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Mass Shootings, Political Correctness, and Magical Thinking (diegobasch.com)
81 points by nachopg on Dec 17, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 155 comments

I'm not looking forward to the coming months. It's going to be a political circus, with each side clamoring to push or protect their already strongly held beliefs and positions.

I really wish we would have a meaningful debate over the best tools and strategies for protecting people in large groups in public places. Because of the delay of so-called first responders, it is really left to the people who are there to take action.

Outside of banning and confiscating all guns, gun control isn't going to solve the problem. People with criminal intent will always find a way to carry out their plans (c.f. the recent spate of knife attacks in China).

We need defensive and offensive measures to minimize harm. I believe the lockdown plan put into action at the school probably saved more lives than any other one thing, until the police arrived. So giving schools more tools for effective plans like this would probably help.

On the offensive side, teachers and staff were left to fight guns with their hands. If they had had a weapon of their own (tasers or guns with rubber bullets, for example), they would have stood a better chance of minimizing harm. We allow pilots to carry weapons if they so choose and it is probably at least somewhat effective as a random deterrent, in addition to providing some actual protection.

Sadly, I don't think this line of thinking will come up. This thing is going to be played out largely in Washington, where entrenched groups will be mostly pushing existing agendae, not thinking in new ways to actually minimize the problem.

Putting weapons in the hands of teachers and other school officials makes intuitive sense, however the case where it will need to be used is very rare, yet to be useful the weapons will need to be readily available at all times. As a result, it's plausible that the total magnitude of injury would be higher due to accident, misuse, etc.

Not to mention that the weapons stored in the schools would be a tempting target for theft, or for commandeered use by a hostile intruder.

After all, how elaborate are the protections they are stored behind likely to be? Not very, when you consider that (1) if the weapons are ever needed they'll need to be able to be gotten to fast, and (2) the people responsible for storing them are going to be middle school administrators, not military quartermasters.

Exactly. I want teachers to focus on teaching our kids (and some can't even do that... 'nother topic). I would rather have the protection of our kids left to people who are trained and ready for that. One thing is securing entry to the school. It sounds like the CT school had measures in place to keep out the random creep that might wander in but that didn't stop a kid from blasting his way in. Would bullet-proof glass (or some other similar barrier) at his entry point have saved their lives?

Fortresses, particularly those without an active defense, have a bad track record. Shields don't work without the ability to hit back. Or, as the saying goes, "It takes two sides to have a battle, but only one to have a massacre."

Well, slowing a person down with a little harder to get through first barrier gives more time between first notice and first action. Some times just buying enough time to hide/flee can save lives.

perhaps we could employ retired police officers as "school guards".

They have the training. Many of them are still in their 40s and 50s.

In some states, non-active LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers) would be prevented by law from being armed, especially as private citizens on school property. H.R.218 is not widely accepted enough to provide for this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_Enforcement_Officers_Safety...)

In my state many middle and high schools have assigned SROs (School Resource Officers / Deputies), whose primary role is not protection, but to work with students. The secondary benefit is the presence an armed, actively trained LEO who could respond to an active shooter.

While many would decry the costs of adding these SROs to every Elementary - High School, the cost would likely be insignificant (in terms of money and effect) to turning schools into secured facilities (with prison like barriers).


Came across an article proposing this: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-or...

To which one of the first comments is "How are we going to pay for these SROs in Elemtary Schools now?"

My suggestion would be fewer police activities in other nations.

just to clarify, I was not advocating prison like barriers. I don't know the name of the type glass that is not bullet proof, per se, but even when penetrated with a bullet it still would not allow entry. I've seen glass that has the criss-cross wires in it that is not bullet proof, but the wires make it very difficult to smash out/though. Obviously I don't know the specifics of exactly how he gained entry other than the reported "shot his way in". But if it had taken him 30-60 secs longer to get in... would some lives have been saved?

> just to clarify, I was not advocating prison like barriers

Nor did I think you were, but added due to other comments I have seen in the media.

What I did not add / explain in my prior post is that one LEO salary per school (a M-F 7A-3P job) is both something that could be implemented very quickly, without the time and costs associated with reinforcing schools.

haha... I should have also clarified that I did not think you thought that. But your comment made me think of my own comment and it seemed fitting to acknowledge it. And agreed about the on-site LEO. I think both are worthy. Particularly if a school has multiple entry points and/or is large. One LEO may not be enough if entry is through an unsecured door across campus.

It is plausible, but on the other hand, how rare are fires in schools? We extensively prepare for those (and as it goes, something like 19 out of the top 20 mass murders in the US were arsons).

"Readily available" can be addressed by concealed handguns that aren't too easy to get to; you might have to give an attacker a "first bite of the apple" in favor of making them too accessible. On the other hand, a few M4s in a quick to open safe in the principle's office ought to be doable, as long as the staffers there have the right attitudes, to "march towards the sound of canons".

And it's attitude above all that needs to be addressed, we don't take this threat seriously, perhaps in part because it's quite new as these things go (we'll ignore the far more deadly 1927 Bath school massacre done with explosives).

This school had a crust defense; once the perimeter was compromised by the attacker shooting out a window (according to the latest never very reliable reports) there was nothing left but for the teachers to interpose their bodies between the shooter and their charges. Which was no obstacle to him (one does wonder what it takes for someone who doesn't seem to have suffered from schizophrenia or mania to shoot a bunch of 5-6 year old children 3-11 times each ... I admit the existence of evil, won't claim to ever really understand it).

how rare are fires in schools? We extensively prepare for those

Teachers/staff prepare for those by knowing how to evacuate students from the schools and calling 911. They aren't expected to actually fight fires, aside from using a fire extinguisher.

"Readily available" can be addressed by concealed handguns that aren't too easy to get to; you might have to give an attacker a "first bite of the apple" in favor of making them too accessible. On the other hand, a few M4s in a quick to open safe in the principle's office ought to be doable, as long as the staffers there have the right attitudes, to "march towards the sound of canons".

In order for that to be effective and safe, those teachers/staffers will have to regularly train with those weapons in addition to their other duties. Look at the NYPD - we have a population (police) that are trained to use firearms and have to qualify at certain intervals and yet their rates of accidental firings were so high that they needed to have their handguns modified to reduce those accidents. Despite their training, their hitrate when they actually use their weapons on duty is abysmal.

Unless you have teachers/staff that are already firearms enthusiasts, they are probably going to be reluctant to add range time to their calendar, and putting a firearm in the hands of a poorly trained user will end badly.

Surely the scale of a single active shooter matches something like using a fire extinguisher vs. "fighting a fire".

As for "effective and safe", so you'd think, and so did I (who started shooting in 1st grade in 1967 (sic)), but civilians with little or no training have demonstrated an amazing ability to responsibly use firearms in self-defense.

Police in general are not useful comparisons. They're required by their jobs to go in harm's way and frequently use their service handguns. The NYPD is a particularly poor example, they are run by people who don't understand guns and equip their men with ones that are particularly hard to shoot accurately---as you sort of note they prefer this vs. negligent discharges---and we learned after the recent debacle that their training, initial and continuing, is really subpar. And there are much better ways to avoid negligent discharges, the NYPD is the outlier here.

