The murder of 20 innocent children and 7 adults in Newtown, Connecticut, horrifies all Americans. President Obama eloquently expressed our collective feelings of “overwhelming grief” and our response to “hug our children a little tighter, and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another.”
Progressives now are arguing for stricter gun control. America, however, is founded on the “consent of the governed.” Americans’ sympathy for gun control, when polled by Pew after the Aurora atrocity, was about equally split between the restrictionists and those favoring the protection of the right to bear arms.
Restrictionist sentiment is down from almost 2 – 1 in favor of gun control in 2000. This isn’t irrational. Empirically, at12.1 victims per 100,000 the firearms death rate in ultra-restrictionist Maryland, home of this columnist, is higher than that of gun-friendly Texas’s 10.9 per 100,000.
Many conservatives have their own unfounded proclivities: “Lock every felon up and throw away the key.” Yet as noted last summer by The Economist, “America continues to lock up a scandalously large number of its people: around 1% of the adult population is behind bars at any time. But, says Mr Levin, ‘the relationship between the incarceration rate and the violent-crime rate is not very strong.’ New York has not followed the national mania for imprisonment, and yet the decline in its crime has been among the most impressive.”
At base the social consensus against institutionalizing the mentally ill makes it virtually impossible to remove potentially dangerous psychotics from society. Although it increases the possibility of tragedies such as Newtown, most feel that should not be reversed. Most psychotics are harmless.
Deinstitutionalization was a reaction to widespread, and egregious, abuses of the mentally ill and of inmates — including hideous violations of civil liberties. Most oppose, on humanitarian and civil liberties grounds, a return to the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest era. Newtown may force a change in this consensus as a more intelligent approach than gun control. If so, this absolutely must be handled with integrity and with impeccable safeguards for the mentally ill.