Take-home lessons from Sandy Hook

Gun homicide is a huge problem. Sandy Hook was hugely atypical of that problem.

No, I have nothing especially useful to say about Sandy Hook.

Except this: Figuring out how to prevent the next gun massacre (or specifically the next gun massacre at a school) is a classic case of solving the wrong problem. (And the best solution to that wrong problem would be to minimize media coverage, in order to avoid posthumously rewarding this mass murderer with the attention he craved and thereby incentivizing the next mass murderer. But there’s no way to do that, as there might have been in the days of three TV networks, two wire services, two newsweeklies, and a handful of important daily papers.)

The right problem is gun homicide generally, or homicide generally.

Sandy Hook reminds us that we have about five times the murder rate of any other advanced country, and that most but not all of the difference is guns, and in particular concealable guns. That’s partly because a bullet wound is statistically more lethal than a knife wound (and more likely to inflict permanent serious injury even if the victim survives) and partly because a gun is the perfect wimp’s weapon, requiring no strength, skill, or physical courage and allowing both physical distance and psychological disconnect between killer and victim. (Some of the gangbangers now locked up for drive-bys turn out to be incapable of defending themselves in prison fistfights.)

But Sandy Hook is utterly atypical of our homicide problem. Massacre perpetrators don’t look much like ordinary murderers; for example, they’re virtually all white, with short (if any) criminal histories. Very few ordinary murderers get their weapons from their mothers’ gun collections.

Getting our rate of concealable-gun ownership down to European levels would prevent thousands of homicides per year. But I see no way to get there from here. Reducing our overall rate of concealable-gun ownership by 10% might or might have any measurable impact. The question is whether whether we can keep guns out of the hands of people who will use them to commit crimes. And most of those people don’t fit the profile of the Sandy Hook killer.

So asking how to prevent the next Sandy Hook doesn’t help answer the question how to reduce the rate of gunshot injury, which continues to rise even as improved medical care keeps the homicide rate moving down.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

98 thoughts on “Take-home lessons from Sandy Hook”

  1. Here, as opposed to O’Hare’s post just before this, we have somebody trying to frame and solve a real problem: “how to reduce the rate of gunshot injury”. That certainly involves discussions of gun control per se, but it also involves many other aspects.

    1. Again, the way that you reduce the rate of gunshot injury is by reducing the ability of mentally ill people to get high-velocity, high-capacity military style weapons with their high rates of fire and ammunition which is designed to produce devastating wounds such as was used on the people in that school. That level of carnage simply can’t be inflicted by someone with a knife or an over-under 12 gauge shotgun. Rampage killings are not unpreventable natural phenomena like tornados or earthquakes. We should stop pretending that they are and just ban these weapons and take them away from people. That’s how you reduce the rate of gunshot injury.

      1. No. Very few murders are committed by “mentally ill people.” Keeping assault weapons away from obvious lunatics will solve some of the massacre problem, but very little of the homicide problem. And of course the Sandy Hook killer never bought a gun, so laws preventing him from buying guns would have had no effect.

        1. A fair point but my response is that in this case what works for the mentally would work equally well for everybody. Nobody needs the kind of ammo that causes these kinds of horrific wounds. If such ammunition was banned and unavailable, gunshot wounds would once again be easier to survive. If guns, and handguns in particular, were almost impossible for an ordinary person to possess and unthinkable to use, the homicide rate in general would go down and the body count in rampage killings would probably go down, too.

          On the question of assault weapons, I do not want merely to keep them out of the hands of lunatics. Nobody outside side of the military or police has any need for such weapons. They should be banned and removed from circulation.

          Such restrictions would not impose a particular hardship on most normal people. Most sporting activities and hunting would continue without any noticeable change. I don’t see what it isn’t better and simpler to address the most accessible part of the problem by removing the military style weapons and non-military ammunition that makes rampage shootings possible and all shooting deadlier.

          1. mr. guthman, i would be happy to see that category of firearm remain available to civilians but require them to jump through the same kind of hoops that are required to purchase a fully automatic weapon, a silencer, or a sawed-off shotgun.

          2. I’ll go further. The police do not need assault weapons, but for the fact that the so-called “opposition” (criminals) may have them.

            With regard to military ammunition, my recollection is that military ammunition is FMJ (Full Metal Jacket), not hollow-point or soft tipped. This limits the expansion possibility of the bullets rather drastically. Hollow-points and soft-nose bullets are hunting rounds: they are intended to be lethal, or in the alternative, to maim.

            Hunters do use hollow-point and soft nose bullets. The goal in hunting is a clean kill, and hollow-points help achieve that goal. Of course, they also are the last sort of round we want would-be mass murderers to have available.

            Requiring an ID and a hunting license to purchase high-lethality rounds would be a good idea. I think limiting the amount that can be purchased is a good idea.

            For other rounds, I like the idea of allowing shooting ranges to sell ammunition and prohibit its being removed from the premises. That is, buy it and shoot it.

            I used to shoot quite a bit (mostly .22), and it’s possible to go through a 500 round brick even with a single-shot rifle. I know, I’ve done it. It is much easier to go through a brick or even two with a semi-automatic rifle or pistol.

            What none of this addresses (and perhaps need not address) is the enthusiast who loads her own ammunition. I cannot recall any of the mass-murderers being loaders, so perhaps it is not an issue.

          3. Dennis,
            I’m not particularly well acquainted with gun culture, but I suspect that when you’re popping off hundreds of rounds in short order, you’re at a target range. You’re surely not doing that while hunting responsibly, and if you’re doing it outside of a target range (say, plinking on your own large property or on federal lands) there is a real issue of heavy metals contamination from a large number of bullets. Policies that treat ammunition like Sudafed and require registration and background checks for purchases of quantities more extensive than needed for self defense or for a hunting trip could be crafted so as to offer a loophole for large quantities purchased at, and not removed from, a licensed shooting facility.

          4. Mitch,

            Yes, if you’re going through large quantities of ammunition, you are practicing. The place you go to practice is a range.

            Let’s clarify about “assault weapons”: what we are (or ought to be) talking about are auto-loading weapons with high capacity magazines. As far as hunting goes, there is rarely (if ever) a need for more than three rounds. If you need more than three rounds, see paragraph 1: go practice. So, a reasonable limitation would be, “internal magazines only, magazine capacity limited to three rounds. Together with one in the chamber, that would limit the lethality to four bullets before reloading. Reloading an internal magazine is slower than changing out an external magazine (“clip”) and that is a plus in this situation.

            What we will see coming out such a proposal is a scream from people who like to go out to the range and burn through ammunition. I’ve seen them: they spray bullets downrange and pay precious little attention to what they are actually doing. I often wondered what was going through their heads.

        2. “Very few murders are committed by “mentally ill people.””