That's also why I suggested the option of M4 carbines. Long guns are a LOT easier to shoot correctly, skill with them doesn't seem to degrade like it's said to do with most people with handguns, with good choices of ammo they're more effective and less dangerous than handguns, etc.

If the NYPD can't get it right, what's the chances of the Oswego IL school district getting it right? And each of the other ~100K public schools in the US?

Much, much better. New York City is totally politicized, else they wouldn't have done something as insane as using FMJ ammo until too many innocent bystanders were hurt through over-penetration and ricochets. Places where this is too politicized won't even do this, otherwise there's a good chance that people with a clue will be involved. We do know how to do this correctly, and note again, the NYPD situation is with handguns, it doesn't apply to the M4s in a safe concept.

You know, people normally hold out New York City as an object lesson in how not to run one, I'm amazed by anyone who thinks otherwise.

I don't think that those of us who support teachers having firearms necessarily believe that every (or even most) teachers should have a firearm or be issued a firearm. I believe that carrying a firearm is a very personal choice and a very serious decision for an individual to make.

There currently exist laws that forbid law-abiding concealed carry permit holders from carrying firearms on school grounds. This law does not prevent dangerous people from bringing weapons into these zones and committing atrocities. Instead, I think we should really be encouraging teachers to make the commitment to go through the training process required for them to get their concealed handgun licenses and to regularly train to maintain safe gun-carrying habits. Perhaps teachers could receive some sort of compensation for having a concealed handgun license and engaging in regular firearms safety training.

I am sure that during the excruciatingly terrible events that took place in Newtown some teachers wished they had the means to defend the children and themselves. We should let teachers that want to legally and safely carry instruments of defense to do so. We shouldn't have laws that guarantee defenseless victims.

I concur. This is one of those cases where gut reaction proves to be a really bad idea after just a couple minutes of introspection.

There are 20+ curious kids around; the teacher can't always watch everyone all the time.

The classroom presents special challenges not present in other situations when it comes to arming civilians.

It is unlikely though. Basically if this logic have worked -- airline pilots would not have been armed (after 9/11). However many are, and many plain-dressed armed security agents board planes.

Schools, summer camps, sporting events, theaters, amusement parks, universities and other so-called gun-free zones -- are soft targets that are going to be exploited by criminals/terrorists (one just has to look at where those horrible acts were comitted in Russia (Beslan), Norway, US)

Just like the planes where in 9/11.

so training and arming a portion of the staff that is operating the facilities, as well as securing access -- is essential

Praying, reading books, closing doors and closets -- are not effective measures against evil-souled animals who are there to end their lives and to take as many people with them as possible.

There are schools that have been taking steps in this direction.


I would also venture to say that media coverage must change the protocol in cover this kinds of events things like a) name of the criminal must not be announced b) reasons/intent must not be announced/mentioned/discussed on broadcast networks c) number of victims

so that the media does not feed the possible copy cats.

You can't say arming pilots and air-martials is the same as arming teachers and faculty. Arming a pilot who sits in a locked cockpit while they fly a plane for 3-12 hours, or a trained undercover officer is in a whole different league than arming teachers who interact with students for 7+ hours a day. Would you arm flight attendants?

I agree with you. It's not a clear-cut answer. I'm just hoping that we think more broadly about how to actually minimize harm.

If it were left to school boards, they could do things like require a stringent process to certify particular staff who have access to a cabinet, for example (this could include safety training, a background check, and psychological testing). Unfortunately, we have a zero tolerance position in most school systems (which makes sense for students, obviously). It will probably not even be considered due to existing bias.

America has got to be the only country in the industrialized world where it seems reasonable to respond to mass shootings (and shootings in general) by suggesting that more people should have guns.

Here's a scatter plot of firearms per 100,000 and gun homocides per 100 for OECD countries:


Needless to say, the dot in the top right corner is the USA>

Data is from here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/jul/22/gun-homi...

(Note: Mexico is excluded because its rate of gun violence is such a startling outlier that it squashes all the other values.)

Excluding Mexico is a huge disservice because Mexico actually has stricter gun laws than the US. Mexico's gun murder rate is over 3 times greater than that in the US.

I feel this is instructive because with all of the guns already in private hands in the US if they were banned outright today you'd end up with an enormous and uncontrollable black market. The same type of black market that exists in Mexico.

Even in the US now, the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained guns. Something on the order of greater than 90%.

> Excluding Mexico is a huge disservice

Fair enough - the only reason I took it out was because it squashed all the other values into the bottom left corner so that you could no longer distinguish their relative positions. I still made sure to mention it because Mexico's case is instructive.

The scale on that graphic is a little misleading. The spacing on the "gun homicides per 100K citizens" compared to the "firearms per 100 citizens" makes it look like the US has twice an many deaths as the next lowest just like they have twice as many guns. I don't know who is represented by the dot at 2.25 "gun homicides per 100K citizens" but the statistical difference between 2.25 and 3 when compared to 100K is not much. While that same dot represents 10 "firearms per 100 citizens". THAT dot seems to have a horrific kill rate. The US has 9 times more "firearms per 100 citizens" yet less than 1 additional "gun homicides per 100K citizens". Who is that dot?

Edit: Not saying the scale is misleading on purpose... just that it is misleading.

I believe this is because America was founded by violence, and the "I'll shoot you if you try to take what's mine" mentality that continues to this day.

It's not a peaceful place.

Sorry - that's a pretty silly argument. Countries that formed through some form of peaceful negotiated settlement exist, but most formed either through conquest, revolution, or through an imposed partition. I don't have numbers on this, but running through examples in my head, especially for the developed countries I'm familiar with, I can only think of a handful.

I'm not sure what you have in mind when you say "founded by violence"...

Australia was at least as wicked with their aboriginal populations - and has a vastly lower level of gun violence.

The Netherlands was birthed in a revolution lasting 8 decades, and also has negligible gun violence.

Australia had neither a War of Independence, nor a Civil War.

Fun Fact: Most Australian's don't know the name of the first Prime Minister because it was so uneventful. A bunch of people sat down, signed some papers, and Australia was founded as a country.

Lots of countries were founded by violence. Europe, for example, was convulsed by violence for most of the past thousand years leading right up to the middle of the last century.

One big difference in the USA is that the right to own guns was somehow inserted into its Constitution among the rights to expression, assembly, fair trial and so on. I can't think of any other countries in which owning a gun is explicitly listed among the set of human rights.

It starts from the foundational document, the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

We have rights to life and liberty, and the right to private ownership of weapons acknowledged in the 2nd Amendment is an instrumentality to help ensure that. It should also be noted that the Bill of Rights (1st though 10 Amendments) were a price demanded by the Anti-Federalists for accepting the Constitution.

> tasers

A melee weapon versus a deadly ranged weapon is going to be a poor matchup.

> guns with rubber bullets

If you're the good guy who's doing the most damage, but it's non-lethal, non-debilitating damage, you'd better be prepared to draw aggro.

My guess is that only a teacher with a gun would have had a decent chance of ending the massacre early.

