Mass Shootings / Gun Crime
First things first, we need to understand the different natures and impacts of ‘Mass Shootings’ and generic ‘Gun Crime’.
Mass shootings typically arise from several basic pathologies- hateful ideology, social distress, or physical brain health. We’ve seen very recently the effect of radicalized white nationalism, and we’re got a long, inglorious past filled with hate shooters. We’ve also had enough experience with people experiencing social distress, be it outcast school shooters, or disgruntled employees ‘going postal’. 1 The last group is likely the rarest- people like Charles Whitman who have an actual, physical issue in their brains that destroys their ability to control violent urges.
Even as we endure the terrifying scourge of mass shootings, we have to recognize that these crimes are the smallest portion of gun violence. We hear so much about them, and about ‘assault weapons’, but the truth is that almost 80% of gun-related homicides are committed with handguns, and in non-mass shooting scenarios. The causes of these deadly incidents are vastly different- primarily involving poverty, the protection of black markets, and domestic violence.
It’s important to understand what underlies the different types of gun violence, because without understanding why these things happen, we have no chance to lessen their occurrence.
I need to speak on one specific thing that seems to cause a huge blind spot, especially for white liberals that have a lot to say about gun control:
Gun violence and school-related violence has been a consistent part of life in our urban cores for decades. That it is mostly only a news-worthy item when it occurs in white areas like Columbine is just a further indication about how little we care about Black lives.
It’s Not Guns
I mean, it is guns, in the sense that you cannot kill someone with a gun without using a gun.
That said, the absolute vastest percentage of guns are never used in a gun homicide. Estimating high on gun homicides and low on guns in private ownership, 15,000 guns are used in homicides out of 393,000,000 in private ownership. That is less than .0038%. Less than one out of each 25,000 guns will be used to kill someone, using worst-case estimates.
The Problem With Gun Control
Constitutional / Civil Rights Issues
We need to understand that we are not going to change the Second Amendment in the next 50 years. It is incredibly difficult, and for a reason. There is plenty of support for additional gun legislation at the periphery, but going beyond that is not only impossible, but the drive to do so is politically toxic.2
Further, we need to consider the repercussions of enhancing the illegality and policing of guns. We know, statistically, that the enforcement of all laws falls the hardest on the poor and minorities of color. Just look at the enforcement of marijuana prohibition- the black and white populations use the substance at equal rates, but in some states, black people are arrested for marijuana possession at 300% the rate that white people are.
Extremely Limited Success
The measures we can and should definitely enact will have extremely limited success. We should have universal background checks. We should ban bump stocks (they violate the spirit of our existing prohibition on automatic weapons). We should end the ‘Gun Show Loophole’.
These legal solutions are needed, but they will not, on their own, make the kind of impact we really need. I am not falling back on the traditional ‘Gun Rights’ talking point of “Do you expect criminals to obey the law!?!?!”. What I am saying is to consider the mindset of a killer: The penalty for a single killing is worse than the penalty for illegally possessing / acquiring a weapon. Especially in the case of mass shooters, some of whom have killed people simply to acquire their weapons. These are people who no longer value their own lives in any serious way.
Similarly, a new ‘Assault Weapons Ban’ will not eradicate the tens of millions of them in existence, and, as before, gun manufacturers will simply design new variants that are not technically illegal.
We’re Not Other Countries
The most common retort I hear when I discuss gun issues online or in person is, “But what about (The U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Japan)? They don’t have nearly the same level of gun violence that we do!” And they don’t.
They also, combined, have less than 5% of the number of privately owned firearms that the U.S. has. 3 The real difference for the disparity in violence is cultural, and it’s not the same from nation to nation.
Red Flag Laws
Like the death penalty, I support Red Flag laws in theory. Also like the death penalty, I do not, with few exceptions, support them in practice. This is a personal belief, but almost everything is: I do not believe in stripping peoples’ rights without allowing full due process to run its course.
Depending on the statute, and with at least the same level of due process that is required an arrest warrant, I can see their validity. I think, though, that anything rising to the level of depriving a person of their guns should most likely be seeing them be arrested or institutionalized. You can cause manifold damage without a firearm.
The Answer- Great Society, Part Two.
One thing that has always intrigued me is how, for the most part, the murder rate tracks with the rate of concentrated poverty much more closely than it does with the ‘guns per capita’ stats.
The simple conclusion I draw from this is that a core facet of reducing our murder rate, and thus our gun crime rate, is making sure peoples’ lives are worth living- making sure that they have hope.
There are five4 key aspects that I think we can address to bring people a level of universal hope that I believe would drastically cut back on the number of people who consider using a gun to commit murder as being their last or best play.
1. Educational Expansion / Universal College
The first item on the list is universal college. We need every child to know from their earliest age, that they have a guaranteed option to continue their education. This core of hope would be a strong deterrent toward making poor life choices. I would expand our general public education system to provide a more comprehensive level of structure for those not getting what is needed at home.
