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So, Sandy Hook

By skepticlawyer

Today, as promised, I’m going to talk about Sandy Hook Elementary. I’m also not going to provide you with any easy answers or solutions.

This means that if you don’t want to acknowledge the grim reality that public policy is hard, stop reading now lest you get to the end of this piece and find that I’ve made you miserably unhappy and that you therefore wish to abuse me. This post is the first of two; the next one will go up when I have some more information about a crucial aspect of the investigation as it unfolds.

I ended my last piece on 2DayFM’s prank gone wrong with Charlie Brooker’s plea to report spree killings differently, so I’ll start this one on the same theme: the spectacle.

This comes from Plato’s Republic:

Leontius, the son of Aglaion, was coming up from the Peiraeus, close to the outer side of the north wall, when he saw some dead bodies lying near the executioner, and he felt a desire to look at them, and at the same time felt disgust at the thought, and tried to turn aside. For some time he fought with himself and put his hand over his eyes, but in the end the desire got the better of him, and opening his eyes wide with his fingers he ran forward to the bodies, saying, ‘There you are, curse you, have your fill of the lovely spectacle’.

Nearly everything in Plato’s Republic is A-Grade bunkum, but that insight is a telling one. Charlie Brooker calls it ‘rubbernecking’ and anyone who’s ever slowed down to gawp at an RTA or wondered what the Romans got out of their incredibly violent entertainments or played Call of Duty or obsessively tried to learn more about the latest school shooting understands the desire that got the better of Leontius. Violent death. It’s just so interesting, dammit. And these days, we know that it’s not just our eyes that want to look. We do, too. Plato thought that ideal versions of everything existed out there in the ether–he called them ‘forms’. But there are no forms, or if there are, they exist not in the stars but in our heads. Just like the rubbernecking habit.

This means that any discussion of Sandy Hook–here or elsewhere–is in some respects voyeuristic. We are perving on other people’s grief, and that’s not an attractive habit. I find it revealing that the two commentators who made the ‘grief’ point in the most lapidary fashion represent political extremes. Here is socialist Guy Rundle, in Crikey!:

Too calm, too practised. They are too good at this now. There is too much stricken meditation on the unknowable nature of evil, too much “this is not a day for politics”, too much coming together, too much spirituality that is really passivity with a gloss, too many candles, too many floating lanterns. These things have become as polished and inverted in intent as teen funerals with their slideshow montages to Time of Your Life.

There’s something nauseating about such forbearance. The systematic and thorough killing of 20 children under seven should not be an occasion for which anyone is sufficiently prepared. By its very nature, it should be an occasion for hysteria, for disarray, for uncontrollable grief.

[...]

The meditative reflection on display strikes one as a particular condition of a more general process — the manner in which a type of fatalism has encroached on daily life at the very root — in America. Though expressed in religious terms, it seems to have more to do with the all-encompassing power of abstract systems, corporations, processes, a life lived in permanent suspension from the real.

“We need to take action,” the superintendent had said in Bridgeport and I brightened for a moment. “We need to take action to comfort, action to be vigilant.” Which is not action at all, but its opposite.

And here is paleolibertarian Ilana Mercer:

Almost as warped as the (evil, not ill) mass murderer who killed 20 children and 7 adults (his mother included) at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., is the freaky spectacle of mass contagion—where members of the public turn professional mourners, flocking to funeral happenings for victims they never knew.

Yes, each one of us can project his own baggage onto the senseless deaths in Newtown. But grief is not a tribal affair. Communities don’t grieve; individuals who incur loss do. These ritualistic displays among regular folks across the US are symptomatic of our festering cultural commons. [Emphasis in original]

At the center of this festering culture is the journalist, acting as a master of ceremonies (MC). (I can see Anderson Cooper reconfiguring his Hero of the Year Award as we speak. This low-watt, dim bulb of a journo chooses America’s heroes each year, based on how many tears they shed. Pretty much.) For the media’s blow-by-blow, wall-to-wall coverage of the memorial in Newtown, Connecticut—and of every connected utterance on the issue, official or other—is a deconstruction of the discipline of journalism.

So–that acknowledgment of our devotion to the spectacle over–it’s time to address a few (and it is only a few, because life is too short) of the early stage explanations for Sandy Hook, and to put them out of their misery.

It was the guns what done it!