My understanding of tactics is largely based on video games. Anyone with any training/experience in real-life tactics is welcome to comment on my comment.

You're absolutely right; I have done a fair amount of tactical learning and training and have been shooting since 1st grade or so in 1967 (sic). Tasers can be ignored by many people and defeated by thick clothing and perhaps leather jackets.

If you desperately need to stop someone ASAP, rubber bullets are subpar unless they approach lethal energies, for obvious reasons, and a lot of school teacher types wouldn't be able to wield such weapons effectively. Your guess is correct.

The taser and rubber bullet example was just an example. They could also have a cabinet with three M4s. The point is that it would be great if we could discuss defensive and offensive measures. There are many teachers who have concealed permits (and thus the FBI background check) who are forced to leave their weapon at home. Many of them would be perfectly capable of wielding a weapon and it would cost schools next to nothing. Again, just examples. It's great to see the point being discussed.

Hey quick question: how many people died in those knife attacks?

Arming classrooms is a direct solution to only the most visible problem. This is like doing the 5 Whys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys), but stopping after the first one. Underlying causes will continue, requiring increasingly drastic counter measures at superficial levels.

Completely agree, Arming everyone with bigger and better weapons is not the solution. it is an arms race within the society.

"I'm not looking forward to the coming months. It's going to be a political circus, with each side clamoring to push or protect their already strongly held beliefs and positions."

I think regardless of your position we can all agree on this.

It would be useful if we could all see that we really are on the same side of this — everyone wants to prevent another tragedy like this. We just have very different beliefs about how best to go about that.

"everyone wants to prevent another tragedy like this"

If that were true, wouldn't we'd only be seeing gun control proposals that directly flow from this event, not all the "usual suspects" that are also being proposed again? E.g. the "gun show loophole", which has not been implicated in any of these events to my knowledge. But it turns out gun shows are a vital part of the US gun culture and shutting them down, as the fine print of these proposals would do, would do it grave damage.

We're seeing a whole lot of what some people define as insanity, doing (recommending) the same thing over and over again, regardless of results. That doesn't strike me as a response to this event, but opportunism in using it.

I'm with you — and probably agree with your political views 100% if I had to guess. I think that most of those people do want to prevent these tragedies — I think that everyone does. I do not agree with their methods (as misguided as they may be), but that doesn't discount their motivation.

"I think that most of those people do want to prevent these tragedies...."

Well of course. But wanting that is not exactly out of the mainstream, is it? Who doesn't, besides the fantasies of NRA members and/or gun owners that too many gun grabbers hold in their minds?

It's not out of the mainstream, but I think that some on the gun control side really believe that gun owners don't care that these shootings happen. They basically opine that if you don't agree with their proposals then you must not care about preventing the tragedies from occurring again.

Piers Morgan is a good example (http://bit.ly/12q3n4q) -- he contributes nothing to the conversation or debate because he insults anyone that has a view opposing his.

The scale of the problem isn't in itself an argument for doing or not doing something about. The emotional impact is most definitely an important factor, and not something that can simply be argued away with numbers.

Most people don't live in fear of cancer or lightning strikes, unless they find themselves in the middle of an asbestos filled building or right underneath a lightning storm.

The knowledge however that so many people around carry deadly firearms, and maybe more importantly, apparently feel they have a pressing reason to own firearms, is a daily reality for many. This fear is real, and it is not irrational.

This is not about the odds. It's about not having to live in fear. Even though the odds are wildly in their favor, most people very rationally prefer not to go swimming with sharks.

The fear of lightning while in a thunderstorm is rational, the fear of a rogue shooter (outside of a war zone or extremely violent neighborhood) is not.

People's fear, by in large, is not rational. Many people would get into a car on a rainy Friday night with little hesitation or thought of risk, yet they are deliberately putting themselves in harms way.

What the author is trying to get across is that public policy should focus on things it can track its effectiveness on and things it can solve.

When choosing where to spend time and money, the odds are exactly what people should be focusing on.

People vote in politicians. We hope that politicians do the hard work of research and getting advice before making policy.

It'd be really nice if politicians could make use of science and good quality research to make their arguments and to craft policy.

It'd be really nice if politicians could say "We don't know what the answer is. We're running some 3 year trials, and at the end of those we'll have some data and information and we'll be in a better position to know what the best thing to do is".

But no politician is going to say that. No politician is ever going to say "I'm not sure, I'll have to look at the research and get advice".

Any politician who said anything other than "Mass shootings are devastating and something needs to be done" would be eviscerated by tv, newspapers, and blogs. There is no possibility of nuanced discussion.

> most people very rationally prefer not to go swimming with sharks.

But when people decide not to swim in a well run swimming pool because the media is constantly blaring entertainment shows about sharks with ominous music and shaky-cam then it's not so rational.

I live in Flint, MI (which has been #1 in violent crime for the past few years) and the thought of people around me potentially possessing and, possibly, carrying firearms around never crosses my mind when I'm out and about. Maybe I'd just prefer to not give myself a heart attack over worrying about someone nearby carrying a gun, but in one of the cities where one should be worried most about it, it doesn't even rank on the scale of things to think about generally.

"It's about not having to live in fear."

Is this something that is even attainable by exterior forces? I don't just mean as it relates to gun-crimes, but anything. Everyone has fears — from fear of failure to fear of heights. They are personal and, as such, are yours to conquer personally.

Laws do not necessarily automatically assuage your fears — many people, as you point out, have irrational fears based on emotion rather than in fact / statistic probability.

Opponents of gun control feel exactly the same way: they don't want to have to live in fear.

Not once does the author dare to compare homicide rates to other developed countries.

You're almost twice as likely to be killed by a gun because you live in the United States vs. the next developed country (Finland). You're 2.6 times as likely to be killed than the next country, Canada.

Something is very wrong here.


Author here, see my previous post plotting homicides vs gun ownership across countries: http://diegobasch.com/homicides-vs-gun-ownership

Yes, the average American (not necessarily you, it varies a lot depending on where you live) is more likely to be killed by a gun than the average person in Finland. That is completely irrelevant to my post. It's not a competition among countries, it's about making the US better. "Daring" has nothing to do with it.

> It's not a competition among countries, it's about making the US better.

But you conclude there is no need to fix the current problem. Comparing America to other Developed countries clearly shows there is.

Yes we should probably take action, but that doesn't mean banning guns or making tougher gun laws is necessarily the correct action. If you want to compare to other developed countries, Switzerland has a high gun ownership rate (about 45 guns per 100 people vs 88 per 100 for the US) yet their gun homicide rate is one-seventh what it is in the United States. So if it were just about guns one would think that Switzerland would have a lot more gun murders.

Gun deaths in the United States have been declining for the since the 90's in spite of loosening of gun laws. We need to be studying those factors so that we can craft better policy.

Don't get me wrong, clearly if less people have guns less people can shoot other people. But if you really want to improve society you've got to get at the root causes of violence rather than just attacking the tools.

I didn't say anything about taking away guns.

I simply said it's very clear there is a problem and something needs to be done about it.

