Will Any Single Intervention Eliminate Mass Shootings?
With every mass shooting, after the obligatory “Orange Man Bad” screams, we hear that some particular change in the law would somehow be the perfect answer. After El Paso, we are told that that “Universal Background Checks” is the panacea. Not to be outdone, other voices screamed that we had to ban large-capacity magazines. And on, and on…
Of course, these loud shouts are emotional pleas of “Vote for Me! I’ll Do Something!” They have nothing whatever to do with rational thought (HT to Andrew Wilkow). My task is to develop the facts in a way that allows me to present logical proposals that may have the prospect of remedying the supposed “epidemic” of mass shootings. The fact that mass shootings are not increasing and that the U.S. is not the king of mass shootings is unimportant. Any mass shooting is a tragedy, and if we can avoid tragedies, we should.
The most popular diagnosis is that the majority of shooters are “mentally ill.” There are several problems with this glib answer. What sort of mental illness are we talking about? Depression? INCEL? Paranoid schizophrenia? This list is enormous. And most people with each of those pathologies do not commit crimes.
But let’s suppose that we can actually identify mentally ill persons with violent ideation. How many of those go on to act on those violent thoughts? Mathematically, this is the numerator. But how many do not act on those ideas? This is the denominator, and we don’t know it. If we find that for every person who acts out, there is only one that doesn’t, that’s very different from one in a hundred, one in a thousand, or one in ten thousand.
The next part of this puzzle is the very definition of “mental illness.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry has been modified many times. The most recent revision has removed most of the “gender dysphoria” diagnoses, normalizing the alphabet soup of sexual preferences. This is done in the face of the fact that LGBTQ-whatever “gender preferences” are associated with higher mortality than binary male/female identities. Doctors are supposed to “first do no harm.” Normalizing a health risk creates harm. This means that the DSM changes are not medical, they are political.
But we are supposed to somehow take as gospel the opinion of a “medical professional” based on a political document.
As we look at specific cases, the story gets muddier. The Las Vegas shooter was not mentally ill in any generally recognized way. His motivations were, at best, unclear. The Dayton shooter appears to have been a part of the dark INCEL (INvoluntarily CELibate) community, which is not yet recognized as a mental disorder. He was a strong supporter of Antifa, Democrat causes, and candidates. The Umpqua Community College shooter may also have been INCEL.
The El Paso shooter was different. He wanted to kill Hispanics. While the thought pattern in his manifesto is a bit jumbled, it’s clear that he was motivated by hate. While hatred is dysfunctional, it is a common part of human life, and not a “mental illness.” The Charleston shooter was a neo-Nazi and white supremacist. That’s not a mental illness according to the DSM, either. And, contrary to popular myth, that isn’t right-wing. It’s an outgrowth of the southern Democrat racial ideology that reached its peak in the KKK from Reconstruction to the 1960s. The Sutherland Springs shooter was also motivated by racism but had his criminal history in the Air Force been reported to the National Instant Check System, he would have been prevented from purchasing weapons.
The Pulse nightclub shooter was an Islamic terrorist motivated by religion. This mirrors the San Bernardino shooters. Clearly, mental illness wasn’t part of that picture. And we must consider political correctness. The Fort Hood shooter was able to stay in the military even though he was known to be a jihadi. It would have been “Islamophobic” to drum him out, even though that would probably have prevented many deaths.
In this same vein, we cannot ignore the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The shooter had a violent online profile that included racist and anti-Islamic posts. He was referred to law enforcement multiple times for criminal activity, but was never charged, most likely due to a politically correct Obama Department of Education guideline followed by the Broward County Sheriff.
While all these individuals killed significant numbers of people to which they had no personal connection, public safety requires us to consider the masses of murders in Chicago and Baltimore. On any given weekend, Chicago has a death toll on the order of Dayton. And it repeats, while Dayton is once and over. Chicago murders are typically gang violence. The individuals may be antisocial, but probably would not be subject to a mental illness diagnosis. Most of the victims have a specific nexus to their assailants, typically within the domain of turf or criminal enterprise. And they are mostly killed with stolen guns.
Even if this listing seems a bit scattershot, it’s really not. Rather, it presents a somewhat representative overview of the firearms violence landscape. And at this point, we must consider how the various events were terminated. With the exception of the Stoneman Douglas High School case, every single shooting ended when the bad guy with a gun was confronted by a good guy with a gun. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s a verifiable fact. The single exception involved the perpetrator concealing his identity to walk out of the school in the crowd of students. And that happened after the school was surrounded by law enforcement, so this isn’t actually an exception.
It’s not necessary for the responding good guy to be an officer. In Sutherland Springs, a neighbor came to the rescue with an AR-15. In 2016-17, of 50 active shooter incidents, civilians intervened in six, successfully in four. But guns aren’t a panacea. In Dayton, with police present, the thirty seconds from the first shot till the shooter was down was time for nine people to die. So good guys with guns may prevent larger events, but we may still lose good people.
What are we to make of this? As H.L. Mencken noted, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Mass shooting do not just come from mental illness. They also come from social isolation, racial hatred, religious extremism and a host of other causes. In short, they come from every sort of possible source. That means that while picking a single problem may whack one mole, there will be others. Many others.
Can we find all the bad guys by monitoring social media? Maybe. But we simply don’t know how many people will post horrible things but never act on them. So, we may be sending police to check out hundreds of possible bad guys while missing the real problem. The machine in “Person of Interest” that sorts it all out doesn’t exist.
Suppose some people scare others with their actions and words. Are they the next shooters? We’ve all met various creeps who never developed into shooters. How do you sort them out? Do we use “Red Flag Laws” where we remove guns from people who just might misuse them? “I’m arresting you for the future murder of a lot of people.” The constitutional questions boggle the mind.
Is there anything that will work all the time? That question answers itself. No medication works every time. No police intervention works all the time. And Dayton shows that even with cops on-scene, one bad guy got off too many shots. But that common thread remains. Every active shooter incident is stopped by good guys with guns.
That leads us to one possible solution. The final common path is returning fire. If we have more good guys with guns, the damage done by a bad guy with a gun will be limited. Even the CDC recognizes this. We cannot prevent all bad guys from getting guns. We can’t even prevent most of them from getting guns, as Chicago proves. Trying to close Pandora’s Box won’t help.
Unfortunately, the Left isn’t rational. Even more unfortunate, some on the Right aren’t able to think clearly in a crisis. Thus, we hear proposals for Red Flag Laws that violate the Constitution at multiple levels. We cannot deny people their civil rights for future crimes that they might commit. We can only arrest for actual crimes, as should have happened in Parkland, Florida.
On the other hand, good Americans are far more rational than the Left gives them credit for. The CDC data suggests that as many as three million Americans use firearms defensively each year. The number of lives saved is incalculable. We know what to do. We need to raise up more good guys with guns.