I’m about to make both pro and anti-gun friends very unhappy (so you have been warned), but this lawyer with a modicum of statistical understanding is heartily sick of both sides abusing the numbers.

First, some background radiation to what I’m about to say.

The United States is, compared to OECD averages, a phenomenally violent country. And within the US, the South has levels of violence on par with much of the developing world.

US v OECD assault death rates

South v rest of USA assault death rates

As should be reasonably obvious, even the blood-drenched United States is getting better as time passes: much better. New York has recently had cause to boast about crime rates dropping to levels not seen since 1960. This decline in all forms of crime (not just assault deaths) has been repeated throughout the developed world, although the rest of us are falling from a much a lower ‘high’. The decline in violent crime has also continued across the US and EU, independent of both the financial crisis and rates of firearm ownership.

Recorded offences in those EU countries where consistent time series data is kept (via European Commission/Eurostat)

US firearm deaths over time (via Center for Disease Control)

It is important to remember that the most common gun-related death in the US (and elsewhere) is a suicide, and that if there is one ‘gun control’ proposal that would help to reduce this figure, it would be a mandated requirement to have secured firearms (what is sometimes called a ‘gun cabinet’) with separate ammunition storage. I was brought up (in my Australian country childhood) to do this — not only by my parents but also by the local Sporting Shooters’ Association.

Many people make the mistake of assuming that because there is effectively a gun for every American (thanks to the 2nd Amendment), it is always and everywhere the high rate of gun ownership that produces the high death from assault rate. This is only true up to a point. Not only do other countries have high rates of gun ownership combined with low rates of firearm death (Switzerland is a common and well documented example), firearms are not the only independent variable when it comes to rates of violent crime. Other things are going on, which I’ll deal with in the next post. That said, it is important for gun rights advocates to understand that banning guns would not be meaningless:

That leaves us with the big one, the argument I’ve been circling around for 2,000 words: ban guns. Ban them all.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by arguing that this wouldn’t work. Guns do not create homicidal intent, as some people have argued, but they do make homicidal intent more lethal.  A bullet is harder to stop, requires less physical strength to deploy, and does a huge amount of damage.  And shooting someone takes a lot less time than stabbing or bludgeoning them.  That is why we now arm the US military with rifles instead of big knives. Conservatives who argue that a total ban wouldn’t lower the homicide rate are being ridiculous.

However–even if you tore up the Bill of Rights and banned guns, overcoming all the practical hurdles in your path–while you would certainly reduce the death toll, the US would still be a more violent country than the others in the OECD. Of course, you could argue that an America without guns would undergo a vast cultural shift, would–in effect–become Canada. But, as my mother used to say, “if ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans, there’d be no need for ironmongers”. Jeffrey Goldberg explains:

But these gun-control efforts, while noble, would only have a modest impact on the rate of gun violence in America.

Why?

Because it’s too late.

There are an estimated 280 million to 300 million guns in private hands in America—many legally owned, many not. Each year, more than 4 million new guns enter the market. This level of gun saturation has occurred not because the anti-gun lobby has been consistently outflanked by its adversaries in the National Rifle Association, though it has been. The NRA is quite obviously a powerful organization, but like many effective pressure groups, it is powerful in good part because so many Americans are predisposed to agree with its basic message.

America’s level of gun ownership means that even if the Supreme Court—which ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment gives citizens the individual right to own firearms, as gun advocates have long insisted—suddenly reversed itself and ruled that the individual ownership of handguns was illegal, there would be no practical way for a democratic country to locate and seize those guns.

Many gun-control advocates, and particularly advocates of a total gun ban, would like to see the United States become more like Canada, where there are far fewer guns per capita and where most guns must be registered with the federal government. The Canadian approach to firearms ownership has many attractions—the country’s firearm homicide rate is one-sixth that of the U.S. But barring a decision by the American people and their legislators to remove the right to bear arms from the Constitution, arguing for applying the Canadian approach in the U.S. is useless.

So, yes, guns make the problem worse. But even without the guns, there is still one hell of a problem. And good luck with trying to do anything about the guns.