Where did the author conclude there was no need to fix the current problem? My understanding of the article is that there is no clear answer to the problem, given that every potential solution has loads of potential side effects, some of them with the potential to outweigh the positives of the original solution. That doesn't mean it doesn't need to be fixed; just that the fix should be driven by rational thought and understanding rather than emotion.

Exactly. All I said is that I don't know if there are any fixes to the problem that wouldn't cause potentially worse problems. That's why I mention iatrogenics: unintended side effects of a cure that are more damaging than leaving a disease alone.

> I don't know if there are any fixes to the problem that wouldn't cause potentially worse problems

Again, comparison to other developed countries proves there are.

Why? What country is close enough to the US in size, heterogeneity and number of guns so that you can make a fair comparison?

Edit to answer to the comment below: think what you want. Don't try to convince me. I'm skeptical, you're not. Write to your legislators instead of here. Write your own blog posts.

> What country is close enough to the US in size, heterogeneity and number of guns so that you can make a fair comparison?

In terms of number of guns, no other country is. That's the point: other countries made decisions and implemented policies to severely restrict access to guns, and the predictable result today is that there are far fewer guns and much less gun violence.

The decision to restrict guns is a long-term decision - it won't reduce gun violence overnight, but it will reduce gun violence over decades.

The Swiss are an obvious exception, although their gun-grabbers are steady tightening things.

But I think you're wrong about the path that restrictions would take in the US: the slowly boiling a frog approach won't accomplish the goal, anything too quick, sharp and raw will merely spark the 2nd American Civil War during which "gun violence" will go way up. And most any restriction scheme will increase gun violence, if only on the part of the authorities using force to seize guns and the like.

Maybe in the long term public attitudes could be changed, the 2nd Amendment repealed, and the path you envision might happen, but that's the work of generations and will require a reversal of the renorming of gun ownership we've seen in the last quarter century (I take Florida's 1987 establishment of a shall issue concealed carry license regime as the start; today 42 states have them, de facto or de jure).

Gun control in the US can start with control of those types of firearms most likely to be used in mass shootings: automatic and semi-automatic weapons with magazines that accommodate large numbers of rounds. The US can do what other countries have done successfully: ban sales, restrict ownership, and offer amnesty/buyback for weapons already in circulation.

The US can also mandate safe storage of weapons and ammunition in separate, locked, secure cases. That in itself would reduce the incidence of gun suicide and so-called crimes of passion by introducing a long-enough delay between decision and action that sanity prevails.

And the fact that "the US" (I assume the Federal government) trying to do this now, before changing the culture (see Holder's 1995 remarks on "brainwashing") would spark a civil war is ... a minor detail?

Unless by "restrict ownership" you mean, say, the same as the current policy for handguns, can't buy unless you're 21? Can be gifted with one, though.

"Lock up your safety" (so called "safe storage") is off the table per the Supreme Court. D.C. insisted on that sort of insanity and got slapped down in Heller, the state must allow guns to be readily available for self-defense.

I don't think a real commitment to gun control would spark a civil war. So far, the paranoid right-wing tough talk has not coalesced into anything like a real movement, let alone a rebellion, despite the widespread belief among a certain segment of Americans that the president is a radical Muslim, foreign-born Manchurian candidate determined to turn American by stealth into a socialist dictatorship.

Then again, I might be wrong about the civil war bit. It's possible that America is simply culturally incapable of regulating its firearms in a safe, responsible way, and that a death-by-firearms rate several orders of magnitude higher than the rest of the industrialized world is an intractable side-effect.

"Then again, I might be wrong about the civil war bit."

Given that, if you live in the US, it's a "you bet your life" proposition, you'd best be very careful before possibly sparking one, no matter how low a probability you think it is from people you've shown yourself to know nothing about. And you're definitely limited in your imagination, we've watched recent history and know "real movements" as such aren't an option (at least in the beginning). Fortunately they're not needed.

You would also do well to remember a couple of quotes misattributed to Imperial Japanese Navy Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, the architect of their attack on Pearl Harbor:

"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

"You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass."

I don't live in the USA, but I live close enough to it to pay attention to what's going on. I know the difference between the relentless bombast of right-wing propaganda and what most people are actually like.

As for the risk of people dying if something is done: we know for certain that people will continue to die from gun violence by the thousands on an annual basis if something is not done.

Size is irrelevant, these are per-capita statistics.

If heterogeneity was a factor, surely homicide rates would be climbing in countries like Canada and Australia that have the highest immigration rates in the Developed world[1]. They are not.

Number of guns is precisely the factor at the heart of the issue.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_net_migrat...

I think you missed the point. Gun control might be a good idea, but not because it will reduce the likelihood of psychopathic spree killings.

Psychopathic spree killings are such a low-probability, extreme event that there's almost nothing you can do, at a public policy level, to influence them. Your monkey brain may protest that this simply cannot be (as mine does), but our monkey brains are wrong.

Instead we need to look for significant trends. Or consider that our actions might cause other harms more often, which is especially likely when our actions are driven by low-probability events. Basing public policy on such extreme events is not just stupid, it's immoral.

And yet, that's exactly the job of the media. The media works, by and large, by telling individual stories to provoke general sympathy or outrage. This is a good thing when that story is representative of a larger problem. What we have now is random phenomena driving larger political discussions.

"Psychopathic spree killings are such a low-probability, extreme event that there's almost nothing you can do, at a public policy level, to influence them. "

This is completely false. Being rare doesn't mean there aren't things that can make it even more rare. Many countries have taken steps that make these events far less likely.

You're right - I misspoke there. The OP was more careful, and discussed "iatrogenic" harms (an analogy to medical harms that arise from an attempt to treat a problem).

So, I'll revise what I'm saying to this: if you have a measure that you want to take that is only justified by such extreme events, it's probably not a good idea.

"I would start by measuring the magnitude of mass shootings as a problem... That’s an average of 18 deaths per year. For comparison, three times as many die from lightning strikes."

This is a bullshit red herring designed to ignore 99.8% of the gun homicides that take place each year in the US [1]. Gun control works to control much more than just mass shootings.

[1] Using 8K as a rough estimate for annual gun deaths from here:


I think it's actually valid, as the author then goes on to say; "From a logical viewpoint, we should be more concerned with gun crime in general. If gun crime is a significant problem, then gun control could be a solution to that problem."

He's not cherry picking stats to make the matter of gun crime appear less serious. He's addressing the impending tidal wave of emotion in response to the events in Newtown, which happened to be a mass shooting.

Perhaps you should read the rest of the article in which the author examines the non-mass-shooting gun related homicides.

The reddit attention span appears to be alive and well at HN.

Ignoring 99.8% of gun deaths until paragraph 12 is pretty much the most ridiculous form of burying the lede I've ever seen.

Yes he eventually talks about all these gun deaths and then he hand waves it all away, too much thinking:

"I’m not even going to try to answer those questions, because they are extremely complex."

Too much work, forget it. Man, if only scores of other countries had gone through something similar and we could draw on those experiences but ... thinking is HARD!

