Some Thoughts About Mass Killers and Gun Control

It's time to come together to take action

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I was shocked when I first saw the online news Friday about yet another mass shooting. There had been a mass shooting a few days previously at a mall in Portland that didn’t gather a whole lot of news, but then – and in the midst of the Holiday Season – a young man guns down 20 kids and six adults at a school in Newtown, CT.

I listened to President Obama speak to the bereaved parents and townspeople in Newtown. I agree with him: Something concrete must be done to begin stopping these serial killings. There are too many and it’s almost become too easy to live with them.

Mass shootings in this style – where typically a young man with mental problems goes in with guns, with the intent of killing a bunch of people he doesn’t know (or in some cases, does know), and then often kills himself – seem to be primarily an American phenomena (although there was another mass shooting not long ago in Norway).

I’m getting sick and tired of the usual cycle that Americans go through after these incidents, aided and abetted by the media. First of all, there’s shock when we learn how many were killed (and for no good reason). Secondly, we hunger for all the details, and the media willingly begins digging for them. Details about the victims begin to emerge, and we empathize with the parents and spouses and children related to the victims. But most of all, we hunger to learn all we can about the shooter or shooters. Was he outwardly normal or did he show signs of being anti-social or crazy? We wonder, how did he obtain his guns? Shouldn’t someone have seen that this person would be a danger to society? Was he acting out of anger or was he schizophrenic or what?

Then, after a good deal of detail has been delivered by TV and the newspapers, we slowly let go of the story, and pretty soon the media realizes that people are tired of hearing about the event and are off to cover other stories.

Part of the shooter phenomena is crime-copying. I worked in the PR department of the Postal Service back when there was a series of post-office shootings by postal employees. The term “going postal” is still used. People thought that the working conditions in post offices must’ve been awful to create the atmosphere of hatred that generated shootings. I’m not sure what circumstances engendered the first several shootings, but I’m convinced that after that, these first shootings entered the imaginations of a bunch of unhappy workers and made them want that public exposure and made them want to go out in a blaze of glory – to “even the score” with a society or fellow employees that seemed against them at every turn.

Then, of course, there’s the subject of guns. Americans have around 88 guns per 100 people, much more than the closest next country (Yemen), which has around 54 guns per 100. But we don’t have the highest murder rate due to shootings. In fact, we’re number 28 down the list of nations in that regard. But guess what – if there were suddenly no guns, there wouldn’t be any mass shootings. People would have to resort to knives or poison gas or running people down with a vehicle.

But guns are here to stay. Just like tobacco – we know cigarettes are highly addictive, we know they’re a big health risk, and so on, but tobacco is just too entrenched to outlaw.

I grew up in a hunting family. We used to go hunting pheasants, partridge and ducks. The dogs we kept (Labradors) were chosen because they helped with hunting. Hunting was one of those father/son bonding experiences. I liked to oil up my single-barrel, single-shot 12-gauge shotgun and clean out the barrel. But I wasn’t a good hunter. I only shot one pheasant in my short hunting career and that was because it practically flew down my barrel as I was pulling the trigger (I was standing just inside a corn field). There wasn’t much left to take home.

But here’s what has to be done – keeping guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people. But how far does that push take us? In the case of the Newtown mass shooting, the shooter used his mother’s guns. A shooter can use a friend’s guns. He can steal guns.

I wrote a Patch comment the other day about the rights of drivers when faced with DUI checkpoints. I said drivers who should not have to be subjected to random stops when they’ve exhibited no signs of drunken driving. I called it unreasonable search.

So I will stand up for the right to own guns for hunting, self-protection, target-shooting and collecting purposes (as long as some of those collected guns that would pose an unreasonable danger were rendered unable to fire). I do have a real problem with assault-type rifles and rapid-fire pistols being made generally available.

