Should taking rights away from innocent people be a first resort or a last resort—or no resort at all—in response to a spate of heinous crimes? If we were talking about the First Amendment rights of religious minorities or of free speech, most liberals would insist that people who had committed no crime shouldn’t forfeit any of their liberties. But where the Second Amendment is concerned, these same liberals are quick to call for law-abiding citizens to give up a measure of freedom simply because they are under 21 or want to buy something that progressives don’t like—such as an AR-15 rifle.
If it were really the case that the only way to prevent murder sprees like the one in Parkland, Florida would be to treat everyone like a potential school shooter, perhaps that’s a price most people would be willing to pay. But what killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month was not lax gun laws for everyone, but a lack of serious punishment for a well-known offender who predictably escalated from petty violence and deadly threats to perpetrating a mass slaughter. Long before he carried out the massacre, Nikolas Cruz had done everything he possibly could to prove that he should have been locked up for the good of society. His mother, school officials, his classmates, and the police all knew that Cruz was dangerous. Someone had even tipped the FBI. Was it really impossible that any authority could have stopped him before he killed?
Of course not. But the mentality in evidence with the current gun-control push suggests why it’s becoming more difficult for American society to single out a threat like Cruz rather than subjecting millions of unthreatening students to more restraints and controls. Liberals are not alone in preferring impersonal technocratic solutions—including those that don’t work, but that just feel good—to making personal judgments about bad people. But liberals, which unfortunately includes all too many school officials, seem particularly susceptible to the cookie-cutter theories of enforcement. The bedrock belief is that there are no bad kids, there are only inadequate rules that have failed to make everyone equally good.
But there are bad kids, just as there are bad people in general, and they are bad because of how they behave. Whenever a school shooting happens, there are ill-informed demands for more mental-health services, with the implication that yet more generic rules are the answer to the problem, and everyone within a certain category of mental health should be treated the same way. In short, all weirdos, misfits, and emotionally troubled teens should be convicted of pre-crime, or at least subjected to more bureaucratic discipline. But cold, clinical bureaucracy as a substitute for the well-informed personal judgments on the part of parents, teachers, and other authorities is part of the problem.
“Zero tolerance” sums up the wrong approach. Even as killers aborning like Cruz are allowed to roam free, children who so much as draw a picture of a gun or chew up a Pop-Tart to resemble one are treated like deadly threats. The cookie-cutter, rule-based mentality simply cannot make critical judgments, and those who adopt it train themselves in how not to think correctly. The Pop-Tart kid should at most have been warned sternly not to play around in such a way. Cruz, by contrast, as soon as his character was well-known from his record of attacking teachers, making threats, and dabbling is Nazism, should have been busted hard for the slightest infraction: a broken tail light on his car, underage drinking, anything. That’s how delinquents were dealt with in a saner age, when guns were just as widely available, but the sort of youths who would kill were never given the chance.