To the extent the Connecticut State Police know and have faithfully reported the essential facts of the matter, we know the cause of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
On December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty children and six adults died because twenty-year-old Adam Lanza sought to murder them, and did.
Hours before murdering twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza’s mother died because he sought to murder her, and did.
Hours after murdering his mother and seconds after murdering twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza died because he sought to kill himself, and did.
Each of these twenty-eight deaths had a single cause: the actions of one Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut. They died for the reason that he wanted them dead and acted so as to bring about their deaths.
When we first learned that people died at the hands of another or others at Sandy Hook Elementary, we were right to wonder about the cause of their deaths. But that question is now answered. Adam Lanza alone caused – gave rise to and brought about – their deaths.
Adam Lanza used a weapon – a gun – to kill twenty-seven others and himself, but the weapon did not cause these deaths, Adam Lanza did.
In order to bring about the deaths he sought, Adam Lanza needed to cause a state of disorder in the bodies of his victims that was incompatible with their ability to function as living human beings. In order to bring about this state of disorder, he needed to transfer a destructive energy into their bodies – energy sufficient to break apart their bodily tissues irreparably, so that they would surely die. Adam Lanza did so, using a weapon of his choice specifically designed for the purpose of transferring destructive energy into living beings in a manner that will bring about their deaths.
A weapon is anything a person uses to cause a harmful state of disorder in another creature or thing. It may be something existing in a natural state, such as a rock, or it may be something a person manufactures for the purpose, such as a sharpened stick. In all cases, the capacity of a weapon to bring about a state of disorder in another creature or thing is only a potentiality while the weapon is at rest. In order for a weapon to bring about actually a state of disorder in a other creature or thing, it must first obtain kinetic energy from a living being, whether directly. A weapon never acts as such on its own and in fact is incapable of autonomous action as a weapon. Absent a supply of kinetic energy from a living being, whether supplied through a timing mechanism that delays the transfer of kinetic energy to the weapon, all of any weapon’s energy is potential.
Adam Lanza’s weapon of choice – a gun – did not act on its own. The gun did not transport itself from Adam Lanza’s home to Sandy Hook Elementary School, or from the car that Adam Lanza drove to the confines of the school. It did not aim itself at Adam Lanza’s victims, nor did it supply the kinetic energy that transformed its potential energy into a destructive force through the actuation of its trigger.
The weapon that Adam Lanza used to murder twenty-seven human beings and then to kill himself was at all times an inanimate object and as such had no capacity for moral or immoral action. We could correctly say that his weapon of choice was a moral nullity. That is, the concept of morality has no application to a weapon, but only to the human being who uses a weapon. Under different circumstances, perhaps even in Adam Lanza’s hands, the very same weapon he used for evil purposes at Sandy Hook Elementary School could have been used for good purposes, namely, the defense of innocent life. In different hands at Sandy Hook Elementary, the very same weapon could just as easily have been used to prevent a massacre such as Adam Lanza perpetrated.
Generally, when we speak of weapons being “moral” or “immoral,” we speak nonsense. This is true even of nuclear weapons. Suppose the existence of a large asteroid hurtling toward earth, likely to cause massive destruction of life unless diverted from its path. Suppose further that by directing nuclear weapons at this asteroid, its collision with earth may be avoided. Human beings who used such weapons against this asteroid to save life would surely be acting morally. Of course, human beings could also use nuclear weapons immorally, and have done so.
We can conceive of weapons that cannot be used in a morally-acceptable way, and certainly it would be the case that to manufacture or own such weapons would be immoral. But we cannot correctly say that the gun Adam Lanza used for his murder spree can only be used immorally. We have already established that this gun can be used morally. Accordingly, those who would ban the manufacture or ownership of such a gun act irrationally.
Aside from weapons that cannot conceivably be used in a morally-acceptable way – that is, for the defense of innocent life – to ban or confiscate any weapons in the wake of Adam Lanza’s massacre of innocent life at Sandy Hook Elementary would only compound the tragedy, adding injury to injury. The new victims would be all those who have a natural right to possess such weapons for their defense, for we all have a natural right to possess weapons for our defense. But it would not be the deceased murderer Adam Lanza who compounds the injury, but a new set of criminals who arrogate to themselves the power to control the lives of others. And it would be the case that morally, the intended victims of this new set of criminals have every right to defend themselves against those who would abrogate their rights.
In the wake of Adam Lanza’s horrific actions at Sandy Hook, some subordinate to emotion their faculties of reason and good, moral sense. Instead of recognizing that Adam Lanza alone caused the massacre and then his own death, they blame the inanimate object he used in committing his crimes. They neglect to consider that though Adam Lanza chose a particular weapon to assist his murder spree, he might just as easily have chosen any other weapon. They presume irrationally and unimaginatively that but for the existence of Adam Lanza’s chosen weapon and his access to same, he would have murdered fewer innocents or even none at all.
Adam Lanza alone caused the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School – not the gun he used, or his mother, or his teachers, or his father or brother, or his former schoolmates, or video games, or medications, or any other actor or agent. Adam Lanza felt within himself a murderous urge. Then, rather than subduing that evil impulse, he yielded to it and acted on it, destroying twenty-seven innocent lives in so doing. Having murdered so many, Adam Lanza then made another choice, which was to kill himself, and he did so.
Adam Lanza committed mass murder, then suicide. He is not the first to have done so, nor will he be the last. It is fit and proper for us to try to discover why such people commit the crimes they do, whether their names be Adam Lanza, Pol Pot, Charles Whitman, Genghis Khan, Anders Breivik, or Adolf Hitler. But even if we do discover the reasons why people commit mass murder, we will not necessarily be able to prevent such murders in the future. Realistically, we will never have a perfect world; we will always have to defend ourselves against evil actors. Some of these will act alone and the damage they do will be circumscribed accordingly; others will rally thousands or even millions to their evil paths, thereby magnifying their destructive capacity. But it would be foolish, stupid, and immoral of us to disarm ourselves or innocent others given the continued presence of evil forces among us.
Adam Lanza apparently left no explanation for his crimes. We will never have a full or perfect understanding of why he chose to cause so many deaths. But we do choose how we will respond to what Adam Lanza did, and that choice is a moral choice each of us faces. Will we compound the tragedy that Adam Lanza caused by committing ourselves new crimes, namely, abrogation of the rights of others to defend innocent life with weapons they select and use morally? Or will we act to better protect innocent life against others who, like Adam Lanza, will yield to murderous impulses and seek to harm others?