Americans have the unique ability to think about mass murder and spree killing the same way they conceptualize natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes; it's just a thing that happens and can't be stopped. When it strikes there's nothing we can do except hold a vigil, say "Oh, how awful", donate something to the survivors, and go about our day. Usually within about a week we manage to forget it ever happened, and then a few months later the cycle repeats itself.

There is no sense in the wake of these tragedies that it is possible to do anything to prevent them from recurring because, like many other issues in our political process, one half of the potential means to address the problem are completely off the table. The only acceptable solution is more guns, more bullets, more firepower, more high-capacity magazines, and endless complaining about the meager, ineffectual regulations in place (background checks, etc.) that stop only the dumbest and least creative criminals. The media and political process inevitably conclude that, gee, if only more people in the theater had been armed they could have shot back…and, uh, hit the attacker in the dark, smoke-filled theater amidst all the panic and confusion.

Oh, he was covered in body armor? Hmm. I guess it's time to legalize more firepower. Concealed carry permits and armor-piercing ammunition for all!

Despite the fact that the "Armed citizens are the best first responders!" argument fails in a half-dozen different ways in this instance – the attack was over in the blink of an eye, the film goers were taken completely by surprise, they were likely unable to see the gunman let alone shoot him, and he would be unharmed by handgun ammunition anyway – it is still all we will hear in response. Like the only solution to economic questions is lower taxes, the only answer to crime, especially gun crime, is more guns. More, more, more. Someday we'll have enough to be safe. But not yet.

The most baffling part about the logic of the NRA-led response is that it is based on a premise that is ignored as soon as it is established. The argument is that guns don't kill people – unhinged or evil people do. OK. Let's accept that premise in full. Why, then, does the NRA fight so hard to make it easier for evil or unhinged people to have access to things like high powered ammunition and large magazines? If the world is full of the scary people they blame for gun crime, these things only serve to make them more efficient killers. We are told that people like the Columbine killers were so full of hatred and violence that if they had no guns they would have used other weapons…and then we are not allowed to point out that they wouldn't have managed to kill a dozen people with a knife. The AR-15 with a 30-round clip didn't make the guy in Aurora, Colorado a killer. It just ensured that he would be really good at it. Change the elements in the equation – weaker ammunition, smaller magazines, a less powerful rifle – and there are fewer casualties. Period.

Second, if the world is full of loons who want to kill their fellow man and we are not allowed to take away their guns (indeed, we are required to give them every possible tool for upping the body count) then I have an alternative. Congress should pass a law that anyone in the U.S., resident or otherwise, can present himself at any hospital, religious institution, or police/fire department and request immediate inpatient psychiatric care at no cost and with legal protection against job loss for missed time. People don't snap and become killers overnight; it is usually a long process of isolation, depression, plotting, and desensitization to violence. Why not attempt to intervene when they first have the thought, "Maybe I should kill a bunch of people in a theater" rather than letting it progress to the point that the idea is palatable, even normal? Of course this wouldn't help everyone. There are those who would not accept mental health treatment even at no cost. However, it would stop a few people who might otherwise become violent. Seems like it might be worth the cost, no?

Oh, right. That would be socialized medicine, and the AM airwaves and internet comment sections would fill to bursting with warnings about freeloaders faking it to get a free vacation on the taxpayers' dime. I guess we'll stick with the status quo, and our defense against heavily armed mass murderers will be the vigilante fantasies of adult children who feel powerful when armed and thus foster the illusion that guns are making them safe.

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57 Responses to “STORMY WEATHER”

  1. Xynzee Says:

    @Mjr: "Now back to reality. My real reaction would be trying to tear the buttons off my shirt so I could get lower to the floor than I already was."

    The only time since either of us hit puberty that I've jumped on top of my sister was when we witnessed an armed robbery as they shot into the bank. Personally, I'd be hoping to quickly master that "karate guy" ability to increase my body's density to stop any stray bullets.

    But what Nom said. Outside of home invasions or the liquor store clerk with a shotgun bolted under the counter, where's the hard data of number of times a CC armed individual had thwarted a crime? I'm sure that that statistic would be of considerable interest to law enforcement.

    Sadly though, I for one am starting to not care. I met the news w a why get upset? If America still refuses to engage with the reality of the situation so be it. As long there are people who have an absolutist attitude towards "Well it's *my* Right! No one can tell me what to do, society be damned!" Then fine you can just *damn* your society for all I care. America is reaping what its sown for chasing and pursuing individuals at the cost of society. Thank you Maggie, this is what "individuals" look like.

    Some absolute individual Rights, are good for society eg. The 5th. They improve us and make us human. Some need to be exercised w restraint and for the betterment of the Common Good. "Speech"—defined so broadly that people will watch porn on planes w/o regard for those around them. Though my understanding was that the 1st was about political speech.