          Mostly, I think, a function of the shifting definition of “mentally ill”. Most homicides aren’t committed by normal people, either. Most are committed by people with records of violent crime. At least half by people with felony convictions. Given that the police are not 100% effective at detecting crimes, and so some murder defendants will have histories of violent crime which have gone undetected, this paints a picture of the typical murderer as a highly aberrant individual. Not an ordinary person who has snapped, but somebody who routinely and casually resorts to violence.

          The psychiatric community may no longer label such people “mentally ill” so long as they’re capable of a minimum level of functioning, but this is the only reason anybody can say “Very few murders are committed by “mentally ill people””. They might not be ‘mentally ill’, but they’re sure as hell not mentally normal.

    2. Mike’s post was a contribution to solving a meta-problem that makes solutions to all real problems impossible: the absurd political power of a limited number of gun nuts mobilized by weapons makers through the brilliant, cynical leadership of the NRA professional staff. (There’s a law forbidding the federal government from publishing the data on the sources of guns found at crime scenes. No, seriously.)

      The nuts are mostly beyond recall, and the paid organizers are too well-paid to feel shame. (And some of them are sincere Red culture warriors.) But the politicians who bend the knee at the NRA’s command, and the academic and journalistic enablers of that political arrangement, need to be called out for what they are – accessories before the fact to uncounted murders – and their dimwitted pseudo-arguments ceaselessly, pitilessly mocked. I’m glad Mike is doing that.

      1. Mike’s post was a contribution to solving a meta-problem that makes solutions to all real problems impossible…

        Exactly. Which is to suggest a “national” conversation on guns will move the needle as much as a “national” conversation on abortion will inch us towards a resolution.
        And any day now Palestinians lamb-lions will sit down with Israeli lion-lambs.
        Which explains why I’ve completely sat this latest disaster out.

        Don’t want to know what the killer ate for lunch the day before or espy his facebook pages…
        Don’t care to cede the Brett Bellmores of the world any of my time to argue about their “constitutional” rights to rapid multiple trigger pulls…
        Don’t want to pretend your multiple sclerotic country can move one centimeter to solve this problem.
        Been there. Done that.

        Truthfully? You really want the truth?
        You’ll hate me for it, but here it is:

        The guy could have shot dead 100 children instead of 20 and you know what the difference would be?
        Ten more days of front-burner media coverage before everybody would get back to the meatier subject of Kim Kardashian’s decolletage.

        It’s been a wonderful weekend to take Tim Leary’s advice (so to speak) and turn off, tune out, and drop out.
        Sometimes you have to do what you have to do… to stay sane….

      2. “Mike’s post was a contribution to solving a meta-problem that makes solutions to all real problems impossible: the absurd political power of a limited number of gun nuts mobilized by weapons makers through the brilliant, cynical leadership of the NRA professional staff.”

        I’ve always thought this conviction that the NRA was some sort of astroturf organization maintained by the firearms industry particularly hilarious in light of the fact that gun control organizations are, without any exception I’m aware of, just exactly that, with a few wealthy individuals and foundations doing the funding. While the NRA is one of the largest membership organizations in the country.

        1. Yeah, the parallels are perfect, except for the “being a front to protect our profits” part.

          1. That’s true; While the NRA rather conspicuously isn’t astroturf, and the gun control organizations blatantly are, none of them are fronts to protect anyone’s profits.

            The gun control organizations remind me somewhat of the former CPUSA, in that it tried to look like a normal membership organization, and was run by true believers, but was mortally dependent on outside funding. And so imploded when that funding was withdrawn.

            Similarly, organizations like the Brady Bunch, (What are they calling themselves this week?) and the Maybe hundred thousand Mom March, made a show of pretending to be membership organizations, the representatives of a popular cause. But all it took was a couple of guys deciding gun control was a lost cause, and there were better uses for their money, and the movement dried up and blew away.

            Real movements don’t do that.

        2. I think we need to call in Mancur Olson on this one. It is “irrational” for individuals to join an organization lobbying for public goods (in the economic, not the normative sense) since the incentive is to free ride on the efforts of others to achieve that good. Almost all political organizations devoted to society-wide policy changes are in this category.

          Olson predicted (and Jack Walker later documented) that one way of solving this problem is for a zillionaire to bankroll the group, thus making it trivially cheap for ordinary members to join. Hence gun control groups.

          Another is to provide selective incentives: the group gives individuals a reason to join so as to get some sort of personal benefit, where no free-riding is possible, and then skims some of their dues off the top for lobbying. That’s why the biggest road-building lobby in the country is AAA (which people join to get roadside service); the biggest social-spending lobby in the country is organized labor, which always organizes on a “local” basis (selective benefit = collective bargaining in individual workplaces, where free riding is easily detected, for better or worse), the biggest old-age-pension lobby is the AARP (medigap insurance), the biggest faculty lobbies represent not all professors but those of particular disciplines (journals and annual conferences)–and the biggest pro-gun lobby is the NRA (gun training classes).

          One result of this is that groups can support political causes that their members oppose or are barely aware of. Polls of all NRA members often find that a majority support some gun control measures that the leadership opposes–just as many AAA members would in fact support the higher gas taxes that their tow-truck dues go towards opposing.

          1. If it would be up to me nobody but law enforcement would be allowed to carry a gun or have one in their possession .People who hunt could have it for that time but would have to return it after hunting season is over.I know that would never happen especially in this country but certainly gun shops gun fairs selling on line etc.should be outlawed and with it the whole NRA.We live in a very violent society and with an obsession of guns.

  2. “So asking how to prevent the next Sandy Hook doesn’t help answer the question how to reduce the rate of gunshot injury, which continues to rise even as improved medical care keeps the homicide rate moving down.”

    There might be some solutions in common. Australia managed to do both those things.

    One of the things they did was make strict rules about how you secure the guns you own.

    It seems to me that rules requiring guns to be very securely locked up, inspections rquired, with hefty penalties for failure to do so and public service campaigns stressing the responsibilities that go with gun ownership could be useful, especially in conjunction with required background checks and the closing of all the loopholes that currently allow people to avoid them. Many fewer guns stolen in residential burglaries, many fewer kids getting access to Mom or Dad’s guns could be a good start.

    1. In many ways the problem with asking how you reduce gun deaths or prepare oneself to deal with a heavily armed lunatic in a school or shopping mall is that it concedes that the obvious way of reducing such carnage (for example, by eliminating military style, high capacity weapon with high rates of fire) is that it seems to take for granted an America of maximum guns. Implicitly, we concede as much when we look for Rube Goldberg workarounds or take seriously the idea that the responsible thing is for everyone to go about armed, especially teachers in schools. Rampage killings are conceded to be something akin to freak weather events. Just as we Californians need to prepare ourselves for earthquake by stockpiling, we are now being told that we must prepare ourselves for rampage killings by stockpiling our own guns and carrying them with us wherever we go. I guess life in the world of maximum guns is supposed to be something like a Bruce Willis movie where every week he outdraws and outshoots dozens of heavily armed, mean-looking criminals and terrorist with a cry of “yippi-kai-yay”.

