McClaughry: Diminishing the culture of violence

by John McClaughry

Every time a disturbed or hate-filled individual embarks on a murderous shooting spree, as at the Covenant School in Nashville last month, politicians rush to the media to urgently announce “we’ve got to do something” to stop “gun violence.”  When pressed, they either propose that the government somehow “keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them”, or ban the private possession of some or all types of guns altogether.

Over the years I have written half a dozen columns assessing the merits of such proposed remedies. At the risk of repeating myself, here are the most important insights.

First, Americans have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The U.S. Supreme Court has strongly affirmed that individual right in the Heller (2008), McDonald (2010), and Bruen (2022) cases. The McDonald Court noted that that right is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” but together the three rulings erect a high hurdle for the gun control advocates.

John McClaughry

Vermonters have an even more explicit constitutional right “to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state” (Ch I, Art 16), clearly and unanimously affirmed by our Supreme Court in 1903.

So who can the government disallow from acquiring and possessing firearms?  Certainly minors, illegal immigrants, felons, fugitives, and persons involuntarily committed to psychiatric treatment.

How about millions of angry or resentful people who were ever treated for depression or low self-esteem, or issued threats to their significant other, or screamed at their kid’s soccer coach, or were mugged by a person of another race, or profess a religious faith whose Holy Book instructs the faithful to “slay the idolators”, or believe themselves thwarted by high taxes and overreaching regulations, or associate with an unsavory peer group, or spend hours a day playing violent video games, or who defiantly announce on social media that “very soon everyone will know my name”? These people are eligible to purchase and possess firearms, and it’s hard to find an incontestable way to screen them out.

Banning sales of certain classes of firearms because they can be used in mass shootings – the so-called “assault weapons” ban – was tried for ten years with approximately zero positive results.  Individuals in this country own around four hundred million firearms, and every criminal and potential shooter knows that one can buy, swap, or steal every kind of weapon (except actual full-auto machine guns) regardless of regulations or prohibitions. Attempting to buy a firearm when you’re not eligible is itself a felony, but it is rarely prosecuted unless connected with a subsequent crime.

The most promising – albeit not perfect – legal way to deal with possible shooters before they start shooting is a “red flag “law. These laws invite concerned persons to alert mental health and law enforcement when there is reason to believe that an individual is preparing to commit a violent crime. In 2018 the Vermont legislature unanimously enacted a red flag law authorizing a court to issue an extreme risk protection order.

Commendably, Act 97 includes due process protections, including penalties for false and malicious reporting. So far Vermont has been spared a Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, or Covenant School shooting. Most of our happily few shootings seem to occur among criminals engaged in illicit drug trafficking.

The most vexing factor in the epidemic of “violence involving deadly weapons” is also the most difficult to deal with. That is a culture of violent assaults succinctly described last year by columnist Mark Alexander of Patriot Post: “the Highland Park (Illinois parade) assailant was a poster child for dysfunctional families and the lost tribal legions of faithless, empty-souled sociopaths roaming our streets. They are sponges bloated with toxic culture poisoning, who embrace a cult of violence.”

How does our society diminish such a culture of violence? As I wrote after the Florida Parkland school shooting, “Passing more laws aimed at further restricting firearms ownership offers little prospect of preventing more gun violence and it threatens the constitutionally protected right of self-defense by law-abiding citizens. Schools need to make it difficult for an armed assault to succeed, stamp out bullying, and by well-conceived interventions provide the support that potentially dangerous youths badly need.”

“And finally, the institutions of civil society need to multiply their efforts to help disturbed, alienated, hopeless young people overcome their demons, while their lives can still be turned around.”

That’s easy to say, difficult to achieve. At the time I cited three examples of inspired civil society responses from a Heritage Foundation report (“Focusing on School Safety After Parkland”, Backgrounder #3295): The Return to Civility Fund, Elevate Phoenix, and Sandy Hook Promise. We need many more.

The author, a Kirby resident, is founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute. To read all EAI news and commentary, go to

Categories: Commentary

14 replies »

  1. You leave out the real elephant in the room so to speak. It’s not the gun, nor the ability to have a gun, it’s the willful violence purpotrated by the shooter if it wasn’t a gun it would be something else. It’s their mental issues that society fails to deal with, it’s the coddling of those who have problems that they don’t know how to deal with and we no longer give them the tools to deal with them nor in society the compassion to help them through it. Instead we tell them to take a pill or hide their issues behind something else in order to “fit in”.

