Thursday, October 8, 2015

Gun Violence in the United States: What to Do?

Only used once or twice in the past 12 years in mass shootings

Used three times in mass shootings 
The real threat. This is the gun most often used
President Obama expressed the frustration of liberal Americans when he said the latest shootings at the Oregon school were horrifying precisely because they have become so ordinary--oh, just another dozen students and teachers shot at a school or a playground. Oh, hum. What else is new?

 Of course, beheaded bodies by the dozens appear on the streets of Mexico daily but we never see those on CNN. Among well developed "civilized" nations, America stands alone as the home to routine mass murders by psychopaths wielding guns.

The problem is, nobody has any good ideas about how to stop this.  The President has suggested, vaguely, there oughta be a law. John Boehner, predictably blames the lack of a solution on the President--won't it be good to be rid of Mr. Boehner?  Democrats talk about more extensive background checks.  Republicans say we need to arm school teachers.

In medicine, when you have an epidemic, an outbreak of disease, you do epidemiological studies to identify patterns to understand how the disease is spread in hopes of figuring out what to do about it. Actually, the New York TImes did something like this recently, printed out each mass murder since 2013 and showing the guns used and noting when or if the shooter had shown evidence of a psychopathology and whether or not the guns used were obtained legally. For the most part, the guns were acquired legally, would not have been denied to the shooter by current law and the shooter had not eluded psychotherapy but simply was not identified as a likely mass murderer.

So, it appears none of what we have in place works well enough to reliably predict who will "go postal" and nothing works very well to prevent it. 

There are so many guns floating around America--estimates are 250 million guns and 1/3 of all homes have guns--it is hard to imagine we can keep guns out of the hands of maniacs, because all they have to do is break into a neighbor's home if their own home doesn't have a handy supply.

The Tea Party types say it's simple--just arm everyone and soon shooters would be too frightened to start shooting.  Trouble with this is you are dealing with psychopathology and many of these shooters shoot themselves in the end, so fear of the other guy with the gun is not likely to be a deterrent and, in any case, the shooter is likely to do what bank robbers do--they look for the guard with the gun, use surprise to draw first and take out the guard. 

The other argument against the armed population as the best deterrent is there has never been a case, or at least there are only rare instances, of an armed citizen intervening to save his fellow citizens from a shooter.  We have an armed population, and we have lots of guns but they never seem to be in place to save lives when the shooter starts shooting. One of the things shooters seem pretty good at is the element of surprise. They look around to be sure nobody present can stop them before they pull out their guns.

As I've mentioned before, the Army is very controlling when it comes to bullets. If you send a soldier to the firing range for target practice, he gets twelve bullets and he must return with 12 spent casings. If he comes back with 11 then hey may be planning to shoot his drill sergeant and he is in trouble and likely headed to the brig.

If only we had such a system for the rest of American society. 

But, the fact is, we do not have a working system. Nobody, not the Democrats in Congress, certainly no the Republicans or their benefactors, the NRA, nor the courts, nor the social workers nor the psychiatrists have any good ideas. 

We have traffic laws and yet we lose, what? Fifty thousand lives a year on the highways?  We just cannot control human behavior down to the lone wolf with the pocket full of Glocks.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Yes we have traffic laws and still a high fatality rate on our roads-but imagine how much greater than 50,000 that rate would be without the laws we have in place regarding speeding, drunk driving, seat belt use etc. We may not have ended highway traffic deaths-but we've lowered that number and isn't that still a win?

    The President, in his speech following the shooting in Oregon, challenged the press to come up with the number of deaths from gun violence as well as the number of US deaths from terrorism since September 11, 2001. According to CNN those numbers through 2013 are 406,000 gun deaths in the US and 3,380 US deaths at the hands of terrorists..Yet as the President pointed out, we've spent over a trillion dollars on the "war" on terrorism and a tiny fraction of that tackling the annual slaughter of our fellow citizens by firearms..I don't have any answers off the top of my head either to fix this problem, but I'd bet the house if we pledged a good chunk of that trillion that was used to fight terrorism on our gun problem we would see some innovative and effective ways to curb some of the violence..I am not saying that simply throwing money at a problem solves it-but it often helps..

  2. Maud,

    The trillion dollar figure is the depressing part. Mad dog's law of big numbers states that a number this big is certainly bogus.
    Nevertheless, whe you factor in the VA costs for the brain damaged soldiers and for the artificial limbs, it's mind boggling and was so avoidable.
    War on terrorism--what hocumb.
    I do agree just because the problem of gun violence here has no obvious solution doesn't mean we shouldnLt try.
    Of course what animates the angst is when cute white kids get shot.
    Kids dying on street corners in the wrong zip codes don't seem to matter.

    Mad Dog