Passersby console each other Friday near the site of the shootings in Newtown,… (Douglas Healey / AFP/Getty…)
If there's been another tragic mass shooting, there must be pundits all over the mediasphere ranting for or against tighter controls on guns. The arguments follow a predictable course: Advocates point out that gun violence in the United States, presumably because of its laws granting easy access to firearms, is far more common than in more restrictive countries, particularly in Europe. Opponents fire back that criminals will break the law to obtain guns if they want them -- after all, they're criminals, who feel no apparent remorse about mass slaughter. And anyway, if more people carried guns, they could take out the shooters before the body count rose.
The latter argument is a little hard to make with a straight face in the case of Friday's shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.; I doubt even National Rifle Assn. chief Wayne LaPierre would claim that arming 6-year-olds or their teachers is a good idea. Regardless, the liberal blogosphere will scream for action, politicians will promise to take it, and then they'll misplace that gun control bill on the way to cut the ribbon for a new community center in their districts.
President Obama is a master at this kind of bait-and-switch tactic, regularly calling for a national conversation on gun violence in the wake of mass killings, or touting his support for a ban on assault rifles, without doing anything whatsoever to advance these causes. In a tearful news conference Friday, he promised to take "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics." And what action would that be? Obama knows that gun control is a political nonstarter. Advocates might be hoping he'll be more courageous now that he has won a second term, but if history is a guide, he will save his political capital for fights he can win, such as immigration reform, and dump issues that fire up conservative opposition, such as climate controls and, yes, gun control. Smart politician. Disappointing leader.
PHOTOS: Connecticut school shooting
But I'm not going to be one of those big-city newspaper opinionators calling for tighter laws on guns. I'm not convinced they'll work, and I'm quite sure they're not going to happen. With 20 schoolchildren lying dead and dozens of parents whose hearts have been irrevocably shattered in Connecticut, I'm more interested in what could prompt a human being to commit such a despicable act. Obama wants to prevent such tragedies in the future, as do we all, but it's tough to prevent them if you can't understand them. Is it possible for a person's mind to be so twisted by genetics or a horrific upbringing that he can justify putting a bullet into the body of an unsuspecting child?
Or is there something to the idea that there is genuine evil in the world, and a dangerous few are caught in its grasp?
Somehow, we never seem to get a satisfying answer to that question after any of these atrocities; not just because the gunman tends not to survive his rampage -- alleged killer Adam Lanza, 20, is among the 28 dead in Connecticut -- but because they are usually loners who leave few clues about themselves or their motivation, or the demons that seem to be inhabiting their skulls.
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Peace and strength to the people of Newtown, who probably don't much feel like a gun control debate right now anyway.