Finally: always remember that it is easy for people in the UK to criticise the US for its terrible violence. Compared to the US, the UK (even more than many other European nations, like France) is an astonishingly peaceful, ordered country. It is hard to believe that this nation of gardeners, queuers, and apologisers once ruled the greatest empire the world has ever seen, but it did. As an erstwhile classicist, I sometimes like to play the ‘compare the imperialists’ game: London v Rome. Apart from a grave public politeness, a sentimental fondness for their pets, and the rule of law, the two societies had nothing in common. Not for nothing did historian Tom Holland call the Romans ‘a superpredator of a civilisation’. One wonders what the Brits did if they did not predate, or if there were once more to them than cricket and liberal democracy.

It is also fair to say that Britain both before and after Dunblane started with a less absolutist attitude towards civil liberties than the US, and also, a lot fewer guns.

Moving swiftly on…

If  we can’t ban guns, what can we do? Magazine size, concealed carry, and background checks

Once the ‘ban guns’ argument falls over, three alternative proposals are routinely floated, one from strong 2nd Amendment supporters and two from the more moderate end of the gun control spectrum. They are as follows:

1. Background checks.

2. Ban extended capacity magazines.

3. Allow concealed carry/remove ‘gun free’ zones.

There is modest evidence that background checks and banning extended capacity magazines would make a would-be school shooter’s decision to inflict carnage more difficult. Megan McCardle observes:

You can, to be sure, name one or two things that might make a marginal difference: ban extended-capacity magazines, and require background checks for private sales.  As a proponent of reasonable gun control that in some ways goes farther than current rules (I’d like to require that people pass a shooting and gun safety test before they can own a gun), these rules don’t strike me as crazy.

But we are back to generic solutions. These “reasonable controls” would not, in fact, have done much to stop the horror at Newtown; Lanza’s problem was not that he didn’t know the four rules of gun safety, or that his aim was bad. And Lanza didn’t buy the guns, so a background check would not have stopped him.

Could we go bigger?  Should we ban the relatives of anxious sad sacks from buying guns?  How about family friends? (Michael Carneal broke into a friend’s house while they were away for Thanksgiving and stole the guns he used to shoot up his Kentucky school.)  The question answers itself; the kind of all-knowing surveillance regime that this would require would be both impossible, and intolerable.

Reducing the magazine sizes seems modestly more promising, but only modestly. It takes a few minutes of practicing to learn how to change a magzine in a few seconds.  Even if you banned magazines, forcing people to load the gun itself, people could just carry more guns; spree shooters seem to show up, as Lanza did, with more guns and ammunition than they actually need.  In this specific case, it might well not have helped at all. Would Lanza really have been gang-rushed by fast-thinking primary school students if he stopped to reload?

There is also evidence that gun free zones just make the individuals within them more vulnerable, and that they actually attract criminal elements (as in, those with unlicensed weapons) because they are unprotected. This may, once again, be peculiar to the US and may not apply outside it.

The problem of concealed carry

Concealed carry, one would assume, stands or falls on the evidence. The way people argue over it, one would think that it either works brilliantly (gun rights groups) or generates chaos and crime (law enforcement and gun control groups). In fact, it does neither. Time and again, the enactment of concealed carry laws has not changed the crime rate in either direction. At all. People don’t even get to argue over correlation and causation because the data doesn’t get that far. It’s a wash, indistinguishable from noise.

Claims in favour of concealed carry laws and their ability to reduce crime were first made by John Lott in his book More Guns, Less Crime. Lott, an academic economist who–perhaps unusually–supports gun rights argued that violent crime decreases in areas where law abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed weapons. Lott’s case, when first made, seemed empirically very strong. Indeed, in terms of an understanding of the operation of economic incentives, the basic argument is sound. Gun free zones don’t work because of the incentives involved, so by extension concealed carry should work, for the simple reason that if a criminal thinks his potential victim is armed, he may be deterred from committing the crime. However, it proved impossible for other scholars to replicate Lott’s results, while (by his own admission, foolishly), Lott waded into heated usenet debates, and was later caught sockpuppetting in his own cause.

Discrediting Lott did not serve to make the concealed carry argument go away, however, because the opposite claim–that it increases crime rates–turned out to be equally untrue. Consider the following case study:

In 2004, the Ohio legislature passed a law allowing private citizens to apply for permits to carry firearms outside the home. The decision to allow concealed carry was, of course, a controversial one. Law-enforcement organizations, among others, argued that an armed population would create chaos in the streets. In 2003, John Gilchrist, the legislative counsel for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, testified, “If 200,000 to 300,000 citizens begin carrying a concealed weapon, common sense tells us that accidents will become a daily event.”

