Preventive Medicine Column
Dr. David L. Katz
Leading up to this year’s season of glad tidings and good cheer, we’ve had more than our share of the opposite. First, Hurricane Sandy; then, the overwhelming atrocity at Sandy Hook school in Newtown. As we recover from both, in some blend of solidarity, solace, and stoic resolve – we have cause to reflect on all that sand, and where we choose to draw our lines.
Among the many post-“Superstorm Sandy” ruminations are nascent plans for how best to mitigate the next such catastrophe. Experts have begun to look around the world at strategies used to interrupt storm surges, divert floodwaters, or defend infrastructure. Those reflections continue, and may or may not lead to better defenses next time depending in part on resource availability, in part on our attention span.
There is, as well, more prevalent discussion of climate change, although widespread denial of our contributions to it still persists. What matters more, perhaps, is that another storm like Sandy could come along, whether or not we hold ourselves accountable for it, and at this point, no matter how seriously we take the issue of far-advanced climate change. We will simply be left to deal with it, and either be better prepared, or not. The time to make the relevant decisions, and draw the corresponding lines in the sands of our shores, is before the next climate calamity, not after.
It is, of course, a shame that we only seem to focus our attention on disaster prevention in the immediate aftermath of disasters, public or personal. But if that is our nature, those wanting to get anything done are well advised to proceed accordingly.
Since we are constitutionally better at crisis response than crisis prevention, the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy is exactly the right time to talk about what it will take to prevent the next such event. We’ll get back to the Constitution shortly.
Yes, we need better mental health care. And yes, as I argued last week, we need a greater cultural focus on our human connections to one another and in particular, on the bonds of family. And yes, it’s true: no degree of gun control short of eliminating guns from the planet could guarantee that a lunatic will never again shoot an unarmed innocent.
But that no more obviates discussion of sensible gun control than the fact that no degree of shoreline protection can guarantee we will never again suffer any damage from a monster storm. In defending ourselves, and our children, from monster storms or monstrous people, we are foolish to make an unattainable perfect the enemy of the good we can do. And there is, clearly, good we can do.
Other than in the hands of military and law enforcement personnel, semi-automatic and assault weapons, and the gear that goes along with them as in the Aurora, CO shooting– serve the purposes of carnage and devastation almost exclusively. Access to them should be regulated accordingly.
As for the Constitution: this really has nothing whatsoever to do with the Second Amendment, and certainly doesn’t infringe on it. The Second Amendment doesn’t say anything about what kind of ‘arms.’ We are left, as a modern society with weapons unimagined in the days of our Founding Fathers, to figure that out for ourselves.
However we interpret the right of private citizens (having nothing to do with a “well regulated militia,” for what it’s worth) to bear arms, we are left to decide: what arms? We seem to agree that private citizens should not bear nuclear arms, nor chemical or biological weapons capable of destroying entire populations, either. Assuming so, then we all agree: we have to draw a line somewhere. The only remaining question is: where?
If we and our children truly are safer for having semi-automatic weapons accessible routinely, then we should all get our hands on them. But if not, then we shouldn’t. We would still have the right to bear arms, of course- just not the ones used preferentially to take an entire classroom of first-graders out of the loving arms of their parents, forever.
Something bad could have happened in Newtown without semi-automatic firepower. But it would have been much less bad. Less bad is better.
We have borne witness to our vulnerability, from the sands of our coastline, to the innocent lives, full of promise, convened each day in the Sandy Hook school. We should examine the resources at our disposal accordingly- and draw our lines in the sand.
Dr. David L. Katz; www.davidkatzmd.com