Magical Thinking and Newtown

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been less than a year since the terrible, tragic actions of a disturbed young man took 27 lives in the State of Connecticut. I believe in armed self-defense precisely because I value the lives of myself, my loved ones, and the innocents of our society, and precisely because when the predators and the madmen come for me and mine, I’m prepared to stand between them and their prey.

Yesterday, the Connecticut State Attorney’s office released their preliminary report on the Sandy Hook massacre, and it’s interesting, if unsurprising, reading. It contains more detail about what happened, but not even speculation about why it happened. But it did include a couple of interesting facts which make what I think is an important point that people often overlook: “Crazy” is about motive, not method. And this is why Gun Free Zones and other gun control laws that only control the law-abiding are doomed to fail to prevent future tragedies.

Before I explain what I mean, I need to clarify something. When I use the word “crazy”, I am absolutely not meaning to denigrate all people with mental illness. Several of my friends and family members struggle with varying kinds of mental illness, against a healthcare system that too often fails to give them needed help until much too late. But they’re not prone to acts of homicidal madness. Their suffering, too often, is directed inward, but they’re good, decent, hardworking people. So I’m not talking about them. When I say “crazy” I’m talking about the people whose mental illness leads them to do unspeakable, destructive things, harmful to themselves or others. Fortunately, this is only a very small percentage of those with mental health challenges. Unfortunately, the Sandy Hook murderer was one of them.

The State Attorney’s report doesn’t tell us why the killer chose to shoot his mother multiple times in the head and steal her guns. We don’t learn exactly why he chose to target the school near his home, or what was going on in his head when he fired those fatal shots. We don’t know what he was thinking when he put a Glock 20 to his head and fired the final gunshot that ended his life. And, in a way, those answers don’t matter, because those answers won’t help us prevent the next madman intent upon mayhem and destruction.

But what we do learn is that he planned his crime meticulously. He kept spreadsheets of data about previous mass shootings. He researched the Columbine Massacre extensively. GPS records show he drove to the school at least once in the days before the shooting, perhaps to gather reconnaissance about his targets. He had attended the school years earlier as a small child and was familiar with its layout; investigators speculate this may be why he chose that target. We can surmise that he planned his attack carefully and, knowing the occupants of the school would be unlikely to mount an effective resistance, we can surmise he was confident he’d be able to carry out his plan.

And this is the point I’d really like to make: His motive was unquestionably rooted in crazy, evil, disturbed thinking. Whether he acted out of rage or hatred toward society, or because a little voice told him to slaughter innocent children, his motive for the killings was not a rational one. But the fact that the reason for the killings was irrational doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of rationally planning the details of his attack. Indeed, all the evidence suggests he planned very carefully.

And this is why gun-free zones and magazine capacity limits and all the other stuff the anti-gun crowd waves around is doomed to fail: A crazy, disturbed person intent upon mayhem and violence and slaughter is still capable of recognizing that a gun-free school is a place where he can carry out his evil designs relatively unopposed. He’s capable of stealing or even fabricating the instruments needed to carry out his plan. (Propane tank bombs, anybody?) He’s capable of finding vulnerable targets and finding the holes in their security. The fact that his motives aren’t rooted in rational thought doesn’t mean he’s incapable of rational thought in the service of them.

The State Attorney’s report makes clear that several school staff members encountered the shooter en route to the classrooms where he committed his mass murder. Some were shot, even killed, and others hid and survived. Could one of them, armed with a lawfully carried concealed weapon, have stopped the attack before 20 innocent children lost their lives? Unfortunately, we’ll never know that, but without those law-abiding armed citizens, the children of that elementary school had no chance.

Believing that declaring an area off-limits to guns makes the people within it safe is magical thinking. It might help us to sleep better at night believing our kids safe at school, believing that schools are somehow impervious to violence. But the disturbed, disordered, and evil people who would commit these acts of mayhem don’t buy into the magical thinking. They look at a gun-free school and they see a vulnerable soft target.

So here’s the ultimate question, I think: Do we want to feel that our children are safe at school (because we’ve declared the schools magical gun-free zones), or do we want to know that our children have a fighting chance because the adults who care for them have the means and training to defend them? I know which choice I’d make.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. yenken says:

    I have posted an article/idea that gives what I think is a good step to get away from the magical thinkers. Look at on allvoice under
    A Solution for Gun Control, let me know what you think and lets work toward laws to implement something better than “stronger Background Checks”. If the psych impaired legally bought their guns that might work but most steal their guns and don’t use the government set up catch all that does not catch any.

    • The only “solution” for gun control is the same one for matches, carburetor cleaner, and onions. Each person must be responsible for him/herself. That means they must “control” their lives and tools themselves, and stand responsible for the consequences if they don’t use their tools appropriately or hurt someone. That can never be determined ahead of time, so the best way to prevent harm to yourself or others is to BE that responsible person, and willing/able to defend yourself and family from those who are not.

      There is absolutely no reliable way to determine when anyone, including those called “mentally ill,” might decide to harm someone else. Criminals are not necessarily “mentally ill.” And the government cannot prevent crime at all, and mostly don’t want to. That is one of their reasons for being, which is why so many things are now considered a “crime.” More “laws” are not an answer… but more self responsibility and self defense certainly is.

  2. yenken says:

    Yes, be that responsible person by securing your guns so the “psych impaired” irresponsible people cannot get to your guns to use them against other responsible people.
    Thank You for your agreement.

  3. Unfortunately, yenken, it’s not that simple. I’m a clinical psychologist, and I wouldn’t know where to begin to predict who will become a predator with any accuracy because most people with mental illness or emotional problems never even entertain the idea of harming others. And that includes most of those who actually do plan or carry out suicide!

    We should secure our own property against theft or any kind of misuse, of course, but a person’s mental health status is far from the only criteria, even if you are aware of it.

    No, each person is responsible for him or herself. I can’t take on that role.

    • yenken says:

      I meant that if people who have guns have those guns secured the shooters like Lanza, and the Littleton Colorado shooters who both had psyche issues would not have been able to get those particular guns.
      Yes the Littleton shooters got their guns through one of their girl friends, a law making her responsible would be a step toward getting people to secure their guns, and not have the gun control people working towards taking all guns away.

      • yenken… you are simply missing the whole point. Nobody can predict who might decide to harm others reliably. All the “laws” in the world presuming guilt won’t change that, but will only make more and more people helpless potential victims. The people who want to hurt others are perfectly happy to violate the law against murder and assault, so “gun laws” of any kind are not going to impress or influence them.

        Most people “secure” their guns because they are a serious investment and the owners care very much what happens to their property, as well as having no wish for anyone to get hurt. You just have to accept the fact that those who do NOT care, will not care about any “laws” attempting to force them into it either.

        It isn’t possible for a “law” by itself to prevent anything, otherwise we’d live in a perfect utopia already with so many “laws.”

        You cannot legislate intelligence, safety or morality.

      • yenken says:

        You are correct you cannot legislate intelligence or morality, but you can legislate safety. For those who choose to break a safety law there is jail/prison to make them remember why not to break the safety law.
        I do not miss the point that you cannot predict when someone may go off the deep end and want to hurt someone else but you can legislate the securing of guns people own so when someone decides to hurt someone they do not have easy access to a gun.
        A work mate of mine was looking at homes to buy, he looked at about 20 homes, he said every home had guns and in every home he could have picked up any gun and taken one or all of them. Not everyone secures their guns. That is a problem.

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