A semiautomatic assault rifle with a big magazine, let alone pockets full of them, is a military arm and has the unique purpose of killing a lot of people. Not punching paper, not killing deer (unless you’re after venisonburger); killing a lot of people, especially people who might be shooting back at you, including peace officers.  If personal protection is what you’re about, you want a shotgun, not an AR-15.

This distinctive purpose entrains the secondary function of watering and fertilizing the sick imaginations of sick people.

The purpose of the NRA is to enrich firearms manufacturers and secondarily to elect Republicans. Not freedom, not firearms recreation, not personal protection: enriching gun makers and merchants.

Target shooting, including trap and skeet, are sports with a long and respectable histories. So is hunting, with a license and appropriate tools (and steel shot, please). I have enjoyed all of these without guilt. But there is no Olympic event of shooting at body outline targets with higher scores for hitting vitals, and a civilized society is not obliged to tolerate whatever hobby any of its citizens wish to pursue (dogfighting, auto donut sideshows, catcalling women in the street…).

I’m not sure what I think about revolvers or automatic pistols with reasonable magazines. Pistol target shooting is very challenging. But in view of the cost in lives and heartbreak of having them around and about as we do, I’m increasingly doubtful as the years go by and the body count goes up.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

27 thoughts on “Parkland”

  1. The Tokugawa shoguns came to power in Japan around 1600 as a result of civil wars in which early firearms had played a major role. They determined to stamp out this nascent and destabilising industry. First they required all gunsmiths to settle in the capital, Edo. Then they steered their activity into an ever-declining number of costly show weapons. When Commodore Perry arrived, the art had been forgotten.

    American proponents on gun control might shift their focus to the gunmakers. Remington has just filed for bankruptcy. How difficult would it be for Bloomberg to organise a takeover of Colt, Smith & Wesson and Ruger, with the aim of dropping the semiautomatics and shifting to hunting collectibles and the strictly military market? That would leave the cheaper imports – but foreign gunmakers like Beretta have no leverage in the US, and Heckler & Koch don't sell to civilians.

    1. I hear ammunition doesn't "keep". Gotta buy new ammo. One muses that (a) casting ammo is -hard-, and repetitious labor; (b) perfect target for steep taxation. 3d printing will make this less effective, but even there, it seems like you'll wait a long time before you can 3d-print a -round-. Sure, a bullet. But a bullet + shell + gunpowder + ignition cap? long time, I'd bet. And the laborious task of filling hundreds of shells, seems like a significant roadblock.

  2. Agree that the only real purpose to an AR-15 is to overwhelm other armed combatants. In our present lives, this means peace officers; sadly, the 2A fantasy is of resisting a totalitarian government that has succeeded in making the military complicit (this despite the fact that so many military members are those same die-hard 2Ars)… and so the die-hards will always believe that the ownership of infantry combat weapons is deeply patriotic. This is a religious enthusiasm, and so is pretty difficult to overcome.

    Infantry combat weapons have started to show up in mass shootings with more frequency, where they almost certainly contribute to greater morbidity and mortality (and number) of victims (the disturbing counter-example of the Virginia Tech shooter with two handguns and a very high victim count should be noted). However, it remains the case that the vast majority of our homicide problem is posed by career criminals shooting at each other in awful neighborhoods, where conceal-ability is kang. Mass shootings with infantry weapons would have to get much more frequent before we can credibly claim that they are a significant part of our homicide picture. That said, since mass-shootings are a contagion phenomena and the media is quite happy to soak their hands in blood to drive ratings… we might get there some day soon.

  3. It's worth noting that in genuine hunting cultures (not Roger Clemens reality shows where 20 guys on ATVs with machine guns and GPS hookups go bombing around with satellite guidance to blow the bejesus out of panicked mammals), you're allowed one bullet in the upper chamber, one in the under. You get two shots with your over-under. In Scotland, in Ireland, in eastern Europe, in New Zealand — if you can't bring down your quarry with two shots, you don't belong out there, go home. If you're caught by the game warden with more than two bullets in your "magazine", it's technically poaching, you're kicked out of the preserve, and you pay a tremendous fine. Anyone who needs a semi-automatic to hunt isn't a hunter, period.

  4. Despite the high visibility of mass murder using rifles, pistols do 97% of the firearms killing in this country.

    1. Two responses:

      First, that’s certainly true and it needs to be addressed. But the problem of mass shootings also needs to be addressed and doing so would be easier both practically and politically. Therefore it should be addressed first and at once.

      Second, I would advocate that the Democratic Party should formally commit itself to the position that the second amendment only permits state militias and not the private ownership of firearms. The party should commit to the position that there should be no civilian ownership of firearms with detachable magazines or an internal capacity of more than three bullets for long guns and no more than six rounds for revolvers.

