Monday, December 17, 2012

"What Can We Do to Stop Massacres?"

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic:

The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, has caused many people, including people at the White House, to say that this is not the day to talk about gun policy. This day is obviously for mourning the dead, but I don't understand why we shouldn't talk about the conditions that lead to these sorts of shootings. I wrote about this issue in the current issue of The Atlantic (you can read the story here), and I want to quickly make a few points drawn from that longer article.
1) This is a gun country. We are saturated with guns. There are as many as 300 million guns in circulation today (the majority owned legally, but many not) and more than 4 million new guns come onto the market each year. To talk about eradicating guns, especially given what the Supreme Court has said about the individual right to gun-ownership, is futile.
2) There are, however, some gun control laws that could be strengthened. The so-called gun-show loophole (which is not a loophole at all -- 40 percent of all guns sold in America legally are sold without benefit of a federal background check) should be closed. Background checks are no panacea -- many of our country's recent mass-shooters had no previous criminal records, and had not been previously adjudicated mentally ill -- but they would certainly stop some people from buying weapons.
3) We must find a way to make it more difficult for the non-adjudicated mentally ill to come into possession of weapons. This is crucially important, but very difficult, because it would require the cooperation of the medical community -- of psychiatrists, therapists, school counselors and the like -- and the privacy issues (among other issues) are enormous. But: It has to be made more difficult for sociopaths, psychopaths and the otherwise violently mentally-ill (who, in total, make up a small portion of the mentally ill population) to buy weapons.
4) People should have the ability to defend themselves. Mass shootings take many lives in part because no one is firing back at the shooters. The shooters in recent massacres have had many minutes to complete their evil work, while their victims cower under desks or in closets. One response to the tragic reality that we are a gun-saturated country is to understand that law-abiding, well-trained, non-criminal, wholly sane citizens who are screened by the government have a role to play in their own self-defense, and in the defense of others (read The Atlantic article to see how one armed school administrator stopped a mass shooting in Pearl Mississippi). I don't know anything more than anyone else about the shooting in Connecticut at the moment, but it seems fairly obvious that there was no one at or near the school who could have tried to fight back.
5) All of this is tragic. As I wrote in The Atlantic, Canada, which has a low-rate of gun ownership and strict gun laws, seems like a pretty nice place sometimes.

Please read Goldberg's other article in The Atlantic as well.

I pretty much agree. I have no problem with background checks-- they make sense-- but they don't and won't do much good. Crazies who break laws against murder will break laws against obtaining guns without going through a background check. Believing that gun control will mass shooters is like believing that more laws against double-parking will stop truck bombers.

There is no realistic (and constitutional) way to reliably prevent homicidal psychos from getting guns or to reliably institutionalize homocidal psychos who will commit such crimes. Mass shootings are horrendous but exceedingly rare, the perpetrators have characteristics of millions of Americans (loners, video games afficionatos, goths), and there are hundreds of millions of guns extant that aren't going away regardless of what (unconstitutional) gun control laws we enact.

The only realistic way to stop mass shootings is to give people the ability to defend themselves. In some situations, that means (a few) victims being personally armed. In other situations, that means armed professional security. Mass shootings occur almost without exception in gun-free zones. Schools are gun-free zones, obviously, and the movie theatre in Colorado was a gun-free zone (the theatre chain's policy), malls are gun-free zones, and even Ft. Hood was a gun-free zone (soldiers were not allowed to carry weapons on base, unless involved in a training exercise).

Gun-free zones attract mass shooters. Flames attract moths. It ain't rocket science.

N.B. I should note that Goldberg has a short memory regarding the 'Canadian gun-free paradise'. He forgets the massacre of 14 women-- specifically targeted because they were women-- at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Hardly a testament to a "pretty nice" gun-free place, unless you're the shooter. 


  1. The Polytechnique shooting was the impetus for, not the result of, stricter gun control laws in Canada. From the Wikipedia article you cite:

    "The massacre was a major spur for the Canadian gun control movement. One of the survivors, Heidi Rathjen, who was in one of the classrooms Lépine did not enter during the shooting, organized the Coalition for Gun Control with Wendy Cukier. [12] Suzanne Laplante-Edward and Jim Edward, the parents of one of the victims, were also deeply involved. [52] Their activities, along with others, led to the passage of Bill C-68, or the Firearms Act, in 1995, ushering in stricter gun control regulations. [12] These new regulations included requirements on the training of gun owners, screening of firearm applicants, rules concerning gun and ammunition storage and the registration of all firearms."