    This is a sickness, and frankly it happened less over time from 2010 – 2020 only the lockdowns and social unrest propped it back up again, purpotrated by the same people that now say we have too much gun violence (there is much more to this I know and agree, but for the sake of this argument this is true).

    I don’t know of the other two organizations that you speak of but if you speak of sandy hook promise you only speak of gun confiscation and more restrictions that you also admit have ill effect.

    Let’s get Sandy Hook straight here, it happened because of money. It happened because the Obama administration (with the help of Debbie Washerman Schultz head of the DNC later or at the time I forget) put into contract that the paying of the sherrifs department increased based upon the performance (read less kids in jail) of the department. It was in their best interest not to report any issues as they got paid more money as did the school. That’s how the parkland shooting happened, those in power were too greedy to report a child who had obvious and numerous mental issues prior to shooting up a school. Again it’s not the gun it’s the willful violence of the shooter.

    If fact the local gangs used the kids in Parkland to commit crimes because they knew they wouldn’t be punished due to this new contract, all the while the numbers looked better and schools and departments recieved more money.

    I agree that a culture of violence sets the stage and that should be changed, but let’s not forget the individual and the society that fails to help them that actually commits the act.

    • The school you are talking about was Parkland High School in Florida and you are correct. It was Obama who caused it with his arrest no school children policy. The school and authorities knew about the Parkland shooter and did nothing. Sandy Hook school was in Newtown Connecticut. There were many strange issues with that shooting also that have been documented. The shooting has been accused of being a false flag event. One day the truth will surface. We are living in strange times and the truth is hard to find in almost everything. While the average citizen ignores the chaos, it gets worse. Things are going to get very difficult by design, mark my words. An example is the Vegas concert shooting. Everything hushed up, no motive, no reason or truth to be had.

  2. Lastly Red Flag Laws are blatenly unconstitutional, costly to the individual, ripe for abuse and again put the person caught in the middle of it vulnerable and stripped of their rights, it’s not merely “imperfect” it violates our constituation both federally and locally.

  3. If anything, ban video games that deplicit mass killings, by shooting all around them, to bits, with blood gore and guts flying everywhere. These so called games desensitize the feeble minded and the mentally ill’s youthful developing minds, enableing their jumbled thinking ,to think it cool, to blow people to bits.Those are a good thing to ban, if you were to ban anything.

    • You don’t have to ban anything. Punish criminals for committing crimes. Banning video game is something the gun controllers would do. They punish the gun owners for the people that commit crimes with guns/

  4. Society really started to change around 1970 when liberals started to ban corporal punishment. Teachers couldn’t discipline students, parents became afraid to discipline their children, and some parents would claim their child could do no wrong. This has led to an attitude that bad behavior has no or minimal consequences.

    Liberals are now jumping up and down shouting for gun control but think about the recent ax murder in Brattleboro. It’s not the guns.

    A solution to this problem is to eliminate gun free zones. They are potentially shooting galleries. Encourage people, especially Teachers, to train and conceal carry in order to protect the students.

  5. Those who wish to take away our right to bear arms are the same ones funding bioweapons, poisoning our food, air, and water, devaluing our currency, allowing criminals to rome free on the streets, allowing open borders, and supply arms to their own militias (the alphabet acronym types.) Being that Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Eric Holder supplied more weapons to our enemies than NATO ever could, it should be clear they have to disarm us by slaughtering citizens and making it look like they had nothing to do with it. Define false flag.

  6. The 2nd Amendment does not give us our right to keep and bear arms. It tells the government it does not have the right to infringe on our keeping and bearing arms.

  7. There is no excuse not to have our children’s schools as well protected as the courthouses in the state. Soft targets will always be a greater risk. Putting kids in defenseless schools only serves the outrage machine once the inevitable happens. Ask yourself why Dem/Progs are against protecting our kids.

  8. I really could not say it any better than those above have already said it. Maybe I might add that those who would propose that penalizing the innocent for the acts of a few miscreants must also subscribe to the old saying, “keep it stupid simple” !