When I called Gilchrist recently, he told me that events since the state’s concealed-carry law took effect have proved his point. “Talking to the chiefs, I know that there is more gun violence and accidents involving guns,” he said. “I think there’s more gun violence now because there are more guns. People are using guns in the heat of arguments, and there wouldn’t be as much gun violence if we didn’t have people carrying weapons. If you’ve got people walking around in a bad mood—or in a divorce, they’ve lost their job—and they get into a confrontation, this could result in the use of a gun. If you talk to emergency-room physicians in the state, [they] see more and more people with gunshot wounds.”

Gilchrist said he did not know the exact statistics on gun-related incidents (or on incidents concerning concealed-carry permit holders specifically, because the state keeps the names of permit holders confidential). He says, however, that he tracks gun usage anecdotally. “You can look in the newspaper. I consciously look for stories that deal with guns. There are more and more articles in The Columbus Dispatch about people using guns inappropriately.”

Gilchrist’s argument would be convincing but for one thing: the firearm crime rate in Ohio remained steady after the concealed-carry law passed in 2004. [Emphasis mine]

The devil in the detail 

It seems not to be widely known among the general public (excepting those who have some knowledge of firearms) that the Bushmaster .223 the killer used in Sandy Hook is a very common rifle in the US and not covered by any ‘assault weapons’ ban–historical, current, or proposed (the term is actually legal, rather than technical, and suggests that US Congressional draftsmen are not, generally, gun-owners). It is widely used for hunting and easy to customise:

Mr. Halbrook, who compiled manufacturing estimates for a lawsuit, said that by a conservative estimate, 3.3 million to 3.5 million AR-15s were made in the United States from 1986 through the first half of this year and were not exported. A similar estimate, for manufacturing from 1986 through 2009, was summarized by a District of Columbia circuit court judge as sufficient evidence that the rifles were in “common use.”

Enthusiasts praise the AR-15 rifle as lightweight, durable, accurate and, compared with other long guns, gentle in its kick. They describe the rifle as a gadget geek’s dream — the “Barbie doll” of firearms, as one gun dealer described it — because of an array of accessories that allow it to be easily customized.

“The average person can change stocks, they can put lasers on them, they can put locks on them,” said Tony Dee, the chief gunsmith at The Gun Store in Las Vegas. “It’s just endless. It’s like building a custom car. You can just accessorize it to your own personal taste.”

Mr. Dee said his wife owned a pink, chrome-plated AR-15. “It’s blinged out pretty good.”

Where to now?

I expected angry and inflamed online debate about gun laws in the wake of Sandy Hook. I did not expect some of the arguments and assertions I’ve seen about mental illness. There are policy proposals (from people I had hitherto assumed to be reasonable) I’ve heard that would amount not only to the reinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill but also to a deliberate decision to tear up the Bill of Rights for not a few of America’s most vulnerable people. To my mind, the mental illness debate is more urgent and frightening than the anger swirling around the 2nd Amendment debate right now. I want to address the issues raised therein with some care, which is why I’ve confined this first post to voyeurism, guns, and crime.

The take home?

1. Crime rates, including violent crime rates, are dropping like a stone across the developed world.

2. Despite also experiencing a significant drop in violent crime rates, the US is still much more violent than other OECD countries.

3. Much of this crime is independent of rates of gun ownership.

4. There are insurmountable Constitutional impediments to getting major changes to US gun laws as they currently stand.

5. Not all of the small changes otherwise possible are pointless.

43 Comments

  1. Posted December 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Great post SL. Steven Pinker had some historical musings about American political culture and its divides which, with some historical correction, are to the point regarding different crime rates between regions.

    Another factor is the legacy of slavery. The rate of violence among African-Americans is way higher than among other Americans.

  2. kvd
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Trying valiantly to stick to SL’s points here, but forgive if I stray.

    I agree that those people seeking amendment to the Constitution will fail, and fail badly. That much seems a no-brainer, but still you see it endlessly discussed. Then there’s some sort of reinstating on an earlier ban on certain weapons, which might get up if the move is very quick, and doesn’t lose sight of that one single aim. In either event, I agree with SL that probably the issue of ‘gun control’ is by now quite simply “too big to fail” – to use a term employed elsewhere.

