July 20, 2012

The Certainty of More Shootings

Fallows on the Denver shootings.  I am mindful of the need to not politicize something like this, but have to say that after each one of these, I feel this deep sense of sadness that our country seems to do this more than others.  It isn't that we have more insane people, and it isn't even that we may not be good at dealing with the insane people we do have.  But we do seem to insist on believing that the answer to gun violence is to have more guns.

Seems like we should be able to talk about reasonable gun control without the NRA accusing us of caving to the UN.


Liz said...

Thanks for the link Streak. It's a terrible act and deeply sad.

I think, in a sense, it would be wrong to not politicise it, because it would be deliberately ignoring the fact that the government does have some role. It's essentially saying "gosh, what a terrible thing, if only something could be done! Oh well, watcha gonna do?". Obviously, this isn't the same as bitter fighting between political parties and interest groups, but it doesn't detract from anyone's compassion to talk about the politics of a person's pointless death.

I suppose my own personal views are shaped by the Australian Port Arthur massacre, which was the catalyst for a huge change in Australian gun laws. I can't really speak for Americans, but it seems to me like Port Arthur is etched into Australia's collective conscience (or whatever you want to call it) in a way that even something like Columbine hasn't. It became something of a "never again" moment with broad social support for gun law reform.

I suppose the problem with these situations is that most people aren't talking about evidence and good policy so much as ideology such as "freedom" (however they define that). That's a conversation unconnected to an outcome of safer communities.

Streak said...

Thanks, Liz. Nice to have some perspective from outside. I hate to say that I don't remember the Port Arthur shooting, though I am sure I read about it at the time. I find it interesting because one of the explanations for American intransigence on gun control is our frontier experience, yet Australia has some of that same cultural baggage.

I am unsure if we will do anything, or even if we can, but it puzzles me that we choose to do nothing and just accept these occasional mass shootings as a price for the right to own such weaponry.

steves said...

I agree that these kinds of events seem to spark knee-jerk reactions and there is very little talk that is evidenced-based. Because of the "it bleeds, it leads" mentality of the mass media, we have been bombarded with non-stop coverage of this event and people are freaked out.

The reality is that the odds of being in this type of event (even in the US) are astronomically small. So, what should we do to stop these events? While Australia has not had a Port Arthur-style shooting since the original, how many did it have before it? It should also be noted that gun crime in Australia had already been declining prior to the enactment of confiscation and 3 separate studies showed that the new laws had no effect whatsoever.

It should also be noted that mass shooting take place in countries with very strict gun laws, such as Mexico, Germany, and Canada.

For the most part, the "freedom" advocates, tend to have facts and evidence on their side. The anti-gun people are the ones that use emotion and hyperbole.

Streak said...

Steve, I appreciate that you are a second amendment purist, but your comment here is pretty dismissive to those of us who think reasonable gun control is, well, reasonable.

There is little doubt that we have more of these type shootings than other countries. And our answer to them appears to be just to make guns more available, and to make more types of guns, and more deadly guns more available.

Please don't just dismiss me as emotional, and don't suggest that you are purely fact based.

Streak said...

By the way, I think I have established that I am not some reactionary or reflexive gun control advocate. I actually value the right to bear arms, though I have chosen not to myself.

Nor, do I think it is fair for Steve to suggest that all the facts are on the gun rights side and only emotion on the gun control side. I am reminded that the NRA is still robo calling people with the absolute falsehood that Obama wants to allow the UN to take away their guns.

Nor are all gun control advocates simply acting out of emotion. Here is a good review from 2008 on the complexity of connecting gun control laws to crime rates. Clearly not a cut and dried issue--either way. Certainly reasonable people can disagree without assuming that those on the other side are just emotional. And surely it isn't unreasonable to suggest that we have a conversation about doing what we can to prevent these kinds of shootings instead of just blaming the media.

steves said...

I wouldn't consider myself a second amendment purist. I just believe that the right to self-defense, like any other fundamental freedom, should be held to high standard of review by the courts.

That being said, there are plenty of reasonable restrictions and laws that would past muster. If you want to discuss specific laws, then I am willing to hear them. Unfortunately, most of the time when something like this happens, we get things like waiting periods, limits on purchase, and safe storage requirements.

