Society will decide how much it will tolerate guns

Referring to your excellent column in the aftermath of Sandy Hook and the "knee-jerk" reactions, I have a few questions, and those are:

1. Have we taken leave of our collective senses?

2. How are we going to evaluate every American to find those who may be mentally imbalanced?

3. Are we going to require every gun dealer to have a degree in psychology or psychiatry?

4. How are we going to regulate or control several hundred thousand guns already out there? Yes, we can ban the sale of "assault" weapons.

5. What do we do about the unknown number of those already out there?

6. Do we really need to follow through on the utterly ludicrous idea of arming teachers?

Personally, I think we need to take a deep breath and put our brains in gear and begin a process called objective thinking. I have no answers to the above questions (nor do I think any others have), but I do have a possible solution, at least (as far as) safety at schools is concerned.

We spend thousands of dollars fencing and gating hundreds of private communities, military bases, etc. Why not treat schools as communities, which they most certainly are? Put an 8-foot-high chain-link fence around them along with a gate and an armed uniformed guard or two.

We have a few here in Hawaii, such as Kamehameha and our college campuses. You don’t get in unless you have legitimate reason to do so! – R.B., Hilo, Hawaii

Great questions! I’ll take them as read.

1. I would more say that we tend not to engage our keenest critical thinking when we’re collectively wrought with despair, helplessness and high emotion. But your point is made. Yes is the answer.

2. Of course, we’re not going to evaluate every American, not to mention there is no evaluation modality that could pinpoint and in every case predict mental imbalance and the potential for violence. But we can insist on a background check for every buyer of every gun. Even private resales. And we can legislate stiff penalties for people who violate these rules.

3. No. The gun dealers will simply enforce the rules.

4. We’re not going to control the guns already out there, except as regards No. 2 above. If you own a gun – any type of gun – it will have a registration number, just like every car. If you want to sell your varmint shotgun to the neighbor, then you are required to document this transfer and the required background checks.

5. There is nothing we can do about assault weapons already in private hands unless we want to declare what amounts to martial law on assault weapons. I don’t want to do that. But again, we can ask that every weapon be registered.

6. Sheesh, I hope not. Truly can’t even imagine it. A student’s college degree in education including field trips to the range for firearms training! Or worse, a bunch of kindergarten teachers carrying sidearms without training! Frankly, even if a teacher wanted to carry a concealed weapon, say, at a high school known for inner-city violence, I insist the chances of that teacher being overpowered by thugs and having the gun used against him/her and the surrounding students are much greater than the chances of that teacher successfully warding off a spree killer.

As for fencing and gating, here’s a fact about civilization: Social beings collectively decide what risks to risk and what risks to mitigate. Our reasoning is not always consistent or even clear. For example, we’re much more willing (that is, "OK with") dying in car crashes than we are dying in plane crashes. We’re much more willing to be injured or killed by a domestic dog than we are a shark. See, we attribute to plane crashes and sharks a particular kind of horror. Security "wands" me or even pats me down as I enter Lambeau Field to see the Packers. But I can come and go at Walmart as I please.

There is death and mayhem we can imagine. There is death and mayhem unimaginable and therefore intolerable.

The Newtown, Conn., shootings crossed a line like that, I believe because of the age (read: innocence) of the victims. To put it crassly, I’m "OK with" taking my middle-age self to the mall and risking the chance of this being the day a spree killer is at the same mall. I’m not so cavalier about asking a kindergartner to take that same risk at school. The latter connotes a particular kind of horror that the former does not.

So I tend to agree with your thinking. I think we will collectively decide to be very intentional about the architecture of new elementary and high schools and perhaps to redesign and refurbish the architecture of existing schools. I think we will build them more like prisons. But I don’t think we’ll decide to do this for colleges. Again, the not exactly conscious issue will be "innocence."

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or

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