In the days since the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, many in the media and government have asserted that the only way to prevent such attacks in the future is to prohibit persons from being able to purchase guns. So what are we to make of the fact that on Christmas Eve a man attacked a group of students at a middle school in China, injuring 13 — and that his attack is just the latest in a string of attacks on Chinese schools, some of which have resulted in deaths?
If guns are the cause of such crimes, as American statists would have it, how could that have happened? As the Associated Press observes, the Chinese government has followed the statists’ prescription to a T: “China largely prohibits private ownership of guns.” How, then, were the attackers able to perpetrate their crimes?
Answer: They simply selected weapons that are not prohibited and that would not, under normal circumstances, even be thought of as weapons. The man who attacked the school on December 24 ran the students down with his car and then tried unsuccessfully to set it on fire, which would most likely have injured or killed many others, since the car was loaded with a gas tank and firecrackers. Previous attackers have mostly used knives: a December 14 kitchen-knife stabbing spree in an elementary school wounded 23 students.
It appears, then, that Beijing will now have to ban cars and knives.
“But,” the gun grabbers will argue, “cars and knives are qualitatively different from guns. They have constructive uses: transporting people, slicing food, and so on. They aren’t used for evil purposes unless people choose to use them that way.”
Of course, the same goes for guns. Guns can be used to hunt wild game for food and clothing. They can be used to stop crimes; one study found that Americans use guns to prevent crimes 2.5 million times a year. And they can be used to protect people from tyrannical governments, which is why authoritarian regimes from the Nazis to the Chinese communists have invariably prohibited ownership of personal firearms.
On the other hand, as we see on the news every day, guns can also be used to commit crimes, to wage wars, and to oppress people.
The deciding factor in whether a gun, a car, or a knife will be used for a good purpose or for an evil purpose is the person operating it. A person with good intentions will (barring accidents) use the object constructively; a person with evil intentions will use it destructively.
Moreover, a person with evil intentions can almost always find some way to carry them out. If, as in China, guns are banned, he will use a car or a knife. If Beijing were to ban cars and knives, an evildoer might turn to arrows, explosives, or poisons to do his dirty work. Even if governments the world over were to ban every object that could conceivably be used as a weapon and force everyone to walk around naked, there would still be crimes, including murder. Strangling, after all, requires only bare hands.
If it can’t prevent crimes by banning weapons, what, then, can government do?
First, it can remove itself from as many aspects of society as possible. For instance, government-run schools are prime targets for would-be mass murderers, offering a large number of potential victims in a relatively small, unprotected space. Without public schools, there would be many more, smaller private schools with varying levels of security.
Without such schools, too, there would be less pressure to give students who don’t “fit the mold” psychotropic drugs that may well contribute to their later killing sprees. “Researchers,” Barbara Shoff wrote at PolicyMic.com, “have discovered a definite link in almost every case [of mass shootings:] the use of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by the assailant’s doctor.” Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, was “on medication” to control his outré behaviors, according to the Washington Post.
Second, government can stop making it difficult, if not impossible, for people to defend themselves. Declaring schools “gun-free zones” is an open invitation for shooters to descend upon them. Forcing people to obtain the government’s permission to buy and carry firearms makes them less likely to go to the trouble of arming themselves, in turn making them more likely to be victimized by criminals, who will either ignore the law and obtain guns anyway or use some other weapon.
Finally, government can quit pretending that every evil in the world can be prevented by passing laws. Politicians like to grandstand after tragedies by calling for new restrictions on individual freedom, making a show of their alleged compassion for the victims and their families. In fact, much evil in the world is simply the result of human nature and cannot be prevented no matter how hard the state tries; indeed, the bigger the government becomes, the more evil it creates.
If future school attacks are to be averted, the first step, then, is to scale back the state. Doing so will allow civil society, including families, churches, charities, and community groups, to flourish. And by offering real compassion to society’s outsiders, not the politician’s photo-op kind, those institutions may well be able to help many outsiders cope with life instead of destroying it.