      The decision of somewhat sensible people like Jeffrey Goldberg and the occasionally sensible Eugene Volokh to treat rampage killings as unpreventable forces of nature is appalling beyond words. As a first step, we need to ban high-capacity, high-velocity military style weapons and ammunition and make their possession illegal. As an aide to passing and implementing that ban, we should also say that any munitioner who offers military style arms and ammunition for sale to the public will be ineligible to bid on government contracts of any kind. Obviously, we can’t make them pay as their victims have paid but we should certainly make these merchants of death pay as high a price as possible.

    2. The sad part is before the NRA was politicized, they would have been producing the public service announcements. Remember the per-idiological NRA supported gun control in 1934 and 1968.

  3. Here is my question. For Christmas, instead of gifts I’d like to donate in peoples’ names to a rational, sensible gun control organization. I want this to make a difference. Where do I donate? The Brady Campaign? Are they effective?

      1. (rim shot.)

        How about a serious answer from someone? Is there a (potentially) effective counter to the NRA in America? If we want to meaningfully do something, besides rant in forums and talk about big abstract policy changes, what can we do as individuals?

        1. That was a serious answer. There is no organization capable of taking on the NRA and gun lobby but the Brady campaign has been astonishingly ineffectual. Right now, I think it’s not going to be any kind of a “go along, get along” civic minded group that’s going to make a difference. We don’t need super cautious, super polite people. We need fighters. We need to force politicians to take a stand and then, having done so, make it clear to them that that they are in a fight for their political lives and need therefore to relentlessly inflict political and economic damage on their enemies. An example: Sen. Murphy in Connecticut has just spoken about the need to at least talk about gun control. You know that he’s going to be under a terrible onslaught from the NRA and the gun lobby unless he recants. Give the money to him and let him know why you’re giving it and that if he remains steadfast there will be more.

    1. Mayor Bloomberg seems to be the most public and vocal advocate for gun regulation (which, after all, is cited in the second amendment: “a well-regulated militia….” That’s the clause that gun nuts seem to skip over.)

      The organization he founded, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, seems to possibly be a solid alternative to the Brady Campaign.


        1. so would you favor requiring membership in a military reserve or national guard organization in order to possess firearms. this would certainly be much more in keeping with the spirit of the skipped clause than matt’s interpretation.

        2. Actually, it means discipline and training, which underscore that the framers saw the Second Amendment as creating an armed COMMUNITY and not authorizing nutcases to stockpile arms while answering to no one.

        3. Charles, there has been a serious (I.e. not frivolous) debate about the LITERAL meaning of the amendment which hinged on the placement of a comma.

          Given that emphasis on literalism, how do you propose to tell us what certain words mean OTHER than what they say?

        4. Charles, clearly you have a direct line to the thinking of the Framers (as most tea-partiers believe they do.) So tell us exactly what this means, if my interpretation is incorrect.

          (And by the way, I understand that the words ‘well-regulated’ are open to various interpretations. I just enjoy the irony that ‘well-regulated’ is in the amendment, but gun nuts always argue against regulations.)

          1. Actually both Hamilton and Madison elaborated on their thinking on this topic in Federalist Papers 29 and 46, respectively, so you can read them for yourself. Not an easy read, though, so you’ll have to slog through them. A few of the thoughts I took away; both were vehemently against the concept of the federal government having a “standing army” (obviously we’re well past that) and saw the state militias as a counter balance to federal military power. The state militias were not supposed to be full-time, but could be called up when the state needed them; I believe the figure of twice a year was used as an example. Militias would consist of all men capable of bearing arms (not just rich men or ones that could afford insurance). And there was no limits in either to indicate that the term “arms” meant anything other than whatever was necessary to oppose federal troops. Actually if you read some of the other contemporaneous papers by other state delegates you’ll find examples that indicate that the founders believed that the second amendment very specifically meant that the federal government could not place ANY restrictions whatsoever on what types of weaponry citizens could own. I don’t recall any instances where Hamilton or Madison explicitly said that themselves, though. But there are DEFINITELY references that indicate both of them very much believed it was within the power of the individual states to determine what weaponry their state citizens could own.

            So if you wanted to approach gun control in a manner consistent with the intent of the founders, then one way to approach it would be at the state level.

            I realize that we live in a different world now, however, and I’m pretty sure that this isn’t the current interpretation of the 2nd that SCOTUS holds.

            But there is one bullet-proof way to do it fo sure. Get those Constitutional Conventions happening. There’s still room for a 28th Amendment. Knock yourself out.

        5. That’s rather too cryptic. Could you say what you think is the meaning of the second clause so that we can argue about it?

  4. To me it is way too abstract to call mass shootings or mass school shootings the wrong problem. Those are real, horrible, internationally unprecedented problems in the US, and the fact that there are also other problems we should worry about is neither here nor there. And even if I might agree that the gun violence problem in general is in some sense “worse”, the comparison would need take account of a lot more than the relative body counts.

    Regardless, I doubt the gun regulations/enforcement that make sense for the general gun violence problem would make sense for the school shootings problem. (Anything we might call “assault weapons” is basically irrelevant for gun violence in general; not so for mass shootings.) A fortiori when we turn to school security, the menatl health system, etc.

    1. David, when people around you are dying with awful black sores all over their bodies, treating oozing black sores is the wrong problem. You gotta try to understand bubonic plague and how to prevent it.

      His point is that mass killings, per se, are not the problem you can solve. They are a consequence of the way things are. The underlying problem needs the solution.

      1. I see it differently. The fact that “Sandy Hook is utterly atypical of our homicide problem” is exactly the reason to respond to it on its own terms, not change the subject to a more generic question about how we can reduce injuries from guns. I always thought Herman Goldstein made a pretty good case that leaping immediately to the most abstract possible problem definition isn’t usually a great idea.

      2. To the contrary, while homicides in general might be bound up in underlying social pathologies and such, mass killings like this are a problem with a relatively simple and doable solution. It is the ready availability of high capacity military style weapons and certain kinds of ammo designed to case devastating wounds that is the prerequisite for all of these shooting sprees. Without exception. If you remove these weapons and bullets from society, you remove the capability for these rampage killings. Right now, let’s just remove this category of weaponry from society and stop rampage killings within the next decade. We can worry about all the underlying problems of society later.

        1. I agree with you and David T. And they are very different problems politically as well. A lot of people are talking about Draconian restrictions on firearms ownership, even talking about repealing the Second Amendment. These are politically impossible, completely unnecessary, and needlessly provocative positions — the mirror-image of the NRA’s limitless advocacy. On the other hand, a majority of Americans do support a ban on semi-automatics. This is a feasible goal and a necessary one.

