[Revision 1.4 - Minor cleanup...]
As I was preparing to write this article on an event twenty years ago today, I noticed the headline that a shooting has just occurred in a Connecticut elementary school with 28 dead, 20 of them children.
I was laid up in bed with my still swollen ankle propped up on a pillow, a zip-lock bag of now melted snow pressed against it. A much-abused copy of Billy Joel's Kohept played on the stereo across the room. The room was sweltering, the window next to me open wide and the snow long-since melted from the overhang, but I wasn't going to limp down the stairs to adjust the thermostat back down again. A knobbed stick lay propped against my milk-crate nightstand surmounted by an ugly lamp, which was now off, the room lit dimly by the lamp-posts of the small cluster of upper class modular apartments, Mods, nestled in the snowy woods. A stack of untouched textbooks lay between me and the window, a Weis and Hickman novel closed and marked on the sill itself.
I had my housemate's cordless phone stuck to my ear, listening to my girlfriend bustle around the kitchen of her dorm most of the way across the rural campus. I heard pots clatter and something sizzling as I closed my eyes and the conversation ranged freely from hated professors and the idiots who kept stealing from the dorm fridge to Immanuel Kant and the foundations of moral thought.
I closed my eyes and remembered her face radiant in the moonlight as she threw the fateful snowball, hitting me full in the face. I remember her turning to run, laughing, and then, quite suddenly realizing that I ran track and cross country, growing up in the snow as she had, and so, she just wasn't going to get away with the dastardly deed. I remembered the chase through the construction-torn area of the new Music Center, and my foot suddenly stopping as it found the fork of a thick limb hidden beneath the foot-deep snow. The foot stopped, and I didn't, my head describing a graceful arc, eyes wide, and then my body slapping into the mud and slush with a soft splat. Now, a day and a couple of X-rays later, I laughed.
"What...?" she chuckled back, interrupted in fluffing a pot of rice.
That was when the gunfire started. My heart stopped for a moment, not believing it. People were shouting in the background on the phone.
"What...?" she repeated, dropping a pan into the sink, and then, "What the hell is that?"
Another shot rang out, echoing strangely through the phone and, more distantly, the open window. More shouting. One of the voices rose above the others. Somehow, impossibly, I knew who it was, had spoken to him just that afternoon while hobbling to the Dining Hall and I knew that something very bad was happening.
"Get into your room and shut the door!" I said. Her room, one of the prized D doubles, had a back door which opened into the kitchen and the atrium. She had a long, elastic phone cord snaking out the door and across the kitchen. "Just a sec, there's something going on outside. I'm going to find out what it is."
I rocketed out of bed, gasped as I put weight on the damaged ankle, "Get back in your room, close the door, and get under your bed," I entoned, my voice flat with fear. The commotion in the background, punctuated by more gunfire and a few screams, continued.
"Maybe you're right..." she said, as I heard her back toward her room and, after some more argument, the heavy door close.
Hanging up that phone was one of the hardest things I've done in my life. As my housemate came in and we upended a stack of papers to find the crumpled print-out of emergency numbers, I did not know that someone else was going through the same experience, hanging up from his wife to dial 9-1-1. Only his wife had been shot. More than once.
This was 14 December 1992. Wayne Lo, a student at Simon's Rock College of Bard (now "Bard College at Simon's Rock), a 4-year college specializing in early admissions, had entered campus with a SKS semi-automatic rifle, shot the security guard, and then started walking across campus, shooting as he went. Casualties were comparatively light, at two dead and three wounded, but not because anyone stopped the gunman. Rather it was because of his own incompetence in not cleaning the weapon (cosmolene from shipping), causing it to repeatedly jam. At the end, not able to kill himself, he surrendered to the state police, his tee-shirt reading "Sick Of It All." Because of the early 9-1-1 calls, the police arrived on campus shortly after the shooting started, but, because of the confused situation, they did not enter for almost three hours, and neither did the paramedics.
My housemates and I spent much of the time working from a campus phone list, methodically calling everyone and checking off names, trying to find out who was OK, who needed help, and whether it was over. The calls quickly confirmed my first suspicions, that my friend and former roommate had committed the shooting, but it left me no closer to knowing why. Twenty years later, I still have no real answers, but I did learn some things along the way.