    Then there’s concealed carry, which I’ve never understood. I mean, why not simply display the fact that you have a gun on you? The concealment is said to add a level of deterrence that I’ve always thought unsupportable. So the argument/discussion, to my mind, should be about ‘carry’ pure and simple.

    What to do, what to do? For mine I have always intensely resented PM Howard’s trumpeted (and yes, lauded) guns buyback, or whatever it was. The thought that our entire citizenry could be affected by the demented actions of a solitary gunman just leaves me cold. I don’t appreciate my actions (in any way) being so circumscribed.

    Perhaps the limitations on magazine size would be worthwhile, but I keep coming back to the “too big to fail” thought. Along with thoughts about what happened after Prohibition, and what is happening now through the so-called ‘war on drugs’. They spawned the mobs, and the cartels, so why should any prohibitive action now produce a different result.

    There was a two-liner on Instapundit the other day which to me destroyed the efforts of some to sheet home total direct responsibility to ‘gun owners’:

    “what’s the gun community going to do about Newport?” with the response:
    “dunno – what’s the gay community going to do about Penn State?”

    And then there’s this, and leading into SL’s next foray – this.

  3. Posted December 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Remove the black-on-black crime (i.e. mostly, but not limited to, “gang” stuff) & the US gun crime – particularly gun homicide – rate goes through the floor, so to speak.

  4. Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    LE: Carrying guns at school need not cause carnage, otherwise I’d not be here about 10x over.
    We occasionally carried a gun along for show & tell (or something). In high school there were shooting days & regular shoots for anyone in the shooting club (quite popular, as it got us out of the schoolgrounds for most of Saturday) etc etc.

    The mind of someone who wants to top themself is a murky place, but lack of a firearm has never been an obstacle for many who want to end it all.

    There is hanging from a doorknob (I am able to vouch that this really works) drowning in the bathtub or somewhere, jumping off a cliff, or tall building, etc etc.

    The anti-gun crowd loosely fall into two categories: The downright evil, who want to control guns (& often just about every other aspect of our lives) & those of the Pollyana school of though, of the belief that if “all guns were banned” mankind would all live happily ever after.

    Even the most unhinged of mass shooterists seems to have a refined sense of risk benefit analysis…..

    …… there is a reason these shootings happen at schools…
    … & a reason they do not happen at rodeos or nascar rallies.

  5. Henry2
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    This is going to make me sound like a bit of an old fuddy duddy but I see obvious connections between shoot-em-up video games and real gun crime.
    I dont have any data to back this up but wonder what others think?

  6. Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    btw: Commiserations on being stuck in Manchester.
    Makes one glad one’s ancestors were convicted & transported doesn’t it?

  7. Posted December 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    H@@6 Sorry, the evidence is against you. Video games up, violent crime down. If there is any effect, it appears that catharsis overwhelms incitement.

  8. Mel
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I can see how declaring schools No Gun Zones in a country swamped with guns could encourage wannabe mass killers to target schools but I’m skeptical that arming teachers would reduce the overall rate of school gun related deaths as mishaps etc could cancel out any gain.

    I agree with SL’s five points apart from point 3 “Much of this crime is independent of rates of gun ownership” – where I’m unsure. I think you have so many micro-factors pulling in different directions and so much deliberate and unconscious bias muddying the research on hot button issues like this that I can form no firm opinion.

  9. Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure if video games are providing a substitute for actual violence, or if it’s just a coincidence. Right now all we can say is that they seem inversely correlated.

    Compared to being able to shoot aliens, zombies, jackbooted Nazis, or jackbooted alien nazombies in the face, I imagine that owning a gun is probably a bit dull.

    I agree that there’s really little to be done. The fix was in when the founding fathers mistook the inheritance of British cultural norms for liberty-obtained-with-guns. They might as well have written the French navy into the second amendment, it had far more practical effect on the outcome of the Revolution. And the idea that a gun-owning populous prevents shitty monarchy is daft: ask any Saudi.

  10. Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    From a risk management perspective, guns do not increase probability or incidence. They sure do increase the impact of a realised risk. So the total risk exposure is higher.

  11. Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    I’ll just note that I’m addressing the video games/violence issue as part of the next post. While I’m focussing on mental health (largely because some of the stuff I’ve seen was so extraordinary), I’d like the post to act as something of a sweep-up discussion of various other things floating around the interwebs, including the really awful public ‘pornography of grief’ both Mercer and Rundle identify.