  5. Half of all public school staff are non-teachers. I would think a couple of those positions could be dedicated to securing the school more effectively than to hope to keep rifles out of the hands of any potential shooter. I don't like guns and wouldn't own one if I did, but I am frustrated that the answer to every problem seems to be to either grab more of our wealth or more of our freedoms, and usually both, without the slightest evidence that the problem will actually be solved by doing so.

    1. [resisting the urge to scream at you] Perhaps you should look into the history (the actual history) of how soldiers were trained to shoot before WWII, and since then. And the importance of training and practice/practice/practice to keep soldiers sharp. The phrase I once heard was "operant conditioning":boot camps teach soldiers to shoot more-or-less instinctively (and at "targets" == "body parts"), b/c if they realize they're shooting at a human, they balk, at a minimum instinctively.

      The idea that you can have a few trained officers wandering around the school, and that'll keep people safe is barking lunacy.

      ETA: It also bears repeating, that your position is one at odds with the *entire Western World*. Nowhere else in the West has our level of gun-violence. And why? B/c they all regulate guns.

      "American Carnage" indeed.

    2. No evidence??

      What if Cruz hadn't had the weaponry he had? Would he have killed 17 people with a pair of scissors?

    3. Going to have to side with the enraged lefties here. Without a gun, the shitstain would have been able to maybe kill a few people before being stopped. You cannot kill many people using an edged weapon without confederates, especially if any of the men around the site of your attack have undergone testicular descent. Stick to arguing that freedom to own guns is worth mass shootings / blood running down the streets of West Baltimore, because freedom or because otherwise totalitarian dystopia or whatever… but please, don't insult our intelligence with the "no evidence that things would be any different if there were no guns." Please, sirrah. Just don't.

        1. " I don't like guns and wouldn't own one if I did, but I am frustrated that the answer to every problem seems to be to either grab more of our wealth or more of our freedoms, and usually both, without the slightest evidence that the problem will actually be solved by doing so."

          So, when you wrote about your feelings towards guns and gun ownership and then criticized the idea of taking freedoms "without any evidence that it would help", you weren't criticizing the idea of disarming the populace? Wow, guess I need to repeat elementary school. Please explain my error to me?

          1. If there was something that sounded off to you, the thing to do was to ask for clarification. Asking me to sort out the confusion you have compounded in your second response. Just let it go.

          2. "grab more of our wealth or more of our freedoms"

            (1) if you're a libertarian, then the shoe fits, and nobody's misinterpreted you
            (2) if you're a Moron[sic] Labe, again the shoe fits.

            And if not, then (let me repeat from HS American History) every in the Constitution, whether enumerated or not, is limited by other rights. There is no right to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre. There is no right to absolute family autonomy.. Incest between lineal-descendant relations is typically illegal. And it goes on and on. The *idea* that there's some unbounded right to bear arms is ridiculous on its face.

            Again, unless you're a Moron Labe.

          3. I thought your point was perfectly clear.

            You seemed to be saying that restrictions on gun ownership "grab.. our freedoms…without the slightest evidence that the problem will actually be solved by doing so," where the context of the discussion plainly implies that the problem in question is mass shootings.

  6. A turning point in the civil rights saga was when the media were filled of photographs of Bull Conner turning his police dogs on peaceful demonstrators. This had a major impact not carried by the written and spoken words describing the state-sponsored violence. People could see what was being wrought.

    The war in Vietnam had become increasingly unpopular before the Tet Offensive, but images from that time, especially the iconic photo of the South Vietnamese official shooting a captured VC in the head, contributed to the electoral non-viability of LBJ. In 1969, the story of My Lai broke in the media, but the photographs in Life magazine of corpses in the ditch awoke millions of citizens to the horror of what was happening in their name. Ditto for the picture of the naked girl running and screaming after napalm had been dropped on her in her village. These images had a major influence on the consensus which emerged from their publication: an American public that said: Enough!

    When the Sandy Hook massacre took place, we had to rely on the written and spoken word to communicate the slaughter of innocents. We saw pictures of the adorable little ones when alive, but never of the room full of dead ones (which Obama did see and which moved him to tears and to call that day the worst of his presidency). The same was true of other domestic mass shootings; we hear and read the words, but never see the images. And so we send thoughts and prayers and stage candlelight vigils and sometimes pile stacks of flowers and teddy bears at the fence outside the site of the carnage. Then we move on and the gun lobby keeps its power over out political process.