I think most people have trouble visualizing effects of policy because the changes are not immediate and hence not discernible. So instead of trying to convince people why gun control can help reduce mass shootings, lets do the opposite. Let me try to convince you to legalize the use of bazookas, a portable antitank weapon. Do we feel safer in this new world? You need to draw a line in the sand for controlling the use of lethal weapons and I think that line starts with assault weapons - rifles that can mow down an entire room in a minute.

Another flawed argument is that these incidents are small anomalies which can't be controlled by regulatory changes. Yes, if you can categorically prove that this is just a blimp on the charts. Anecdotally it feels like this is spreading, increasing in frequency. At what point are you going to put your foot down and push for changes? Some social behaviors tend to be pretty viral, inspiring a new set of perpetrators. Lets treat this with caution and not bury it under the carpet of data & statistics.

Sorry, but TFA has it all wrong. This is about values, not ratios. The question at hand is whether you think these deaths are acceptable given our values as a society.

To put it in nerd-speak, the intolerance for any given death is a function V with multiple inputs. (I find this extremely distasteful but bear with me.) For cars and smoking, the output of that function scales quite slowly; we're mostly OK with those because we like cars and if you smoke it's your funeral. Note that we already spend a lot of money on automotive safety, so arguably we still want to bring those numbers down. For instance, look at recent safety-oriented recalls from various manufacturers. Likewise, we spend money to reduce teen smoking, et al. So even then those don't really wash as an example of hypocrisy around the value of human life.

For the murder of multiple people via gratuitously overpowered firearms, you might argue V scales linearly, perhaps even quadratically. Maybe V takes a time-delta which scales V even faster with smaller deltas; Aurora is still fresh in many people's minds, as are numerous other incidents.

For multiple children under the age of 8 gunned down by a madman with a high-capacity assault rifle, V might scale factorially. We as a society try to place a very high value on the lives and well-being of children.

In other words, you're going to have to do a hell of a lot better than simply comparing inputs to V, and a small input to V for some category of deaths is not in itself a justification to ignore it. The author has committed the fallacy of looking at morality and society primarily or even solely through the lens of statistics.

The author's laziness is also ironic, all things considered. The UK and Australia are other western industrialized nations quite similar to ours, in a great many respects. They've experienced some success in reducing gun violence since the '90s, when they banned private handgun ownership. The irony is that the author's blindness here is a far better example of magical thinking about how regulation might or might not work in the US.

Author asks:

"I would start by measuring the magnitude of mass shootings as a problem. How does it compare to other issues such as preventable diseases, regular crime, terrorism?"

But is that the best comparison?

What about comparing it to frequency and impact in other countries?

When we want to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment, we don't measure efficacy against the treatment to a completely different disease. So here, I think it would be more informative to have comparative study done across countries, societies rather than this distraction.

Author is basically saying, anything that is statistically small, does not deserve attention. So research into any low probability disease should be ended because there bigger fish to fry. I think we can do both.

Author is basically saying, anything that is statistically small, does not deserve attention.

No, he is not. He is saying, anything that is statistically small, and the elimination thereof would substantially restrain the rights and freedom of others, should be questioned.

No matter how you are going to argue, there is at least "some" purpose for guns - for self protection, etc. If the discussion were really about saving lifes, it makes no sense why not putting a ban on smoking, something that clearly has no purpose at all.

He's saying that things that have such a low occurrence that they're indistinguishable from statistical outliers are not good targets for generalized public policy, since the benefits are not provable.

> But is that the best comparison?

Yes, it is. You have a limited amount of resources -- in this case, tax dollars and political capital.

If you're spending dollars or votes to save lives, you should spend them on the thing which saves the most lives per dollar spent.

> What about comparing it to frequency and impact in other countries?

Another commenter on this article said that this comparison indicates that gun control doesn't really help [1].

To this, I'd add that most countries that have a strong gun control never had the situation of the US: millions of guns already in public circulation; many pro-gun individuals and a powerful political faction; and a very difficult procedure (amending the Constitution) required for changing policy.

These obstacles are pretty much insurmountable right now; you'd be well-advised to spend your political capital on an issue where you have a decent chance of winning.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4934323

I think that makes sense.

I think what I was reading sounded like "there might be less gun violence over there, but don't look into why, it's not worth your while".

My thought was that maybe it is worth our while to look into why.

when one decides upon controlling guns, it would be prudent to grandparent people in. New rights revocation would only be applied to the upcoming generations. This way you don't alienate a population from something they hold dear, but would ensure whatever you're enacting becomes effective over time.

You think parents and grandparents care that little about their descendents' future? That they're that selfish? (Do note we apparently have very different worldviews, my side sees widespread gun ownership as a good thing; you don't have to agree with that, just agree that there are 10s of millions like me.)

I'm afraid you're wrong, and are proposing just another way to spark the 2nd American Civil War, which I'd rather avoid. (I'm assuming you won't repeal the 2nd Amendment first, since I can't see that happening politically in the foreseeable future.)

I visited Phoenix a couple of weeks ago and was shown a gun collection owned by a previous member of the army. I was shown a pistol collection, then rifles, then semi-automatics. Really a quite staggering amount of hardware. When I asked what license was required to own this type of equipment he replied none. Without making a judgement on whether or not civilians should be allowed to own this type of equipment in the first place, should it not be an absolute minimum that people first obtain a licence to purchase guns. We don't allow people on the roads without a licence and they're not even designed to kill. A simple first step would seem to be requiring basic equipment/awareness training and a licensing process.

Something gun control advocates seem to forget is that gun ownership is a Constitutional right for Americans. You cannot compare it to driving a car, or buying a television, or buying something from Amazon. If you're going to compare to something else for the purposes of limiting and regulating it, you need to compare to voting, assembling, practicing your faith or some other Constitutional right.

When you are required to get a license to cast your ballot or attend your church, then you can make the argument for getting a license to purchase a firearm.

The most recent supreme court decision DC v Heller upheld the fact that second amendment rights are not unlimited.

> Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. Pp. 54–56.


this is considerably more limited than the restrictions on attending churches. w.r.t voting, you do need to register ahead of time and in some states you may even have to show a photo ID, though this is under debate.

Remember it's an amendment. Which means it can be repealed. We also at one point had an amendment outlawing all liquor and then another that repealed it. The inverse could be done easily with the 2nd.

I'd imagine it's something that won't be out of the question in about 20-40 years. Gun owners are overwhelmingly white, male and older. A demographic that is dying of old age.

Remember it's an amendment. Which means it can be repealed. We also at one point had an amendment outlawing all liquor and then another that repealed it. The inverse could be done easily with the 2nd.

This is something that often goes without mentioning, so thanks for bringing it up.

The founders were not idiots. They did not want to create a set of stone tablets, a collection of unchangeable holy texts. The Bill of Rights and the Constitution were intended to be changeable, living documents, adaptable to the times.

Maybe it's time to question whether or not the status quo can scale and remains consistent with our societal values.

This is a trend I would expect too, but the data does not appear to support it. Gun control has actually become consistently less popular over the last two decades[1]. I actually don't have a clue why, as it seems to counter other various demographic/political trends.