The rifle mostly used by the young male shooter in Newtown was a Bushmaster. I went on the Bushmaster Web site to check out their weapons, which look much like the M-16 rifles I saw being used by the Army during the Viet Nam war (they could be used either in a semi-automatic or in a “machine gun” automatic mode). I can see these Bushmaster rifles being used in the military or by police departments but I can see no reason to be selling them to the public, even if some people would like the excitement of firing them just for the experience. They are simply guns designed to kill people.  

I looked in some Big 5 Sporting Goods store advertising inserts in the local newspapers. So here’s an ad for a Colt semi-automatic rifle (the M-4 Carbine) for $500, with a 10-round magazine. It looks much like the Bushmaster rifles or the Army’s M-16 – short barrel, pistol grip, carry-handle. It’s only good use, in my opinion, is as an assault weapon designed to kill people. They’re also selling similar ATI and an HK rimfire rifles with 10-round magazines (maybe that’s all the law allows – but I’ll bet that larger magazines are available for purchase later – also I suspect that some of these rifles may be modified to fire on automatic after purchase).

Why are these assault-type weapons being sold to the general public at local sporting stores? Maybe some gun experts reading this will have ready answers.

Getting back to the shooters, being young (in one’s late teens or twenties) and male can mean some wide mood swings. Their parents divorce or tell them they’re no good. The young men are unhappy, they feel disliked by their classmates, they get dumped by a girlfriend, they develop schizophrenia and become detached from reality, they feel they have no future, they fail at something (or are fired) and blame others, and on and on. They are emotionally crippled, but brain-smart, meaning that they will find a way to obtain weapons and learn how to use them to deadly effect. Meanwhile there’s the lure and sexy power of a shiny metal gun. It’s “the great equalizer” that will allow them to squash the humanity that seems so oppressive. A gun will give them the power to be somebody. There has to be a heavy hate thing going on to calmly and coldly kill 20 children. A great desire to get even.

Many of these mass killers might’ve moved out of that violent-tending phase of their lives and moved on to become safe citizens if they’d hadn’t originally had access to guns. Or, if better mental health screening and care had been available, they might have made it past that point of desperation. 

I’m reminded of the movie Taxi Driver, in which a self-righteous former Marine driving a cab in New York City attempts to make the world right with a pistol hidden in his sleeve. The Marine, Travis Bickle, is a scary cross between Batman and the guy who killed John Lennon.

In Oakland so far this year there are 122 homicides, mostly by shootings. There have to be a lot of guns floating around Oakland, held by the wrong kind of people. Cheap handguns could be banned because it’s simply too easy for criminals to obtain and use them.

Another thing I have a problem with is people who hoard usable guns, beyond their need for several for hunting and self-protection. Some will be people who imagine that they’re going to have to protect themselves from government attack as in the Waco incident. Some might figure that they’ll need them when the Chinese take over the U.S. (I’m not kidding). Some are in the illegal drug business. If the guns are burglarized, they’ll flow into the criminal element.

I also think that the amount of violence that young people experience on TV and in video games has desensitized them to the real killing and maiming of people. A combat tour back in the jungles in Viet Nam would’ve brought home to them the real horrors of killing.

I’m sure I’ve angered some gun aficionados here. Some of what I’ve talked about has been re-hashed many times before.

But the real fact is that action needs to be taken, whether in the area of better gun control, or in the area of keeping mental cases away from weapons, or both.

Imagine being schoolchild six years old and seeing an adult with a rifle calmly walk from frightened classmate to frightened classmate and shoot them multiple times, and see them slump into death, and calmly shoot your principal dead, who’s trying to come to your assistance. This experience will scar these kids for a long time to come. This isn’t the America I signed up for.    




