Lindsay Merikas, 26, of Alexandria, Va., wears a button saying "Stop Gun Violence" as she gathered with other supporters of gun control on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, during a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., and to call on President Obama to pass strong gun control laws. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“Gun ownership means that the single mom can protect herself and her children from stalkers and rapists,” according to Libertarian Party executive director Carla Howell.

Nancy Lanza might have agreed, right up until the time she was murdered by her own son with her own gun.

Of course, her killing and its dreadful consequences for Newtown’s children prove nothing about the virtues or vices of gun ownership in general. Even empirical studies examining the relationship between gun ownership, crime, deterrence, and self-defense are inconclusive.

I doubt you could demonstrate a solid empirical link between paranoia, the spread of murderously efficient weaponry, and its indiscriminate use, but logic strongly suggests that one exists.

You can find studies to back up pro-control and pro-ownership agendas, respectively. You can cite the Newtown massacre as an argument for efforts to decrease the number of weapons in circulation. Or you can cite it as a reason for increasing the number of people armed and ready to defend schools, shopping malls, and other public spaces.

“I wish to God she had had an M4 in her office locked up and so when she heard gunshots … she takes his head off before he can hurt those kids,” Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert said of murdered Sandy Hook Principal, Dawn Hochsprung.

“Halt the massacre of innocent children by ending prohibition on self-defense in school,” demands the Libertarian party. “It’s time to put an end to gun-free zones and make it much easier for responsible adults to arm, train, and protect themselves and the people they love from the violent criminals who seek to harm them.”

Might this prove the most effective response to the Newtown killings? I imagine that in some individual cases, a highly skilled school principal bearing arms could successfully defend her students. But I wonder about the larger, cultural effects of a self-defense agenda and its contributions to gun violence. The more we exhort people to arm themselves in self-defense, the more we encourage them to live in fear, the more paranoia we engender.

I doubt you could demonstrate a solid empirical link between paranoia, the spread of murderously efficient weaponry, and its indiscriminate use, but logic strongly suggests that one exists. So do the homicides associated with Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.

So might Nancy Lanza’s collection of firearms. She was a reported gun enthusiast and perhaps a survivalist of sorts. “Last time we visited with her in person we talked about prepping and you know, are you ready for what can happen down the line when the economy collapses,” Lanza’s sister told a local NBC affiliate.

The more we exhort people to arm themselves in self-defense, the more we encourage them to live in fear, the more paranoia we engender.

I’m not maligning gun owners in general. I’m not implying that many of them are stockpiling guns in anticipation of anarchy or its opposite evil — totalitarianism. I’m simply suggesting that vigorously promoting the need to bear arms can have awful, unintended consequences. A mere handful of people armed, always on guard, and primed to shoot first can destroy a great many lives.

Widespread fear generates widespread mistrust and aggression, which facilitate gross violations of individual rights. Consider the post 9/11 security state enabled by dread of terrorism. This is one of the ironies of the NRA’s absolutist advocacy of Second Amendment freedoms, including self-defense: it erodes the trust that’s essential to open and free society.

We’ve lost fundamental liberties in the past 10 years, partly to our own paranoia. We’ve gained violence. Perhaps that’s not entirely coincidental. A culture that celebrates militarism, high tech weaponry, and super-heroic defenses against otherworldly threats is a culture that feels victimized and under siege. It’s not a culture that encourages people to moderate or mediate their grievances.


Tags: Guns, Law, Newtown

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • AmyF

    I can’t believe that Texas Congressman’s statement. It’s like they want America to look and feel like Falluja. Or some other permanent war zone. Who on earth dreams of a world where our teachers and principals resemble Special Forces or SWAT teams? It’s that very mindset that is degrading what this country once stood for.

    • The Onceler

      Yet, we have had armed air marshals since the 1960’s. There are over 300 million firearms in circulation in the U.S., and about 50% of citizens polled indicate that they possess a gun. By your logic, we should ALREADY be Falluja. We should already be in a permanent war zone. And before you respond that we ARE in a permanent war zone, ask yourself this: do those people committing violent crime with guns make use of legally obtained and licensed guns? Or do they get their hands on illegal firearms, without proper licenses and such? Before you tell law abiding citizens that they cannot have guns for fear of maniacs who will kill children, perhaps it is worth considering that maniacs will not be able to kill children if there is somebody present with a firearm who can protect them. Especially considering that tougher gun laws and tighter restrictions only affect law abiding gun owners. Criminals are by definition not prone to being constrained by mere laws.

      • rational_independent

        Armed air marshals are not armed civilians. What is your point? An air marshals entire job is to protect unarmed passengers from other supposedly unarmed passengers. If you want a valid comparison to air marshals, it’s armed security people in schools.

        The argument your making is “we should arm the flight attendants to defend us against terrorists” if you want to make a comparison to arming teachers and administrators to protect a school.

