Mass Shootings

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I’ve been trying to make sense of the senseless, to comprehend the incomprehensible, and that effort is as futile as you might expect.

Clearly, to quote Hamlet, the time is out of joint, and something must be done. Ignore the self-serving politicians who point fingers and assign blame for their own personal gain. Trump is no more responsible for the recent mass shootings than Bernie Sanders was for the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, or Elizabeth Warren is for the shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and those who spout that kind of accusatory rhetoric are either ethically unfit or too stupid, or both, to hold public office.

The immediate knee-jerk reaction is a hue and cry to ban semi-automatic rifles. All right, let’s talk about that.

The modern semi-automatic rifle is the most popular firearm in America today, owned by millions of people who use them for recreational shooting, hunting, and home defense with no thought of ever harming anyone. But let’s put that aside and seriously consider punishing the innocent for the atrocities of the guilty.

Anti-gun groups and politicians always claim hard-core Second Amendment supporters—guys like me—are unwilling to make any compromise, but compromise, by definition, means both sides give up something for the greater good, and no anti-gun group or politician has ever offered up anything. If a viable solution to violence is to make innocent gun owners pay for the sins of the criminal, let us indeed compromise and carry that precept further to encompass other civil rights. I have some suggestions.

We’ll start with mental health, and I’ll open the conversation by quoting the first paragraph of an August 4th commentary in the Wall Street Journal by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and author of American Psychosis:

“Based on the increase in the U.S. population, there are now some one million people with serious mental illness living among the general population who, 60 years ago, would have been treated in state mental hospitals. Multiple studies have reported that, at any given time, between 40% and 50% of them are receiving no treatment for their mental illness. With the best of intentions and the worst of planning, America has emptied out its public psychiatric hospitals without ensuring that the released patients would receive the necessary treatment to control their symptoms. What did we think would happen?”

I’ll vouch for that. The man who shot me had a record of steadily increasing violent behavior, yet he was free to put two bullets in me, and he was/is by no means the most severely mentally ill person out on the streets today. I say “on the streets” meaning unconfined, not homeless, because his father was very wealthy and by no standard could he be considered homeless, but a significant number of the true homeless do have mental issues. Locking them up might be a violation of civil rights, but so too is retroactively making a popular and legal firearm illegal. We’ll compromise.

Consider violent video games and realistically and excessively violent movies and television shows. Much like scientific polls that can be made to show whatever you want them to show, or statistical studies that can be manipulated to prove virtually anything, there are a lot of contradictory studies out there, some claiming a causal relationship—or at the very least a correlation—between watching violence portrayed and acting it out, other studies claiming the opposite. But two purportedly respected and trusted sources, Scientific American and Psychology Today, have both recently carried articles affirming the connection between violent games and shows and subsequent violent behavior for a small percentage (5%-6%) of the children who play such games. Yet a far, far smaller percentage of law-abiding gun owners (in 2016, 0.011%, and an even more minuscule percentage of semi-automatic rifle-owners) use firearms to commit murder, so if we’re going to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty, we must ban and confiscate all violent videos, video games, movies, and television shows. It may be a violation of civil rights, but we’ll compromise.

Consider hate speech. I read Victor Davis Hanson’s work (http://victorhanson.com/) regularly and from time to time he posts a “Dear Angry Reader” blog where he responds to angry—and usually semi-literate and too often barely coherent—letters. This past August 3, he posted a letter that was so over the top in its illiterate antisemitic raving that I honestly took it for a spoof. Until I looked the writer up on the internet. This is a seriously deranged and hate-filled man who has a website hosted by the same platform that I use (WordPress). Just the titles of his sick and evil blogs turned my stomach, but I forced myself to read one in full. The gentleman in question claims to have been an aerospace engineer, but if so, based on his writing, he clearly flunked every English course he ever took. He also claims to be a Christian, but he clearly flunked Sunday School as well. His blog was the worst hate-filled thing I have ever read.

What is the dividing line between freedom of expression and advocating violence? Is a third-rate comedienne posing with a mock-up of Donald Trump’s decapitated head more or less inciting than a blog calling for the annihilation of an entire people? National security and intelligence experts all agree social media are used to radicalize extremists and encourage violent behavior. It has also been well-documented that alienation from society in general is fed by the internet and social media. The El Paso shooter apparently used social media to post a hate-filled manifesto (I have not, nor do I intend to read such moronic evil; I had a belly-full from the single post on WordPress) so if the innocent must pay for sins of the guilty, clearly we need to tighten the controls on free speech. I could make a very valid argument that such hate speech is both pornographic and an incitement to violence. Supporters of the First Amendment would disagree and will object to any suggestion that right should be curtailed or regulated. We’ll compromise.

