It didn't take long -- hours, really -- before horror over last Friday's school killings in Connecticut turned into a rush to judgment and reform.
Americans took to Facebook, Twitter and blogs first to express shock, sorrow and condolences, and, soon after, opinions about why the 20-year-old shooter decided to turn an elementary school into an abattoir.
Some blamed the news media for a supposed focus on violence and sensationalism, noting that networks are quick to swoop in and fixate on numbers -- 20 dead children, seven dead adults, plus the shooter himself -- and compare them to other school tragedies in Columbine, Virginia Tech and, closer to home, Chardon. By sharing body counts, goes this school of thought, the media has created a twisted Top 10 to which other sick individuals will aspire.
Others looked to the removal of prayer in the schools. Conservative radio host Bryan Fischer said that God turned his back on the children at Sandy Hook Elementary because America has kicked Him and His commandments out of public schools. The only way to regain God's protection, he said, is for school boards to authorize the return of prayer, even in defiance of the Supreme Court.
Still other bloggers and posters blamed gun laws, with the left calling them too lax and the right calling them too strict. Legislators have been too focused on the economy and the looming fiscal cliff to worry overmuch about gun control, an issue that polarizes Americans. Some opined that if teachers were allowed to carry guns, they could better protect their students in such situations.
A few thoughts:
n The media does fixate on certain stories, sometimes to the point of distorting their significance. While the situation at Sandy Hook undoubtedly deserved coverage, the nonstop barrage may have obscured the fact that, statistically, schools are still one of the safest places for kids. By contrast, one of the most dangerous places, motor vehicles, receives scant coverage.
n Individual prayer has not been removed from public schools. Students are free to bow their heads for moments of silence or to organize prayer groups to meet before and after classes. Schools may not compel students to pray. And the thought of a God who would purposely turn his back on children because of any policy instituted by adults, as Fischer suggests, should be repulsive to people of all faiths.
n I may have my membership as a card-carrying liberal revoked for saying this, but stricter gun-control laws would not have stopped the Sandy Hook shooter, who murdered using guns owned legally by his mother. What will help in the future is a greater focus on gun safety and on the importance of keeping firearms locked away, with ammunition stored separately, and with keys hidden from all but the person who legally owns the weapons.
Of course, this greatly detracts from the usefulness (if that's the right word) of firearms in an emergency situation, since most home intruders will not wait for a gun owner to unlock a gun cabinet, load a weapon, take aim and fire, which is why firearms in the home create a false sense of security and likely aren't practical or helpful.
In the wake of 9/11, law-abiding Americans lost many freedoms because of well-intentioned but overzealous attempts to protect us from terrorism. The Patriot Act, parts of which were reauthorized, was too broad and too intrusive. We would be foolish to trample the Second Amendment to enact feel-good gun-control legislation that may not do anything to make Americans truly safer.
I am a teacher and would never carry a gun in my classroom even if I were legally permitted. I've read too many studies that indicate fatalities are more likely when both parties have weapons. Just as important, the presence of a gun on my person would fly in the face of the message I try to instill in my students -- that reason and thought trump violence.
Mental-health services are always among the first to see a decrease in funding in tough economic times, yet the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses notes that one in 17 people in this country has schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder.
Statistically, the mentally ill are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population, but a small number who are denied medications and services could turn to violence -- against themselves or others -- as a coping mechanism. Better to shore up compassionate services to this underserved segment of society than waste time in a fruitless battle to change gun-control laws that would affect only law-abiding citizens.
The killings in Connecticut may be a wake-up call, but if they rouse us only to the same tired rhetoric, then the tragedy is even greater. After all, in 100 percent of violent scenarios, the weapon of choice is the human mind.
Schillig is an Alliance area educator and journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @cschillig on Twitter.