After the police secured the campus, the students and staff met at the dining hall to at least learn what had happened and the names of the casualties, though we still did not know who was going to make it. With two dorms and much of lower campus taped off as crime scenes, we then had to find places for all of the students to sleep. Our living room was filled with students on blankets. My girlfriend stayed with me in the small single, holding on to each other and trying to make sense, me trying to blot out the sounds from the phone and think about the fact that a person I was discovering I cared about a great deal survived unscathed. I, myself, because of my wrecked ankle, was not on duty on lower campus that night as I had been scheduled.
Several days later, I was standing in a hallway of my girlfriend's dorm when the girlfriend of Galen Gibson, a student who died, went to collect her things from his room. I remember seeing her remarkably calm and collected, given what she had been through, that her boyfriend had bled to death in her arms. She was with a couple of her friends as she reached for the doorknob and stopped, noticing the last note Galen had written for her on his noteboard, touching her name with her outstretched hand, she shattered like glass, collapsing into a puddle of human misery. I still see that moment every so often in my dreams, knowing that it could have been me.
That night had a tremendous effect on my life, good and bad. It triggered a genetic insomnia-exacerbated condition which eventually left me disabled. It lead to a lot of soul-searching, a lot of seeking and, in many ways, by twists and turns, it lead to the formation of the Sheriff's Auxiliary here this last February, much of the thinking which has gone into its organization, and my personal need to find ways to help people help and protect themselves and each other.
I learned several lessons that night which bear on both the phenomenon of mass-shootings which have happened since, still very rare but wrenching events, as well as on the more general problem of civil defense and emergency response.
Signs and Rules Don't Keep Murderers Out
The first and most obvious is what 2nd Amendment advocates refer to as "gun-free zones". No one was supposed to have guns on campus; no one was supposed to have guns in a Connecticut elementary school, or a Virgina college, or any of the other places where these things happen. Simply having guns (and trained, responsible citizens carrying them) dispersed in the community does not solve the problem. As a forcer Secret Service agent recently mentioned in a class I took on emergecies in schools, even having an armed good guy in the room will not prevent a bad guy from opening fire, but it may keep an incident from becoming an uncontrolled shooting rampage. Citizens, both armed and unarmed, have stopped or ended a number of mass shootings. It is difficult to tell how many because we often do not know what the bad guy's intentions were as to how many they would have otherwise killed. An article by Davi Barker explores some of these issues and present some detailed statistics, coming to the conclusion:
So, given that far less people die in rampage shootings stopped by a proactive civilian, only civilians have any opportunity to stop rampage shootings in roughly half of incidents, and armed civilians do better on average than unarmed civilians, wouldn’t you want those heroic individuals who risk their lives to save others to have every tool available at their disposal? ["Auditing Shooting Rampage Statistics"]
His article is well worth reading as some of the things he discovered while compiling the information are almost as interesting as the actual numbers.
Armed citizens may not be in the right place, may not respond quickly enough, may fail to stop an attacker, etc., but when responsible citizens are denied the ability to defend themselves, there is nothing between a murderer and their victims. Worse, brave people like the principal in today's Connecticut shooting or the Councilman in the Kirkwood shooting near us a few years back are forced confront the attacker with their bare hands and die bravely--- but in futility.
Gun-free zones do not stop criminals. A mass-murderer is not afraid of a sign. Someone bent on killing and then committing suicide is not concerned that they may break another rule.
Obviously, routinely arming underage students is not an option, but there are many legal adults in schools who are capable and not judicially barred from bearing arms: typically, we bar people with violent criminal histories from being teachers. There are also staff members, parents who may be coming and going, and, in higher education, some older students, graduate students, and adult continuing education students who are old enough to have carry permits. My wife is finishing her masters at MSU, has a CCW and is an officer of this Sheriff's Auxiliary, but she may not carry when she goes to campus, including when she returns at night across dark parking lots. Why? (Technically, she may carry a lawful weapon on the grounds but cannot enter buildings. Who goes to a campus and doesn't enter buildings and what is she supposed to do with a weapon when she arrives at one?)
The idea that the lawfully armed citizen themself is a threat is not credible. The fact is that most people are not mass murderers. They are also not prone to overreacting, to spraying the street with bullets in a Wild West shoot out: most people freeze in their first combat experience, rather than going berserk. It should be noted that an armed citizen has the choice not to shoot if, for instance, they can't do so without endangering others; an unarmed civilian cannot magically make a gun appear when they need it. Teaching how to make a good shoot-no-shoot decision is an absolutelty critical part of responsible defense training. An armed citizen was on the scene at the Gabbie Giffords shooting but did not fire because he was not assured of a clean shot. He held back while unarmed bystanders who were nearer tackled the gunman. Sometimes citizens do overreact, such as the one in Springfield a short time ago who chased the man who stole a woman's purse through the streets, or the Oklahoma pharmacist who shot the armed robber of his pharmacy at point-blank range after he was already down and incapacitated, but so do police. By and large the armed citizen does a good job and is much more likely to be prosecuted than a police officer when they do not.