  12. Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I think video games are a red herring, myself: folk with mental illnesses can lose their shit for a lot of reasons. Martin Bryant felt burning rage over the matter of a gazumping. People have been murderising the hell out of each other because of a book that pretty clearly says “hey, killing is forbidden” early in the front matter. And so on.

    Anyhow, I look forward to your next.

  13. Posted December 20, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Another piece on Mercer and Rundle’s performative grief: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2012/12/newtown-massacre

  14. Posted December 20, 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    As a gun owner and pro-2A American, I have to say that I actually think this is a factually sound and fair writeup. I want to point out two things. 1) Two separate governments studies found that the ‘Assault Weapons’ ban (which I think was intentionally named to confuse them with fully-automatic assault rifles) had no effect at all, either at its onset or expiration. 2) The extended capacity thing is totally silly. There are so many high capacity magazines, and they are so quick to swap anyway, that as you have somewhat observed it’s a meaningless encroachment. It will simply drive up the value of such banned magazines as it did last time.

  15. Posted December 20, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    I am curious, what is the last piece of info you are waiting upon for the second post?

  16. TerjeP
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty anti gun control but SL failed to make me unhappy with this article. Although I was not persuaded to change any of my views.

    A few points in response to the article and comments:-

    - one of the quotes mentions Canada having a federal register of firearms. This used to be the case but it was recently scrapped. New Zealand scrapped theirs in 1983. Australia instituted one after 1996. They don’t do much other than piss off shooters with ridiculous red tape. Licensing shooters makes sence, registering firearms not so much.

    - in some places you need a permit to conceal a firearm. However in some other places displaying a firearm in a side holster for example is prohibited. The control advocates run both ways it seems.

  17. Chris Bond
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    See http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/jul/22/gun-homicides-ownership-world-list#data
    If you download the data and order by ‘Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop’ you see that Honduras is at #1 spot with a score of 68.43, while their ‘Rank by rate of ownership’ is 88th.
    The USA is #28 in the ranking of ‘Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop’ with a score of 2.97, while their ‘Rank by rate of ownership’ is 1st.
    Not much correlation there!

  18. Posted December 20, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    My great-grandmother and her youngest daughter were murdered in about 1911. The prosecution cited the “horrible pictures” in a history of bushranging possessed by one of the two perpetrators as a contributing factor. The Awful Power of Awful Pictures is a longstanding notion.

  19. Posted December 20, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Brock @16: the main thing I want is a confirmed diagnosis of a recognised mental illness under a nice recent edition of the DSM (there are lots of speculations running around, but nothing certain).

    As follow up, I’d also like

    - Confirmation (or denial) of the shooter’s connection with the school.

    - Confirmation (or denial) of the persistent rumour floating around the intertubes that the shooter’s mother was in the process of having him sectioned.

    - Confirmation (or denial) of his mother’s involvement in the ‘prepper’ movement (once again, there is a lot of speculation, but not much fact, getting around).

    But a diagnosis is the biggie. It’s kind of central to know whether we’re dealing with ‘bad’ or ‘mad’ or ‘sad’.

  20. Richard Osborne
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    As a retired copper, who spent many years in ballistics and later on, licencing, I believe most threads herein have some good points, as well as the originator, SL.

    Personally, I don’t believe the answer to these horrific crimes, is to be found in some academic arguement or solution.

    Neither do I believe, further, more rigid regulation of either the shooter or the F/A, will necessarily solve anything either.

    The possible prohabition of some, categories, and calibres of F/A’s is probably justified. Certainly, nobody can mount a case for any (civilian) need, of a ‘select fire’, automatic F/A. Neither are some calibres arguably necessary either. Such as a .50 Cal. in a M82A1, ‘Barrett’ for example.

    Certainly, in Big Game, heavy calibres are both important and indeed necessary. But in ‘Big Game’ livery and ‘set-up’ !

    During Mr Howard’s gun ‘Buy Back’ scheme, we (police) found many 10′s of thousands of F/A’s, simply went underground. Further, some hitherto legal shooters, sought to become illegal. With an intractable attitude of ‘…nobody’s going to take my guns away…’ ?

    Therefore, in some instances the ‘Buy Back’ scheme essentially failed, purely because the authorities tried to ‘mandate’ everything to the point of stupidity ! Rather than trying to enlist a degree of co-oporation from the shooting fraternity !

