Banning assault weapons — those not requiring reload to fire repeated shots — nationally might help but won't end gun violence. The 2002 Virginia beltway snipers killed 10 and critically injured others over several weeks, but that could have been accomplished with single shot hunting rifles.
Engaging the mental health community, as often suggested, to better keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally disturbed could set troubling precedents. Compelling doctors and counselors to blacklist citizens, who have not committed a documented act of violence, simply because they might be so inclined could easily lead to abuse — but if not zealously undertaken, such efforts would prove ineffective.
Even then, the deranged could steal weapons — the gunman who killed two people and himself at an Oregon shopping mall earlier in December used a stolen rifle. (Read More: Why Gun Sales Often Rise After Mass Shootings)
Several jurisdictions around the country have installed metal detectors at schools and keep doors locked to outsiders; however, unless we want to turn our schools and universities into prisons, with high walls around their grounds and seriously limit the movement of students outside their buildings, they can't be made wholly safe.
Severe measures could easily make young people overly fearful and suspicious, and ultimately create apprehensive and distrustful adults — too insecure and rigid to advance our civilization as it must in the face of new challenges.
The real answer lies in decoding a vexing paradox in our culture. By all statistics, Americans are becoming less violent and safer — overall, violent crimes are down dramatically. Yet, in inner cities, murder frequently takes the lives of young men, and more broadly, in shopping malls, schools and other large public venues, the deranged are drawn to ever more frequent, horrendous acts. (Read More: NRA All but Disappears From Facebook)
Simply, the marginalized and disaffected among us too often view life cheaply. That's not TV violence working on the psyche of a entire generation — most children are growing up to be less inclined toward violence than their parents and grandparents.
More likely, it's a society with culture wars that characterize some folks as "takers" instead of "makers," because they don't have the skills to participate in the mainstream, or as "freeloaders" or "oppressors" on the basis of race, gender or other characteristics.
Politicians and pundits too often vilify groups to gain advantage, and may well do more to manufacture young men who pull triggers from the pits of mental desperation than super heroes firing laser guns on Saturday morning TV.
More self control in rhetoric and authentic mutual respect could give us a civility and more embracing culture that diminishes the prospects for more tragedies like Newtown, Aurora, and wherever violent dysfunction visits next.
—By Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland, and a widely published columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @pmorici1