          I’m not saying that “ordinary” gun violence isn’t a problem, it’s a huge problem. But it’s also a different problem.

  5. Off the top of my head: how about state gun exchanges? The principle is a government monopoly on the sale and transfer of guns of all types, on the model of Nordic state liquor monopolies. States would have the option to set up their own gun dealers; if they did not, thee Feds would. The dealers would be obliged to apply current state and federal law to the letter, and – unlike profit-seeking busineses – would have no incentive to cut corners. If the law allows the sale of machine-guns to disturbed 15-year-olds, then that would happen. The monopoly would be enforced by a severe federal penalty for unlicensed gun dealing.

    One problem is the pricing. A monopoly state gun dealer could lower prices from the current level, so you need higher gun and ammo taxes.
    The exchanges can also become vehicles for removing guns from circulation through buybacks and amnesties.

    The first Tokugawa shogun, Hideyoshi, effectively removed guns from Japan after his victory (using firearms) in the civil war, by ever-tighter administrative controls.

    1. The state gun exchanges would function better if we imposed an individual mandate to purchase guns as well as subsidies for those who can’t afford the cost.

  6. Mark: Two glosses on your excellent post.

    1) But Sandy Hook is utterly atypical of our homicide problem. Massacre perpetrators don’t look much like ordinary murderers; for example, they’re virtually all white, with short (if any) criminal histories. Very few ordinary murderers get their weapons from their mothers’ gun collections.

    Well, there is a similarity: Almost all male. And a friend who studies this stuff points out to me that many of these things are triggered by feeling humiliated/unmanned (by wife leaving, bullied in school, no job) — maybe if we could break down the cultural narrative of men needing to reclaim their manliness through violence, we’d have fewer of these things.

    2) A friend in Japan pointed out to me one of the impacts of our prevalent gun ownership, beyond murders: We have a higher rate of accidental discharge gun deaths than Japan has murders by a wide margin.

    1. Manliness is very much at the heart of the problem: not only gun crimes, but also gun ownership. The number of hunters keeps going down as the number of gun owners keeps going up. I can’t ascribe this to anything but increasing masculine inadequacy. And masculine inadequacy is largely fueled by an economy that is increasingly inhospitable to men, except at the top. (It is inhospitable to women, too, but there is more demand for work gendered female, at least at the bottom and middle of the market.)

      Yes, I know that the gun nut in the Connecticut case was a woman. There are a few, and the gun nuts like to show them off, much like Republicans like to show off their blacks. But gun ownership, divorced from hunting, is primarily a masculine activity.

    2. Another way this is atypical of our large homicide problem, but typical of this type of event, is that this was a suicide.

      So far, we have been fortunate that our present high rate of veteran suicide has, for the most part, been anger directed solely inward without the added component of “going out in a blaze of glory.” I expect that will change with our returning veterans becoming one of our greatest threats.

    3. I’m not sure that there is anything special about these mass murderers being male. After all, violent criminals tend to be very predominantly male to begin with.

      What does stand out is their choice of victims, though: normally, the victims of violent crimes are also predominantly male (though the ratio is lower — my understanding is that gang violence is part of the explanation, but not all of it).

      However, in mass shootings it does not seem to be unusual that the killer targets primarily female victims. I’m not sure what that means, but does it mesh with the theory that men are reclaiming their manliness through violence if that violence is primarily targeted at women and girls (not to mention little children, regardless of gender)?

    4. For once I agree with Keith. In my experience it is almost always male idiots who think that violence solves any problem or slight. And that does come from powerful cultural narratives.

      1. I’m not sure that it’s all about solving problems by way of violence. Mass shootings tend to end with the death of the killer, very frequently by his own hands.

        One theory that I’ve heard is that the psychopathology of mass shootings is more like that of suicides than homicides (going out in a blaze of, umm, non-glory). That would at the very least track with how the vast majority of mass killers in the US are white males (the vast majority of suicides in the US are committed by white men).

  7. [M]ass shootings are very rare events. There are about 15,000 homicides per year in the USA; the great majority are single-victim killings. Less than 1% are mass killings (4 or more victims in the same incident). Spectacular mass shootings, where many persons are killed or wounded, have been happening at a rate of about 1 or 2 per year, in the 30 years since 1980, for the most common type, school shootings; shootings in other venues, apparently imitating school shootings, are rarer but on the rise. It is their rarity that attracts so much attention, and their out-of-the-blue, seemingly random relationship between killer and victims, that makes them so dramatically alarming.

    Clues to Mass Rampage Killers: Deep Backstage, Hidden Arsenal, Clandestine Excitement

  8. The question of rampage killings aside, I think the answer to Mark’s question is found in the evolution of the ammo that is widely available over the counter in American gun stores. Hollow point bullets like the Speer Gold Dot and Federal’s Hydra-Shok are designed to produce impressively nasty wounds. They spread out on impact which results in a larger wound area with the potential for more damage to inner organs and an increased likelihood of hitting bone (and maybe bouncing off and creating another wound track) or a blood vessel.

    I would point out, yet again, that the only proven solution is the direct and obvious one, namely, to ban the manufacturing, selling or possession of such ammunition. That would be the most effective way of making gunshot wounds more survivable. (Of course, an even better way would be to regulate the sale of semiautomatic handguns but this is apparently considered impossible in a country where every man sees himself as “Walker, Texas Ranger” or Rambo. (But surely not Wyatt Earp whose first act upon taking office as a Marshall or sheriff in a town was to forbid the carrying of firearms).

  9. It’s my understanding that the US is, among developed nations, an outlier in terms of both gun ownership rates, and murder rates. But this means that the US is equivalent to a clinical trial where only one patient took the drug, and everybody else was in the control group; Sure, the patient had a bad outcome, but statistical significance is lacking.

    I guess I’ll launch my usual riff on this:

    Homicide, and violent crime, rates vary from place to place within the US by a huge factor. The further you drill down into local numbers, the larger the factor gets. Get down to the neighborhood level, and homicide rates vary by several orders of magnitude from place to place.

    Gun laws are not varying in a parallel fashion. Neither are gun ownership rates a thousand times higher in the bad areas of D.C. than they are in rural Montana.

    The inescapable conclusion is that, while there may be a comparatively weak statistical correlation between guns and violence when examined on a gross level, some other factor or factors are influencing the rate, with a strength many, many times greater.

    You can’t run a valid study on the effects of gun ownership on violent crime rates, in the presence of a confounding variable responsible for a thousand times as much variation. If whatever is responsible for the difference between violent crime rates in D.C. and rural Montana differs by even 1% between the US and Europe, it will utterly swamp any effect from the guns.