Based purely on statistical percentages, banning violent video games and shows and curtailing hate speech will have a far greater impact on national violence than banning semi-automatic rifles. Since law enforcement and sociologists know the vast percentage of violent crimes are committed by a very small percentage of the population, usually within a very small geographical urban area, locking up the mentally ill and violent criminals will also have a far greater impact on national violence. And if it impinges on a small population’s civil rights, well, we’ll compromise.

I’m very serious: something does need to be done. Firearms are tools, not causal factors. Mental illness, hate speech, and graphically violent video games and shows are causal factors. They may only affect a small percentage of the population, but until something is done about causal factors, it is simply nonsense to blame a tool that has only been misused by a minuscule percentage of the population, a percentage that has been affected by unaddressed and unregulated causal factors. Blaming guns while ignoring known causal factors is like painting your house but not repairing the leaks in the roof and ignoring the termite infestation; it may look good and it may even make you feel good, but it won’t solve the problem.

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27 thoughts on “Mass Shootings”

    1. Apart from farmers and our law officers, why does anyone need a gun? Yes, farmers need guns to protect their stock from wild pests, but why do people need to go hunting, and kill beautiful animals who have done nothing wrong? Why do residential citizens need to own guns? Yes, there will always be residential citizens who will access guns illegally, ie gangs and criminals, but legally, why do residential citizens need guns? There are countries where it is illegal to own a gun as a residential citizen, and they are doing just fine. But there will always be, like you say, a small, percentage of residential citizens who own guns and cause trouble using them. But perhaps if they didn’t own a gun in the first place, they may not ever have the need to use one, or the desire to want one. Personally, I don’t understand why a residential citizen needs to own a gun, but I also understand that there will always be those out there who will own one. Each to their own, I guess….

      1. “Personally, I don’t understand why a residential citizen needs to own a gun….”

        Have you honestly made an effort?

      2. Is that Sanders?
        All kidding aside, have you as JM asked really tried? Somehow I doubt it.
        JP has pointed out many times how people in both city and county have used guns for self defense (including relating his personal stories) on this blog.

        You don’t sound very motivated to try, but in case you can somehow muster the drive try looking at http://gunselfdefense.blogspot.com/?m=1 for starters.

        Cheers!

      1. To quote Daniel Greenfield, murder is not a technical problem; it is a moral problem. The worst mass murders in history have been committed with tools other than firearms (two airplanes flown into buildings, for example). The simple facts of the matter, as confirmed by a CDC study commissioned and then ineffectively hidden by the Barack Obama administration, is that legitimate defensive gun uses range from over 500,000 a year to as many as three-million uses a year. Those are legitimate, justifiable uses where a firearm is used to prevent a crime from occurring or to save a life (it includes defensive uses against animals as well). Since even the lower figure is vastly greater than the highest-ever annual homicide rate (which includes suicide and accidental shootings) in 1989, trying to blame the tool instead of the person is disingenuous at best. I am one of those who has used a firearm–twice, in fact–to save my life and the life of the person with me, once against two men, once against a bear, so I am delighted to live in a country where I may own guns and train with them.
        JP

      2. They just find another way if they don’t have a gun. You should demand removal of arms and legs of everyone at birth and then maybe you will achieve your utopia. You can add that to your “Universal Health Care” plan!

  1. It is a mental illness problem. Herein lies the difficulty. In the 60’s/70’s the true horrendous conditions of mental facilities became more widely publicized, especially in the 70’s when Geraldo Rivera did a show on Willowbrook. Unfortunately, instead of leading to a massive cleanup and strong decent oversight, the move became to just empty them out, regardless of the fact that there were no support systems or outpatient services available. These hospitals also housed mentally handicapped who were dumped back out into communities with the politically correct name of “main streaming”. Many of the few hospitals that have stayed open could not stand close scrutiny to this day. Institutionalized abuse is now common place in many nursing homes and daycares as well. This to me is the root of the problem, cleaning these up. They also instituted patient rights that make it very very hard for parents or guardians to commit or hospitalize troubled family members before a horrific event occurs, there is little they can do to get them care. In your state a good example of this situation is the tragedy that occurred to Ronald Regan’s lawyer Roy D. Miller, who had two mentally ill sons, one who committed suicide and one who murdered his mother. The family had spent years trying to treat their illnesses with the tools available when in my opinion hospitalization was the only realistic option, but they didn’t have it.”In The Best Of Families” by Dennis McDougal looks at the nightmare they dealt with. We have done very poorly by our mentally handicapped, mentally ill, traumatized and elderly population, and it is not an issue of money, it is an issue of the fraud that steals that money.

  2. I so agree with you JP. If we would concentrate on mental health ( a real problem in America) rather than an object, I believe that would be a real start to help end so much violence. Not a complete solution, but a start. My daughter had mental health issues growing up ( bi polar, ADHD and a severe OCD). I saw first handed what mental issues can do to a person. We got her the help she needed and with her meds she’s fine, sometimes struggling, but fine.

