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Lyons: Preventing tragedies more complex than gun laws

Two mass shootings in the same year was too much violence for Americans to take.

Aurora, Colo., was a punch in the face. Sandy Hook Elementary School, a kick in the gut.

Everyone from proud NRA members to President Barack Obama is extremely bothered by what happened on July 20 and Dec. 14. They were the worst days of 2012 and among the worst days this generation has seen.

First, we ask “why?” But as usual, we’re dissatisfied with the answers when it comes to these tragedies. What explanation could we hope for? Would any explanation make sense?

The natural progression leads us next to questions of what could have been done to stop the killings. What’s more troubling is the fact that answers to those less-abstract questions are often just as difficult to answer.

President Obama on Wednesday signed 23 executive orders related to gun violence – most of which have to do with background checks – and urged Congress to take further steps. There’s bound to be some controversy, but criticism that stringent background checks shouldn’t be required to purchase firearms isn’t worthy of much debate.

In his words, the president is responding to the “epidemic of gun violence.” Yet, despite these large national tragedies, rates of violent crime have been steadily dropping in the United States for the past several years.

Epidemic or not, innocent people should never be murdered by gun violence, knife violence, blunt instrument violence or any other kind of violence. But they will be. An innocent person will be killed today, tomorrow and the next day.

So whether the motivation is an overall decrease in shooting deaths or a tragedy that grips the entire nation, politicians – and in this case, I don’t think most of the motivation is misplaced – want to prevent more incidents of violence.

Would more thorough background checks have prevented James Holmes from killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater? Maybe. Maybe not. He bought the weapons legally. And at least two of the guns Holmes used aren’t even part of the larger discussion on what weapons to ban.

And what about Adam Lanza? The guns he used were his mother’s. Again, two of them were fairly standard handguns in addition to the semi-automatic rifle. Ironically, the law allowed Lanza to carry a rifle, which was the main weapon used in the killings, but not handguns.

Reportedly, Lanza reloaded several times. Would it have made much difference in an elementary school if he reloaded 10-round clips or the 30-round clips he used?

What we had in both cases were the most extreme actions imaginable by two individuals. It’s hard to imagine what laws might have affected their actions at all. What kind of person could commit such acts? Certainly not one who is worried about violating weapons laws.

Societies need laws, and we have many. But it’s going to be very difficult to create societal laws based on the extreme actions of two individuals.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but we should be realistic in our expectations.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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