Category Archives: gun violence

Taking a Scientific Approach to Mass Shootings

This is America. When we pass a law it does not have to be the law forever. If laws are ineffective they can be overturned later. We have a national problem. Public places in America are being turned into shooting galleries. Twenty beautiful children sitting in their elementary school classrooms were shot to death by either a madman or a poor troubled soul, whichever way you chose to look at it. Teachers and staff who expected an ordinary day of teaching children had to block bullets with their bodies. Isn’t it worth it to pass a few laws that try to address these problems?

It will cause some chaos if we ban assault weapons. People will have to part with treasured guns, they will have to tamp down fears that the American government will become tyrannical, and they may have to pursue a hobby they enjoy with slightly less freedom. Perhaps shooting clubs could store people’s assault rifles in locked spaces. There must be a solution that will allow people to possess their rifles without keeping them in their homes.

I also get the argument the NRA makes that criminals do not get guns through legal channels. I feel their fear that honest Americans without guns will be at the mercy of criminals with guns. Of course, I feel I must point out that we already are in that situation. I feel that I must also point out that on this point gun owners are exaggerating their feelings to spin their argument. They will still have handguns with which to defend themselves after all. And the longer a ban on assault rifles and multiple shot clips goes on the harder it will be for even criminals to access these weapons. Every time one is used in a crime it will. I assume, be taken off the streets and out of circulation.

Let’s talk about TV, movies and video games for a minute. If we are talking about children with good social skills these activities probably don’t lead to violent fantasies or scripts. These reality-based children understand that they are watching TV, or viewing a movie, or playing a game. But for children with poor social skills, children whose self esteem may be low, children who may feel frustrated and angry much of the time video games especially, may be the movie they run in their head when they are angry. I don’t mean to be flippant about this very serious issue, but it is sort of like when Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theorytries to blow people up with his mind. I don’t think these children, who can get a large ego boost from high scores in a game where they shoot imaginary people, are putting their anger into a red balloon and floating it away. I’m guessing that they imagine picking people off when they get angry. Teaching them to shoot a real gun with this particular movie script running in their heads when they are at their most irrational could not be a good thing.

We have to try something. Let’s try an assault gun ban again. Let’s try getting rid of most multiple clips. Let’s try it for five years or ten years. Let’s keep data on it to determine if it makes a difference. If studies done by neutral groups show no significant effect then we can overturn the laws. Let’s try throwing some more money at mental health issues and let the mental health community tell us what they believe we should try to be able to identify shooters before they go ballistic and how we can do this without stigmatizing those who know how to keep their mental issues under control and who consistently use those therapies. Again we can consider it a social experiment in which we study and tweak the approaches until they are effective at identifying those who need help and are not getting it, or until we determine that we will never be able to filter out individuals who might plot some kind of personal vengeance. We can even try armed guards at schools to see it that helps.

It is sad to see some of the nation’s gun owners acting just like these socially challenged shooters, with their threatening language and their fearful beliefs. They seem irrational and paranoid. These are adult Americans. They should be in a partnership with all of America to see if we can find a solution to this modern aberration; a solution that does not just involve arming America to the teeth. They should be honestly trying to study this along with us to see what will work. This would be the logical path to helping all Americans be more comfortable with legal gun owners. We are already beset by craziness. We need our adults, gun owners or not, to act very, very sane.

Pass the gun laws. Make sure we study the effects of the gun laws. Pass the mental health measure. Make sure we understand the strategies the mental health industry will employ and that we study their effects also. Let’s try to identify children who lack social skills. Let’s try to find out why they are missing these skills. Let’s develop strategies to help children improve their social skills. If parents are over-protective of children with mental or social difficulties let’s develop strategies for intervention. Let’s please try these measures for a time, discard them if they don’t work, and try new measures until we get it right. And let’s come up with some creative video games that offer the same ego boost as shooting games but have a more positive goal than racking up body counts.

The NRA-How Disappointing, How Predictable

Before we heard the NRA leadership speak up on Friday it sounded as if they were humbled by the events in Newtown, CT but when they spoke on television in that very odd media event, on the last day in the Mayan calendar, they were not in the least apologetic. Now I understand why guys like to use the phrase “double down” so much because that is exactly what the NRA did. “The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” they said. I am not sure this would past the tests of logic, or that if a Venn drawing were made of this statement, it would be at all accurate. Let me just mention two possibilities that are not considered in this tautology: 1) if the gun was not available in the first place the bad guy would not have the gun, and, 2) If the bad guy happened to be a mentally ill young person mental health intervention might prevent the act of desperation. The media is reminding us that there was an armed guard at Columbine and he was unable to stop the killers.

The NRA recommended a National Shield Program for schools which would place a security guard with a gun in every school. They showed no interest in limiting the kinds of guns available to citizens or limiting the availability of clips containing large numbers of bullets. They insist that we need these guns to keep our government honest and to dissolve our government should it become necessary. That certainly is the intent of the Constitution, although after seeing some of the radical ideas held by some of my fellow Americans I fear that it would be possible for a small minority to cause an inordinate amount of grief if they so chose, and it seems possible that they could so choose at any moment. Our country is a lot bigger than it was when the Constitution was written, with a much larger population and more lethal weapons.