    Nancy Gallinger

  3. Thank you for this post. You are always so clear and concise and I really appreciate your prose and your point of view. I live in Dayton, Ohio. Aside from going to college, I have always called Dayton my home. I work for a company called CareSource inside the city. What happened this weekend has hit us really hard. It hurts. It is bitter. And I believe it is wrong for the national media to jump quickly into blaming one political side or another. This is not helpful or healthy. There was a troubled young man who was desperate in a way many of us will never understand. When I walk to work in the morning I tell my friends — Live. Enjoy your life. Be grateful for the gift. There are other people who are not so fortunate.
    Facebook: AmyLBurton

  4. This could not be more true. When it comes to the video industry, ignorance is bliss, whether it be the producers, parents, it has been allowed to become a literal nightmare. R rated movies go to the very edge, to the nanosecond to show as much gore as possible. People who would be told they need psychological help are now told they’re ok if they identify as 4 sexes. And now allowing toddlers to make their own choice of gender or no gender! It’s no wonder we’re in this mess and it will get worse bc of these things not bc of a gun.

  5. I want to start with, every time I read details about your being shot, it pains me. I respect and appreciate you greatly, and it saddens me to think of everything you went through.

    It is mistaken to equate the term “seriously mentally ill” with psychosis. I think perhaps most people use the phrase “seriously mentally ill” and believe that it applies to anyone who has lost their marbles, and that seriously mentally ill individuals who commit crimes do so because they have a distorted sense of, or have completely lost touch with, reality (psychosis). The term “seriously mentally ill” is actually a designation that gives the person guaranteed access to care. It is not a diagnosis, but a qualifier that is the result of a diagnosis. If a person is SMI, as it is referred, they have been designated by a professional and deemed by the government to have guaranteed access to services and programs. Card-carrying SMI people are automatically guaranteed psychotherapy and pharmaceutical treatment by the government, in most or not all states, regardless of income, free of charge. An SMI individual may have episodes of psychosis, or not at all. They may be contributing members of society, and be able to function in a job part or full time.

    There are previous mass killers who were psychotic, like Tuscon’s Laughner, and those who weren’t, like OKC bomber McVeigh. McVeigh was completely in touch with reality, his sense of justice differed from most. His values were different, and if I recall correctly, he never had any remorse for his crime. Sociopath? Yes. Psychotic? No.

    Other industrialized countries have access to violent video games, yes? But I have seen Democrats cite in the last two days that no other country on Earth has the same rate of mass shootings that America does. I have done none of my own research on this, so I mentally note their findings to stack against future findings. I recall after Columbine 20 years ago that social scientists discussed, for example, Canada having the exact same video games America does, but their public shootings pale in comparison of number.

    I also saw a talking head on CNN discussing that hate crimes rise in cities immediately following a Trump rally. I’m not sure if these instances have been counted during other administrations. I think it is safe to say that we have not had a President, maybe ever, that lacks such temperance of speech. Our words hold weight. While my words are not directly responsible for another’s actions, if I said anything that influenced them, I should reevaluate my content. That would be the responsible thing to do.

    What I don’t see in this blog post is a reference to stricter gun availability. What about making guns available only to those who have completed safety courses, just like driver’s licenses issued after demonstrating that you know how to operate the vehicle safely? I’m all for modifying both the First and Second amendments if it stops the violence. Words are weapons, too.

    1. I appreciate your distinction between “psychosis” and “seriously mentally ill.” Having flashbacks is, as I understand, a form of psychosis, as is seeing things that are not there that may be unrelated to flashbacks. As a quick example, visual psychosis episodes are apparently fairly common after the death of a loved one, yet it is most certainly not a sign of severe mental illness. Please correct me if I am wrong.
      I have no intention of trying to defend the indefensible: to call Donald Trump’s words intemperate is an insult to intemperate talkers. I support most of his policies, but I do wish someone could duct-tape his mouth shut and take away his smart phone.
      I make no apologies for my unreserved support of the Second Amendment, yet, like you, I do wish there were some way to institute a national safety-training course. Unfortunately, that is currently impossible without creating a data base of the people who own firearms, and firearms owners have good reason to be deeply suspicious of federal and state government. Too often we have heard, “Oh, we only want to ban A” and when that has zero effect on solving violent crime issues (the so-called “assault-weapon” under President Clinton is a good example) the immediate reaction of the government is, “Oh, well we didn’t go far enough, so we’ll ban B, C, and D as well.” Look at California as a prime example of endlessly slamming doors.
      JP

      1. The so-called “Universal Background Check” is a perfect example of the inevitable creep of rights elimination that would result. Such a law must have a registration of all firearms to succeed. That is the real goal (of course the masses who support the concept probably don’t understand this or foolishly don’t care). To enforce this law they WILL push for it.

