imagine her being horrified at the bloodshed, and deeply ashamed that it was her son who was the killer of 26, including 20 six and seven year-olds.
We don't know enough about Adam to know what was wrong with him or what would have stopped him from harming himself and others.
Many are calling for a new "assault weapons ban," as there was under President Clinton (and for a little while under Bush II).
If that ban were still in place, would it have prevented Lanza's murderous spree, and kept his mom's semi-automatic long gun out of his hands, the main gun he reportedly killed these little children with?
That's unclear to me. An assault weapons ban (AWB) was in place at the time of the 1999 Columbine massacre, for instance. It did not prevent the Columbine killers from obtaining the TEC DC9 semi-automatic handgun that was used.
(Note to gun-lovers: Yeah, I know "assault weapons" is a general, media term, not a technical term, but it serves a purpose. So spare me the pedantry, and go play with your pistols.)
According to an article the Denver Post did tracing how the TEC DC9 got into the hands of Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the teenagers obtained it through Mark Manes, a 22 year-old man they met at a gun show, who had purchased it at the same gun show, different date.
Manes' purchase of the gun was not illegal, even under the AWB, which included a grandfather clause. Selling it to two 17 year-olds was illegal, though, and Manes ended up pleading guilty to two felony charges after Columbine.
Klebold and Harris had other guns -- shotguns and a 9mm carbine that they obtained by having Klebold's 18 year-old girlfriend make the purchase at a gun show.
The AWB didn't prevent Harris and Klebold from causing the horror at Columbine. They got around it, and they broke other laws in order to get their guns.
And, hypothetically, if their parents had been gun enthusiasts like Nancy Lanza, their deadly scheme might have been made that much easier.
I'm not arguing for inaction, rather that any action we take as a nation be comprehensive, well-thought out, and help us achieve the common goal of making such incidents as rare as possible.
Which is why I found the words of Congressman Ron Barber in his op-ed for this Sunday's Arizona Republic, to be very wise.
In part, Barber, one of the surviving victims of the 2011 Tucson tragedy, wrote:
There is no single law that we can write, no single regulation that we can impose, no single process that we can put in place that will address the many problems that come together to cause such a horrifying tragedy.
But some of the pieces are laid out before us.
I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms -- but we must take action to deal with the easy availability of assault weapons and extended magazines.
After all, the Second Amendment does have that part in there about a "well regulated" militia.
Sometimes it sounds like the gun nuts believe the Second Amendment to be an absolute, which allows them to purchase anything and everything up to and including rocket-launchers and briefcase nukes, if they so desired.
Hell, some of them online are saying the answer to the tragedy is to arm the kindergarten teachers. Hard to reason with these nudniks. Next they'll want to arm the six year-olds.
Barber is also a proponent of measures that would make it easier to treat the mentally ill, another difficult issue, where the rights of society must be weighed against the rights of the individual.
If you go on YouTube and search for "bump-fire," you can watch videos of good ol' boys (and sometimes gals) using a simple technique that allows them to shoot their semi-automatic weapons kinda-like automatic weapons.
They're all doing it in fun and are breaking no laws in the process. At least none that I know of.
Still, it puts a chill down your spine when you watch these videos and then consider the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook.
That's not to say this technique was employed by Lanza, or that anyone in any of these videos would ever do harm to another human, save perhaps in self defense.
But between these guys having carte blanche to get their jollies with semi-automatic weapons and a broad approach to gun regulation that makes the Adam Lanzas, Jared Loughners and James Holmeses of the world less likely to have access to mini-arsenals, I'll choose the latter.
And if the rednecks have to make do with less firepower and a few more restrictions as a result?
Eh, they'll live. After all, they still have monster trucks, pro-wrestling and NASCAR to keep them amused.
Along these lines, former Democratic Congressional candidate Bob Lord and Mike Bryan of Blog for Arizona are promoting a petition calling on Barber to lead on the issue in next year's Congress.
"We urge you to make advocacy for effective legislative responses to this problem (such as renewing the assault weapons ban, an extended clip ban, and improved mental health interventions, among others) your top legislative priority," the petition states.
Lord and Bryan think Barber's the man for the job, for obvious reasons. Barber already seems so inclined. Which is a good thing.
Generally, I'm doubtful of the efficacy of online petitions for any reason. But those less cynical than I could do worse than to sign it.
Long term, it will take determination to get anything meaningful through Congress, even in the wake of this tragedy.
Without an unrelenting push by the public, the issue will whither. Well, at least until the next mass murder.