The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has understandably led to calls for greater gun control. And, predictably, the National Rifle Association has fired back, saying there's no stopping a psychotic.
The perpetrators of gun violence, however, are more often people we'd otherwise consider sane, as when six gunmen killed three college students execution-style in Newark, New Jersey. Better access to mental health care is not the solution. What is?
If police resources are stretched thin, then the people themselves should take up arms in their own defense. Not in a disorganized way, one by one, which would lead to Old West shoot-outs for every parking space, but in groups: Neighborhood Watch organizations should evolve into civilian patrols.
The Second Amendment supports the idea of creating "well-regulated militias." Instead of suing gun manufacturers for cash, as the NAACP did in 1999, private groups and the government should ask Smith and Wesson, Colt and the other manufacturers to work for the public good, and donate guns for civilian patrols to use.
This does not mean that posses will roam the streets. Indeed, a public show of force will deter all but the most psychotic or suicidal of potential perpetrators: it will reduce violence. But individuals too squeamish to carry guns can carry cameras, or even just camera-phones.
And they need not walk alone. Canadian mathematician Bert Hartnell has found a way to figure out the optimal route a patrol should take in a neighborhood so that no intersection is left unguarded for too long a period of time. Readers familiar with the hit TV show Numb3rs know that mathematicians are even helping police analyze crime "hot spots" in order to triangulate on where serial perpetrators might live. And Kevin Blake, a policeman in Jamaica who directs the country's National Intelligence Bureau, has developed a computer program that could allocate patrol cars to various parts of a city based on the amount and type of crime in those areas. His program uses mathematics to maximize the deterrent factor of a police or civilian patrol presence, taking into account the unfortunate reality that law enforcement resources are limited.
The real task, however, is not just to prevent crimes from occurring, but to prevent boys from turning into criminals. From the Moynihan Report of 1965 to today, it has long been held that youth need fathers. The gangs urban youth join are but surrogate families. Unfortunately, they are pathological families whose "fathers" are often just as in need of a father figure as the rest of the group. What they could use is an elder "platoon leader," for instance, a Vietnam or Iraq War vet who could command the respect of street toughs and even give them real combat training -- and discipline.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are 200,000 homeless vets, so this idea, of helping both the youth and the old soldiers, could kill two birds with one stone. One could take away the kids' gang colors, give them same-color uniforms, and have them march in community parades. The boys most prone to violence and aggression would finally see that there is something they can do that would garner the respect and support of the community.
Instead of turning schools into zero-tolerance zones for guns, we should let the NRA teach special classes in gun use, sort of like Drivers' Ed, and ROTC should be established in all schools.
This is not a surrender to the glib idea that "boys will be boys." If there is no constructive outlet for the channeling of youthful aggression, we will never see an end to the downward spiral of violence. Civilian patrols and the military training of boys by veterans will give us all many more days to make the toast: To Life.
A version of this essay appeared in the Bangor Daily News of Bangor, Maine.