        Naturally those intent on doing evil won’t care about or follow the law so yet another law that fails leading to demands for more . And then there are already the failed checks which should result in prosecution that are never prosecuted….

        1. Excellent article! I highly recommend everyone read it, and I thank you for sending it.
          JP

  6. Hello JP,

    It may be instructive to compare the mass-shooting experience in the USA with that in Canada to try to determine why mass shootings are so frequent. I have been able to find info on seven Canadian mass shootings that took place in the last ten years, while the USA has experienced 300-350 per year in that time. Mass shooting is defined as an incident where four people or more are shot by a firearm. My numbers may not be 100% accurate because I am relying on Professor Google here, but it`s safe to say the numbers are far more different than the population ratio, about 10:1, would account for.

    The same violent video games and TV shows (should we include Simon and Simon here) are played and watched here in Canada, so this doesn’t seem to account for the mass shootings. Although we like to pretend otherwise, I’m sure Canada has a similar percentage of mentally ill people, so that wouldn’t be the cause of the mass shootings either.

    There are some differences in gun ownership between the two countries, but not as many as some would believe. About one quarter of Canadians own firearms (about half of Americans do). Semi-automatic rifles and all handguns are considered “restricted”. This does not mean banned, it means they can only be legally fired at gun ranges, and require a permit to transport from one place to another. Magazines for restricted firearms can legally contain five rounds or less for rifles, ten or less for handguns. I would argue that a determined shooter would not care very much that he is breaking the law in transporting his firearm, but would find it more difficult to get 100-round magazines like the Dayton shooter had, so these restrictions would mainly reduce the number of people shot in each incident and not reduce the number of incidents.

    I think the biggest difference between the two countries is freedom of speech. In Canada the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does name speech as a fundamental freedom, but says the government may place restrictions that are reasonable and can be justified in a free and democratic society. Accordingly, there are laws against advocating genocide and publicly inciting or promoting hatred. The Angry Reader letter you mention would be breaking all three laws, and then some. The key benefit is not in throwing people in prison – the maximum possible sentence is two years – it is in making the stand that this speech is not acceptable in society.

    The most effective compromise to reduce mass shootings would be to criminalize hate speech to reduce the number of shooters, and restrict magazine capacity to make it more difficult to shoot large numbers of people at once.

    Gerald from Canada

    1. Canada used to be cited as an example of one of the reasons why America has a higher per capita murder rate than practically any other civilized and industrialized nation. The argument ran that a homogenized society, such as Canada, will always have fewer conflicts between people than will a melting-pot where recent immigrants from other cultures, religions, races have either not yet assimilated or have resisted assimilation for one reason or another. Japan was and is still another good example. I no longer know if that paradigm still holds for Canada, but in America it is necessary to put mass shootings into one category and the quotidian violent crime of major urban centers (Baltimore and Chicago are prime examples) into another. Urban violent crime has known causal factors that city governments across the country, to their shame, have not addressed, finding it easier to blame the easy target of firearms rather than the failure of family structure, absence of male role models, pathetic educational standards and opportunities, non-existent work opportunities, drug use, and young men using the drug/gang culture as a way out of poverty because there are no jobs for the illiterate who are the result of a failed educational system… The list could be expanded into an unending circle, but you get the picture.
      Mass shootings are a completely different issue. Is Donald Trump responsible for the recent mass shootings? Of course not, but his thoughtless rhetoric sure as hell doesn’t help. Are the hate-filled websites that are protected by the First Amendment responsible? No, not directly (as long as they obey certain limits, such as not specifically calling for a violent act) but like Trump’s speech, they sure as hell don’t help. Should the First Amendment be in some way regulated, as Hillary Clinton advocated? It would be so easy to say yes, but then I think of Ben Franklin: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” (John Bartlett’s Quotations) In short, I have no easy solutions, though I know what the harder, slower solutions will require; now ask me if I think the self-serving scoundrels in public office will take that route.
      JP

  7. There is a reason you’re still one of my heroes. Thank you for always being a clear, levelheaded voice of reason in the crazy. I appreciate you.

  8. Why is there all this hate among those who CLAIM to be Christian?
    Better go back to your Bible and read, for example, Matthew 5:44, Matthew 22:37-39, and Matthew 24:12-13. Or how about reading Mark 12:30-31, Luke 6:27-28, John 15:12? These are the words of Jesus himself, and shame on you for forgetting that.

    JK
    Wisconsin

    1. JK, to whom specifically are you referring to? Scripture about casting out demons seem most apropos with the violence problem. Note I refuse the modifier “gun” because that reduces and cheapens the argument.

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