    This is not to say that the guns aren’t having an effect. It’s just to say that it’s innumerate to claim that you can prove it from the numbers.

    1. Brett, I think your first paragraph is looking at the data from the wrong angle.

      As regards, specifically, the particular category of events we call “massacres,” we have a Poisson distribution with a small Lambda but a large sample space, such that the N has grown significant. Additionally, the cost of each occurrence is large. We shouldn’t throw up our hands in despair and simply say “Lambda is so small; we can’t make any sense of it.” Poisson distributions are not too opaque to study.

  10. Our firearm accident rate is enormous, and some things should be possible to change it, including mandating design changes to guns (more prominent indicators for the safety and for when a round is chambered), trigger locks, gun safes, registration, and some really strict enforcement of liability when a firearm is lost or stolen and not promptly reported. Some mandatory insurance coverage – to cover police time when a firearm is stolen and the pay some of the costs from accidental discharges – might also be worth considering, although no policy can cover the liability from a Newtown-scale event. It might be possible to mix and match these, for example y offering insurance discounts with some design features and storage controls. And any gun found stored improperly (loaded or unlocked) or unlicensed should be a big deal (though obviously the police would only find out if they were searching on some valid warrant).

    But this is all embroidering the soiled napkin, and it has little if anything to do with the massacres. Sure, better licensing, more mental health intervention, smaller clips, and in general controls on military hardware that has no place outside of a pre planned pitched firefight with multiple armed opponents might lessen these. We could impose controls on ammunition sales (quantity limits per sale and reporting, similar to sudafed) when the ammunition is taken out of a licensed firing range. But the simple fact is that our society abounds with gun worshippers like Brett, who would rather the occasional classroom full of children dies than that they reconsider inconveniencing their hobbies. Even the first of these two paragraphs is inconceivable in our political environment, because the town of Newtown is our latest blood offering to the Holy Gun, and we’re happy as a society to keep them coming.

  11. Mark, you say: “Getting our rate of concealable-gun ownership down to European levels would prevent thousands of homicides per year. But I see no way to get there from here.” There is probably no way to reduce gun ownership consonant with the current Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. But you miss a significant point: Guns won’t work without bullets.

    Assume that we require a registered gun to purchase ammunition. Make it impossible to register a gun with a magazine that holds more than, say, eight rounds. And, make it difficult to do easy end-runs: If you register a .22, you can’t buy .45 ammunition with the license.

    Of course, there’s already a good deal of ammunition in circulation and my plan would not do anything to reduce that inventory directly. However, over time, the inventory would decline due to ammunition being used. Further, ammunition is not good forever. It is subject to spoilage due to exposure to heat and humidity and the mere passage of time (although the amount of time may be in excess of 10 years).

  12. “But you miss a significant point: Guns won’t work without bullets.”

    Printing presses won’t work without ink and paper, but try running past the judiciary the argument that the 1st amendment doesn’t say anything about those consumables, and so they can be regulated in ways guns can’t.

    Further, are you having trouble grasping the political realities? All your proposals are fantasies, because you don’t have remotely enough political clout to implement them. You’ve only got as much clout as you do because your allies lied about their views to get elected, like Obama claiming to be pro-2nd amendment.

    You really want another 1994 style pyrrhic victory?

    1. Go, on, Brett. Gloat that your side has the clout to ensure that the child-killings will continue. Ignore every actual policy argument everyone makes. You’re probably going to win, and the massacres will continue, just like you want. Drink them in, and feel proud.

      1. I think your policy arguments are for crap, and have explained why. No, I don’t want the massacres, as rare as they are, to continue. Neither do I want them used as an excuse to crack down on the civil liberties of people who didn’t commit them.

        I think we’re smart enough to figure out responses which don’t involve attacking civil liberties. If attacking them isn’t our real goal.

        1. Are we smart enough, Brett? How do you propose we reduce massacres and other homicides by firearm?

          1. = = = Brett Bellmore @ 6:35 pm: “I think your policy arguments are for crap, and have explained why. No, I don’t want the massacres, as rare as they are, to continue. Neither do I want them used as an excuse to crack down on the civil liberties of people who didn’t commit them.

            I think we’re smart enough to figure out responses which don’t involve attacking civil liberties. If attacking them isn’t our real goal.” = = =

            JACK PINTO, 6

            Jack Pinto was a huge New York Giants fan.

            New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said he talked to Pinto’s family, which is considering burying the 6-year-old boy in Cruz’s No. 80 jersey.

            Cruz honored Jack Sunday on his cleats, writing on them the words “Jack Pinto, My Hero” and “R.I.P. Jack Pinto.”

            “I also spoke to an older brother and he was distraught as well. I told him to stay strong and I was going to do whatever I can to honor him,” Cruz said after the Giant’s game with the Atlanta Falcons. “He was fighting tears and could barely speak to me.”

            Cruz said he plans to give the gloves he wore during the game to the boy’s family, and spend some time with them.

            “There’s no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolizes you so much that unfortunately they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on,” he said. “I can’t even explain it.”

            Jack’s funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday at the Honan Funeral Home in Newtown, followed by burial at the Newtown Village Cemetery.

            JESSICA REKOS, 6

            “Jessica loved everything about horses,” her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos said in a statement. “She devoted her free time to watching horse movies, reading horse books, drawing horses, and writing stories about horses.”

            When she turned 10, they promised, she could have a horse of her own. For Christmas, she asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.

            The Rekoses described their daughter as “a creative, beautiful little girl who loved playing with her little brothers, Travis and Shane.

            “She spent time writing in her journals, making up stories, and doing `research’ on orca whales – one of her passions after seeing the movie `Free Willy’ last year.” Her dream of seeing a real orca was realized in October when she went to SeaWorld.

            Jessica, first born in the family, “was our rock,” the parents said. “She had an answer for everything, she didn’t miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time.” A thoughtful planner, she was “our little CEO.”

            “We cannot imagine our life without her. We are mourning her loss, sharing our beautiful memories we have of her, and trying to help her brother Travis understand why he can’t play with his best friend,” they said.

            “We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are.”

        2. This is of course purest horsepuckey. In years of comments pronouncing the Ultimate Truth that guns are the most wonderful thing in the world and that their unregulated profusion must never be interfered with (except, of course, for when he was incoherently muttering dark conspiracy theories about the so-called Gunwalker mess, wherein Brett could perceive not only long-laid malign plans going all the way to the Oval Office but also a larger scheme to Take Away All Our Manhoods, er, Guns), Brett has so far as I can recall never proposed the slightest move in the general direction of any policy to reduce the recurrence of such events, let alone propose any “responses which don’t involve attacking civil liberties”. I think the closest he’s ever come is to bemoan the publicity given to the murder of twenty kids, an event of such horror that of course non-sociopaths aren’t simply going to shrug and walk away.

