What Does, and Doesn't, Kill People

Yesterday, in two great nations, alike in self-regard but different in nearly everything else, there were startlingly similar attacks. Young men, afterwards described as mentally disturbed, each burst into primary schools, attacking over twenty children, and some adults, with intent to kill.

In Chengdeng, China, Min Yingjun stabbed twenty-two children and one adult outside the local school, sending nine to hospitals. No one is reported to have died, and no life-threatening injuries are reported.

In Newtown, USA, Adam Lanza shot twenty children and seven adults, only three of whom survived long enough to reach a hospital. All twenty children and six of the adults are dead.

The gun-rights folks like to say that crazy people are everywhere, and that we can never completely stop them. That is true but besides the point. Maybe Yingjun was just as crazy as Lanza, and maybe there was no way to stop either of them before their murderous rampages. Even granting those arguments for the moment, Lanza had access to a bulletproof vest and high-powered handguns, so he was able to kill people in an industrial, hideously efficient way that similarly crazy, murderous people in most nations of the world simply can't.

Maybe Newton will finally be the USA's Dunblane, the uniquely shocking event that makes this country wake up and realize that its gun policies are insane and horribly destructive. (And I write that as a man who worked for a book club for hunters for five years; I believe in the rights of individuals to own some guns, under some circumstances, for some purposes.) And maybe the discussion, and the legal framework of gun control, will finally move forward from the NRA's paranoid scorched-earth defense of the right of every last lunatic in the country to have military weaponry and armor, though I suspect the NRA itself will need to be marginalized and shouted down to make that happen.

For that to happen, though, we'll all need to remember Min Yingjun as well as Adam Lanza. This was not that cliche, the one lone crazy young man -- the world has thousands of similarly lonely crazy young men. Some countries do a better job than others of identifying them and getting them help, and some countries do a better job than others of protecting themselves when those young men go on rampages. And we can identify the policies that work, in both ways, and fight to have them implemented where they don't already exist.

Because the USA is currently horrible at both things: we don't find and help these men, and we don't stop them from arming themselves like elite soldiers to slaughter our children. And that is simply unacceptable for a nation that keeps insisting that it's the beacon of liberty and the wellspring of justice for the world.