Should we actively arm our teachers and school staff? That probably is not necessary, and I don't want people to carry guns who do not choose to, who do not think they are capable of dealing with it. It is not necessary for everyone to have guns, just to have them dispersed well enough that an attacker never knows where they are or what side they may be counter-attacked from. When an attacker concentrates on a uniformed security guard, they turn their backs on countless potential threats from ordinary citizens. If we stop barring the lawfully armed, that may be enough to make a critical difference. Encouraging teachers and staff to get defense training voluntarily probably won't hurt, either. The Front Sight self-defense training academy is offering free defense training to up to three teachers/staff per institution with a letter from their superintendant. What is needed is to let people do what they can.
Gun Control Does Not Eliminate (Or Even Substantially Reduce) This Threat
Efforts should be made (and made more effective) to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or the criminally insane, but in the case of mass shootings of this kind, they may not make much difference. Mass shootings like Simon's Rock, Columbine, VA Tech, or this shooting in Connecticut are extremely rare, so formulating policy around them is questionable anyway, but the ones where tighter gun control might have made a difference are a fraction of this already small fraction. A mass-shooting occurred in Wisconsin in 2007 in which an off-duty deputy who used an AR-15 to shoot up his estranged girlfriend's house where a birthday party was in progress. The Kirkwood shooter employed a gun carried by the police officer he attacked. The Red Lake Massacre assailant used stolen police-issued weapons. The Norway youth camp shooting occured in a country with extremely strict gun control. Connecticut's gun control is rated very highly by the Brady campaign, but the shooter apparently stole the weapons from his mother who presumably lawfully owned them. I am not saying we should not try to prevent criminals from getting guns, but simply that magic cannot be expected and ramming through stricter laws "at any cost" as some people say we must, is just not an intelligent response, especially when we are doing a poor job of enforcing even reasonable things like imprisoning felons or parollees who are caught with illegal firearms.
For people who are uneasy about having "guns in our schools" or other public places, the fact is they are already there. It is the defenders who are not armed (even at our military bases!). I am not sure how it is more moral for an unarmed person to watch people slaughtered or have to sling chairs at someone armed with a firearm. Firearms have been out of Pandora's box for centuries. Maybe it is time to let hope out too.
Lockdowns Are Effective
A pattern which emerges from school and other mass shootings is that orchestrated lockdowns, and locked, heavy doors generally, are a very good thing. My girlfriend survivied behind a locked fire-door. A fellow student we spoke to on the phone after the shooting started but before the campus was secured was sobbing because he saw one of the victims fall but, instead of going to his rescue he locked himself in his room and hid under his bed. I imagine he felt terrible because of this, but he also lived. Galen Gibson was fatally shot going to the rescue of the teacher, Nacunan Saez, whose car went off the road after Saez was fatally shot. Going to the rescue is a good thing, and we need people to do so, but I learned that people who do so with a plan live longer. In the end, I fault neither of them for their actions; they did what they felt they had to do in the moment they were faced with, but that does not mean we cannot try to learn from them.
In a school-shooting on a reservation in Minnesota heavy solid-core doors which stopped handgun rounds saved lives (Red lake Massacre - citation for doors needed). In Connecticut, a staff member held a door shut with her own body, even after being shot several times through the door. Heavier doors and locks are relatively inexpensive, non-liberty-threatening measures, and solid doors stop bullets better than living bodies, even brave ones. Lock-downs have to be organized and practiced. Serious thought has to go into the physical security to be prevent simply bottling up victims and someone has to actually come to the rescue before the attacker can work their way through the barriers or simply hunt down the unprotected victims. At best, they are a limiting measure, but they can do that, making the difference between murder and mass-murder.
Everyone Needs First Aid Training
Getting into the less obvious lessons, many people focus on the guns, one side of the issue or the other. Responsible, armed citizens need to be dispersed in the population to narrow the scope of these events, but everyone needs to know first aid. A 3rd grader cannot face down an attacker with a Glock, but they can put pressure on a wound or even perform CPR if they have training. Unlike firearm training, there is no conceivable moral barrier to teaching elementary students first aid; why are we not doing it? I was part of a test program in a private school in New York State which resulted in my class being taught a Red Cross First Aid/CPR course in junior high. I have used that training much more often throughout my life than I have had to defend myself; skinned knees and car accidents are thankfully more frequent than armed robbers, but both occur.