While I agree that it is difficult to tie laws to crime rates, I think the burden should be on the State. This is how it is with 1st Amendment cases, and 4th Amendment cases. They should have to show that the law has some demonstrable effect on lowering crime or public safety. If not, then it is just based on someone wanting it to feel safe, not actually being safe.

I am not blaming the media, just pointing out that the coverage, for the most part, is intentionally morbid and sensational. Even Entertainment Tonight has a nightly MASSACRE AT THE MOVIES segment. I am not making this up. That is actually what they called it in big, bold, red letters.

At this point, I am blaming the individual that committed the act.

I am not saying that you (or Liz) are making an emotional argument, nor am I suggesting that gun-rights advocates are all paragons of reason. These are broad generalizations and just based on my own personal observations.

Streak said...

Ok. Your comment sounded like you thought we were just being emotional. I appreciate the clarification.

My concern with the second amendment has been, of late, that of all the freedoms outlined in the constitution, it is the only one with a caveat and a purpose. Hard for me to believe that what this man could buy fit that purpose.

What is more, I am unsure why self-defense is purer than the community asking for some reasonable response to shootings like this. I agree that we should respond reasonably, and that we do have a burden to show that this will benefit society, but I am not sure we even try any more. The basic response appears to be to ease gun laws all the more and get more guns out on the streets. Or, to build legal shields around gun sellers so they can never be held accountable for putting guns in dangerous hands.

I don't believe that having more guns makes us safer. I don't think easing gun laws and requirements to carry make us safer.

steves said...

There is some evidence that making concealed carry easier does have an overall lowering effect on crime. I also believe there is some data to suggest that this even includes mass shootings being lessened.

Unlike some other mass shootings, this murderer was fairly well educated, had no significant criminal record, and appeared to be mentally stable. There were not many red flags. He passed the required background checks and filled out all of the correct paperwork.

He purchased a popular handgun, a fairly basic rifle, and one of the most popular mass produced shotguns.

leighton said...

A friend of mine lost a close friend in the shooting. She and his family are heartbroken of course, but they are strong and will make it through with the help of friends and loved ones. (This gentleman may be another story, however, and I suppose anti-Obamacare Tea Partiers would suggest that if he didn't have $2 million on hand to pay for medical care, he should have thought about that before going to a movie theater where he might be shot in the face.)

Oddly enough, though I find this to be a very saddening event, I think I am less upset about this incident than virtually anyone I know who watches cable or television network news. I say a lot that the media is worse than useless, but when it comes to crises and events that carry heavy emotional weight, I think this is literally true. It's not just because of utterly unforced dumbfuckery. Steve is right that "if it bleeds, it leads," and in the event of an actual crisis, it would surprise me if people following the advice of lazy, panicky anchors might find themselves in greater danger, or even injured or killed.

Violence has always been with us (not that I'm implying we shouldn't try to stop or prevent predation). But systems that reward sloth and unfounded conclusion-jumping among people whose job it is to be diligent and report only things that have been vetted? Those systems are new. I'd like to think they're easier to work around because they're an artifact of how we've organized a subset of society, rather than human nature itself. Larry king in an interview with Reddit is very pessimistic that broadcast journalism will ever change for the better, but getting more people to transition over to internet news sources might be a step in the right direction.

By the way, it's not that I don't think the gun control issue is important. I just haven't done the research to have an opinion one way or the other. My intuition is to want to address the motivations for killing people (job loss and the lack of jobs, lack of a social safety net, unavailability of mental health care) before looking at the means by which people kill. Desperate people will always find a way, so maybe we could oppose nearly every Republican policy and make people less desperate.

Streak said...

I don't disagree on the media. I haven't watched any of the coverage, to be honest. I think I have simply stopped watching news on television unless I absolutely have to. I can only imagine the stupidity, and the part that they play in perpetuating these kinds of attacks is really something I wish we could have a conversation about--but it is hard in this society.

I am not sure that gun control would have stopped this either, but I have to say that I am simply tired of the gun rights groups just lying about gun control (talking about the NRA) and everyone just reflexively saying that each individual has a right to self-protection, but we as a society don't.

