By Craig R. Whitney
After the slaughter of 20 first- graders and six adults at a school in Newtown, Conn., some gun-rights advocates are saying that if only the teachers had been carrying weapons, the gunman, firing a semiautomatic rifle, might have been stopped before killing so many people.
Supporters of this right have said for decades that more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens would lead to less violent crime of all kinds, because criminals would be deterred by not knowing whether potential victims were carrying heat.
If students at Virginia Tech in 2007 had been allowed to pack pistols on campus, this argument goes, Seung-Hui Cho might have been stopped before he killed 32 of them; if midnight-movie patrons at an Aurora, Colo., theater in July had been armed, they could have cut a gunman's massacre short of the 12 who died and the 58 who were injured.
State legislatures all over the country have been buying the argument, with the result that by 2011 about 8 million Americans had permits to carry concealed weapons for self- defense. Only the District of Columbia and Illinois had laws on the books barring "concealed carry" (though several other states and places such as New York City have barred it effectively in practice by turning down permits for virtually everybody who applies).
Congress let a 10-year ban on assault weapons — based on rifles designed for military use, where killing is the primary object — expire in 2004, and now as many as 3.5 million of these guns may be in private hands.
Suddenly Americans are questioning whether so much easy access to increasingly lethal weapons really makes them safer. A few days before Newtown, the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature passed a bill giving teachers the right to carry concealed weapons in schools. Four days after the massacre, the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who had reportedly been ready to sign the bill, vetoed it instead.