In the Simon's Rock shooting, the police took three hours to secure campus. This also means that the paramedics and ambulances were stuck on the outside. The victims had to care for their own. One student crawled across the dorm to the apartment of a Residence Director who was an EMT, but people are not always that lucky (or determined). A mass-shooting I read the reports from in St. Louis at an industrial complex resulted in a very similar delay for medical services. Other incidents vary, but with gunshot wounds, seconds count. Bystanders at the Gabbie Giffords shooting kept several people alive until paramedics arrived. First Aid training should not even be debatable.
Communication Is Key
One of the reasons the state police did not enter Simon's Rock for as long as they did is because they did not know what was going on. They did not want to enter a campus with guns drawn without understanding who was shooting at who and where they were. I have a lot of trouble arguing with that logic. There was communication from inside the campus, but they were not getting the information they really needed. In the St. Louis example I referred to above, the police received conflicting reports on who the assailant was and what was going on. Work has progressed since 1992 on training police departments to better handle incidents like this, but training is not enough to overcome lack of information at the critical moment. Training and organization within the schools must continue to improve to make sure they get that information. In general, citizens need more training on how to communicate in an emergency and what to communicate. Better communication, more organized response, leads to better response times and quicker help to the victims, not to mention less chance of something going seriously wrong when the police do go in.
Community Awareness Stops Crimes Before They Occur
Missouri had a recent non-incident where a man was arrested for plotting a mass shooting. He had made plans to attack both a Wal-Mart and an opening-night showing of Breaking Dawn. His mother turned him in and gave police enough to get a search warrant to find what they needed. This does not always happen. Cho, the shooter in the VA Tech situation, had a history of problems for a year or two prior to the shooting as outlined in Lucinda Roy's book, "No RIght To Remain Silent". Her book is awful, poorly written and full of self-righteous blame, but the basic problem is true: we are not dealing well with mental illness in our community. We tend to shut people out rather than letting them in. We tend to reactively promote putting people on lists (to prevent them buying guns, for instance), prescribing psychoactive medications with little thought (some of which cause psychosis or sudden violence as side-effects), or putting them in prison (for minor non-violent infractions) but not actually getting them help or keeping an eye on people going through bad times to make sure they don't do something which cannot be taken back. We have closed our state mental health facilities and we do not treat the pathological side of substance addiction or support recovering addicts in the community. Doing that properly takes more than lists, databases and prisons, or in dragging people in for counseling. It takes being a community, being neighbors to our neighbors, and looking at people as human beings.
Would this have made a difference in a case like Wayne Lo? Twenty years later, I am still not sure. There were signs that he was having problems before the shooting and this was the subject of testimony I gave police (nature of defense plea and a scheduling fiasco never required it being brought out in court), but, being a teenager myself and still trying to figure out my own life, I was perhaps too preoccupied to be the friend I could have been. I blamed myself for years on that count and especially during the six months prior to the trial in which I was sequestered as a probable witness. I don't blame the school in the way that Lucinda Roy does with VA Tech or the way several of families of victims did in the lawsuit against Simon's Rock but I still do wonder often whether someone, perhaps myself, noticing and mentioning the right thing at the right time might have ended in a different result. Certainly that seems to be the case with VA Tech and the Giffords shooting. Doing better in that respect cannot hurt, and again, does not present the issues that gun control advocacy creates.
Our regulation-crazed culture is partly responsible for building a wall between law enforcement and the community, and the homeland security mentality has made it much worse post-9/11. People are actively afraid of law enforcement and sometimes with reason. Quota-based law enforcement (how many tickets can I rack up today?) turns off the community and drives good officers away from the profession. The War On (some) Drugs has lead to deep corruption in some, especially urban, law enforcement. Paid informants or infiltrators deliberately causing trouble (often as part of a plea arrangement to avoid punishment themselves) have made quality intelligence much harder to collect and much more dangerous for conscientious intelligence assets. People don't trust the police even when they really need help or have knowledge of a plot. Pre-9/11, a federal intelligence asset in many domestic groups who had been 'made' (discovered) might expect no danger (unless they were with the IRS) and might, in fact, have had people voluntarily disclose the trouble-makers and agitators in their group.