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Mark Paxson December 20, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Odd that this has not produced any comments. Maybe because it's too balanced? As I said to a friend at lunch today, this is an incredibly difficult issue to resolve. It's not just guns. There are multiple factors that go into why these things happen. Gun control alone isn't going to provide a solution. It can help, but it won't completely fix the problem. I know this ... the alternative proposed by the "other side" that we arm everybody is not a world I want to live in.
Ian Arnold December 20, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Watch closely as I alienate everyone: First, the bumper-sticker version: It shouldn't be easier to access guns than it is to access health care (including mental health.) Now, on to my conflicted, contradictory argument: The folks on the left have GOT to acknowledge the existence of the Second Amendment and stop trying to parse it; The folks on the right have GOT to acknowledge that the Bill of Rights is not the 11th through 20th Commandments and that there is room to introduce common sense into each of those amendments. (For example, nobody would argue that my right to swing my fist doesn't end where the other fellow's nose begins or that my right to freedom of speech does NOT include the ride to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater.) I own guns and like them, but as I've said previously, I'd have no compunction about providing test rounds to my local PD so that firearms owned by me could be ruled in or out of an investigation.
Ian Arnold December 20, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Bear with me here: As near as I can tell, we in the US suffer approximately 12,000 firearm-related deaths per year. Essentially, in 2001, each of us was 4 times as likely to be killed with a firearm than to be the victim of evil men crashing airplanes into buildings. Over the course of 11 years, it appears that we're 44 times as likely to be killed with a firearm than by evil men crashing airplanes into buildings. If I go back prior to 2001, the odds get higher and higher. Why raise this? Simple. Those most loudly defending the Second Amendment are the same folks who wholeheartedly supported the USA Patriot Act following 9/11--which violated (and continues to violate) multiple rights laid out in the first ten amendments to The Constitution. Let's at least be consistent in our arguments. In 2002 those who support the Second Amendment referred to the Constitution as "a piece of paper written by old men" when the debate raged over USA Patriot Act. Why is it that the Second Amendment is the sacrosanct one?
Ian Arnold December 20, 2012 at 04:44 AM
A couple of additional thoughts: Following 9/11, we demanded hardened cockpit doors on aircraft. Beginning with new construction and modernization, can we demand secure classroom doors that can be locked with the click of a button? If a principal or teacher becomes aware of a threat, hit the button and we're in automatic lockdown. While school shootings aren't an everyday occurence, they're more common than hijackings--at least parents could feel some sense of security. Next: The White House has some amount of discretionary funding. I'd like to see $70M or so put up for new elementary school construction, with the idea that we could have an online or televised charity event to match that funding. The total amount could be used to build new elementary schools coast-to-coast, each named (in perpetuity) for a victim of the Sandy Hook murderer. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that the average elementary school costs $5 M to build, so $140 M would cover all 28 victims. We'd help struggling school districts build much-needed facilities and provide a lasting monument to the victims. Just my .02.
Roberto December 21, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Great comments. A a little off base with the comment on the Colt rifle at Big 5. The rifle is only a .22 cal. Not a .223 assault rifle. People usually buy .22's for target shooting, not as a weapon for killing people, Other than that, nice comment, you really know how to jump on a bandwagon. Then there's the next group of comments. Hey, way to go. You submit comments, then answer them yourself. Love your last one. Sounds a lot like a labor union lobbyist stroking a soap box politician that loves to spend the tax payers money..
Greg December 22, 2012 at 09:22 PM
You beat me to it --- we have a huge dictionary problem here regarding "assault" weapon. My own definition depends on the automatic vs semi-automatic mode --- not the basic physical appearance/design. His sample ads, as you pointed out, are misleading "to the cause" due to the differences between .22 and the big brass centerfire cartridges. The basic design has been field proven for usability and reliability by years of use in a multitude of environments ----- the very reason the old .45 auto was the military handgun of choice for so long.