    So go ahead, like smack heads, go ahead and destroy yourselves.

  2. Nick Says:

    Ed, your second solution is really the only right one. The problem with gun control is that it ignores every cause in favor of a symptom. Instead of saying "hey, how about we fix our shitty mental healthcare system and provide vocational training to people whose current job options are McDonald's or dealing crack and maybe provide people with a decent basic standard of living and maybe train educators to recognize the signs of someone who has or is about to snap, and while we're at it why not end this stupid bullshit war on drugs so that street gangs and cartels don't have incentive to shoot each other," gun control proponents say "That piece of metal! That's the problem!"

    Gun control doesn't work because it doesn't do a damn thing to prevent what causes either crime or massacres. Norway's got pretty strict gun control, relative to the US anyway, and Brevik got around that. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people without firing a shot. Most people in the US killed by people with guns aren't killed in massacres, they're killed in drug-related crimes, and if you think you can stop a cartel that has access to fucking submarines from getting a couple handguns and an AK in, you're clearly unfamiliar with the historical success rate of prohibitions.

  3. Schrader Fan Says:

    Obviously Ed's main point is to advocate gun control, and I have no quarrel with that. To the extent that his proposal for psychiatric treatment was intended seriously, though, I have three questions. What reason is there to think that someone like Holmes would have sought help under Ed's proposal? What reason is there to think he would have been helped if he did? Obviously related but not the same question, what reason is there to think his contact with psychiatry would have stopped him from shooting a lot of people? Bear in mind that mass murderers are extremely rare. To get any social benefit from trying to treat them, we would have to see an extremely high rate of success; and that would be a high rate relative to the number of potential murderers, including those who don't seek treatment. The rate relative to those who do seek treatment would have to be even higher, since some won't seek treatment.

    These questions are worth asking, and Ed should be careful about making suggestions like his even if it was facetious, because one group that will be trying to capitalize on the massacre is the psychiatry/therapy industry. That industry has a rotten record when it comes to helping people or reducing harm. In their own studies, they consistently help fewer than 50% of those who seek help. They manage to show a statistically significant difference between experimental and control groups in part by actively harming the controls.

    Psychotherapy is not a healing science. It plays a role similar to religion. For many clients, it can be comforting simply to have a supposed expert listening to their problems. (And that's fine, as far as it goes. Comfort is good.) For many clients, it's a parasite, taking money without regard to whether it helps, harms, or does nothing. But it can also be a technology of social control, e.g. in the hands of someone like E. Fuller Torrey. This is to be guarded against. Unlike Torrey, Ed's proposal was for voluntary treatment, which is an important distinction. But still, we should be careful not to give the industry credit for being able to help prevent massacres when there is no reason to think that it can.

  4. eau Says:

    @Nick: Brevik? You might want to check how often shooting sprees occur in the USA compared with Europe as a whole, let alone "we've never seen anything remotely like this ever before" fucking NORWAY. Then check the body counts. And as for McVeigh, how many bombs killed people in the US this last year? Not fucking many. And didn't Holmes have bombs? How many people did his bombs kill? None? But he shot 14 people dead, right? Good argument, there. Water-tight.

    @Schrader Fan: The success of preventitive measures can be tricky to quantify, but to assume they don't work because it's impossible to prove they do work is dangerous. Like any profession, there are good people who do good work in the field and there are… others… who work in the field.

    Anecdotally, I have two friends (one personal and one professional) who in all seriousness credit their respective therapists with keeping them from harming themselves and/or others. Sadly, another acquaintance of mine died at the hands of a delusional ex-boyfriend who broke off therapy after reading a bunch of nonsense similar to what you have said above.

    And to both, I'd suggest (again) comparing the rate of these sort of incidents in the US, where access to affordable mental health care is scarce but guns are thick on the ground, to other countries in which that situation is reversed.

  5. Bernard Says:

    Us victims of gun killings better realize we are "collateral" damage for the politicians and the NRA. we don't count and never have mattered to these "gun nuts." their rights have always been sacrosanct.

    we had better not be at the wrong time and place when it comes to the "excesses" of the gun nuts. you sane gun owners are also in the same fix. by the way i own two guns and used them as part of a career i once had.

    expect to see more and more of the Aurora, Texas Bell tower and Mickey Dee's. as long as guns own American politicians, which will be forever until one of the favorite Republican heroes gets wasted, the rest of us will be in the sights of the local gun killer. that just goes with the territory of having loonies able to buy and then expend the bullets on the "wrong place and time" losers/victims we so heartily lament in times like this and Tucson and all the rest.

    we came pretty close to regulating guns when the Dear Leader and God of All Gods, St. Ronnie was shot. That was the only time when the Republicans came near to accepting that the death of the God of America, St. Ronnie, might not have been a good thing due to all those guns/bullets in the hands of one lone psycho.

    but we missed our chance in America when Reagan lived. no, i can't stand even the thought of what Reagan did to America, nor what happened as a result of his Holiness. Yes, i know Reagan was a God, it's just that i never "was touched" by his blessing, even though i once voted for him. and that alone is enough to spend eternity in purgatory or hell or Texas, whichever the Devil deems my reward.

    guns, guns, and more guns. ask the American Indians how that worked out.

