It’s now time for the knee-jerk reactions. The tears aren’t even dry yet from the weekend’s horrific mass killing in Isla Vista and Sacramento lawmakers are already lining up to be the first and loudest heard.
Stricter gun laws. More mental health training. No more violent video games. Better gun purchase records. Invoke Laura’s Law. Don’t invoke Laura’s Law. Make a completely new law. Do something. Anything.
And on the other side of the debate: Had the victims been packing their own guns they could have defended themselves. We better outlaw cars and knives along with the guns — after all, Elliot Rodger used those as deadly weapons, too.
Like nearly every multi-victim or highly publicized killing involving guns before it, the recent murders have pushed the never-ending debate over gun violence — for it is a debate much more than it ever is a civil discussion — into the spotlight. Lawmakers pull out their soap box, a father becomes an unexpected symbol with a gut-wrenching plea “not one more” and we all know that, despite our best efforts, some horrible nightmare like this will almost certainly happen again.
Perhaps the best time to call for change and spring to action is immediately following such an incident, when the emotional wounds are still raw and the passion still ignited. Taking a breath and waiting for a sense of calm can lead to complacency, to the dulling of memory’s outrage so that change doesn’t feel as pressing, so that legal loopholes and legislative additions to appease opposition doesn’t feel like a cop-out.
But often it feels like lawmakers legislate and advocates advocate because they and we don’t know what else to do. Grief is channeled into activity because at least that is a way to move forward rather than staying still under the weight of unbearable sadness and vulnerability.
That doesn’t mean that the laws and changes immediately proposed in a fevered pitch are the best solution, however.
Particularly when the cause of this pain is gun violence, the sense of helplessness is magnified. We have not yet found a way to eradicate the problem or even keep the flimsy legal and social dam holding back violence from cracking. It’s like sticking a finger in a hole to stop the leak only to have another spring up elsewhere in the fortress. And another. And another.
Ultimately the only solution is to give up on patches and build an entirely new wall. We just don’t know how.
I think all these cries for laws and training is thought by some to be that new design. Others probably know it is a temporary bit of spackle that may make the holes disappear but isn’t anywhere near creating permanent strength.
By all accounts, the rush to prevent Rodger from carrying out his plan failed. The question is how. His alarmed parents contacted police about their obviously disturbed child seeking help after finding his videos posted online. Police sent seven officers to speak with him. He must be a great talker because they left after he convinced them it was all a misunderstanding.
The police obviously felt there was some possible validity to the family’s report or else why dispatch so many officers to Rodger’s apartment. If the family alerted police about the unsettling footage, why did the seven officers apparently never see it before their visit? And why did they not check to see if Rodger was purchasing weapons? Common sense dictates that if one is going to meet with a potentially dangerous subject, he or she would want to have all the information possible. Are these latest holes to fill then not with the existing law but with its use? Will a new batch of rules and mandates actually fix human error and oversight?
As the investigation continues and the families and communities mourn, we are all left to once again pick up the pieces after a tragedy that never should have happened. What we need to know is if it could have been avoided and, learning from that, inch a little closer to a way that ensures similar violence and death isn’t echoed by future individuals with hateful hearts and vengeful spirits.
Something does need to be done. As father Richard Martinez demanded, not one more.
But don’t let those deaths be in vain by willy-nilly proposing legislative window dressing in place of more thoughtful solutions. The state, the nation and the world needs — no deserves — protection from violence but that also includes shielding the public from chatter and toothless legislation that offer a false sense of safety.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.