Roberta Hubbard December 24, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Could you become vegan? And not kill? Too many people use guns to kill. Guns kill. Too many people get a thrill out of it, even the so called controlled users. Admit it. That is what is so dangerous. The licenced users who kill legally....what is that about anyway? The ten commandements states that "Thou shalt not kill". I am a vegan and do not kill any animals or drink their milk, ect., and I survive. Killing animals is bad enough, yet people think they have "a right" to do so. That is what is so troubling. If we have a nation bent on killing innocent animals for food and factory farms torturing and maiming animals for human consumption, how do we think the general public will feel about not killing and owning guns? It is a world bent on killing...period. It is crazy to me, and unacceptable. The violence will go on as long as we keep legalizing murdering animal life the way we do and eating them the way we do. It is an uncompassionate and cruel way of life. Society loves its entertainment (violent) entertainment...people make money lots of money off of it and it is legal. Crazy. Too much freedom under "my rights" seems out of control here in America, down right dangerous.
M.Legison December 29, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Teachers nationwide are now being offered firearms training, including some local districts. That is a most positive step towards prevention. It's not that they will all be armed gunslingers, but unlike most of the gun control advocates they will learn to feel comfortable, and with practice confident with sidearms should they need to use them.
Bil Paul December 29, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Say that schools were armed to the teeth, and that prevented mass shooters from choosing them for mass shootings. The mass shooters would then just switch to other sites where children congregate, of which there are many (such as the movie theater). I do not recommend that every adult in this country who has responsibility for kids carry a gun.
Mark Paxson December 30, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Exactly Bil. And, oddly enough, although I've asked many people this, including M. Legison, I have yet to get an answer. I'll try again. We arm teachers and staff at schools. What do we do to make sure the students don't have access to those weapons? Unfortunately, that is exactly what they are suggesting ... everybody be armed.
Greg Coppes December 30, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Given the state of paranoia that everyone seems to have, yes every adult that can legally purchase a gun should should carry a gun.
Greg Coppes December 30, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Once again Paxson I answered your question. I'll do it again. It is the carriers responsibility, and liability. You seem long on criticism short on answers. Why didn't you answer mine?
Mark Paxson December 30, 2012 at 03:40 AM
That's not an answer, Greg. It's a description of who is responsible. And, guess what, if we're talking public schools, than we're talking about government, society, you and I, who are then ultimately responsible and liable. But, I'm not talking about responsibility and liability, I'm talking about what are the steps that will actually be taken to ensure that, if we arm teachers and school staff, students will not have access to the weapons. You have not answered that question. I have answered your question ... there are some things for which there is no solution and arming everybody is most definitely not a solution. I've said that a couple of times now. What was it you said -- here, let me turn it around on you -- I've answered your question. That you don't like the answer doesn't change that I've answered your question. But, then, considering you believe Heller means an individual's right to bear arms is unlimited, I'm not surprised you wouldn't understand. Here's the reality -- the solution to the problem of gun violence (here's an idea, let's remove the word "gun" from the discussion), the solution to the problem of violence in our society extends far beyond whether or not somebody has a gun, although access to guns certainly helps increase the carnage when one of our untreated mentally ill citizens decides to go off. You think arming more people is the solution. I don't. It's a much more complicated calculus than that.
Greg Coppes December 30, 2012 at 04:44 AM
I guess once again I'll need to break it down for you. The carrier of the weapon would be responsible for securing the weapon. As usual you missed were I said the courts have ruled there are limits to our individual rights. On the other hand do you know the standard they set that determines that limit? Remember I'm the one who introduced you to Heller when you thought the 2nd amendment only applied to Militias lol. You still don't have a grasp of Heller. You need to read the whole thing not just the bits you think help your argument. You might start with the dissenting opinion. You won't that takes effort and study. You have shown all you can do is criticize and knit pick. You are beginning to see the light. You finally understand the violence isn't a gun problem.
Mark Paxson December 30, 2012 at 05:27 AM
Fine, Greg, you're a teacher who has been trained in gun safety and have been given an gun to protect your students. How do you secure it to ensure that the students don't have access to it? You haven't broken down anything. I want to know exactly how the weapons will be secured, not who will be responsible if something goes wrong. Are you normally this obtuse?
Mark Paxson December 30, 2012 at 05:33 AM