  6. Jason Says:

    I've posted on the topic before, but for the record, I'm a very liberal gun owner. I hate the NRA (fear mongering assholes that are barely more than an arm of the Republican party), I hate the notion of, "If only someone had been armed…" applied to any scenario, but it's particularly idiotic in the Aurora case. Onward…

    @The Mad Dreamer:
    "What possible reason could anyone look at that weapon and say "Yeah, this should be available outside the military (or similar)"?"

    What does the look have to do with anything? This is an example of the insanity of the original assault weapon ban, which made guns illegal literally because they looked scary. And it's not a military weapon and it's not even as powerful as a typical deer rifle.

    "We are talking about weapons which are useless for hunting,"

    Not true.

    "useless for sport,"

    Not true.

    "These dbags actually think that the average citizen will be able to make decisions and shoot in situations where cops train for and anticipate all the time."

    You told a story about an armed civilian making the correct decision in a shoot/no shoot scenario to prove that armed civilians can't make the correct decision in a shoot/no shoot scenario.

    @Mr. Prosser:
    "Why do I keep thinking most concealed weapon carriers faced with a real shooting situation would react exactly like Fredo in the Godfather when his father was shot?"

    I don't know. Successful acts of self defense happen all the time.

    @Jaime Says:
    "Target shooting? Really? It may be my admittedly limited exposure, but I've never seen any internationally-sanctioned sport shooting events where the firearms looked ANYTHING like combat arms

  7. Jason Says:

    Picking up where I left off…
    – except for skeet, where they look to me like fairly

    stock shotguns."



    If your opinion on a topic begins with, "Maybe I don't know what I'm talking

    about," it's probably best to a) keep it to yourself, b) take five minutes on

    Google, or c) phrase your opinion in the form of a question, as in, "Are these guns

    even used in sport shooting?"

    "Like the quote from a gun range dude in Colorado at the end of the NY Times

    article on how easy it was for this guy to buy up tons of ammunition: "I call 6000

    rounds of ammunition running low." Yes, this guy apparently said that with zero

    degree of irony."

    I have a CCW and carry. When I go to the range for practice/recreation, I

    typically shoot half hour sessions (most people go for an hour). Shooting at a

    leisurely pace, I'll go through 200-300 rounds easily. People who are into the

    hobby much more than me can spend just a couple of hours at an outdoor range with

    friends and shoot thousands of rounds. And ammo is just like any other product:

    it's a lot cheaper in bulk. So no, 6000 rounds is not unusual or insane or

    indicative of a pending massacre.

    "The AR- 15 platform is a very accurate rifle that is used for hunting and target

    shooting." Hunting? I am 50. I grew up in central Georgia, where the deer are so

    populous that I have hit 5 of them with various cars over the years. Everybody

    hunts. I have never known anyone to hunt with a .223. People I know who own them DO

    target shoot, but never hunt with them."

    So you don't know anyone who does, therefore it isn't a trend or doesn't happen.


    This site hasn't even been active since last year, but you'll have no trouble finding armed self defense stories.

    "Finally, I agree that the NRA is one of the GOP's niftiest tools in its arsenal,"

    On that we definitely agree.

    The fact is, over the last twenty years, despite gun laws almost exclusively becoming looser, all violent crime, including gun homicides, have been in freefall. It's one of the most underreported achievements in the U.S. Yeah, our murder rate is still awful, but if I'd told you 20 years ago that in two decades we would cut gun murders by more than a third, you'd say I was insane. But that's exactly what has happened. I DO NOT THINK THAT MORE GUNS CAUSED THIS DROP. The evidence does not show that. But can't we slip away from the simplistic magical thinking that so often use by the right? Violent crime is an impossibly complex mix of issues, income inequality, a struggling education system, the idiotic drug war, racism, a shitty health care system and with it, a shitty mental health care system, and on and on. Those underlying problems will not go away with an arbitrary (because they always are) ban on certain tools.

    I implore everyone to read this article at Harper's.

    Very concise and well-written article about the subject.