    And the mechanics of trying to regulate, track, and generally oversee this behemoth, new policy with the over regulation of both the Shooter and their F/A’s, it just became an unwieldy, bureaucratic nightmare.

    What’s the answer to these mass shootings ?
    I don’t know ? Examining the mental health issues of potential F/A licence applicants, is a consideration. As is the blanket prohabition of ownership of those convicted of crimes of violence.

    The successful interdiction of the illicit F/A market. That’s a major move in the right direction, absolutely.

    And the Judiciary applying heavy sentences for those convicted of crimes involving a F/A, is another strategy.that may assist.?

    Whatever measures are adopted, I don’t believe there’s any single remedy. The only practical answers are to strengthen existing legislation, penalty’s, registration, and any other existing measures that may assist.

    The main thing, we should NOT impose any greater limitations, impediments or controls, on the lawful shooter ! Like it or not, they’re enjoy, and are entitled to their sport. Most have already suffered under the toughening-up of the existing laws anyway.

    We (police), need their cooperation, together with their collective goodwill, in order to help maintain and thus ‘trace’ the F/A’s that are already out there in the community. Without driving more of them further underground.!

  21. David Duffy
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    “Consider the following case study…”

    This paper (2012 revision of 2011 original)

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2118893

    includes data from Ohio (2004-2006). Generally, the authors conclude that right-to-carry laws don’t have a marked effect on murder rate, but may increase aggravated assault. But they are very cautious about robustness of their results.

    In Queensland,

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/7/52

    it seems gun ownership is associated with an increased total risk of suicide (not just by gun).

    And I enjoyed the argument here

    https://www.law.northwestern.edu/lawreview/Colloquy/2010/24/LRColl2010n24Rosenthal&Malcom.pdf

    that members of drug gangs carrying guns for self-defence seem to still have quite high rates of being murdered.

  22. derrida derider
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it obvious that the septics need to take the “well-regulated militia” bit of their amendment seriously and insist on proper military training before letting people play with such dangerous toys? The hours needed should be well in excess of that needed to, say, get a driver’s licence.

  23. Posted December 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    DD@23 Ah, the Swiss solution :)

    With, perhaps, a touch of Starship Troopers; the Heinlein masterwork, not the cardboard cut-out movie. (Heinlein gave 1950s US an Hispanic military hero and what does Hollywood serve up? — Aryan-on-a-stick.)

  24. Posted December 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Of course, things in Switzerland work like they do because, well, they’re Swiss. Look at the difference between government-by-referenda in the Swiss Confederation and in California …

  25. TerjeP
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    DD – Using a firearm safely is far less complicated than driving a car safely. The basics are to always assume it is loaded and don’t point the end bit at people. The school shooting was not a product of not knowing how to use a firearm.

  26. Mel
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Also try not to drop your gun on the floor of the House of Representatives during committee meetings.

  27. Adrien
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Nearly everything in Plato’s Republic is A-Grade bunkum, :)

    Funny because true.

    Guns are very much part of American political tradition, for some anyway. I can’t imagine the ruckus if Obama, of all people, tried to bring them in. It’s be like Koresh on a national scale.

  28. Adrien
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Interesting how Mercer and Rundle appear to think that the massacre and its causes are all about their ideological wheelbarrow whilst at the same time professing disapproval of the use the media makes of events like this.

  29. Mel
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Rule number three: Don’t shoot your seven year son in the parking lot of the gun store.

    “A seven-year-old boy was shot to death when his father’s handgun went off in the parking lot of a western Pennsylvania gun store. The boy, Craig Loughrey, was settling into his safety seat in the back of his father’s car when the gun accidentally went off and pierced his chest, reports the Associated Press. The boy died at the scene. Joseph Loughrey, 44, had gone to the gun store to sell a rifle and his 9mm handgun but the owner wasn’t interested, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Although he had unloaded the gun at home, Loughrey failed to realize there was still a bullet in the chamber.”

    Well, at least the kid died in his safety seat.

  30. kvd
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    While we’re on this regulation-as-solution kick, we should maybe think about banning falling down.

    Also, note the sidebar for other CDC statistics of interest.

