A friend who works in the City sent me the picture on the left; it is an advertisement for the Bushmaster .223, the rifle used in Sandy Hook. He’d attached it to a report indicating that Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that owns much of the Freedom Group–of which Bushmaster is part–was trying to sell the arms manufacturer. ‘It’ll be a bit of a fire sale,’ he added, ‘except for people who like the bloodier end of the SINDEX, of course’.
Brokers and bankers and venture capitalists, post financial crisis, are not the best loved of people, but there is something to cling to in the image of the urbane British investment banker–his copy of the FT or Economist to hand–as he shakes his head from side to side (while somewhere in the Gherkin) at the sort of people who make advertisments like that. I mean, really!
Unlike most of my friends (because I live in Britain, and the British spend much of their time being faintly horrified by Americans and America), I actually think there are arguments in favour of the 2nd Amendment, or at least that the arguments against it are less strong than commonly believed.
I considered those arguments in my first piece on Sandy Hook, but I raise them again now because the NRA–America’s premier organisation (at least in terms of money and membership) representing civilian gun-owners–is not presently making many of those arguments. Indeed, it is making arguments so bad that the US may yet see firearms regulation by default.
The NRA’s full statement is here (you may need to step past the flash animation to get to it in a timely fashion). Read it. It makes one good point (gun free zones do not work; there is considerable empirical evidence to back this up). It then goes on to state the following:
The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?
How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame — from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave — while provoking others to try to make their mark?
A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?
And the fact is, that wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country. Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.
So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.
And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.
Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it?
Then there’s the blood-soaked slasher films like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers” that are aired like propaganda loops on “Splatterdays” and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it “entertainment.”
But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?
In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year.
A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18.
And throughout it all, too many in our national media … their corporate owners … and their stockholders … act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.
It would appear that in order to protect the 2nd Amendment, the NRA is willing to trash the 1st, the 4th, and the 5th. The 1st, when it comes to video games and media reporting of current events (‘bring back the D-Notice, says the NRA’). And the 4th and 5th when it comes to policing the mentally ill. Hey, who needs any of that silly free speech or probable cause or due process? Especially if you’re mentally ill. That’s old hat.
What I wanted to do
In a comment to my first piece, I said the following:
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’.
Thus far, I have no answer to my main question; I do have confirmation that the shooter did indeed attend Sandy Hook Elementary School, and at the same time no further information on possible sectioning or maternal involvement with preppers (a type of survivalist). The media has been woeful, as this piece from the BBC (with, for once, only a modicum of handwringing) makes clear. At one point, the local paper–overwhelmed, like the town–issued a statement (right).
In light of the absence of information (including, I might add, no genuine information on video games played by the shooter), I thought of canning my planned post. I’ve long thought that law and writing are close to being opposed professions, much like purple and yellow on an artist’s colour-wheel. One is all about blabbing, the other all about keeping secrets: the two simply do not compute, so I ought to stay silent. However, the NRA’s awful statement changed all that, particularly after I watched US libertarian friends–many of them gun-owners and recreational hunters–screaming at the organisation of which they are members to JUST SHUT THE F*CK UP.
What I am doing instead
There is no evidence–none, nada, zip, zilch, zero, the big goose egg–linking video games to the perpetration of violent crime. In fact, what evidence we do have points in the opposite direction: catharsis–to get all classical–beats mimesis, every time. Anecdotal evidence of the passivity and (often) courtesy of people who watched violent entertainment goes back to antiquity: that good and gentle Greek, Polybius, noticed it among his Roman hosts. Later writers observed the same phenomenon in Tokugawa Japan.
A clever creature is the snake,
Who spends his winter not awake;
He snuggles in his long thin bed
And brews up venom in his head.
The human is a different sort;
He spends the winter watching sport;
He yells abuse in concrete stands
And empties out his poison glands.
[The above is routinely attributed to cartoonist Michael Leunig, but the bulk of it is pinched from Martial’s de Spectaculis—special souvenir edition produced for the opening of the Flavian Amphitheatre–and constituted much of Martial’s justification for being a gladiatorial show fan-boy.]
Moving swiftly on…
Furthermore, people who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crime, not perpetrators. That is not to pretend that the number of violent crimes committed by mentally ill people have not increased in recent times. They have. However, this (small) increase is in the context of plummeting crime rates overall, as I pointed out in my previous post. And that piece in the WSJ goes on–once again as though the 4th and 5th Amendments do not exist–to advocate the reinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill.
I am not in the habit of providing free history lessons unless I absolutely have to (they take time). So, here is Mr Hogarth to do it for me (left). And before you suggest, ‘but asylums got better in the 20th century’, may I remind you that the (apparent) wonderful peace and quiet was often brought about thanks to widespread misuse of this procedure. For those uninterested in Wiki-history, the BBC at its sober and understated best provides the relevant background.
Locking up the mentally ill? Registering them all in a national database? I support the 2nd Amendment, but I’m afraid I’ll be doing that to your guns before I go anywhere near any people.
The take home?
1. I’m assuming the NRA was a centipede in a past life, because sticking that many feet in one’s mouth all at the same time takes some doing (making jokes about blowing off one’s own feet at this point is probably a little too obvious…)
2. Bad books and bad films and bad games do not bad people make. They didn’t even make the Romans bad (and their bad entertainment was kind of the ultimate bad entertainment beta test).
3. The mentally ill. More likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Also, people. That means enjoying the protection of both the 4th and the 5th Amendments.
4. The media. Yes, irresponsible. But also, speech. That means enjoying the protection of the 1st Amendment. The one above the one you like so much, dear NRA.
5. I should not have to say these things. They fall in the realm of ‘statements of the bleeding obvious’.
[I indeed had to reassure a friend earlier that I did not write that NRA statement as a Poe to take the piss out of the organisation. They did it to themselves!]