January 18, 2013
Our nation is a compassionate nation. Our people respond and come together in response to horrific crimes such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.
As they strive to make a safer and stronger society in the wake of Newtown, “policymakers should avoid a rush to judgment on prescriptions that violate first principles, ignore the real root of these complex problems, or disregard careful social science research,” Heritage Foundation scholars John Malcolm and Jennifer Marshall explain in an important new report.
“Any federal government role must be limited and constrained by constitutional principles,” they write. “The most important solutions lie at the state and local levels, in the community and within the family.”
Malcolm and Marshall identify four key points lawmakers should keep in mind as they plan a response to the Newtown tragedy:
Respecting the Right to Keep and Bear Arms: The constitutional right to keep and bear arms is an individual right that is fundamental to a free society, which depends, ultimately, on personal responsibility. The Second Amendment continues to be an important safeguard of Americans’ security and gun control laws do not correlate with decreased violence.
Preserving School Safety: Since a number of shootings have occurred on public school grounds in recent years, the safety of students on campus is a priority concern. Decisions about school security are quintessentially matters that are the responsibility of state and local governments. Community-level identification of and response to risks is essential.
Addressing Mental Illness: While there is no clear evidence that people with severe mental illnesses who are being treated are more dangerous than the general population, it is clear that some with severe illnesses who are not being treated are more dangerous. Decisions about addressing the risks of school violence arising from mental illness are state and local responsibilities. States can both reduce the risk of school violence and address mental illness humanely.
Addressing Cultural Issues: Citizens, parents, and cultural norms may be more important than anything else in working to prevent the recurrence of tragedies such as Newtown. Family plays an essential role in developing thriving children and adolescents, and its role must be respected in policy and supported in communities. Civil society institutions offer a first line of defense in building and maintaining safe and thriving communities. The First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech means that it is up to individuals, families, communities, and corporations to make responsible choices regarding media production and consumption.
This tragedy has sparked a national debate on an issue that is complex and extremely nuanced. For more information, be sure to read The Heritage’s Foundation’s full analysis on the response: “The Newtown Tragedy: Complex Causes Require Thoughtful Analysis and Responses.”