After every mass shooting, I receive several emails asking me to weigh in on issues surrounding gun violence and gun control. My answer is always the same: I don’t want to be a part of the heat-of-the-moment feeding frenzy that immediately follows those tragic events.
Opinions are predictable yet poorly considered; responses to those opinions are driven more by a need to ride the news cycle than provide clarity of thought. So I stay out of the fray, promising to contribute when things have settled down, when the blood and loss are not quite so fresh in the public mind.
Perhaps now is that time. First, I’d like to narrow our focus and discussion to mass shootings. The term gun violence is too hazy — fully two-thirds of gun-related deaths each year are the result of suicides. Most of the rest are individual in nature.
I break down the issue of mass shootings in America into three parts: tools, people and prevention. All three are pieces of the puzzle but the tendency on the part of people to combine and confuse those issues makes meaningful dialogue difficult and resolution impossible.
Let’s talk about the tools, which include the guns themselves as well as attachments and modifications. Confiscation and registration, similar to what happened in Australia subsequent to a mass killing in 1996, is never going to happen in the United States. Our history of rebellion, revolution and civil war has imbued us with a sense of independence far different from the Aussies, who were pretty comfortable under British rule and didn’t bother achieving full independence until 1986.
There are firearm accessories that have no place in the commercial market. Bump stocks, which modify semi-automatic rifles to near-automatic rates of fire, rank high on the list, as do super-high capacity magazines and clips. Silencers and night vision scopes also come to mind.
Firearms themselves are a tougher issue. The AR-15 and other semi-automatic clones of the iconic M-16 are all favorite targets of proponents of strong gun control measures, but the AR is ubiquitous — possibly as many as 20 million in U.S. homes — and to be perfectly frank, a significant percentage of those people would not turn them over without a fight. And that’s not even considering the tens of millions of other guns in closets, safes and nightstand drawers.
People themselves are the wild card in any mass shooting event and a combination of rage, mental illness and emotional disengagement seem to be found in all of our mass murderers. Rage and mental illness are recognizable to some degree and there has been a strong push both in law enforcement and within the general population to try and identify potential threats and take appropriate action, including removing weapons, before the act occurs.
Emotional disengagement is harder to recognize, yet seems to be a characteristic common to many of the shooters who have shot large numbers of total strangers. They are not shocked or overwhelmed by the blood or the agony they have caused. Their approach to the event seems similar to playing a video game.
Which brings us to the final, and most important aspect of mass shootings: prevention. How can we stop them before they happen? We can reduce the severity of events by removing some firearms accessories from the marketplace, but prevention means stopping shootings before they happen and in order to do that, we need to focus on people, recognizing potential problems, finding the reason for their rage, understanding their disengagement and figuring out how to lessen their pain.
We might consider slapping some serious controls on violent video games as well. I see no reason why we’d want to condition a whole new generation of Americans to violent behavior.