          1. I’ve already suggested that the media ought to adopt a policy of not giving these clowns the notoriety they crave. You don’t need a law for the media to start referring to them as “that assh*le”, rather than by name, just a consensus.

            And I’ve suggested that we need to look at improving our mental health system.

            And I’ve suggested reexamining the policy of locking buildings where mass shootings are taking place.

          2. In other words, you have no policy suggestions. You will bemoan the publicity (not that you have a policy suggestion connected to it, and it is of course worth noting that the First Amendment infringement in enacting a policy is far more clear-cut than any infringement from any of the seriously proposed regulations and restrictions on firearms).

            You want our society to “improve our mental health system”, which is as close to meaningless as anything gets. I’d like for us to improve everything; see how easy that was? And don’t I feel good for wanting things to be better?

            Oh, and you’re concerned about whether buildings should be locked, even though every public building in the country (except perhaps prisons and the like) has fire exits that can be accessed from within and that cannot be locked. I don’t even know what this proposal is meant to achieve, other than to perpetuate the fiction that you’re making proposals.

            Leaving aside your paranoid fantasies about the imminent confiscation of all our guns, and even leaving aside all regulations regarding the physical nature of the guns themselves, you have not a single word to say about, for example: (1) more stringent licensing; (2) mandatory insurance, comparable to the insurance mandated for automobiles, which at least aren’t designed to kill people; (3) mandatory gun safes or trigger locks; or (4) considerably stiffer penalties for firearm infringements, including accidental discharges and improper storage. All of these are purely regulatory, and all of them would let you fondle any firearm you like to your heart’s content. But you’d rather burble about locked doors.

    2. Brett, as (almost) always, you are wrong. Obama is likely pro-2nd amendment, but his interpretation differs from yours (and, no, there is not a single strict interpretation. For anything. Just ask the adherents of any Abrahamic faith.)

      I too am pro-2nd amendment. I also believe that we should not allow semi-automatic or automatic weapons in private hands, gun clips with over ten bullets, psychotics or those with criminal records to have guns, selling guns ‘outside’ the background-check system at gun shows, and many other things.

      I believe in guns for hunting and, to a very limited extent, for protection of the home.

      Additionally: “Massacres, as rare as they are?” You are blind or wilfully ignorant. We had at least three massacres this week alone, with two more thwarted by the authorities. In one of them, twenty children were killed. Only a moral monster would argue that this is somehow justifiable because rare.

      1. “Obama is likely pro-2nd amendment, but his interpretation differs from yours”

        Yeah, and Taney was pro-14th amendment, too, he just had a different interpretation. One that, like Obama’s, rendered the amendment utterly toothless.

        And, yes, the massacres come in clusters, because they’re triggered by press coverage, committed by people who aspire to posthumous notoriety. You’ll get a few, and then go on for months or years without another. But while in the cluster, you can pretend they’re a common event.

        And I didn’t say anything a sane person would interpret as saying the murders are justifiable. Getting really tired of that particular rhetorical tic…

      2. Brett, wise are you, o sage, to the dynamics and sociology of mass murder. Tell us more.

        “You’ll get a few, and then go on for months and months” and during that peaceful time, everything reverts to the normal, happy, gun-toting utopia that the NRA and the framers envisioned. Until, once again, 20 children are murdered in a classroom using a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle. It is no rhetorical tic….merely a failure on your part to see how your platitudes in fact uphold massacres like this.

        A mass murder happened every 5.7 days last year in America.

  13. “Sandy Hook reminds us that we have about five times the murder rate of any other advanced country, and that most but not all of the difference”

    No, the US murder rate is higher than other “advanced” countries because of our large black population. This is easily seen comparing murder rates for cities and their black population percentages.

  14. The US doesn’t have “A” murder rate. It has numerous murder rates, varying hugely from place to place. Throwing the country in a statistical blender to average everything out is just a way to blame killings committed by a hyper-violent minority culture on the larger, peaceful culture, so as to have an excuse to attack that second culture.

    And, no, it’s not blacks, though that correlates. It’s a cultural thing. We have managed to create in our inner cities a culture of casual violence and disrespect for human life, which is spreading out into the larger society, like a gangrenous limb poisoning the body. Blaming this on the rest of the body won’t provide us with a cure.

    1. Interesting. Sandy Hook: suburb, perpetrator: white. Aurora, CO: suburb, perpetrator: white. Tucson Safeway: suburb, perpetrator: white Columbine: suburb, perpetrators: white.

      I see two trends here. 1) mass murders in the US seem to happen in suburbs, and are most frequently perpetrated by white men with high-powered firearms. and 2) you and your friend Igloo are attempting to imply that these crimes are because of “inner city” folk, which we all know is a euphemism for black.

      1. Sandy Hook was utterly atypical of most homicides in America. If all we had going on in the way of homicide here were mass shootings, at the same frequency as present, sure, they’d be horrible, but our murder rate would be the envy of every nation in the world. They’re that uncommon. It’s just the fact that every last one gets reported nation-wide that fools you into thinking otherwise.

        What pushes our homicide rate out of the usual rate for developed nations is not school shootings, but instead the presence in our nation of homicide “hot spots” with stratospherically high murder rates. While some of the murders there are committed by whites, more by blacks, the real difference between these areas and the nation as a whole is culture, not race. And, critically, they typically have no higher rates of gun ownership than other parts of the country with more normal murder rates.

        The fact that there are areas of the nation with comparable rates of gun ownership, existing under much the same gun laws, but with dramatically different rates of homicide, renders the claim that our homicide rate is driven by guns utterly untenable. No, it’s driven by culture, and not the mainstream culture, either. Your complaint shouldn’t be addressed to Wayne LaPierre, but instead Snoop Doggy Dog.

        But pursuing this line of thought has two problems attached to it:

        1. It provides no excuse to attack a civil liberty, gun ownership, that some people despise.

        2. It appears to implicate a different civil liberty, the 1st amendment, in any solution. How do you do something about an aberrant sub-culture while respecting the 1st amendment? It’s really challenging.

        Really challenging, but we better figure out a way. Because no gun control law is going to make guns less available than cocaine, and that’s available enough for criminals to continue their predation.

        1. Wow, your moral and logical disconnect is astonishing. It’s actually disgusting. So the murders that I listed above, all perpetrated by white men in suburbs is somehow…..Snoop Dogg’s fault?

          How about conservative white-man survivalism? How about Soldier of Fortune magazine and Ted Nugent and the Turner Diaries and Wayne LaPierre etc etc? Are these Snoop Dogg’s fault as well?

          Go ahead. Let’s see just how twisted one person’s logic can become.