I would also increase the presence of emotional education to help reduce the incidence of toxic masculinity. In a similar vein, we would create a curriculum on consent. These focal points would reduce not only domestic violence incidents, but sexual violence as a whole, and the emerging ‘Incel’ category of mass shooters. Lastly, we would spend specific time on ‘Acceptance Education’, with the goal of making sure we all understand that other cultures sexual orientations, and races are to be viewed without hate or divisiveness. We would whole-heartedly borrow the idea of the “Non-Aggression Principle” from libertarian thought- you do not have to agree with others’ lifestyles, but we all need to learn physical tolerance.
2. Universal Health Care
We need universal health care. 5
The number of people who end up at the end of their ropes due to the catastrophe of our health care ‘system’ is unconscionable.6 The number of those who take others with them is a national tragedy. As mentioned before, as many as 61% of mass shooters have had some history of mental health issues.
On top of that, our poor availability of care contributes greatly to people self-medicating with illicit substances without the supervision of doctors, which then opens pipelines to descending spirals of abuse (drug violence) and to domestic violence.
Even people who are not suffering from a directly diagnosable mental illness could benefit from general counseling to prevent or divert them from developing radicalized ideologies and the eventual violence that spawns from those thought patterns.
3. Ending The War On Drugs / Sexual Prohibition
The “War on Drugs” has contributed greatly to the escalation of violence in this country, and in many different ways. 5% of murders in an average year are directly related to narcotics felonies, and another 10-15% are attributable to violent crime in pursuit of money to pay for narcotics. Further, it has hardened many of our neighborhoods against the police forces that should be entrusted with their safety.
If your ‘business’ is illegal, and you cannot rely on law enforcement for protection, this is going to lead to guns and gun violence. This is a direct analog to the sexual violence epidemic in the sex work industry- making a rape complaint potentially becomes evidence to be used against you, if it is even taken seriously as a complaint.
Worse, the ‘War on Drugs’ has created an entire layer of society that exists outside of the law and on the fringes of society. When you can’t get a decent job to begin with, imagine the struggle to get a job when you have a drug conviction on your record. Further, and due to our lack of health care funding, we shun those who develop serious abuse problems, pushing them out of society, and giving them no reason to care about their own lives, let alone the lives of others.
If we were to get rid of drug and sex prohibition, it would go far to reduce the violence that currently exists as a cloud around those industries, which in turn reduces gun homicides.
First, treatment is more effective in reducing drug use than incarceration. Second, there is simply more opportunity when you do not have a criminal record. Third, we would remove a large policing boot off the necks of communities of color. Fourth, police who no longer have to spend vast quantities of time on prohibition can spend that time solving and preventing other crimes- especially areas that do not get the attention they need, like sexual and domestic violence. 7 Further, police can move back into a role that directly benefits their communities, which could be huge in returning the trust and cooperation needed between a community and its’ law enforcement personnel.
4. Universal Basic Income (Shout Out To #YangGang)
As important an element in our society as freedom itself, agency allows us to make meaningful decisions about our lives. Being robbed of agency or simply feeling as if you’ve never had any to begin with is the opposite of hope. Constantly fearing the loss of agency can have a rotting effect on mental health and resiliency.
A universal basic income guarantees a significant amount of agency to everyone at all times.8 It is an investment in peoples’ lives that says, “You have value. Your humanity is not defined by your immediate employability.”
It is a fountain of hope. Whether you get fired from a job, or you separate from your significant other, or you are dealt any number of other setbacks, you know that you still have the ability to make choices in your life, and you can make it through. Victims of domestic violence would have a guaranteed source of income with which to escape.
We will never end violent crime, or killings. These acts arose long before guns, and they will still be with us when we’ve moved beyond firearms. Guns don’t cause violence- they enable it.
What we need to do is to attack the root causes of violence. We can’t eliminate it, but we can greatly curtail it.
It is my belief that our ability to reduce gun violence by acting against gun possession is limited. On the other hand, I believe we can greatly reduce gun violence by aggressively attacking the circumstances that create it. I believe that gun violence is a symptom of a larger societal illness. These changes would go a long way toward treating that illness, and in doing so, would immensely reduce gun violence.
Something that I did not mention, but I feel the need to add:
President Trump did not pull the trigger in either of these weekend tragedies. He did, however, steady these killers’ aim. He has, time and again, given succor to white nationalism, to racism, to violence, to hate in general. He has long acted as a role model for those who abuse women, and he has a soft spot for his fellow abusers like Rob Porter and his old buddy Jeffery Epstein. He is cordial with mass murderers like Putin, Kim, and MbS on the world stage.9
He has, time and again, winked at the very worst among us. Is he is simply so craven that he will seek support from anyone, including those who are rightfully excluded from modern moral society? Or is his heart really that dark, but cowardice leads him to only personally attack women over whom he enjoys a power differential, and people he can attack from behind a microphone while surrounded by a throng of supporters?
In any case, three years in, I think it’s pretty clear that when he says “Make America Great Again”, more than anything, what he means by ‘great’ is “you can get away with anything if you’re white and wealthy enough.” We know the message his followers get from MAGA. Saturday saw just the most recent example of someone trying to “Make America Great Again.” There will be more.