        To answer your rhetorical question “do those people committing violent crime with guns make use of legally obtained and licensed guns”. Well, in a word-YES. In this case, they were legally obtained and licensed guns, owned by the mother…a law abiding citizen, looking to protect herself and her family. Perhaps she was very well trained and responsible. However, one of the people she wanted to protect decided to use those legally obtained and licensed weapons to kill the gun owner and a large number of completely innocent adults and children.

        Let’s take the Texan’s argument to it’s logical conclusion. Give the principal and other administrators guns. Train them. What if one of them decides they are having a bad day and they go shoot all the kids and the other administrators? Can you guarantee that won’t happen? No, you can’t. The fact is there is no such thing as a safe gun, as they are in the hands of humans that can decide at any moment to use them for harm.

        Apparently you have some divine ability to discern the maniacs from the people that are going to protect us from them? Or better yet, the ability to know when exactly someone is going to turn into a maniac?

        The guy that killed the unarmed teen in Florida a few weeks ago, he wasn’t a ‘criminal’ either. He was joe white guy, with a boat load of legally registered and licensed weapons, pissed off about the loud music coming from the minority filled car, had been drinking, and decided he was going to solve the problem cowboy style.

        Your assertion is that the majority of gun crimes are committed by known criminals. I’d love to see the scientific study that shows that, that wasn’t funded by the NRA.

        At the end of the day, when you get past the second amendment argument- (which despite the supreme courts ruling, defies common sense. Second amendment says “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. The point being citizens defending themselves as a group against the government.)-the crux of the pro-gun argument is this-

        “my right to have a gun for fun/sport/self defense outweighs the rights of the twenty 6 and 7 year olds that were gunned down, one by one while they watched their class mates die around them”

        • FranklinPierce

          Your statements are typical of someone who clearly does not understand the facts and who has an agenda to promote. Air Marshals, police, SWAT teams etc. have no legal responsibility to protect your life, you alone are left to protect you and your family.

          Here are some statistic:

          Of course, statistics are only a part of the picture. The moral, economic and social decay causes more crime than mere gun ownership. Anecdotal evidence is easy to locate but not particularly useful for a reasoned debate. How many times have you been to a shopping mall and NOT been shot by an armed citizen?

          Of course it’s easy to vilify all gun owners as cowboys and Neanderthals when you live in a safe neighborhood, your attitudes might be different if you thought you might have to defend your life walking to the grocery store.

          My last comment concerns the 2nd amendment, it is designed to limit the government from infringing on our rights, it is not a grant

          • FranklinPierce

            of rights. Removing arms from the people effectively denies people their right of self defense and their ability to cast off an oppressive government. You can be made less free but not more safe by gun control.

            One last note, we have a government in power that is the result of a coup d’état in 1963 committed by LBJ and Allen Dulles for the military industrial complex, is this the government you support?

    • Futo Buddy

      afganistan is safer for teen american boys than chicago

  • jefe68

    So Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert’ answer is to arm more people and in particular teachers and administrators in schools. How does he know this would have been the outcome? Life is not a Die Hard movie. Does the congressman really think that all school administrators should be Dirty Harry’s ready to blow away a punk with a gun? Reality is not like that and we don’t need more guns, we need less of them.

    • The Onceler

      We have experienced a number of mass shootings in the last few years. Do you presume that those shooters were highly trained, elite killers? Quite the contrary. For the most part, what they possessed that permitted the killings was not superior training or skill. They merely possessed a firearm. Why should any one nutcase be any more proficient than a teacher or school administrator? Indeed, life is not a Die Hard movie – not for these theoretical teachers and administrators, and not for these ACTUAL killers.

  • X-Ray

    The now-expired Assault Weapons Ban Bill required a review of the effects
    of the bill. This, in fact, was done by the left leaning Urban Institute during
    and after the expiry of the bill. In sum, it found that the bill did little or
    nothing to control criminal violence, assaults, murder and injury. So much for
    Common Knowledge.

    • elganm

      Dear X-ray, If the assault weapons ban had no impact it was because it didn’t have enough teeth. It is obvious to anyone that the more rounds per minute that can be fired by a madman, the more people can die. What hunter worth their salt needs a semi-automatic rifle? Not much skill there! Assault weapons should be banned and penalties for carrying them, should be so harsh as to take the possessor of them off the streets permanently. We don’t allow sale of anti-aircraft missiles to the public or even fully automatic weapons, why allow other military style weapons? Assault weapons ban, smaller clip sizes, tighter registration requirements and screening and most of all much tougher mandatory sentences for violators would help. Such a move would at least keep the death toll down and provide more time for people to react or escape such horrible situations. Killing dozens of people in a few minutes simply should not be a capability that anyone off the street should have the ability to do. Granted, it would not prevent the violence which is an epidemic in this country but it should help reduce the death toll. We can make laws that make sense and protect hunters as well as people defending themselves. We just need to have the will to do so. I can’t imagine what the parents of those young children, babies really, are going through now. We must do what we can to prevent this from happening again.

