We will not end mass shootings until we deal with the mind of the shooter
While the headline refers to “the gun issue,” what we really need to address is “the crime issue.” Understandably, a mass shooting draws a lot of media attention. They result in multiple deaths – usually, but not always, of innocent people in a single event.
Conversely, individual murders that happen on a daily basis account for many times more people being killed in acts of violence. On any weekend – every weekend — in America, more people will be murdered than in the worst of the mass shootings. Most will die from gunshots, but many more from other means – knives, bludgeons, poison, vehicles, or bare hands.
Guns get the most attention because they are involved in most of the killings – especially those that take down innocent people for no apparent reason. And it is not just mass shooters. We have an entire other category labeled “serial killers.” They were the rage in a past era.
In many ways, murder is like cancer. There are many types – and each must be diagnosed and treated differently. We have to address the specific incidents and take a deeper dive when patterns appear.
While the political debate centers on the gun, that is likely the least productive approach to reducing mass shootings. In addressing the issue, however, we should recognize that it is NOT the primary CAUSE. These crimes are committed by people. Somewhere at the foundation is a cultural explanation for mass shootings that have evolved in America in the past 50 years.
In investigating crimes, the first concern is … motivation. Why did that person commit that crime? Find motivation and you have a killer. Does a gun have the motivation? Does a gun have the ability to act independently? Do guns get indicted and incarcerated in any crime in which they are involved? Of course not.
There are two facets to the gun/murder/crime issue in America – enforcement and prevention. Crimes flourish when there is a lack of enforcement. At Uvalde and Parkland, we saw tragic failures of enforcement and prevention on a grand scale. But we see evergreen enforcement failures thousands of times every day in America – as police, prosecutors and judges do not apply the full force of the law.
Enforcement is what we do – or do not do – at the time of the crime and the legal actions that follow. In terms of this commentary, that is an issue for a later time. So, what about prevention. That is the issue of the day no matter if you are focused on guns or mental health.
Recognizing that mass killings have become part of our nature, we need to take direct action to mitigate the problem. That includes – but is not exclusive to — the use of guns or any other weapon of choice. We also need to understand that the problem goes well beyond mass shootings.
So, what remedial steps are needed to address the current crimes?
The first step is hardening the targets, especially schools because they have become the target of choice in the most senseless and depraved killings – and because we owe a heightened level of protection to the most innocent and the most vulnerable.
Banks maintain guards, alarm systems, and even chemical countermeasure because they are natural targets for crime. After 9/11, government and private buildings, airports, and entertainment venues installed all kinds of defensive measures – barriers, metal detectors, armed guards, body searches, bomb-sniffing dogs, no-fly lists, mandatory photo IDs, and others.
We have also added protection to our schools. Locked doors, resource officers (that we dare not call “armed guards” for political reasons). They have proven to be insufficient because school unions and Democrat politicians beholding to school unions refuse to take additional security procedures – such as allowing “resource officers” to have so-called assault weapons. They say it looks bad. Worse than 19 dead children huddled in a bloody corner? The school unions protest having armed teachers, but, then again, they have never been a positive force in education.
Those who focus on guns complain that the deranged killers often have more firepower than the security forces. That should make amping up the firepower of security forces a no-brainer. Schools may need more than one “resource person” on duty at strategic locations at all times. Not some guy or gal who moseys around and goes out on a coffee. Arming teachers would increase the defensive fire power.
The most important preventative measure is to identify and stop those planning or potential planning a senseless mass killing – for whatever reason. Obviously, we have failed to do that – or we would not have this horrific history of mass shootings.
We have made initial steps in that direction with so called “red flag laws” that enable people to report persons who show evidence of potential murder – most give strong indications of their intentions to family, and friends, and most importantly on social media can see their malignant intents and mindsets.
The problem with new regulations, procedures, and restrictions is that they are well intentioned and even good ideas, but they will not do diddly-squat in changing the culture – in getting to the bottom of why America stands out in mass murders – at least if you do not include in the calculation the mass murder culture of Islamic terrorists.