It correlates with a massive decrease in crime. It's interesting, but I live in a fairly mixed-income and higher crime area and guns are very unpopular here. I think ultimately it's some sort of weird reaction to extreme safety. Our brains start creating fake risk when we don't have any in our lives.

I assure you gun control advocates have not forgotten about the second amendment since the opposition will not shut up about it.

Also, all the rights listed in the first ten amendments are limited to the point at which you're infringing on someone else's rights. The threat of death or injury, such as it is, would seem to be a pretty clear reason to limit that right.

And I welcome you to explain to me how my owning a particular type of firearms constitutes "threat of death or injury." Brandishing is already a crime, so I fail to see what point you're trying to make.

If you fail to store it securely, it could be stolen and used against me.

If you fail to operate it properly, I could be struck by a bullet fired by you at somebody else.

2nd Amendment absolutists love talking about their rights, but spend precious little time talking about the responsibilities that come with them. Which are (or should be) significant, when the right you are talking about is the right to wield a lethal weapon.

A stolen weapon used to commit a crime does not constitute a crime on the part of the original owner. In my state there is no legally required way to store a firearm. Shooting someone accidentally certainly leaves the person operating the firearm open to civil litigation, and possibly criminal prosecution. I don't think anyone has every implied otherwise. All the regulations that have been mentioned refer to purchasing a firearm. If you want to require rifles be locked up at night, make the argument that it will help prevent theft. Don't make the argument that someone can't purchase it in the first place.

I'm not a "2nd Amendment absolutist" as you put it, no more than I am a free speech or free press absolutist. I have no problem with licensure or registration so long as it's not prohibitive, and you will be hard pressed to find gun owners who say there are no responsibilities associated with gun ownership. To get a license to carry a concealed firearm in my state requires $20 and a few weeks while they do a cursory background check, depending on the county. To get a handgun or rifle takes half an hour for a phone call background check.

If politicians like Sen. Feinstein would stop talking about banning weapons wholesale that had nothing to do with any recent tragedy, and instead talk about a national level of firearms reciprocity (while requiring locations like NYC, Chicago and DC to come up to par), you'd see folks on the Right move quickly and decisively to supporting more common sense gun regulations.

I think my point was pretty explicitly clear. Perhaps there's some other point you imagine I was making that you disagree with, but I can't really help you out of that pickle.

You sound like a parody of the left. "Your rights end where my feelings begin!" Is that really your stance?

That's not his stance, that's fundamental constitutional law. Quoting Paul Waldman from TAP:

"for some reason gun advocates think that the right to bear arms is the only constitutional right that is virtually without limit. You have the right to practice your religion, but not if your religion involves human sacrifice. You have the right to free speech, but you can still be prosecuted for incitement or conspiracy, and you can be sued for libel. Every right is subject to limitation when it begins to threaten others, and the Supreme Court has affirmed that even though there is an individual right to gun ownership, the government can put reasonable restrictions on that right."

He said:

>Also, all the rights listed in the first ten amendments are limited to the point at which you're infringing on someone else's rights. The threat of death or injury, such as it is, would seem to be a pretty clear reason to limit that right.

Apparently, if someone legally owns a gun, this presents a "threat of death or injury" to others. Of course, if the gun weren't legally owned by an individual but still existed, it would either be illegally owned by an individual or be legally owned by the government or by some other exempted institution. You might feel safer with only the government and criminals owning guns, but many others would feel less safe. What makes your fear more legitimate than theirs? Other rights are restricted only when exercising them would directly infringe on the rights of others. You can't demonstrate that you would be safer if a particular gun owner with no criminal record were forced to turn in his gun. You can't even demonstrate that you would be safer if all law-abiding gun owners were forced to turn in their guns. Even if you could, you couldn't demonstrate that your increased safety wouldn't be more than offset by the decreased safety of the gun owner(s).

The comparison between gun ownership and first-amendment rights is not a good one, because there are already restrictions on gun ownership comparable to the restriction on first-amendment rights. True, you don't have the right to practice human sacrifice--you also don't have the right to murder people with your legally owned guns. True, you can be prosecuted for incitement--and also for waving your gun around in public. True, you can be sued for libel--and you can be prosecuted for brandishing.

Point out where I said "feelings".

EDIT: The word I used was threat, which, if arguing in good faith, you would have read as "actual risk", rather than "angsty feelings".

I also qualified it with the phrase such as it is. Which, again in good-faith discourse, means "if it exists" or "whatever form it takes".

But do continue to tell me more about how I feel.

If a particular gun owner is threatening you, you can take legal action against him or her.

Fantastic, that'll come in handy for the 8,500 people who were shot dead last year.

8500 out of nearly 350 million is 1 in 40000 people. And how many of those 8500 were gangsters or robbers anyway? 50%? 90%? In any event, I'm having a hard time getting worked up over here.

The available data that I know of, which is sparse and big city in origin, says a large majority of murder victims are indeed criminals. That's in part where the bogus "gun you own may kill someone you know" statistics come from, e.g. a gang member killing one from another gang knows the victim, it's not a "stranger" murder.

Many items in the Bill of Rights are far more nuanced than this absolutist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

For one thing, there are multiple restrictions on freedom of speech. Maybe you think those oughtn't exist, but we're talking about the status quo, not ideal worlds.

This is not to mention the idea that there are multiple ways to adjudicate whether this means "all guns" or "some guns," since there's quite a difference between an assault rifle or handgun and a simple rifle. Then there's the "well-regulated militia" piece.

I'm not advocating for any particular reading. Rather I disagree that the Bill of Rights ought to be the last word in any discussion. I think the Bill of Rights is better suited to a starting point, and the history of the judiciary in this country seems to bear this out in practice.

True. It is kind of interesting how often the "well-regulated" part is overlooked. To regulate something is to control it. So... there is that.

When the second amendment was written, "well-regulated" essentially meant "properly functioning".

DC v. Heller: "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

> gun ownership is a Constitutional right for Americans

To turn this round, this constitutional right is the reason that Americans are allowed to own weapons that are normally used in warzones at the age of 18 and without any safety measures. The world has changed since the constitution was written. If you were writing it today, would you still include the right to bear arms?

Absolutely. The French Revolution which followed not long after sparked a new type of government mass murder, with death tolls in the 20th Century in the 10s to 100s of millions (the latter is my adjustment based on how much estimates of Communist mass murder get increased when a country really opens up).

Somehow, these actions always happen to disarmed people....

They are, at least here, truly "unthinkable", for "it can't happen here" without a preceding confiscation of the nation's guns. Which is a sufficient tripwire to provoke a counter-revolution to stop things from ever getting that nasty.

One might also look at the Swiss experience.

Driving is not an enumerated Constitutional right ... and you're not comparing the same things. Generally, you don't need to have a drivers license to own a vehicle, that is, have your name is on the title. You do need one to drive, and strangely enough, of the 42 states with de jure and de facto shall issue concealed carry regimes, all but 3 require a license. Although Arizona is a recent example of dropping that as a requirement, along with Alaska, and Vermont since the founding (the only state not to enact gun control to restrict those pesky freedmen or immigrants).