      • FranklinPierce

        Should we start with the SWAT teams? As far as I know, these are the only people with automatic weapons, should we reduce them to 10 round magazines? Or do you mean to imply just the citizens? Or is that subjects or slaves to the state?

        The2nd amendment isn’t about protecting hunting.

      • X-Ray

        Typical reaction ” I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with facts or evidence.”

  • Really

    The real issue here is not should they take our guns away but to improve our mental illness care. If you look at these cases we see that most if not all of these tragedies are committed by people or are mentally ill.

    • The Onceler

      In this most recent case, it seems that the shooter *was* receiving care for his mental health issues. The bottom line is, you cannot predict such things. Just as you cannot predict automobile accidents. That does not prevent us from requiring safety belts and child restraints to be worn. Sure, you might never get in an accident, but if you do… Why not use the same rationale with firearms? Sure, we might train certain members of our school faculty to use a firearm, and then they might never be called on to use it. But, in the rare event that they do need a firearm in order to defend our children…

      • massappeal

        Just curious: if principals and teachers can/should carry firearms in school, can/should students too?

        • rational_independent


          What’s missing here is 6 and 7 year old’s with guns of their own. This way each child could have defended him or herself. In fact, what we should do is add gun training to the kindergarten curriculum. I say we can’t start these kids too early on their path to self defense. I have a 15 month old at home, maybe the local mothers club or the YWCA has a ‘toddler gun training’ program my wife can sign up for. (for those unfamiliar, this is sarcasm…I do not promote the arming of toddlers).

          • Futo Buddy

            i was right with you right up untill the end

  • The Onceler

    Wendy Kaminer wrote, “The more we exhort people to arm themselves in self-defense, the more we
    encourage them to live in fear, the more paranoia we engender.”

    Really? This seems at best to be wild speculation. In fact, I would say that quite the opposite is the case.

    I recall that when I was in college, there were frequent sessions of self defense classes, aimed primarily at female students. The aim was actually to reduce their feelings of fear and anxiety, and to increase their ability to deal with physical violence, should it ever arise. So, somehow self defense a-la the martial arts is empowering, but gun ownership serves to engender paranoia?

    As a parent whose children only recently began to attend school, I can tell you that I am plenty paranoid already.

    • rational_independent

      Based on all of the available reporting to date, the owner of these guns, the first victim of the shooter, the mother of the shooter, purchased them to defend herself and her son from the impending economic collapse. If that isn’t fear and paranoia, I don’t know what is. Here is the setting for you, a single mother living in an extremely affluent small town, living in a $1.6M enormous home, and living on $250K/annually in alimony, is stock piling food, water, and buying 4 guns (not my words-as reported by various news outlets). Doesn’t sound particularly rational to me.

      • Futo Buddy

        it would be more rational for a single woman to live alone in a 1.6 million dollar house with no guns? she broke the law in several ways by allowing her son unfettered access

  • Matthew Dunham

    Well done.

  • NotExpectingThingsToGetBetter

    It says 2,793 children and teens died from guns in the United States died in 2009. About seven times that number were injured.

    “116,385 children and teens in America have died from gun violence in the
    30 years since 1979.”

    So if you want that to continue, then be bellicose about the second amendment and gun control. If you want that stopped, then the change needed is obvious.

    • Futo Buddy

      oh? what sort of change do you think will change that number? are you aware that that number has been steadily dropping?

  • Allen W, a police officer news site, was reporting yesterday about a concealed carry permit holder who saw the Oregon mall shooter, drew his lawfully carried handgun, and took cover waiting for a shot at the mall shooter that would not endanger others if he missed. He didn’t take the shot, but the mall shooter killed himself soon afterwards. The story implies the mall shooter may have killed himself when he realized that the permit holder was there and preparing to shoot him.
    This is the sort of story the pro-gun folks would say shows that citizen concealed carry works. It is certainly worth discussing.

    • keltcrusader

      Pure conjecture to suppose the shooter knew anyone was waiting in the wings expecially since the person “took cover “i.e. not in sight. If he was concerned, he would have shot at that person with his most like superior firepower. Probably more like he had finished his business and took himself out rather than face the consequences.

  • Bubbles99

    Texas needs a big new wall, alright — between it and the rest of the country. I really don’t want whatever brain-eating virus that seems to have gone plague down there.

  • Futo Buddy

    gun ownership is not about violence or fear so promoting it does not promote violence or fear

  • PaulD

    ” We’ve gained violence.”

    You need to check your stats ma’am. Look up the Pew Research study showing murder and violent crime has been dropping steadily for the last 20 years. You can find an article about it on Or, you could go to and look up the stats yourself. It’s right in the Uniform Crime Reports and it’s easy to go through.