Here in Oklahoma, the gun laws have become much looser--thankfully, they still require a permit and some process before people can open carry, though the idiot last year wanted to have no such requirement. As someone who teaches in public buildings, I am more than a little unnerved by this. I doubt corporations will just allow people to carry guns into their offices, but the public will be forced to allow it. I, as a lowly college instructor, have no choice. If my students want to carry weapons in class, I have no say.

I am just sick of it. Tired of gun worship. Tired of the bluster (not from Steve) of gun owners like this fuckwad who seem to see the world as a giant video game or western novel. I am tired of the fucking NRA and their huge machine.

leighton said...

You certainly have some good points there, particularly considering that the Republican candidate for President is willing to lie about the substance of gun control laws.

Liz said...


I’ve seen that same theory around as well, comparing the difference between America and Canada. I actually disagree that Australia and America are similar in frontier experience. Admittedly, my knowledge of settlement history is pretty limited, but since Australia was a penal colony European settlement came hand in hand with the British justice system. It may have been a brutal and violent period of history but it was far more regulated than the American frontier. The Wikipedia page on the History of Australia is a good resource and as of this particular moment hasn’t been vandalised >.> The biggest difference in my opinion is that Australia never had a civil war, nor a particularly acrimonious relationship with the Britain. The differences between European settlement in America and Australia may go a long way to explaining our different attitudes toward gun ownership.

Another big difference is that our Constitution doesn’t enshrine rights the way that the American Constitution does. Ours is based around the rules for Commonwealth governance and restrictions on power (makes for dull reading in comparison) and apart from a small number of explicit rights such as due process and a few implied rights, they’re really not comparable. I think this carries over to less interest in individual rights in Australia.

I’m not particularly interested in debating gun controls laws because, like Leighton, I simply don’t know enough to take an informed position. I admit it’s hard to draw inferences when there’s only been one gun massacre in Australia.

However, I do think culture matters. One thing that stands out to me is that in the wake of Port Arthur, moves to restrict gun access were popular. It may be that they had minimal or no impact, but the fact that the preferred response was government regulation is the reason that I referred to Port Arthur as a “never again” moment. In contrast to America, it seems that Australians are less tolerant of the idea that the risk of violence is a reasonable trade-off for the ability to access firearms.

This isn’t restricted to unusual events, either. For example, the issue of problem gambling* has been around for some time and the government has proposed limitations on poker machines in clubs (proposal is currently in limbo, possibly dead). Businesses with an interest in pokies were fighting to kill it, but public sentiment was generally quite positive. There’s an excellent post here by Possum on survey results showing that Australians profess to believe in small government, but in practice favour greater regulation and redistribution than already exists.

* While we may not have a big issue with violent crime, I’d say our cultural vices are gambling and alcohol. Both are deeply ingrained in Australian culture, especially drinking to dangerous levels regularly and often. Perhaps a product of our convict history?


One quick point – I wasn’t trying to be condescending by putting freedom in commas. My issue with the word is that in debates around personal rights and community safety, it’s a word that gets used a lot but lacks a clear definition. ‘Freedom’ on its own can mean anything, such as the freedom to carry a weapon or the freedom to live in a society without violence. It’s an emotive word, because very few people are opposed to freedom, though they may be opposed to gun control. Without a clear, shared understanding of what that word means, people are just talking past each other.

You mentioned several studies on the impact (or not) of the Buyback scheme. Could you link me to those, I’d be interested to read the findings.

Liz said...


I’m sincerely sorry for your friend’s loss. I don’t doubt that they’ll pull through but in the meantime they must be suffering terribly.

I’m not sure if it’s reassuring to point out that Australia’s media is also composed of utter raging dumbfuckery. The carbon price (a tepid attempt to slightly reduce pollution) is an excellent case.

My salve for this kind of idiocy has been Greg Jericho and Mr Denmore, who are withering critics of misinformation and recycled news. I’d rate both of them up there with Fred Clarke at Slacktivist (though neither is quite so forcefully eloquent).

steves said...

I don't know if different laws would have changed this outcome. This guy seems disturbed, but also very smart. If he was dead set on this, he could have made a bomb (with may have been much more deadly) if wasn't able to purchase a gun.