> We don't allow people on the roads without a licence

I'm not convinced by this argument. Firearms are not used in public spaces, but in private land, or on club-owned property.

Actually, most hunting is done on public land - typically state or federal. There are private game ranches, but those aren't the standard.

Point! I was thinking 'shooting range', not hunting.

Which is silly - where I live half the office is gone during deer season.

> NEWTOWN, Connecticut: People in the rural, hilly areas around Newtown are used to gunfire. [...]

> But in the last couple of years, residents began noticing loud, repeated gunfire, and even explosions [from propane gas tanks used as targets], coming from new places. Near a trailer park. By a boat launch. Next to well-appointed houses.

> [...] ''We're growing,'' [Council Ordinance Committee Chairwoman, Mary Ann Jacob] said on Saturday, describing a town where hikers and mountain bikers competed with gun owners for use of trails and forested areas.


Your point - do you have one?

Firearms are never used in public? Ever?

Both Clayton Cramer and the US Government Accountability Office ("Investigative arm of Congress charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds.") this summer estimated there are outstanding around 8 million licenses to carry concealed.

I can't speak for others, but I can say that almost every time I walk outside I've carrying a M1911 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M1911_pistol).

The only occasion I can think of where a private citizen would use a firearm in a public area is a city-owned gun range, or hunting on public land.

Sort of; the author does go onto say how R&D could help "solve" both mental illness and mass shootings. There is definitely a cap on what can be done, so the suggestion is to bake the cost into issues that are already more statistically large and probably solvable.

Theoretically, he does compare to other countries, as the statistic is a rounding error -- not statistically relevant.

I don't understand your question. Mass shootings seem to be more rare in e.g. Europe. But how does that help anything?

"If you look at a per capita rate, the rate of multiple-victim public shootings in Europe and the United States over the last 10 years have been fairly similar to each other. A couple of years ago you had a couple of big shootings in Finland. About two-and-a-half years ago you had a big shooting in the U.K., 12 people were killed.

"You had Norway last year [where 77 died]. Two years ago, you had the shooting in Austria at a Sikh Temple. There have been several multiple-victim public shootings in France over the last couple of years. Over the last decade, you’ve had a couple of big school shootings in Germany."


"Mass shootings seem to be more rare in e.g. Europe."

History indicates otherwise.


I can't downvote you, but that's a useless comment and you know it.

Don't worry. Your cobelievers already did it.

I guess I just don't have the "sophisticated" European point of view that says that millions killed by government don't count.

It's not relevant to the conversation. We're talking about individuals. Edit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_mili... seems to have a lot more action than the part of your page since the late 18th century, so I think you're wrong either way.

The death toll from the European wars is in the millions.

In addition to the wars per se, European governments have killed millions of their own citizens, and they've been at it for centuries.

It's absolutely relevant, since the purpose of the Second amendment is largely protection against governments, not critters, varmints, or even criminals.

So... your argument is that tightening gun control would lead to more wars?

I have read very vocal arguments from both sides here, and only a handful of well reasoned, balanced ones. It is ironic that we criticize Washington for their petty politics yet we are as one-sided and partisan as they are. We are not going to solve the gun problem by just restricting access to specific weapons. It baffles me that almost no one mentions better healthcare as a plausible solution. If these kids can be spotted and given access to quality treatment we might have a significant impact on their lives for the better, and if we don't, then well at least there is a paper trail that would prevent them from buying guns legally. We can't make the problem disappear just by removing guns from the equation, there has to be a multi-pronged solution that covers social, cultural and legal issues.

Well then what is the magic number when this becomes significant enough to do something about it? Lets say even 1/100 of people who die from tobacco i.e 5k per year or 13 per day in mass shooting. Who wants to wait till then. My point is that dying from tobacco use and mass shootings are not the same. So lets not even compare them. Mass shootings is more of a symptom of something really wrong with the society. It is effin inverted where universal healthcare is debated and challenged all the way to the supreme courts but universal access to assault rifles and guns has bipartisan support.

Universal healthcare is debated because it has to be paid for by other parties. No one is suggesting the govt. should be buying people guns. One is a positive right and the other a negative right, as they used to say.

We frequently see statistics quoted saying that the number of firearm homicides in the US is higher than that of other developed countries.

We also see statistics quoted saying that the number of firearms is higher than that of other developed countries.

I'd like to see statistics comparing the number of murders with other weapons. It is perfectly plausible that we have an elevated rate of gun ownership for historical or cultural reasons, and (since they are such highly engineered weapons) we tend to use guns to murder people, rather than other weapons.

If number of murders perpetrated with other weapons is lower than in other countries, its entirely possible that enforcing stricter gun control would not have a significant effect on the total number of murders.

Factors that might go against this hypothesis are the fact that gun availability might encourage people to kill more readily, gun availability makes a successful murder easier, etc... There are a host of other confounding factors, as well.

I don't really have strong a priori beliefs about these questions, but I'd like to see some more statistics. Another interesting statistic would be to see a time-series comparison of overall homicides, gun homicides and gun ownership in America over time.

Using this http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/offenses_reported/violent_cr... as my primary source, figures by specific instruments or methods (with about as many US murders unspecified as U.K. murders total, the unspecified not used), I get a 1.34 per 100,000 rate of non-firearms but otherwise specified murders in the US in 2004, compared to a 1.45 per 100,000 for all of the U.K.

For better or worse, we're a violent people.

> 'Mass killings are as inevitable as lightning deaths..'

Not so.

The New York Times has referred to Australia's gun laws as a "road map" for the US, saying that "in the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings - but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect."


"Public policy should not be dictated by emotions."

But the media knows that a large share of their "news business" is driven by emotion. And so here we are all thinking about mass shootings.

And we know the media has an enormous influence on politics. So add this all up and what do we have?

A terrible tragedy that affects a small community but also a lot of tangential effects, remote onlookers, politicians and an enterprising "media business".

I have a cousin who as a child was a student in a narrowly averted early grade school classroom mass shooting. Honestly, when I first heard about this incident in Connecticut I thought of him. I can only wonder what he thought about when he read about this incident. When it hits close to home, there might be hesistation to even talk about these things, they are so horrible. We might block them out. We might tell the children to close their eyes. We might try to pretend it never happened.

But for the media and the "news business", it's a different ballgame.

For example, it’s feasible that a 100% tax on the price of cigarettes would save thousands of lives ever year. Why is this not attempted? Probably because the special interest group that controls tobacco sales is powerful enough to stop it.

Nothing to do with liberty, the constitution or anything...

50,000 deaths are attributed to second hand smoke every year... That's 5X the homicide rate and isn't remotely related to liberty (children and many workers don't have the freedom to avoid 2nd hand smoke). I personally would love to have the freedom not to subsidize the health care costs of millions of smokers.

... I'm sorry, how levying taxes against the Constitution?

Mass shootings are a strawman which allows convenient comparison to lightning strikes.

The correct meaningful numbers in establishing public policy regarding firearms are approximately 19,000 suicides by fire arm per year, and 11,000 homicides by firearm per year.

If we look at those numbers, the deaths in the recent school shooting are quite ordinary. The homicides are equivalent to the extra day in a leap year, and the suicide of the gunman was statistically background noise.