The NRA made a scathing argument against violent video games, music, and movies without so much as one consideration for another Constitutional guarantee which is often cited by those who create these kinds of items, a guarantee known as the Freedom of Speech amendment which is every bit as difficult to like when it is used to protect things we don’t like or which we don’t think are healthy influences in our society.

I do not believe that we are free to harm each other. We hold to the ideals of the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just for some. Even in a free society freedom is not absolute. When we own a house we are admonished that we hold it for purposes of quiet enjoyment. We are always asked to be mindful of our neighbors. No one is suggesting banning all guns. Hunters and gun enthusiasts will be able to possess their guns as long as they are responsible and keep their guns safe. Limiting guns that fire large multiples of bullets without reloading seems perfectly reasonable but not when you propose it to a group of people who are anything but reasonable.

The NRA must believe that they alone know how to read the Constitution, that they have a direct line to the forefathers because they defend all gun ownership with belligerent inflexibility. If they need guns to defend themselves in the event that our government turns totalitarian then why not just bury a cache in the backyard and be done with it. Twenty, six and seven year old children died, hundreds of children have been traumatized by witnessing these incomprehensible assassinations.

Who does the NRA remind me of? They remind me of the Republicans who refuse to raise any taxes. By refusing to bend they have a control over the American dialogue about guns which is totalitarian in nature and contrary to the very freedom they say they are trying to protect. The NRA is as extreme and out-of-control as those extremists in the Republican Party and they raise my hackles in exactly the same way. I just can’t listen to them without getting angry because I know that they do not want a dialogue about anything. They just want to have their way. The oxymoron inherent in this authoritarian approach to freedom should be obvious to everyone. And yet, in spite of everything I think I know about the NRA and despite how important I feel it is to end their control of America’s gun discussion, I bet we will find that we cannot budge this group of extremists and that is a sad state of affairs. I hope this impasse will someday be breached.


Sitting Ducks

I am worried that we will grieve for Aurora, Colorado and then move on, as we do, to life as usual. It’s not that I want us to dwell on our sorrow; but I don’t want us to live in denial about this disturbing aspect of modern culture.

All cultures in all ages have experienced both peace and killing. It’s not as if longing for safety and stability, yet living with uncertainty is anything new. Some cultures have been able, however, to offer long periods of peaceful prosperity. Our culture has not always existed without violence. We have been at odds a number of times in our short history. We fought over slavery, we fought over labor unions, we fought about civil rights, and we are in the midst of a non-violent fight about what our American policies and our government and our society will be like in the near future. We have also experienced times of unity and national productivity.
But the kind of violence represented by incidents like shopping mall shootings and Columbine and now Aurora represent a new sort of violence. This violence does not seem to arise from ideological disagreements or even imperialist tendencies. It is an expression of personal deviation and alienation. It is also, in a sense, an expression of egoism. It is cold-blooded and has a quality of unreality about it, as if the person is not killing real people, as if the person is shooting targets. The very randomness of it and the fact that it does not involve any one-on-one confrontation between killer and victim, or any political motivation, separates it from the modus operandi of most serial murderers.
Since we don’t know how to protect ourselves from such attacks (short of carrying a gun and shooting back, which, so far, has not happened and is, apparently, problematic) we just take a pause to mourn, recognize that we are probably not happy with what is going on, and then shake it off and go back to living normally. There must be some things we can do however. Our Constitution does give us the right to bear arms, but if you go back to the times when the Constitution was written and think about why our forefathers put this in the document, I think that you would not have a problem limiting the ability to buy or own semi-automatic and assault weapons. 
Why aren’t groups of experts meeting to work on identifying and helping people who are in denial about psychological problems? There must be some approaches we could take that would not affect those who are managing their mental issues well. Why are we sitting tight with our fatalism and our denial, our ‘this-probably-won’t-happen-to-me’ rationalization? Why are we not calling for some kind of study and some plan of action? We are Americans. We believe problems can be solved if we put our minds and hearts to it yet we have let America’s children kill each other in our cities and suburbs, and we have accepted mass killings. We have come up with a few approaches especially in the area of urban violence and some have been somewhat successful and some have been dismal failures.
Has anyone in an appropriate field of study kept track of these approaches, made a collection of what has worked and what hasn’t? Is there a body of work about this? All I hear is the same speculation that is offered each time we encounter this disturbing new aberration. We hear an outcry about gun control, we hear that the person may not qualify as insane (what does it take to qualify), we hear that TV, movies, and video games are too violent and then we move on. As we move on another erratic individual decides that s/he (a theoretical she) will take a stab at putting together the perfect mass killing. Well James Holmes has set the bar pretty high. Can we expect escalation? I am sure we can find better ways to help our young people, both those involved in “gang” warfare and those committing crimes of alienation. Helping those who have already been in the system should be even easier. Let’s have some conferences where experts meet to devise some strategies. Let’s not just act like sitting ducks.