And, yes, I must have missed where you said the courts have ruled there are limits on the 2nd Amendment, because what I remember most is your stated belief, repeated several times that the combination of Heller and the language of the 2nd amendment means that the individual right to bear arms shall not be infringed and gun control laws across the nation will be struck down once they get to the courts. Equally sadly, is your belief that I'm the commenter who believed the 2nd amendment applied only to militias. You're right about LOL. LOL that you can't keep track of who is saying what. That was another commenter, not me. The day the Heller decision came out, I knew that. I don't need you telling me what Heller means. Even more sad is that you apparently believe the dissenting opinion has any meaning or value. Effort and study, Greg. Guess what, I'm an attorney. I read court decisions for a living. I know exactly what Heller means. You're the one that doesn't. Seeing the light ... I have always known violence isn't just a gun problem. Nothing I've said here would suggest otherwise. You're much like other conservatives around here ... you put people in boxes, apply labels to them and can't possibly imagine a world in which those boxes and labels don't apply. I'll give you another hint. Even the most ardent gun control advocate doesn't think that's the only element to the problem.
Bwood December 30, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Okay, say we agree to stop killing animals. What do we do for shoes, wallets, belts, and everything else leather? I don't think you can substitute plastic for everything..
Mark Paxson December 30, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Yes, exactly, let's arm a bunch of paranoid people. Unintentionally, you described exactly the problem with arming everybody.
Bil Paul December 30, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Another element to this whole thing is that the more guns there are being held in homes, schools, etc., the easier it will be for the crazies to find one to carry out their missions. Such as the Newtown crazy using his mom's guns. Why did his mom have an AR-15, anyway?
Bil Paul December 30, 2012 at 09:05 PM
But enough about the guns. How do you predict when someone will be crazy enough to do a mass killing? I suppose in any town of Dixon's size there's at least one person deluded and angry enough to kill someone or kill a bunch. Then you consider people's rights. Do you snatch this person and commit them to a mental institution, even when their parents or spouse don't see the need? Do you practice preventive or proactive mental care for people with a hint of murderous thinking? Do you monitor people playing violent video games online with others, to see who's overactive and overinterested in this area? Do you monitor blogs and online comments to see who's too extreme? Mental health care has never been a top priority in this country, especially with government deficits, etc. Where do you draw the line on privacy and the right to think what you want, vs. the safety of the public?
desertpatriot December 31, 2012 at 02:25 AM
greg, this cat is a time-waster. do yourself a favor and give him a wide berth. all the best
ROBERT E. FISHBACK December 31, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Oh no, Rosemont has caught Montrose plague. Just watch this thread spread like a cancer and soon, nasty things will be said. This topic is so worn out. I suggest Whamo sligshots, they give even the most simple the smarts.
Mark Paxson December 31, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Oh, desertpatriot, you hurt my feelings. Well, actually not. What you demonstrate is what's wrong with political debate in this country. To you, it's a waste of time to engage in a discussion about the day's issues with somebody who disagrees with you. Too bad ... that's the only way to learn.
MSgt. John DeLallo January 05, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Article I, Section XXI, Pennsylvania Constitution, "The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned." Since written, there are now 130 pages of questions. Ask your state rep for a copy of the Pennsylvania Compendium of Firearm Laws, don't take my word for it. So far as public safety, how about imprisonment for the full term specified by Pennsylvania for use of a firearm in a criminal act? Revolving door justice, plea bargains galore, no consequence for criminal activity, and worse, tossing the mental health system to the curb are all contributors to the safety issue. The most germane comment made is the one that espouses the concept that there is an awesome PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY that accompanies each and every INDIVIDUAL RIGHT. Those who cannot exercise personal responsibility must be stopped in their tracks. If you think this is simple rhetoric, you can look this up, too. In House Judiciary hearings in May of 2010, Rep. Curtis Thomas (D-Phila), stated "...we can't put all the criminals in jail...". This from a man sworn to defend the Constitution.
Martha Pearson January 29, 2013 at 10:28 PM
Dan McKown tells about his experience trying to stop a mass shooter- Armed 'Good Guys' and the Realities of Facing a Gunman One Man's Story In Washington state, one such "good guy" — a private citizen who drew his gun in defense of others — paid a heavy price. http://ideastations.org/npr/170456129-armed-good-guys-and-realities-of-facing-gunman Background information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacoma_Mall_shooting


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