When I first tried to teach my daughter division, I taught her to ask how many objects she could allocate evenly among a given number of piles of that object. For example, if you wanted to make six piles of marbles, how many marbles would end up in each pile if you began with twenty four marbles? I found myself thinking of this recently, as I remembered frequent carpools for teenage excursions, often heading towards the Southern part of my home state, Connecticut. I would meet up with friends to allocate those of us without cars among a set number of cars driven by friends. These carpools often began by meeting at either a diner off the highway or “at the flagpole.” Just which flagpole we were to meet at did not need further explanation, since, until December 14th of last year, the town of Newtown, Connecticut was best known for a flagpole that stood in the center of town. Alas, that is no longer the case, and now that town is now best known for its collection of broken hearts.
As the atrocity of what happened only a few miles from where I grew up unfolded, I searched for a way that we could make sure that such a thing does not happen again. I concluded that the collective education of my readers here could be put together to arrive at solutions that can only be found in the company of people from different backgrounds and perspectives. I invite my readers to join me here to share their sliver of truth from their own education. Perhaps, as the colors of a rainbow join to form white light, the insights gained from different perspectives can be joined to arrive at a solution that would otherwise not be visible.
For example, I begin by asking my colleagues in the humanities for insights into how the lessons of nonviolence can be applied to help keep our children safe when they are out and about. I hear some say that teachers need to carry guns and learn to use them in time of crisis. I oppose the death penalty, and while I would do almost anything to protect my students, I know that if shooting to kill becomes a requirement for my own job, I will find another career. I believe that my colleagues in all of the humanities, especially philosophy and theology, would be particularly insightful in finding peaceful ways to protect the young and not so young students in our classrooms.
Further, I ask my fellow economists to help find a way to internalize the extreme externality that arises when the public has access to dangerous weapons. While I know he was joking, I am actually intrigued by the reasoning of comedian Chris Rock, who pointed out that taxing bullets would make the shooter think seriously about just how much he wanted to kill someone. A portion of his act is shown in the full-length opinion piece  on the issue of guns, “Bowling for Columbine." I am stumped, however, as the externality of taking the life of a tiny child is potentially infinite, and am not sure how to asses a tax that would reflect such value. The film mentioned above also highlights several issues that would be of interest to my colleagues who are sociologists, who I am sure have important perspectives to lend to the conversation.
I also ask my colleagues who are political scientists to explain to us what exactly the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. I am particularly interested in how such language might have been different if they had foreseen the arrival of the kind of killing machine that was used in Newtown. I am also interested in opinions as to how that amendment would have been phrased, had they anticipated the day when our country would have an official “well regulated Militia” to defend us from outside attacks.
And finally, I call upon my colleagues in psychology and biology to explain why mental illness might make someone take the lives of innocent children. At the same time, I shudder when I hear calls for a national registry of the mentally ill, as the criminalization of an illness seems like an ineffective response to this horror. Further, can those in the medical and allied health fields do a better job of explaining Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome to the general public? We seem to be left with what I have to believe is the mistaken impression that these conditions which are the root cause of the violence that erupted last month.
This time, let’s meet not “at the flagpole”, but at this virtual space where we can share ideas and insights gained from our individual training. I don’t know if we can find an answer, but I promise to forward whatever I do receive to Vice President Biden, who is working with a committee to address this issue. I hope that if we come up with some positive ideas, he will listen to us. He, after all, has a professor in his family.