Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thoughts About Mass Shootings in the US

In the United States we have a violence problem.  We have one of the highest violent crime rates of any first world country.  We have one of the highest rates of incarceration of any first world country.

We are seeped in violence, it permeates our culture.  It's celebrated in our music, on our television and movie screens, our video games, our sports.  Mixed Martial Arts is growing by leaps and bounds and we have rules governing fighting in the middle of games in the NHL.  Football is a brutishly violent sport where massive men build themselves to peak strength in hopes they can endure the pounding of a dozen games a season for 5 years.  We have moved in the last few years from capturing enemies of the state and bringing them to trial to assassinating them in foreign lands, often with bombs dropped by remote controlled drones that have racked up an impressive number of civilian fatalities.  Our police force is less interested in maintaining peace and more interested in kicking in doors with grenades and machine guns to capture or kill suspects.  Violence is everywhere.

As mentioned, we have one of the highest murder rates of any first world country.  Often this murder rate is blamed on guns, but other countries with high per capita gun ownership don't come close to the US in murder rates.  Switzerland comes to mind, where for generations soldiers have brought their machine guns home with them after completion of their service.  If serious guns equal high murder rates, we'd expect Switzerland to have one of the highest.  But they don't.  Their murder rate is quite low, one of the lowest rates of any country in the world.

Murderers in the US seem to have popularized mass shootings.  Sure, they happen in Europe and Russia, but in most of the world if a lunatic wants to kill a bunch of people they use a bomb.  In the US mass bombings of civilians are exceedingly rare, but mass shootings are much more common.

I don't know that anyone knows why.  It is said that the shooting in the theater in Colorado emulated a scene from the movie being shown.  Could it be as simple as that?  In American cinema we often see the heroes being driven through the air by explosions, much less common do we see group of people massacred by a bomb.  But in so many movies we see a hail of bullets mowing down people.  It makes for a dramatic scene on camera.

I'd be sad if this is the reason, but there has to be something in the American psyche that predisposes madmen into using guns for massacres when bombs would be more effective.  But until we understand why, it will be hard to put a stop to them.

Laws are ineffective in preventing these mass shootings.  There would be less murders with guns if there were less guns, that's a certainty.  But the guns already exist.  Laws can't make them not exist.  History has shown that criminals who import tons of drugs also can easily import tons of guns.  Making guns harder or impossible for civilians to get won't keep them out of the hands of determined madmen, which these mass shooters are.  In 1994 the US passed an "Assault Weapons Ban", and it sunsetted after 10 years because it had no effect on violent crime.  Making certain types of guns and magazines harder for law-abiding citizens to buy had no effect on violent crime or mass shooting instances.

Look to Mexico where civilians are generally prohibited from owning guns.  The drug cartels are some of the best armed on Earth.  Many of their guns come straight from corrupt police and military agencies.  Many of the guns that originated in the US that end up in cartel hands were given by the US government to the Mexican government.  The Mexican government is completely ineffectual at keeping guns from going straight from their agents into the hands of cartels.  Despite very strict gun control laws, violent crime in Mexico is perhaps the worst of anywhere in the world that isn't a current war zone.

Also, almost all the mass shootings in the US happen in places where guns are already prohibited.  Columbine and Virginia Tech are both gun-free zones.  The theater in Colorado prohibited weapons on premises.  Shockingly enough, these regulations didn't stop madmen.

It's already against the law for people to own or possess guns if they have serious mental issues.  Jared Loughner was a great example of a man who was deemed unstable on multiple occasions, but his state never reported that to the federal government so it would come up on a background check.  In fact, less than a dozen states report mentally unstable people, even though they are required to do so.  Of those dozen, only a few do it with any regularity.

So we have a very good law to prevent mentally unstable people from buying firearms, but it fails because of the inefficiencies of bureaucracies.  We have laws preventing felons from buying or possessing guns, but felons are more likely to use a gun in commission of a crime than non-felons despite that.  We have laws to prevent people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns but that doesn't prevent them from being violent again, just like orders of protection are largely ineffectual in protecting abused spouses.

You can't buy a gun if you have been dishonorable discharged from the military.  You can't buy a gun if you are frequently drunk or high.  You can't buy a gun for another person.  Yet, bad people still end up with guns.  Cities and states with the strictest gun laws have the highest violent crime rates.  Chicago and New York City have some of the tightest gun laws of any city, and it's not uncommon for a dozen people to be shot in each of those cities over a weekend.

Calling for new guns laws won't stop the next mass shooting.  It's what politicians do instead of doing something that will actually fix the problem.  It's posturing.  It's divisive.  And it ends up costing people their lives because they are unwilling to stop grandstanding to take the time to investigate the source of Americas violence problem.

I don't know what the answer is.  But I can see what we've been doing isn't working.  Overall the US violent crime rate has been dropping steadily since the mid 90's, even during the current recession.  The exact causes of it are widely postulated, I've read articles suggestion better social programs, increase in states that allow concealed carry, even a link to legalized abortion.  Perhaps the actual cause is a mixture of reasons.  But until we take the time to truly understand America's infatuation with violence and murder any suggested solution will be a shot in the dark, so to speak.

I hope nothing like this happens again, but I have no reason to believe it won't.  My heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims and the victims themselves.  I hope they can find peace.  I also hope someone has the bravery to investigate and offer solutions to mitigate America's violence problem.  Because blaming objects for the actions of people have not brought about positive change.

Stay safe out there!

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