At the same time, our culture no longer takes ownership of community security. We often assume that someone else will take care of the problem and that we should keep our head down or mind our own business. We don't have to worry about defending ourselves because we can call the police. At the height of the dot-com and housing bubbles, local law enforcement had enough funding that people could almost pretend that this was the case. Now , with many police departments and sheriff's offices on short funds, it is not true at all. Good, active neighborhood watches and citizen auxiliaries exist, but they are rare. Without quality community involvement and good information, our uniformed peace officers simply cannot do it all, and citizens, acting alone, cannot protect themselves adequately either [Separate article, "City Attorney Tells San Bernardino Residents To ‘Lock Their Doors, ’ ‘Load Their Guns ’ Because Of Police Downsizing", on this subject.] Mutual protection is the whole reason government and communities exist.
(Re)building that community connection, bridging the gap with law enforcement, reducing systemic corruption, and reversing the paranoid, reactionary, hate-filled, post-9/11 security culture is an absolute necessity to reducing violence in our communities.
Well-Lit Spaces and Public Presence Don't Deter a Murderer
An attempted sexual assault in a remote part of campus some months before the shooting at Simon's Rock had lead to the formation of a student escort service--- my first citizens' auxiliary. My friend and housemate Wolf Chandler started it or at least is the one who convinced me to participate. We had a rotating duty schedule where students could call Security and get referred to someone who would walk out and keep them company on the way home. Wolf found a good deal on some 4-D alloy-frame Maglites favored by many police or security professionals at the time and I bought a smaller Brinkman tactical light that I still use today. We were not really intending to beat off hordes of criminals with a flashlight to save the damsel, we were counting more on the deterrence effect of the presence of light and witnesses to avoid a crime in the first place.
That kind of thing works with a coward skulking in the shadows, the type that might prey on a woman walking alone at night, and it works when the noise of a struggle will quickly bring help. It did not deter Wayne Lo who shot his victims in brightly-lit, witness-rich parts of campus. It does not deter in many of our brightly-lit cities where witnesses are not likely to act and help may not come. It does not work in any case where the attacker has no qualms about killing witnesses, too. Bright lights in those circumstances just make well-illuminated targets. Citizen auxiliaries or watches without nearby support or the ability to defend themselves are just extra victims.
Ethical Issues of Self-Defense and Dealing With Violent Crime
How we deal with violent crime in our community presents many ethical issues and always will. I always encourage people to do significant self-reflection before deciding to carry a firearm (or other weapon) for defense. However, pawning that issue off on 'professionals' is neither fair to the professionals (should they exclusively risk their lives and perhaps their souls just because we are paying them?) nor effective when we end up personally up to our necks in an emergency by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I do not, myself doubt, that people have a right to self-defense and a duty to defend others around them, but that knowledge is often not enough to tell us how to do the right thing in a situation where we may only have an instant to decide.
One of the first deadly confrontations I had after the Simon's Rock shooting was when I lived in Virginia and worked with Air Force Studies and Analyses at the Pentagon. Due to the stressful nature of highly classified work which I could not discuss with anyone, I often went on walks (knees were getting to the point where I had to give up cross-country) and bikes, and often after dark to clear my head. Much of Arlington was not necessarily safe and the boundaries between safe and dangerous areas were often rather abrupt. I had shot firearms prior to my college experience and was OK with a handgun, lousy with a long-arm, but simply was not comfortable with a gun for quite a while after the shooting. Since I was starting to require a cane and it was legal at that time in VA, I opted instead to carry a sword cane. I had experience in fencing and sword fighting as a martial art, making it an effective defense at close quarters. Where it was not legal, my regular cane was better than bare hands.
In any case, after a particularly rough day at work and finding that my fiance was working late one evening, I went for a walk in Arlington. I headed back toward the Roslyn Metro station well after dark and noticed that a set of footsteps was shadowing mine. My 'spidey-sense' tingled with the realization that this was not a casual pedestrian simply going in the same direction. When I sensed that he was going to make a move somewhat short of the station, I abruptly turned and presented him with short blade of the cane. This resulted in us facing off at very close range, him with his hand on the grip of a revolver he was in the process of removing from his jacket and me with a blade pressed against said jacket. The back of the casings were visible in the revolver's cylinder: the gun was not an idle threat. He was a few inches shorter than me but quite a bit heavier, rough-stubbled with a non-descript ball-cap covering short hair, better dressed, in a nice bomber jacket, shirt, and slacks, than I would have expected. We looked at each other for a moment, his eyes wide in surprise at facing a determined opponent. After what seemed like an hour but probably no more than a second or so, I shifted my stance slightly. My assailant took that as a signal to let the gun fall back into his inner pocket, held his hands out a little above waist height in a gesture of non-hostile intention, backed off carefully, then turned and left, disappearing into the shadows.