Ironically, there may not be much more that we can do since most of these horrific crimes occur when current rules and procedures are not followed. People do not say something when they see something – or worse, authorities do not respond when they are informed.
Red flag laws that are designed to interdict the potential shooter are not triggered. Shooters who should not have a gun – felons and mental patients – are able to obtain guns illegally. Doors that should be locked are not. “Resource persons” are not on campus or do not do their job. Parkland and Uvalde are both examples of those failures.
Doors should be locked, but the rule was bent by a teacher who left the door unlocked in order to return from the parking lot. I attended school more than 70 years ago. At the time, my elementary school – and later high school –had doors that automatically locked from the outside when they closed. We had what was called “panic bars” on the inside to exit. And that was before mass shootings. I have been in buildings in which one-way emergency exits are equipped with alarms – silent and public.
There is still room to improve protective and preventative measures.
There are reasonable gun laws that could be enacted. Of course. have previously called for a ban on bump stocks that turn a legal semi-automatic rifle into an illegal automatic rifle. That should be a no-brainer.
Universal background checks are a no-brainer – although how they are administered and implemented can be debatable in terms of both First and Second Amendment rights.
You cannot identify the felon or the mentally ill unless you can check a database. I have supported a three-day “cooling off” period between the purchase and receipt of the gun while databases are checked. That might have made a difference in Uvalde.
But database checking is only as good as the data it contains and the willingness to check it out. Many states have laws that forbid ownership of guns by people who have spent in treatment for mental illness.
Large volume magazines should require a special permit, if not outlawed altogether. But even that puts only a small impediment in the way of mass shootings. Magazines can be changed in just a couple of seconds. However, those hospital records are not always provided to the database – and states do not have a common national database. A ban on gun ownership that was applied in one state is not seen on the database of another state.
Banning the so-called “assault rifle” is relatively meaningless since it mechanically operates like any other semi-automatic weapon. You must pull the trigger for each bullet – and you can do that in a fraction of a second for each shot. The essential difference between a “regular” rifle and the so-called “assault rifle” is how they look. Even the old assault rifle ban dealt with features, not the basic operation of the gun itself.
Age restrictions are also problematic – although they are constitutional. My state of Florida currently has a restriction on the purchase until the age of 21.
The problem lies in the fact that owning a gun is a constitutional right. Driver licenses and the consumption of alcohol are not rights. They are what are legally known as “privileges.” They can be regulated. Unlike cars, guns are legally used by youngsters of almost any age – sports shooting and hunting with mom or dad.
Age restrictions in terms of purchasing a gun are not as effective as people might think since POSSESSION by youngsters is perfectly legal. A child who may not be able to purchase a gun can get one as a birthday gift. But having an age restriction on the purchase of guns and ammunition may be a good idea – although the benefit in fighting crime or stopping mass shootings is questionable.
Hardening the targets and placing more restrictions on guns are not the only remedial things we can do. Stricter enforcement can play a role. While mass shooters never get away with it. They often die at the scene or face the harshest punishments American justice can hand out – live in prison or be sentenced to death.
But the vast majority of murders are not committed by mass killers, they are committed by individuals – sometimes premeditated or the result of sudden passion. They are committed by warring gangs killing each other – and too often innocent bystanders.
Rather than defund and restrict police action, we should enlarge the on-the-ground police force in high crime areas – oust prosecutors who do not prosecute and judges who do not sentence. In Chicago, I had proposed a law that would increase penalties for malicious illegal ownership of a gun – excluding technical violations of ownership. One would be a criminal charge and the other a civil matter.
These are just a few of what I consider common sense remedial actions – hardening targets, tweaking gun laws and enhancing law enforcement HOWEVER … the bad news is that none of these will demonstrably change the culture that is underlying the never-ending mass shootings. It may derail a nutcase shooter or two, but until we divine and address the fundamental underlying cultural causes the rampages will go on … and on. Mass shootings are caused by a sick mind … period. Most of the remedial proposals are more likely to make us feel better than do better.
So, there ‘tis.