All Americans, from whatever walks of life and of whatever political or philosophical convictions, abhor the death of innocent human beings and had a visceral reaction of shock and pain to the killing of 20 schoolchildren and six staff members in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. In responding to this attack, Americans must consider with great reflection and care how best to proceed, in a manner consistent with our laws and our traditions, to protect innocent lives.
First, we must identify the specific problems to be addressed involving school safety, mental illness, the cultural climate, and the misuse of firearms.
Second, we must analyze potential solutions to the specific problems identified, examining the facts and taking into account the costs and benefits of the potential solutions to ensure that sound judgment governs the emotions inescapably attached to the subject.
Finally, Americans must implement appropriate solutions in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution, including the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms, the traditional role of the states in our federal system, and the central significance of family.
Making public policy is especially challenging in these circumstances. In responding to tragedies such as Newtown, concern must be channeled by individuals, families, civil society, and possibly government into effective measures that are consistent with the Constitution. Policymakers should not just do something to alleviate our sense of urgent responsibility without due consideration of its effects. Careful diagnosis of the full scope of the problem is essential. Complex cultural factors must be taken into consideration, and sober judgment about human nature is required. Constitutional principles and constraints, which are so vital to preserving our cherished liberties, must be observed. Not all problems can be solved with government action, and if government action is required, any federal action, including executive orders, should be consistent with our federal system of government, respect for state sovereignty, and the separation of powers.
Our Constitution was framed for a self-governing people, and effective constitutional responses will therefore transcend federal policy mechanisms. Policymakers should avoid rushing to judgment on prescriptions that fail to respect constitutional principle or to locate the root of the problems, some of which lie in complex cultural issues that are best addressed at the state and local levels or that lie beyond the reach of policy altogether—best addressed by families, religious congregations, and other institutions of civil society. . . .