          1. What’s astonishing is your (feigned?) lack of reading comprehension. Go back and read what I wrote again.

        2. “The fact that there are areas of the nation with comparable rates of gun ownership, existing under much the same gun laws, but with dramatically different rates of homicide, renders the claim that our homicide rate is driven by guns utterly untenable. ”

          Actually, no, that “fact” doesn’t render the claim untenable. If homicide rate vary despite “comparable” rates of ownership and regulation, interaction effects between ownership and other variables may nonetheless be driving the bulk of the variation, in which case the ownership rate is an insuperable part of any explanation of homicide rate disparity.

          A simple example: suppose the homicide rate (h) = ownership rate (o) * mystery variable (m).

          Given the same ownership rate but a different “mystery variable” across two locales, if one holds “m” constant in each town, a uniform change in the rate of ownership either exacerbates or mitigates the disparity between their homicide rates. Both ownership and the mystery variable “drive” the disparity in homicide rates.

          1. Your analysis is possible, if the more powerful variable is known to high precision. The more powerful it gets compared to gun ownership, the more precise you must be able to measure it in order to control for it.

            If it’s really a thousand times stronger, as the local rates suggest, you’d need to control it to at least three places precision to have even a hope of measuring a contribution from the guns. What social variable can be characterized to this level?

            This ain’t physics, where you can cancel electromagnetic effects to the point where you detect the gravitation from a lead ball, an amazingly smaller force. This is social science, where if you’ve got one place precision you’re doing well.

            So, no, I stand by my analysis: In the face of such powerful confounding variables, the analysis you propose is, as a practical matter, impossible. And in any event nobody has really tried to do it rigorously, these comparisons are just rhetorical fodder, not real research.

    2. Yeah, Lanza’s mom the survivalist preparing for the coming economic collapse probably got that from too much of that hippity-hop music.

    3. Everyone please note how Bellmore drops this noxious turd in the punchbowl without any thought, save mentioning Snoop Dogg* below, just how this “spreading out into the larger society” is taking place. And if he tries a media-driven explanation – movies, music, what have you – he’s going to have to square that with:

      a) The fact that the crime rate has been decreasing over the period that movies, television and music have all gotten more explicit and graphic, and;
      b) Other countries with their own cultures subcultures consume violent media that make ours look like old “Merry Melodies” cartoons with nowhere near the violent crime rate, let alone the homicide rate.

      (*If Bellmore can name me 3 Snoop Dogg tracks without Googling, or sing me five bars of any single one, I’ll eat my hat.)

    4. Also LOL-worthy is the idea that the cultural apparatus he seemingly wants to blame is anything but mainstream.

    5. For once, I’m finding myself largely agreeing with Brett (except where he simplifies things down to a hyper-violent minority culture vs. a larger, peaceful culture).

      But yes, you can’t mash all the statistics together, and it’s not about ethnicity.

      Simple counterpoint: Homicide rate among hispanics is 8.0 per 100,000, the homicide rate in Spain (with a predominantly hispanic population) is 1.2 per 100,000.

      Note also that even among whites, the homicide rate is still considerably higher than in other western countries.

      My understanding is that crime rates are largely a function of what social scientists call “structural” issues: poverty, living in crime-ridden neighborhoods, substandard housing, inferior education, lack of hope for a better future. And that if you study neighborhoods that are predominantly white, but suffer from the same structural disadvantages, people living there do not fare much differently from blacks or hispanics in the same situation. And because we have very little social mobility, this has not really been changing.

      The good news is that these structural issues can be addressed. The bad news is that the necessary policies tend to face strong opposition from the usual suspects in Washington. But we could very likely make a significant dent in our violent crime rates if we were to seriously start addressing poverty and its attendant problems.

      1. i’ve been doing a lot of digging into the 16 state statistics from the national violent death reporting system. i realize that the data may not be completely representative of the population of the u.s. at large but given that it does include around a third of the states and a fourth of the population i think the data are suggestive if not definitive. one of the things i noticed was that the percentage of intentional violent deaths among blacks attributable to firearms is around 70.7% while the percentage for whites was 52.9%. both figures indicating that firearms are the weapon of choice in both groups for homicide/suicide/homicide followed by suicide. the absolute total of such deaths for blacks in those states that year was 1850, and for whites the total was 5618. for either group that’s a lot of intentional killing with guns.

  15. I also like your attempt to create a kind of murder-rate “diversity rainbow.” Very progressive.

  16. One take-home lesson for the RBC, at least, has been to fully demonstrate the true unvarnished core of Mr. Bellmore’s philosophy.


  17. I would like to go back to a point that David T made about it being the better course of action to address rampage shootings by finding concrete solutions to a concrete problem rather than by talking about larger social or cultural issues. As he notes: “leaping immediately to the most abstract possible problem definition isn’t usually a great idea”.

    It seems obvious to me that if we had an effective ban on possessing these military style weapons and the hollow point and other rounds that cause such horrific, more frequently fatal wounds, rampage shootings would be far more difficult to undertake and the carnage a lunatic could inflict would be far less. Yes, I understand that social pathologies play a role, the role of men in our society, the veneration of guns, the deplorable lack of mental health care and many other interesting topics all play a role and should be addressed.

    But, for the moment, wouldn’t it be better to confine ourselves to the problem of rampage killings? This is a problem for which I believe there is a known and reasonably effective solution that doesn’t require resolving every problem afflicting humankind as a prerequisite. Let’s do this: Ban military style weapons, ban ammunition that would be prohibited for military use, collect up both and have extremely harsh penalties for private individuals who possess them.

    1. Ending the practice of the government coercing socially awkward kids to present themselves daily at government administered institutions where they’re tormented by the other inmates would likely reduce the number of rampage killings.

      1. Sorry, no, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t dismiss mass shootings as a rare and transient phenomenon up thread, then propose public schooling as a cause when the percentage of public school students who have ever committed a “rampage killing” is probably 3-4 orders of magnitude less than mass shootings as a percentage of homicides. Troll better.

  18. Brett Bellmore is causing me to have an epiphany about gun culture in the United States. The recent mass murders in our country are largely the result of (or exist on the fringes of) survivalist culture. With every mass murder, gun purchasing rates go up rather than down. Brett, above, seems to indicate that urban African-Americans are the real source of the problem, and have created the US’s stratospheric homicide rates.

    This latter perception seems to fuel the survivalist culture, and the insane and record gun stockpiling by conservative whites, including Adam Lanza’s mother. The perception that urban African-Americans possess guns in huge numbers and are responsible for our homicide rate leads to suburban and rural conservative whites buying guns in record numbers, fearing some sort of “uprising” or a societal meltdown–whether or not this could ever happen.

    A conservative gun-nut relative told me that the zombie genre of film/book is used in conservative circles as a euphemism for a minority/liberal uprising in the United States. One gun company even sells “zombie-killer” shotgun rounds, a thinly veiled reference to when the liberals and/or minorities come to take your guns.

