After a mass shooting, making our country safer becomes everyone’s top priority, and sales of firearms typically reach new record levels. Gun dealers report that while some people buy because they fear more restrictive laws, others want to arm themselves for protection.
And while I can understand why this happens, I really can’t see how public safety would be served by more and more people carrying weapons in public spaces. I’d think it would only make it harder - even for law-enforcement officers, let alone private citizens - to identify who might be a potential killer. After all, three years ago, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, Adam Lanza, obtained guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition legally, and so, apparently, did the killers in San Bernardino.
Other security measures we’re taking also seem problematic. A few days ago, I had an errand at a local elementary school. The front door was locked, and it was after school hours, so no one was in the office to respond to the buzzer. Eventually someone opened the door, but as I drove away I found myself tearing up to think that our schools, which in Vermont are the hub of our towns and villages, are now closed to the public in the name of security.
Of course we want to protect our children – and everyone else - from the horror of a mass shooting, but the logical extension of barring entrance to our schools is barring entrance to all public buildings, which of course isn’t possible. We simply can’t install buzzers and guards at every door, with bulletproof glass on every ground-floor window of every hospital, church, library, clinic and town hall – never mind restaurants, stores, and gas stations, all places where random shootings are also now commonplace.
Even if we could somehow do this, the cost would be astronomical, leading to higher taxes and consumer prices to pay for it. Public life would slow to a crawl as we went through security to enter any building. And still we wouldn’t be safe. If heavily armed, suicidal killers couldn’t shoot their way into a building, they could simply target people in vulnerable places like parking-lots, sidewalks, beaches and playgrounds.
But an even greater cost would be the damage done to our civic life by weakening the fundamental trust in our fellow-citizens that allows us to share those spaces.
It’s a heavy price we’re paying for the freedom to own weapons – a price that just keeps going up.