Some have attributed it to Chekhov; others to Ibsen, whose play Hedda Gabler dramatizes the principle. Whoever deserves the credit, we should all know one of the axioms learned in storytelling 101: When there is a gun on the mantel in Act I, it will likely go off by the end of Act III.
There is something intoxicating, perhaps even phallic, if I may be reductive, about a gun that entices many people to want to discharge it. This may sound simplistic to some and it may enrage gun owners, but I can't tell you how often I have heard ordinary citizens tell me that they are glad they don't own a gun because if they had one, they would probably use it. And use it in a fit of rage.
And yet, following the recent horrific massacre in Newtown, Conn., a friend of mine who served in the U.S. military and comes from a military family said to me that a gun could be on the coffee table for 25 years in his house, and it wouldn't go off.
That may be true in his case. I know him well. He is a responsible gun owner, who grew up hunting with his father in rural New England and who once took me to a gun range and showed me how to fire some weapons, when I was researching a story.
He is a good man, who has every right to his hunting rifle. But even he does not need a semiautomatic handgun, an assault rifle or high-capacity magazines, all of which I have argued in the past should be banned to the public. Earlier this year, on several occasions, I urged President Obama to issue an executive order banning these weapons because we all know that it is very unlikely that the Congress will be able to pass an assault weapons ban, as it did in 1994.
When I called for such an executive order earlier in the year, I was castigated on the right by those who claimed I would be taking away their 2nd Amendment rights. And I was castigated on the left by those who said I would hurt President Obama's chances of winning reelection.
I stand by what I wrote at the time in a piece titled, "President Obama Needs To Lead, Not Follow, on Weapons Ban." In the wake of the Aurora, Colo., massacre, I wrote the following:
"A true leader wouldn't want to make a moral and political calculation and, like a reckless gambler, bet that there will be no further massacres in the next three and one-half months until the election. A true leader would implement an executive order banning assault weapons and magazines immediately."
While President Obama cannot be blamed for the violent act of an angry, frustrated, young man, it should be obvious to everyone by now that President Obama has failed to show leadership on this issue. Of course, President Obama has long acted as if he and perhaps he alone has unique leadership skills. Who can forget when Obama, upon being asked why he voted Present so many times in the Illinois state senate, responded contemptuously to John Edwards in a 2008 Democratic debate by saying, "Understand, John, that I led, not followed."
If President Obama is a follower on this issue, and he is, at least he has a fairly sophisticated understanding of criminality. He has spoken in the past, as Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy did recently, of "evil," not mental illness, being the overriding factor in most of these rampages.
It may be true that the killer in this case, Adam Lanza, did suffer from some mental disorder such as autism or Asperger's syndrome. Whether he did or did not is almost irrelevant because there is little we can do about preventing some people from being angry and frustrated. However, what we can do is prevent all civilians, mentally ill or otherwise, angry or not, from obtaining semiautomatic weapons, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
If Adam Lanza had shown up at the Sandy Hook Elementary School with only a hunting rifle, he would not have gotten very far since it would have visible to all, and the carnage would have been substantially reduced since he would not have been able to fire multiple shots in a split-second.
That still means that even hunting rifles should be secured in a household so that shooters like Adam Lanzas in the future will not be able to access them so easily. Because if there is a gun, any gun, on that mantel in Act I, chances are it will go off by Act III.
And shame on our politicians, including President Obama, if they do nothing about it.