Friday, December 4, 2015

Can the problem of mass shootings ever be "solved"?

Lately, the issue of gun control has again become topical on social media in the wake of recent mass shooting deaths.  It seems likely that very few people have changed their stance in response to the current spate of incidents.  And it seems likely that social media posts for and against increasing gun control will continue to be posted after events happen - and the US continues to experience a high frequency of mass killings with firearms.  Evidently the highest in the world, along with a large per capita percentage of gun owners.

I won't be rehashing all the old arguments for and against enhancements to existing gun regulation.  It seems pretty clear that existing gun regulations have been notably ineffective at preventing mass shootings.  There are three fundamentally different motives for mass shooting incidents:

1.  Violent acts aimed at promoting some political or religious objective
2.  Violent acts committed by individuals who feel they have been done some wrong
3.  Violent act committed by people engaged in criminal activities

I'm not including herein any discussion of mass suicides using firearms.  The incidents under #1 could be considered to be terrorist acts.  The perpetrators often (not always) are willing to die in carrying out their violence, owing to a deep commitment to their cause, which can make it difficult to stop.   Terrorism promotes the causes of governments or religious sects by instilling fear in their target population.  Killing innocents is not only acceptable, but is often precisely the aim of the terrorists.  Those engaging in terrorism see no meaningful distinction between innocent bystanders and military forces, insofar as they have little or no concern for anyone opposing their cause.  A violent response to terrorism only aids the terrorists in recruitment of new terrorists to their ranks.  Yes, self-defense is a reasonable response if one becomes involved in a terrorist attack, but it does nothing to prevent more terrorist attacks.  Violence only begets more violence, in a perpetual circle of pointless vengeance.

Incidents under #2 are especially troubling because we aren't mind readers and have no capability for precognition (as in the movie Minority Report).  Most gun owners have no criminal record and are not certifiably insane.  By far the majority of them can experience personal setbacks (like divorce and being fired) without "going postal" - and they'll have little or no trouble passing a background check to obtain firearms and ammunition legally.  A small fraction of them suddenly lose control and lash out with violence, many times with substantial firepower (e.g., assault rifles with large-capacity magazines, thereby enhancing their ability to kill many people).  Many of them are not very concerned about being killed in the process of their vengeance, which (again) makes them difficult to stop.

Criminals, of course, recognize no particular obligation to obey any laws, and are more than willing to obtain firearms illegally.  These days, it seems that despite stiff penalties for crimes committed while armed, most criminals carry firearms.  They use them to ward off any efforts at self-defense by their victims, and to engage in "warfare" against their competitors in the crime business.  Most are not very concerned about casualties among bystanders.  Many firearms in the hands of criminals are obtained from non-criminal gun owners, often by those breaking in and entering homes (and businesses) to commit robbery.  The "war" by police on criminals can result in racial profiling (leading to excessive police violence) and "collateral damage" to innocent bystanders.  Most of them are not willing to die and, in fact, carry firearms as a self-defense measure (!) during their criminal activities.

Yes, it's a truism that guns are but a tool, and they don't kill without being in the hands of a human (except for firearm accidents).  Nevertheless, the rampant proliferation of guns in American society has many impacts that lead directly or indirectly to mass shootings.  It's easier to obtain a firearm than it is to become a legal motor vehicle operator (which includes penalties for irresponsible behavior, including forfeiture of the driving privilege).  Contrary to a popular slogan, an armed society is not a polite society - it's a violent society!

It seems impossible to have a dialog on the issue of controlling firearms with the aim of reducing firearm violence.  The topic is a deeply divisive one, with advocates on both sides adamantly resisting one another, challenging positions with the same old talking points without ever changing anyone's mind.  The NRA has been such an effective lobby that any hint of enhanced gun control cannot make it through Congress, so national enhancements to gun contral seem out of the question.  There's considerable variability among states regarding gun control, and at least superficially, there doesn't seem to be any consistent result associated with different levels of gun control.  It's a complicated topic!

What we need is research into the topic of mass shootings, but in fact, legislation to prevent such research by the Centers for Disease Control has been pushed through Congress and signed into law.  The issue of mass shootings is a challenge that has resisted any simple-minded "solutions" proposed and implemented.  Spewing the same old talking points back and forth is pointless but we seem unable to get beyond the talking points and slogans on both sides.

We owe it to ourselves and our children and grandchildren to stop the pointless arguments and come together for a real dialog.  Let most ideas at least be on the table, and let's think scientifically about what might work (or not).  If after due consideration and on the basis of credible evidence, some notion is unworkable or ineffective, put it aside and move on.  It's not worth repeating that this or that solution will not end all gun violence.  Real solutions don't have to be 100% effective to offer real progress on reducing the frequency of mass shootings.  It's not realistic to think that we can ever reduce the frequency to zero, so let's put that aside and start putting our efforts into finding methods to cut down on the massive number of mass shootings we have every year, without any requirement that it be 100% effective. 

1 comment:

Jeff Duda said...

At the very least, there is a petition to end the ban on CDC research on gun violence on the "official" White House page. That's the one thing that just totally blows my mind that I just don't see anyone explaining away in any sort of compelling fashion.