After the Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School
I found out about the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut in the mid-morning, that Friday, when I was in a foreign policy briefing. U.S. Rep.-elect Elizabeth Esty, the excellent new Congresswoman for the district in which Newtown is located, was sitting next to me. She took the call on her mobile phone. I saw the look on her face. She was stricken.
It’s hard to know when the right time is to shift from mournful comments about the tragic loss of lives, and the terrible toll taken on the families. It’s hard to know when it’s all right to start talking about how it could have been prevented or at least how it could have been prevented from being as bad as it was. The problem is that people will feel that it’s not right to try to score political points out of a horrible situation like this.
I don’t want to make points about politics. I want to make a point about law.
The most important principle about making laws is that they should promote good and avoid evil.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his best-known work, the Summa Theologica, wrote of the natural law, “this is the first precept of the law, that good is to be done, and promoted, and evil is to be avoided. All other precepts of the natural law are based on this.” He wrote that in 1274.
If ever there was a clear presentation of the contrast between good and evil, it appeared in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. The goodness, the innocence, of 6- and 7-year old boys and girls, full of fun, eager to learn, and excited to be together, would never be questioned. Whatever it was that possessed their killer, whatever psychosis invaded his brain, whatever mental turmoil it was that drove Adam Lanza to kill that day, it was evil. And what he actually did, with a Bushmaster AR-15, inside that elementary school, was pure evil. No one doubts it.
The question is, how is this kind of evil to be avoided? Can we make laws to help avoid this kind of unspeakable evil?
The answer is, yes, we can. We can enact laws that restrict the purchase and sale of semi-automatic assault rifles. We can enact laws that restrict the purchase and sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines. We can do this, and it is legal.
It has been done before. Between 1994 and 2004 we had an assault rifle ban in our country. Prominent members of the law enforcement community supported the ban. The nation did not dissolve. The Constitution did not disintegrate. The sky did not fall.
It does not violate the Second Amendment to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. For generations, the Supreme Court has made it clear that there are limits to the declarations in the Bill of Rights. For example, the First Amendment’s right of free speech does not extend to going into crowded cinemas and yelling “fire!”
On July 29, 2012, nine days after another mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, Justice Antonin Scalia – possibly the most conservative member of the Supreme Court in its entire history – told Fox News Sunday in a discussion of the Second Amendment: “Yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed.”
Banning assault rifles like the Bushmaster AR-15 used on the Sandy Hook children would not cure the evil that drove Adam Lanza to kill. But it would make it more difficult for him to kill. In killing 27 people, Lanza is reported to have fired as many as three hundred rounds, pumping as many as 11 bullets into each victim. Lanza was using equipment that made him an efficient child-killing machine.
This kind of firepower is not necessary for hunting, or self-defense. Our American experience has showed us example after example of assault rifles and high capacity clips being used in mass killings of innocent people. What we never hear about are instances of these weapons being used in self-defense, which is the point of the Second Amendment. We also never hear about assault rifles being taken hunting. No self-respecting deer hunter would even consider firing a dozen bullets at a buck.
I announced my support for an assault rifle ban in July, after the Aurora shooting. I urge you to contact your elected officials to express your support for bans on assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
How many more innocent schoolchildren have to die before we find the courage to enact laws that will actually help us avoid this kind of evil?
Congresman-Elect Matt Cartwright, PA-17