    Having a Democratic African-American in office has exacerbated this polarizing, quasi-Turner Diaries impression. Mental health is still a part of the problem, sure, but these mass killings are fueled, I’d argue, primarily by a paranoid if vaguely rational survivalist mindset.

    The problem is, people like me who see guns as a scourge are trapped in the middle. We’re scapegoated by people like Brett as liberals coming to take everyone’s guns away.

    Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing has really hit the nail on the head with her post about the polarizing divide between gun-nuts and the rest of us:


    This is the best part of her post:

    Here’s how Donald Braman — associate professor at George Washington University Law School — and Dan Kahan — professor at Yale Law School — put it in 2006:

    “For one segment of American society, guns symbolize honor, human mastery over nature, and individual self-sufficiency. By opposing gun control, individuals affirm the value of these meanings and the vision of the good society that they construct. For another segment of American society, however, guns connote something else: the perpetuation of illicit social hierarchies, the elevation of force over reason, and the expression of collective indifference to the well-being of strangers. These individuals instinctively support gun control as a means of repudiating these significations and of promoting an alternative vision of the good society that features equality, social solidarity, and civilized nonagression.

    These competing cultural visions, we will argue, are what drive the gun control debate. They are what dispose individuals to accept certain empirically grounded public-safety arguments and to reject others. Indeed, the meanings that guns and gun control express are sufficient to justify most individuals’ positions on gun control independently of their beliefs about guns and safety. It follows that the only meaningful gun control debate is one that explicitly addresses whether and how the underlying cultural visions at stake should be embodied in American law.”

    1. I am no fan of Brett B’s reasoning most of the time, and his completely obtuse and non-responsive comments on Matthew Kahn’s thread were beyond the border of lunacy, so far as i am concerned – but I do not think in this thread (or elsewhere) he has said that the problem of gun crime in the US is urban African-Americans. I think Katya’s summary of his points – and related ones – was accurate. Murder rates vary. Murder rates in black urban areas are high, but that’s a matter of culture of the place, not race. Katja and others have noted that whites in similar places have similar murder rates.

      Where Brett is on the lunatic end (and I don’t say ‘fringe’ – the numbers are on his side to a scary extent) is in seeing ANY suggestion of regulation of ANY aspect of guns as ‘the government wants to take my guns away’ – and seeing that as a worse infringement on personal and legal freedom than any risk of being murdered, any risk of being injured intentionally or accidentally, or any countervailing policies whatsoever.

      Would the Supreme Court rulings on gun control laws even allow the kind of measure that Mitch Gutmann has been advocating, restricting or banning particular kinds of guns or ammunition? Or does the top court (or the pernicious five of its members) believe that the Second Amendment protects every kind of arsenal that any American resident wants to assemble?

      1. “in seeing ANY suggestion of regulation of ANY aspect of guns as ‘the government wants to take my guns away’”

        Nah. If you want to talk regulations requiring a certain level of reliability, for instance, or mandating that people who live in thin walled apartments use frangible ammo which wouldn’t pass through the wall and hit somebody in a neighboring room, or backstop standards for urban gun ranges, or minimum air quality at indoor ranges… You’d find me remarkably congenial so long as we were talking state level. (I’m serious about enumerated powers, which means I don’t like federal laws on a lot of topics even if I approve of their content.) There are lots of sorts of “regulations of guns” I’d favor.

        The problem here is that the left, and it IS the left originating these things, doesn’t have any interest in regulations which wouldn’t either reduce the number of gun owners, or their choice of guns, or impose substantial hassles upon them. Even when you come up with a superficially reasonable regulation, the implementation is always designed to accomplish these ends.

        Your side of the political spectrum has a lot of people who just, flat out, don’t think people should own guns. And this influences the sort of laws you propose. If a regulation was of the sort I’d think reasonable, it wouldn’t occur to you to propose it!

    2. In fairness to the mother of the shooter, she does not come across as a survivalist or a racist gun nut. Just someone who had a particular hobby, because it satisfied something in her nature. Perhaps she (stupidly) thought it was a pastime she could share with her disturbed son.

      Indeed, that is one part of the problem. If she bred pit bulls or poisonous snakes, she would have been subject to more regulation from the state or disquiet from her neighbours.

      1. On the contrary, a number of articles have noted that she was stockpiling guns in anticipation of a complete economic meltdown. Or so she told friends and acquaintances.

  19. This is interesting. I think that this thread is bringing out the distinction between the overall “Murder Rate”- however one wants to separate out the many various sociological and geographical components; and these spectacular Massacres.

    In a statistical sense, how much do these massacres contribute to the overall national/ regional murder rate ? In other words, do these horrendous events show up on annual graphs of murders ?

    One needs to understand the statistics before one can make rational measures to change conditions. Of course, statistics themselves are only one of many considerations, and perhaps not the most important one.

  20. I propose: let’s invent a modification of the “well-regulated militia” clause. As follows: Anyone who wants to “keep and bear” arms must first join some organization *calling itself* a militia. A militia consists of any ten or more persons who mutually commit to all the others’ gun ownership. Nothing else required. Neither the government, nor the ATF, nor etc. etc. have any right to judge your idea of what a militia is, nor control its membership, etc. …

    … unless a member of *your* militia is convicted of a gun-related crime. If this happens, the entire militia is disarmed. All homes searched, all guns and ammo seized and destroyed. Hunters, skeet shooters, collectors, and even *survivalist nutcases* can get together with their buddies and form law-abiding “militias” that never come within ten miles of a gun crime. No disarmament, no waiting period, no FBI background checks. Mentally ill teens? Jared Loughner? The VT shooter? They likely won’t be able to find ten people willing to band together with them. Random gang members? Well, they can band together to buy guns *once*, but one conviction later the *entire gang’s gun collection* gets seized.

    Just an idea.

  21. Mark,

    May I suggest that you are making a mistake by lumping two different problems together as “gun homicide.” The massacre problem is real. So is the “other gun homicide” problem. Both need to be addressed, tonight if possible.

    So, while it may be true that “..asking how to prevent the next Sandy Hook doesn’t help answer the question how to reduce the rate of gunshot injury, which continues to rise even as improved medical care keeps the homicide rate moving down,” it is also true that it is important to try to prevent the next Sandy Hook. That the steps needed to do that may not affect the non-massacre violence rate is no reason to ignore the problem.

    1. Me too. What he said.

      Fifty years ago data processing was in its infancy. My girlfriend worked as a programmer writing data entry software. I asked her how she checked for numerical-only data in numerical fields in the language she was using.

      She told me it was the policy of her company not to bother writing data-checking code when only some of the errors could be trapped. If invalid values could get past the edit anyway, don’t bother with the partial edit.

      I pissed her off when I said “that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Today I woul be much more polite, but the principle remains: if you can’t solve the whole problem, can you solve a part of it?

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