Time to admit the "gun nuts" are right
In the aftermath of the Petit family slayings in Cheshire, we all reached for explanations: How do human beings sink this low? How could this tragedy have been prevented? Why?
There are so many nagging questions. They all need to be asked. And maybe some old arguments need to be hashed out again.
Why not a more stringent "three strikes and you're out" law in this state? Connecticut's version is so weak that it's more like "30 strikes and we'll think about it while you strike again."
Why not speed up the criminal trial process for repeat violent offenders? Get them off the streets. It's been proposed many times. Most people agree it should be done. It never happens.
Can't we better monitor the probation process?
Can't we do a better job of predicting -- figuring out which non-violent criminals are about to turn violent?
Are home alarms really effective?
How about dogs?
But somehow all of these ideas pale before the barbarity of this particular crime.
That is why one old question is worth asking again. It is this: What if the Second Amendment is for real? Is it possible that it should it be revered, just like the First Amendment?
Sam Ervin said, "The Constitution should be taken like mountain whiskey -- undiluted and untaxed." Maybe that applies to all of the Constitution.
Is it possible that the Second Amendment is not a quaint and antiquated remnant of a world that will never return, but an idea as relevant and sound today as when it was written?
Is it possible that we are not talking about the right of the government to form a militia when there is no standing army, but the right of the individual to defend himself, or herself, against both tyranny and lawlessness? Maybe we are talking about the right of self-defense -- the right of the individual to take up arms against a government that wants to oppress, be it foreign or domestic. And the right of the individual to defend himself against criminals, brutes, and barbarians when local police seem unable to stop them.
Might the Second Amendment matter almost as much as the First?
I think the answer is yes.
And just like the First, the Second is practical, newly relevant, and far wiser than the watered-down alternatives.
I don't think George Bush wants to impose martial law on his fellow citizens. But he has diluted habeas corpus. And he has enlarged Big Brother. You have to stop and think about a government that wants to control the thoughts and behavior of its people.
Should such a government be permitted to disarm them as well?
And whereas the reform of the criminal justice system along some of the lines suggested above (a real "three strikes" law and faster trials for violent offenders) would not have saved the lives of Jennifer, and Hayley, and Michaela Petit, a gun might have.
I don't say it would have.
I say it might have.
Had Dr. William Petit had access to a gun and known how to use it, he might have been able to dispatch the two perpetrators, who were armed with only an air gun and ropes.
Moreover, the three victims here were women.
What if Mrs. Hawke-Petit had been trained in the use of firearms? Suppose she had been able to get to a gun after her husband was beaten into unconsciousness by the invaders? Or when she was forced to take one captor to the bank to fetch him money?
It's worth thinking about.
Women and children are now the major targets of predators in our society. Government is not protecting them very well. Many professional women who work in cities know this and take courses in self-defense. A gun may be the only realistic self-defense against the sort of criminals we are talking about here.
And if a few women took care of a few thugs in cases like this; if a few stories like this one ended in a different way -- with a woman blowing one of these brutes to kingdom come -- it might be a deterrent. Lives upon lives might be spared.
A friend of mine said: "The gun nuts are back."
And they are right.
Mind you, we are talking about arming people who are trained and know how to use a weapon.
No one should have a gun who has not been trained.
Just as one gets training in handling a boat, motorcycle, or car, one must learn how to use and safely store a gun. (The National Rifle Association maintains an extensive national network of programs in firearms training and education.)
And, obviously, no one would be forced to own a gun.
A second caveat: Encouraging citizens to arm themselves is no "answer" to crimes like the Petit murders.
An "answer" does not exist.
But it is one of several remedies when we are faced with palpable evil.
All possible remedies should be on the table:
All of these approaches have merit.
So does self-defense.
None of these options "fix" a society that can produce human beings who torture and kill the defenseless for sport.
No one step or program can plug every hole in America's justice system, or its soul.
But there are times when a gun in the hands of a potential victim may save a life.
Let's admit -- since the murderers, and druggies, and psychos, and thieves already have guns -- that arming the peaceful, law-abiding, decent, and productive people, whether in a school, or a private home, or on the way to a parked car, is an option that also has merit.
Keith C. Burris is editorial page editor of the Journal Inquirer