A couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting in my office texting my son, who was locked in a classroom at Purdue University amid reports of a shooting on campus. Texts between students close to the situation indicated that at least one student had been seriously injured, and we soon learned the heartbreaking news that a young man was dead.
I began texting my son as soon as news of the shooter on campus surfaced. I was grateful to receive a quick response from him telling me that he was safe, but my thoughts quickly went to a mother out there who was trying to reach her son and was not getting a response – who would never again get a response – from her child. I later read an account describing how Mary Boldt tried to phone her son that afternoon and, when she could get no answer, finally called Purdue. That is when she received the worst news a parent can hear.
In this particular situation, I don’t know where the killer obtained his gun or if he possessed it legally. As is the case with so many of these horrendous shootings, questions remain that we would all like answered. But the Purdue shooting; along with the almost weekly shootings happening in schools, malls, movie theaters, and grocery stores; not to mention our city streets, once again brings to the forefront the need to do something – anything – to control gun violence in our society.
For the record, let me say that I am not trying to incite those who advocate and defend their Second Amendment right to gun ownership. I’ve often heard it said that the good guys have to own guns because the bad guys will find a way to get them, legally or otherwise, and I don’t argue with this.
But when we hear reports of shootings at schools or malls or other public places, the picture painted of the shooter is typically not one of a thug or criminal – it is often an unstable individual who, quite obviously, had access to firearms.
So, while I am not arguing against a person’s right to own guns or protect himself from threat, here is the question I can not shake: When does one person’s right to own a gun trump another person’s right to return home alive? In fiercely protecting one, we are clearly not doing enough to ensure the other.
I read last week in the ABA Journal that a federal judge in Connecticut had upheld that state’s gun control law which was enacted in the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The law bans a broad range of assault weapons and prohibits the sale of high-capacity magazines, and its constitutionality was challenged by several groups including the Connecticut Citizens’ Defense League and the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen.
In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Alfred Covello wrote, “While the act burdens the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, it is substantially related to the important government interest of public safety and crime control.” The judge acknowledged that the Supreme Court of the United States’ 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision protects ownership of handguns that are “in common use,” but he added that gun owners’ Second Amendment rights are protected by the large number of alternative weapons available for hunting, protection and sporting events.
In their response to the decision, lawyers representing those challenging the law told the Hartford Courant that they would do everything they can to get this decision overturned because “There are findings that we can work with.”
My question: Would any of those “findings” lead to meaningful changes that will reduce the number of innocent people who are being shot on a weekly basis in schools and public places in this country? With rights come responsibility, and will the “findings we can work with” support public policy that will help to keep guns out of the hands of those not equipped to use them responsibly. This is not a rhetorical question; I really want to know. Our current approach isn’t working.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that it is an uncomfortable feeling to be texting with your child while he is locked in a classroom because a shooter is on the loose at his school. I am hopeful that our growing discomfort with the status quo will motivate our society to do something about it.•