Printed on: December 30, 2012

No easy answers

Jerry Brady
Post Co. President

The issues exposed by the Newtown shootings are more complex than Idaho Falls' chief of police made them out to be, writes Jerry Brady.

Steve Roos has been a commendable public servant and deserves our thanks as he retires as Idaho Falls' chief of police. But his last message to the community -- a column on this page Monday -- was a copout. Apart from arming the schools, the only way to reduce gun violence, Roos wrote, was through individual morality and strengthening families.

Few would disagree with promoting virtuous behavior or that we should "live a life of honesty, service and love." But preaching to the readers of this paper is no substitute for good public policy. Indeed, it suggests that if we, the righteous, behave ourselves all will be well. What, exactly, is the problem? And are we, particularly young people, less moral today?

Crime of all kinds has declined by about one-third in the last 20 years. Teen pregnancies and divorce are at their lowest rates in 40 years and infidelity has also declined. The number of abortions fell over the last decade.

The Pew Charitable Trust tells us that while l8 to 29-year-olds attend church less frequently than their elders, their beliefs are similar and they pray more frequently than did young people in the 1980s. Teenagers still experiment with drugs but the percentage drinking and smoking has declined. In the population as a whole, alcohol abuse has declined, as have traffic deaths. We are doing less violence to one another, surely a sign of higher morality.

What has increased, lamentably, is the acceptability of rough language in public, casual sex on campus, violent video games and birth to unwed mothers, now 40 percent of all births. Crime may be down because it has been transferred to the inside of prisons. Reported child abuse and neglect has increased. Boys and young men struggle in ways unknown to earlier generations.

The decline of the family could not inaccurately be attributed to "men behaving badly," as Roos knows well, but what, exactly, is to be done when they have been abused (59 percent enter the juvenile justice system), fall behind in school, cannot find work or commit their first offense?

Roos writes that violence in movies leads to bullying. So, should we legislate? What about "killing bad guys" by the thousands virtually, in video games? Roos says those with mental illness should be taken off the streets. But are we not already using prisons as de facto mental health lock-ups?

The particular problem raised by the Newtown killings was set out by a Boise mother, Liza Long, who was able to have her son committed only after he came close to killing her because that's what the law requires. Virtuous behavior by the vast majority and by young people -- which we surely have in this country -- cannot address the severe mental health demands of the few. "Honesty, service and love" compels us to address this problem precisely.

And does a police chief really believe guns that fire one round per second and the magazines that go with them should be widely available? Associations of law enforcement officers consistently disagree, as should we.

Brady is president of the Post Co. You can write to him at jbrady@postregister.com