As for access and looser restrictions, I was reminded the other day that almost all mass shootings have taken place in so-called "gun-free" zones. These are places where guns have been banned by statute (schools) or corporate policy (the Aurora theater). Criminals bent on this type of action are not going to be deterred by a no guns sign.

Senator Pearce is an ass. I have seen a few people suggest similar, but most people seem to have the tact to not be a monday morning QB.

While gun control has not been an issue that Obama has been interested in, I did notice he gave a speak in NO, saying (for the most part) that only the military should have "assault weapons." Time will tell what this will mean, but in the past, this has meant all sorts of stupid restrictions that have noting to do with reducing crime or an actual "assault rifle."

I didn't find your comments condescending, so don't worry about it. I don't have a link to the studies, but here are the cites:

Gun Laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference?, Dr. Jeanine Baker and Dr. Samara McPhedran, British Journal of Criminology, November 2006.

Austrian firearms: data require cautious approach, S. McPhedran, S. McPhedran, and J. Baker, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2007, 191:562

Streak said...

Good comments, everyone. I think Liz's idea about culture mattering hits me the most. Americans seem to be rather blase about this kind of shooting. Nor, I would argue, has the right been consistent on basic freedoms, as they have been more than willing to take away basic constitutional freedoms for the sake of the war on terror. Of course, they refuse to limit access to guns for even suspected terrorists. We can torture them, detain them, eavesdrop without warrants, but cannot possibly stop them from buying guns.

An expose noted that problem with the Fast and Furious scandal where the NRA and Republican right have been furious that Obama's ATF didn't stop Mexican drug lords from purchasing (legally, as far as I know--in Arizona) these guns.


The idea of freedom is an important one, and one that I think you really nail here. In some ways it is an empty signifier with no real shared definition, and that certainly extends into the past. Southern slaveowners believed they were fighting the Civil War for the sake of freedom, and Puritans believed that freedom included the right to whip people who held other beliefs. Americans throw that term around a lot--Bush said that terrorists hated us for our freedom and that everyone wanted to be free--but few have ever really talked about what it means. Because when you drill down, you find that it doesn't mean what you think it does.


I understand that most gun owners aren't like Pierce or the NRA, for that matter, but there is still far too much macho bullshit about guns out there. I am just tired of it. You don't do it, and I appreciate that, but far too many people do.

steves said...

The right is very inconsistent when it comes to fundamental freedoms. Libertarians are the only group that is fairly consistent when it comes to civil liberties. Unfortunately, they are a bit out there on most other things.

People were angry about Fast and Furious because it deliberately gave guns to Mexican drug runners in order to catch them with them later on. They weren't purchased legally.

I don't get the impression that Americans are blase about the shootings, but rather just unsure as to what needs to be done.

Streak said...

Yeah, Anglican kind of agrees with you that the American public wants something done. I am not so sure. This is not our first mass shooting--won't be our last, and whatever we do, we won't limit access to guns. Doesn't really matter why. Republicans won't allow it--and Democrats don't want to fight that battle--to say nothing of a lot of Democrats don't want to limit gun ownership either.

I know the story is that the ATF gave them guns, but this story from Fortune suggests that didn't happen.

steves said...

I am just going with what was said by the AP, ABC, CBS, the Washington Post, and several other sources. The Fortune investigation relies on ATF statements for support and they certainly have a motive to cover it up. I am not saying this article is false, just that it goes against the majority of what has been reported by numerous other sources.

The reality is that the vast majority of weapons used by the cartels do not come from the US. They are stolen or bought from the military or from other countries.

Again, I would like to point out that it is against the law to sell guns to foreign citizens and it also against the law to sell to people that are planning on transferring them to foreign citizens. Google "straw purchase."

Streak said...

I was simply pointing out that there is more than one side to that story. You suggested it was clear cut. It clearly is not.

steves said...

I was just pointing out that the overwhelming evidence favors one side of that story.

Streak said...

Which the story addresses. Your mind is made up, I get it.

Streak said...

Sorry for my last comment, Steve.

steves said...

No worries. This isn't always the best way to have a discussion.