    Why do you choose to lie when it can be be so easily shown that you are doing so?

    1. You argue that the lack of availability of guns in Canada makes it safe.

      Yet Canada ranks 13th of 178 among nations for per capita private gun ownership.



    2. Yet Canada ranks 13th of 178 among nations for per capita private gun ownership.

      The distance between Canada (13) and Tunisia (178) in gun ownership per 100 residents (30.8 to 0.1, a difference of 30.7) is smaller than the distance between rates of U.S. gun ownership (1) and Canada on the same scale (88.8 to 30.8, a difference of 50).

      Given this, why do you think your bleating about how Canada is in the "top 10%" is anything other than a ridiculous evasion?

    3. Gun ownership is widespread in Canada, and the guns are largely high powered semiautomatic rifles. There is very low gun crime.

      The Canadian example demonstrates that widespread private ownership of high powered rifles is irrelevant to rates of gun violence.

      Where is the "evasion" part?

    4. The evasion is that you are using an ordinal scale to describe interval data. In other words you are being deliberatively and egregiously deceptive.

      Go ahead, tell us some more lies.

    5. I apologize for ordinally using interval data, and for my deliberate egregious deception.

      How about the fact that lots of folks in Canada own high powered rifles but there's not a lot of gun crime?

    6. How about the fact that lots of folks in Canada own high powered rifles but there's not a lot of gun crime?

      And Canadian gun ownership is much more highly regulated than U.S. gun ownership.

      Why do you think, given the fact that Canadian gun ownership rates are far less than U.S. gun ownership rates, that Canada is even close to a decent comparison?

    7. Mass shootings occur almost without exception in gun-free zones.

      Almost all of Canada is a "gun free zone" in the same sense that you claim that malls, schools, and theaters in the U.S. are gun free zones. Why have mass shooters not gravitated to the country as you put it "like moths to a flame"?

    8. There are many other factors, including cultural, media-related, etc.

      Gun-free zones alone are not enough to explain an epidemic of mass shootings, but they seem to be necessary, if not sufficient.

    9. Gun-free zones alone are not enough to explain an epidemic of mass shootings, but they seem to be necessary

      Oh, so now gun-free zones aren't such a big deal. Nice way to shift your argument mid-stream when it turns out that your frothing at the mouth isn't actually supported by facts.

      How about we restrict U.S. gun ownership so that we end up with only half as many guns in private hands as we have now? That will put us in the same position as #2 on the gun ownership list. How about that?

    10. Since per capita rates of private gun ownership is irrelevant to gun crime, gun control is irrelevant to gun crime, except in one respect: if gun control creates mandatory gun free zones, it entices mass shooters to take advantage of the opportunity to shoot defenseless people.


  2. The liar gets caught and changes his story!

    First Egnor claims Canada is a dangerous place because they are 'gun free' ... and now, no no, it's a really safe place because they have loads of guns!

    There's no need to argue with Egnor, he argues with himself!

    1. @anonymouse:

      Why is Canada a low gun crime country when it is a high-gun ownership country?

  3. He forgets the massacre of 14 women-- specifically targeted because they were women-- at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.

    One incident, 23 years ago is the best you've got? And how many mass shootings have happened in the U.S. since then?

    1. Canada is a very safe country. Very little gun crime.

      Its rate of private ownership of high-powered rifles is one of the highest in the world-- in the top 10% of all nations.

      Any other points to make, ace?

    2. Its rate of private ownership of high-powered rifles is one of the highest in the world

      And once again you compare apples and oranges. In Canada, owning a gun requires a 60 day waiting period, a background check, and a gun safety course. The types of weapons that can be acquired are restricted. The types of ammunition and "add-ons" that can be acquired are also restricted. Carrying "restricted" weapons, including handguns, is severely limited. In effect, all of Canada is a "gun free zone" with respect to citizens carrying the kind of concealed handguns that gun advocates talk about brandishing in the face of an armed killer.

      So, unless you advocate a similar regime of gun regulation in the U.S., comparing the situation in that country to the U.S. is entirely specious.

    3. So you argue that restricting high-powered semiautomatic rifles-- the kind that was used in the Newtown shooting-- is irrelevant to maintaining a low rate of gun crime. I agree.

      Canada has low gun crime for a host of social and cultural reasons. Gun control is irrelevant, except that in certain circumstances (the Ecole Polytechnique massacre) the absence of guns with which the victims could have defended themselves obviously made the carnage worse.

    4. So you argue that restricting high-powered semiautomatic rifles

      Given that those weapons are highly restricted in Canada, you don't seem to know what you are talking about.