    Imagine what would have happened to the public debate over gun control at the time of Sandy Hook if there had been pictures of the dead children in their classrooms as vivid as those of My Lai in 1969. Would Paul Ryan and the NRA have had as easy a time telling us that now was not the time for discussions of gun laws, or that this, however tragic, was the price of freedom?

    We hear words, but see no pictures. And the cycle goes on until the next time a mass shooting dominates the news cycle for a day of two.
    Have any pundits commented on this phenomenon? I have not heard or read anything in the media that I consume.

    1. Jamelle Bouie in Slate commented on this phenomenon: Bouie is one of my favorite pundits — read a few pieces and see if you agree.

      1. She wrote a good piece. Emmett Till was another example of a photo that made a difference in a major political issue of the time. You would need permission from the family of one of the shooting victims to make this happen, but perhaps reminding them of the decision of Till's mother would move them to make a considerable sacrifice for the purpose of making a difference in a central issue of our time.

    2. A possible downside is that individuals inclined to commit mass shootings may find the images, in addition to the celebrity-like attention they can expect to get, an added inducement.

      1. A point to consider for sure, but overshadowed by the tsunami of focused activism which would be generated by the images.

      2. I don't think the pictures would do much to push the sickos further honestly. The media response without the pictures is sufficient. We all know the names Harris and Klebold, despite the fact that two less remarkable / interesting human beings are almost fucking impossible to imagine. Go on CNN after one of these things and it is all emotional masochism porn (e.g. click HERE to read the text conversations from some poor 14 year old girl trapped in the school) and multiple stories about the shitstain subhuman filth who pulled the trigger. The contagion is blowing about as strong as it can blow in our country; I have a great deal of trouble believing that the pictures would make it any worse. Ed is right; the good people would be much more moved by the pictures than the sickos. If you want it to stop, take all the guns away (impossible, at least in a political sense) or take CNN away from the sickos. The MSM anchors and content people are pimps and murderers with plausible deniability.

        1. It is regrettable that the shooter in this incident, unlike those at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and others, did not even have the goddamn common courtesy of killing himself and thus saddling the public with the costs involved with a criminal trial, like the Aurora Theater shooter did. Hundreds of hours of psychiatric evaluation are coming up.

          Let's just hope that some hot shot prosecutor with his eyes on the governor's mansion doesn't insist on pursuing the death penalty when the defense offers a plea bargain, as happened in Colorado (said prosecutor has dropped out of the governor's race, by the way).

          1. Agreed. Seems like it is because he thought he had some chance of getting away… they always kill themselves once they have no options but to surrender or be in an actual gunfight. This is why there are tons of suicides at shooting ranges but no mass shootings… if what mass shooters wanted was to be in a real gunfight, they would find cops and point the weapon at them and then they would be in a gunfight. They just want to mow down civilians, and have no intention of experiencing anything like what their victims are feeling. They are truly subhuman.

  7. After the shooter's mom died, the family of a classmate took him in. He brought his AR-15 with him, the family stored it in a locker. Earlier, he'd gone on a three day trip to the Everglades. His AR-15 was one of two on the trip; "shooting weapons was a big part of the trip's allure."

    Everyone quoted in the NYT's article knew that Cruz was disturbed, erratic and prone to violence. Surely that includes the family that stored his gun, and the parent who went along on the Everglades trip. But they considered it natural for him to own a military weapon, not for hunting or self-defense, but for grins. Because it's just so much fun to shoot a gun that can kill dozens of of people in minutes. The Second Amendment guarantees a right to own guns for entertainment.

    Of course, just using a gun most suitable for mass murder doesn't mean the person pulling the trigger imagines using it for its intended purpose. Maybe he just likes to see inanimate stuff blown to bits. Maybe he uses it to blast varmints – of the animal variety — to bits. Maybe he lives in Wayne LaPierre's fantasy world where if you don't have a gun you're a sitting duck for criminals, illegal immigrants, looters and rioters and the forces of disorder waiting to be unleashed at any moment. Maybe he lives in Ted Cruz's world where a tyrannical government trying to force health insurance down your throat is kept in check, just barely, by an armed patriotic citizenry.

    My Mom's boss killed himself with a handgun. His father had killed himself years before, with a gun (can't remember if it was a pistol or long gun). His son killed himself with a handgun a few years after his dad committed suicide. His mom knew he had the gun. Even after he killed himself, she didn't question whether it was a good idea for him to have a gun. Losing an ex-husband and a child to suicide is a horrible thing, and I guess I'm glad that her grief isn't made worse by self-recriminations.

    When America was founded it was unique in not having a state religion. But we do have a state religion, embraced with a fervor that equals or exceeds any Great Awakening. Gun worship. And the First Commandment is "Kill or be killed." If you don't like it, there are plenty of places you can move, but God will still reign here.

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