After a young madman went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 first-graders and six adults before shooting himself, police converged on his home to see what they could find. They discovered that Adam enjoyed first-person shooter games. They discovered a family of obvious gun enthusiasts. There was an unlocked gun locker in the home belonging to Adam’s mother with no indication that it had been forced open. A holiday card found in the search contained a check written by Ms. Lanza, Adam’s now deceased mother (who was shot in her sleep by her son), that was given to him so that he could purchase a C183 firearm, according to police documents.
In Adam’s bedroom investigators recovered some other things that gun advocates would prefer you not know about: In addition to a pistol-shooting guidebook published by the NRA, investigators recovered a National Rifle Association certificate issued in the names of both Adam Lanza and his mother, Nancy. Faced with the realization that this slaughter was carried out by one of their own members, the NRA resorted to their typical tactics: lie and deny. They issued a news release saying they had no records that either person had ever been a member of the NRA. (De Avila, 2013) How convenient. (Consequently, this is also why gun-rights groups fight so hard against things like weapons registries or public disclosure of membership: if this were to happen, the public would actually know how many of their members were responsible for horrible things.)
Before the shooting, Adam Lanza was practically a poster boy for the NRA. He and his mom Nancy certainly fit the profile of the NRA’s ideal customer: Gun enthusiasts with a big stash of weapons who were continuing to buy guns and regularly practiced at shooting ranges, thus keeping money flowing into the gun industry. Adam Lanza is also indicative of a fact the gun lobby does its best to run away from: the people who do atrocious things with their guns are otherwise “law-abiding citizens” before they commit their gun crimes. In fact, some of the most unstable people are the type of enthusiastic gun owner organizations such as the NRA covet most.
What can be done to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them?
You hear a lot of talk in the news about how to keep criminals and the mentally ill from gaining access to guns. The reality is that this is a pipe dream unless you keep a tighter grip on guns in general. Only after the fact does it become apparent who shouldn’t have had access to guns. Before this massacre, the NRA would have hailed this family as an example of everything good Americans should be. They would have leapt to the defense of Adam’s “right” to own as many assault rifles as he pleased. Nor was the Sandy Hook shooting exceptional in this regard. Take the case of Charlie Roberts, a milk delivery man and seemingly stable father of three who shot 10 Amish schoolgirls (killing 5 and leaving several with permanent damage) before shooting himself. “There was nothing about my son’s behavior that ever alluded to anything erratic or crazy,” says Terri, Charlie’s mother. (Weisensee-Egan, 2015)
There’s also Jason Dalton, the seemingly “law abiding gun owner” who was described by his neighbors as a “good family man.” The Uber driver had no criminal record prior to his shooting rampage, which killed 6 people, including a 17-year-old teen and his father, while putting another 14-year-old girl into critical condition in a comatose state. (Stafford, 2016)
Let’s go back to the story of David Dunn, another man who, before he unloaded his weapon into a car full of teenagers, was everything the NRA desires: A gun owner since childhood and firm advocate for gun rights, one of the first to sign up for a concealed weapons permit. Only after-the-fact did it emerge that Dunn, along with millions of other gun-toting citizens, had been a ticking time bomb all along. An investigation would reveal that a former neighbor claimed Dunn once tried to hire him to kill a man who’d sued Dunn’s software firm. He also said he’d seen Dunn hold a gun to the head of one of his two ex-wives. The other he reportedly controlled using threats of deportation, since she happened to be a foreign national. (Solotaroff, 2013) None of this violent or abusive behavior prevented him from owning weapons, because like the MAJORITY of people with abusive tendencies or anger issues, these family squabbles and aspirations of murder never got reported to police.
Let’s be clear: Gun psychopaths do not come from some existential group that is separate, apart from, and outside of the “law-abiding” gun community. They come from within their own ranks. However you might feel about other aspects of the gun safety debate, this fact needs to be recognized.