  31. Adrien
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    From Mel’s link:

    “It’s obviously negligent and reckless to some degree,” a law enforcement official said. “It’s obviously in that gray area, where it’s a true accident. But is there negligence or recklessness with him not clearing the chamber?”

    This question is actually being asked?! One of the first things they teach you is to always check the bloody chamber to ensure there’s nothing in it! Also there’s a thing called a safety catch.

  32. John H.
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Four dead, three police hurt in Pennsylvania shooting

    The USA has the highest rate of illicit and prescribed drug use. The USA has recent reports of “opioid babies” and “serotonin babies” because so many people are on prescribed drugs for various conditions, with opioid related deaths steadily climbing.

    The USA consumes 80% of the world’s antidepressants, has one million cihldren on antipslychotics for off label purposes.

    The USA culture is breeding psychopathology, with the economic downturn this is now becoming a huge problem. Improving the economy, changing the cultural attitude towards weapons and violence will do more to improve the situation than gun control or mental health screening. They won’t go there, the last thing the USA wants to do is question its cultural foundations.

  33. kvd
    Posted December 23, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    A quite long read, but worth the effort if any of the angst floating about is to lead to anything worthwhile in the way of legislation or prevention or at least mitigation of these sorts of incidents.

  34. TerjeP
    Posted December 23, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Rule number three: Don’t shoot your seven year son in the parking lot of the gun store.

    A tragic thing to happen. But surely no more tragic than reversing over your child with the car. It would break your heart either way.

  35. Posted December 25, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    kvd@34. Worthwhile piece, thanks for drawing our attention to it.

  36. Posted December 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo & kvd: he is in error about Australian and British crime rates (they are low, but then, they were always low, before and after guns), but there is a great deal of good information there otherwise.

    It would appear that the sticking point for a lot of Americans is accepting how crime-ridden their society actually is. It would appear that the sticking point for a lot of non-Americans is accepting how much of this crime is independent of rates of gun ownership.

  37. kvd
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I agree SL that his pièce lacks authority when he steps away from his own country – but that is a common enough failing, and doesn’t detract from his main comments. Anyway I’m pleased to read that a couple of people actually took the time to digest it.

  38. Posted December 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Many of us have had a good read of it kvd. The comments thead below it sorts out some of the simpler mistakes.

    The piece has been linked to all over the web, & many of us have seen it elsewhere.

    Very interesting piece.

    It makes it very clear that the 2nd amendment is worth its weight in gold.
    Australia needs something similar, if we had had something like that, Jackboot would never have been able to confiscate property from citizens.

  39. AJ
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I agree SL that his pièce lacks authority when he steps away from his own country – but that is a common enough failing, and doesn’t detract from his main comments. Anyway I’m pleased to read that a couple of people actually took the time to digest it.

    I don’t think it has a whole lot of authority when he is talking about the US either.

    2.5 million defensive gun uses a year, That is nearly 1% of the population saved from murder/rape/mugging. Does anyone think without guns the US on a whole would be more dangerous than a Brazilian favela after dark?

    And he is right about mass murders being incredibly rare, but he is wrong about his generic bad guy. Homicide itself is extremely rare, and if you do fall victim to it, it was probably your husband or boyfriend.

  40. Adrien
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Rule number three: Don’t shoot your seven year son in the parking lot of the gun store.

    Aw? Aw rilly? Dang! The times is so complicated I wish’n someone hada tol’ me that afore Ah blew Billy-Joe all over the chickens in the back of the Chevy. Wuz an accident I swear it!

    Had nuthin ta do with him chewin’ all mah Chris’mas tabacca. He’s only five. Can’t spect him to pay fer his own tabacca. Now can ya?

    So long Billy-Joe. But leastways Ah gots the other 18 kids to plow the field so don’t worry’bout yer Paw son. Yer with Jesus now in Heaven where’s ya kin shoot off any ordnance ya care to. Par’dise is just like Medal o’ Fonner. Only better.

    Gotta go Ah think the still’s ’bout ready ta boil over, yee-har! And ‘member. Ah’s a gun owner and Ah vote!

  41. Ian Osborne
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    My mother used to say “If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans, we’d all be millionaires.

  42. MK
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    I am just glad that there are people like you and the Skeptical Libertarian who are actually willing to look at proper facts. Too many people from both sides either fabricate facts or miss out facts which goes against their argument, so I am glad there are level headed people willing to actually work to a solution

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