The encounter ended without bloodshed or even a word. Maybe that was a mark of restraint or mercy on my part, but it was not necessarily sensible. I was still agile, a good fighter, and still infused with the sense of invulnerability of youth. Having made a visible offer of breaking off the fight, I would have found it dishonerable to then attack and draw blood. Once he was outside of a couple of paces, however, I had no ability to enforce the unspoken truce: his gun had a much longer and more effective reach than the short, thin blade of my cane. He could have dropped back a short distance and shot me with impunity. As it turns out, he did not and I went on my way. I did not routinely carry a cell phone at that point and the nearest pay phone at the Metro was out of order, so I just went home and never even reported the incident. I was better prepared than most pedestrians to meet the danger, but having done nothing of any substance about the threat, my assailant was able to continue attacking others in search of a soft target. I have thought about that many times in the intervening years, about whether someone else ended up robbed, dead, or possibly worse because of my inaction.
These days, honor and restraint are still important concepts to me, but they are moderated by a pragmatism brought about by being a father and being disabled. I am less likely to take unwarranted risks with someone who brings violence into the situation because I am much less sure of my ability to get out of any trouble I might get into and because I have people, such as my daughter, behind me who I can't protect if I let myself get taken down. Often enough now, I am simply incapable physically of running away. I am also much more likely to carry a phone or other means to make sure I can call in the professionals if I do end up with someone at gun point and have the luxury of time to wait for a response.
Most citizens are not violent criminals and would not become them. Sure, Wayne Lo likely had serious stresses in his life, but so did most students on that campus, including myself, who did not pick up a gun. Access to weapons was not the issue. At an early-admissions college, some of the students probably could have built a nuclear bomb out of pop-cans and writing utensils (or biological weapons from the Dining Hall leftovers; some of their more interesting concoctions should have been banned under the Geneva Convention anyway). The fact is that most of us, even under the most serious duress, would not consider that kind of act. Given that, not only is it not immoral, in my mind, to use violence in defense, perhaps it is immoral not to. Christian martyr and pacifist Deitrich Bonhoeffer himself endoresed an attempt to assassinate Hitler, noting that, when a lunatic decided to drive a car at full speed through a crowd, a Christian did not just have a responsibility to try to help the victims but to try to stop the car. If someone had been in position to shoot Wayne Lo that night, it would have saved lives and much later suffering, plus the need to incarcerate him for his entire adult life. It took me several years of internal struggle to decide that I would be willing to fire that shot myself, or--- were the situation reversed--- for someone to shoot me if I ever was broken to the extent that I would do what he did. We do not blame a dog for contracting rabies, but nor do we hesitate to put down the dog. I am not by any means endorsing vigilantism, but if there is any case where deadly force is clearly justifiable, it is when one person is in the act of unilateral violence against another person and still, at that moment, presents a direct threat.
As a society, we incarcerate people for minor, non-violent offenses, because of an overwhelmed judicial and prison system, we often handle even violent offenders poorly, and the implementation of the death penalty is often heavily biased or politicized. Self-proclaimed 'pacifists' don't like guns and don't like lawful gun-owners carrying them, but they expect a cop on the other end of the line to come protect them or to enforce their own prejudices on other people, in the kitchen, the bedroom, and elsewhere (that is as far as I will go into the wider political debate in this forum). We don't have our priorities straight. What the answers are to the wider moral questions I do not profess to know and do not believe any of us can really answer, but we often do not even acknowledge that there are questions in the first place or that individuals should be able to decide for themselves what lengths they are willing to go to in order to defend themselves or their families.
Dealing with the reality of violence in the world is hard, and I hope that it never becomes easy for most people. I am convinced, however, that we often do more injustice by running away from the questions than we do by facing them or attempting too hard to neatly compartamentalize them behind the impersonal structure of government or of "not my problem". Dealing with the aftermath of an incident like just happened in Connecticut is more than hard, the sounds and images will haunt people for their entire lives, believe me, and there is nothing which can bring back the dead, fully heal the scars, or undo the evil. However, if these terrible things galvanize us to positive actions, then they are not entirely without meaning, and the evil act of even a person such as Wayne Lo can be turned to some good in the world. I like to think that my current efforts in community organization and emergency response represent such a good.