Infographic on gun ownership around the world that was published by a Canadian newspaper after a public shooting at a mall.


note that the black circle is not scaled by the population of the country so it isn't visually as useful as it could be.

Interesting take aways:

   * 88.9 guns per 100 U.S. citizens
   * 45.7 guns per 100 swedish citizens (next highest country in the world)

Since it is hard to compare one country to another since there is a long history of the attitudes and mentality of each's citizens that makes them different. One statistic that is rarely seen is "# of guns per 100 gun owners" to go along with that. Having 2x the number of guns per 100 citizens is a little less significant if the average US gun owner has 2 guns. Meaning, the number of people that are armed is the same.

Let's say you are in a room with 100 people and you know that 88 guns are in there. Would you feel better if you knew that 88 different people each had 1 gun or that 44 people each had 2 guns?

> * 45.7 guns per 100 swedish citizens (next highest country in the world)

Swiss you mean? ;)

That said, a quick look at the list and it appears that no western country can compare to USA in firearm homicide per 100k citizens.

True, but a common argument from gun owners is that if you're feeling homicidal, you'll find a way to commit murder with or without a gun.

Looking at all homicides vs gun ownership seems to bear that out. In fact, there appears to be a negative correlation with gun ownership: http://diegobasch.com/homicides-vs-gun-ownership

(Can we start abbreviating Correlation Is Not Causation as CINC now? In any case, if you're going to argue that more guns = more murders, at the very least you're going to have to concede that other factors are much, much more important.)

Outside of higher-yield weapons like bombs, guns are the fastest, lightest and easiest-to-use methods for murdering the most number of people in the shortest amount of time.

It seems insane to me (as a Canadian citizen) that the pro-gun folks continue to peddle that safety comes from increasing the number of "responsible" carriers. Here are the issues that I see with this:

1. The assumption that all gun users are trained and responsible. It seems obvious to compare this to other licensees such as drivers and you'll immediately see that it is not a valid argument. There are terrible drivers on the roads with valid licenses, who have presumably been trained with a lot of experience. The barrier to entry is even higher in that the cost of a vehicle is higher than a weapon.

2. How do you differentiate the good vs. bad in a situation such as Aurora? If you see a number of random strangers running around with guns in hand, few of whom would have any sort of melee training outside of video games, who do you shoot at? Where does the liability lie if one innocent murders another innocent by mistake?

3. The number of guns will increase (as they are now). With more lying around either forgotten or marginally broken, it increases the availability for non-licensed usage as I doubt responsible users dispose of their weapons appropriately (see item 1).

I say all this fully recognizing the gun's position as a tool, strongly advocating mental health reform and even supporting the OP's position of rational rather than emotional response to Newtown.

Errr, you're ignoring the highest casualty mass murders, at least in the US, which were done by arson. Maybe not "fastest", but otherwise very "competitive" with firearms. I can't track a list down, but in a recent discussion someone mentioned counting something like 19 out of the top 20 mass murders in the US.

But arson has been largely addressed in western countries by legislation. Building and fire codes are strong, positive examples that federal and/or state legislation saves lives (as I'm not a US citizen, I'm not sure where juridiction lies).

It's state and local. But I think you underestimate the distinction between a normal fire and one set to deliberately murder. To get back to the current topic, one reason the death toll at Virginia Tech was so high was the shooter chained shut from the inside all three exits of the building. No one could escape and that gave the shooter an extra 5 minutes before the police could breach a door.

Then there are the cases where the building codes are not observed; Wikipedia even has a category "Fire disasters involving barricaded escape routes" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Fire_disasters_involvi...). Only one of these is listed as an arson attack, I know of one other (Happy Land), although both of these were code type problems. Hmmm, and according to Wikipedia, the Dupont Plaza Hotel arson, 2nd worst in US history at a minimum of 97 killed, locked emergency exits on a casino floor were a factor (wow, I'm impressed Wikipedia's article does not use the word union once...).

Still can't find a list of arson fires, so further analysis by me will have to wait, but I know plenty of smaller scale ones I've read about have involved the arsonists blocking the entrances, often by setting more than one fire.

I'm still not sure where the arson/gun violence comparison is viable. Steps have been taken to try and curtail deaths caused by fire (deliberate or otherwise) which have clearly succeeded.

Are they foolproof? Not at all. But aside from more inspections to prevent code violations, what additional steps are there? Preventing doors from being locked? Providing better battering devices for police? Banning fire?

The way I see it, the pro-gun lobby and enthusiasts have so successfully barred the door to future attempts at legislation that most consider it a topic un-worthy of discussion.

And, again, I say all of this not even really believing that more gun legislation is the answer. These are the better options:

- Better, easier to access healthcare (including mental health resources -- this is something that most western countries should improve)

- Close the income discrepancy between the wealthy and poor which will open up advancement opportunities for lower income families and individuals

- Decriminalize certain drugs, or at least possession

- De-emphasize incarceration over re-habilitation in the prison system (for profit prisons? Jesus...)

Address the perceived necessity for weapons rather than the weapons themselves.

Address the perceived necessity for weapons rather than the weapons themselves.

But how can you ever do that?

No matter how much the above prescriptions change the facts on the ground, there will still be criminals and mentally ill people who attack others. And you'll never change what's historically the biggest killer of all, the threat of governments, most especially including your own as the last century's history wrote in blood.

So I don't think you'll ever change my perception that I need weapons.

(I also "need" "weapons" to target shoot, but that gets a little complicated.)

The scale and total harmfulness of a mass murder incident is increased dramatically with access to weapons designed and manufactured for military personnel to kill as many people as possible with maximally engineered effectiveness.

In China, where guns are generally (if not totally) banned, they've had a problem with citizens going on murderous rampages in schools with swords and knives. So yes, the lack of guns is not necessarily decreasing murderous intent. But look at something interesting: all 22 victims of the most recent China rampage survived (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2012/12/14/china-sc...). If this man had a bushmaster, he'd have done a lot better.

Murder with highly refined weapons of war is much more effective than murder without. Removing assault weapons designed for wars would not necessarily decrease the count of incidents but would decrease the harmfulness of those incidents.

"I personally hate guns. I have never owned or even fired one. I wish they didn’t exist, but they do" - Everyone should try to put at least two dozen rounds down the range. It's a great experience, and it can help you focus, make your mind faster and clearer (IPSC is simply awesome - go to an event).

I don't really care about the self defense aspect - even though it's enticing, having some of my stuff stolen is probably better than killing a person.

You think very highly of the good will of criminals, and I would guess you're not a women.

I searched for data, and found out that in the past 30 years, 543 people have been killed in 70 mass shootings. That’s an average of 18 deaths per year. For comparison, three times as many die from lightning strikes....

Mass killings are as inevitable as lightning deaths

There are public policies which deal with lightning risk, e.g. formal implementation of the 30-30 rule for sports facilities.

Instead of focusing on the mass shootings, focus instead on the thousands of children killed by guns in between the mass killings.

I don't think that you will find that this number is a statistical fluctuation.

reminds me of a fight club quote:

A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

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