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There Are Things We Can Do to Prevent Mass Shootings and Make Them Less Deadly


Texas School Shooting Uvalde sign protest police
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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By Rob Morse

What can be done to stop more mass murderers in the United States? That question comes to mind since President Biden recently claimed we need to massively disarm honest US citizens in order to stop mass shootings.

Instead of accepting the President’s words at face value, I looked at what the experts say. There are many questions we might ask and lots of facts we can consider. We do a range of things today to stop violence in the US. This is what I found . . .

  • We stop several thousand violent events every day.
  • The United States is about average in its rate of mass murder.
  • We stop more than half of the attempted mass murderers who attack where honest citizens are allowed to go armed.
  • Most mass murderers go through a predictable process, and we ignored warning signs, time after time.
  • We should stop making the murderers into overnight celebrities, but that’s hard to do.

A Walmart employee murdered several of his co-workers in Virginia. That happened a few weeks ago. President Biden then commented that . . .

“[T]he idea we still allow semi automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. It’s just sick. It has no, no social redeeming value. Zero. None. Not a single, solitary rationale for it except profit for the gun manufacturers.”

The President’s comment is bizarre given what we know. We know that more than 4,000 ordinary US citizens use a firearm to protect themselves from a serious threat every single day. Stopping that many assaults, robberies, rapes and murders is of immense, socially redeeming value. The President obviously disagrees.

That level of armed self defense in America shouldn’t come as news. We’ve seen similar reports for the last few decades. The data is broadly consistent, including a report from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention that was commissioned by the Obama Administration.

We are all biased, but we have good reason to be. We think that what we see in the news gives us a representative picture of what is happening in the world overall. It feels that way to us, but in truth there is a lot that goes unreported by our local news stations.

Our news media usually cover a mass murder in the US for days, depending on the circumstances, but they only cover mass murders that happen in other countries for a few minutes, if that. That distorts our thinking about how much violence here is and where it happens.

When we look at the rate of murder per 100,000 people, the US ranks 89th among 230 countries. If we compare countries in Europe with each state in the US, then Norway, Washington DC, and Belgium lead the list with the greatest number of people killed in mass murder per million population. Florida, Germany and Italy are among the safest.

When we look at the rate of mass murder events and the number of people killed by mass murder per 100,000 population, the US ranks 66th and 56th out of the 101 countries reporting a mass murder between 1998 and 2017. Even when we look at the rare events where more than 15 people are killed, then the US is still far safer than most of Africa, Australia, and Israel. We are safer than France and Mexico where honest citizens have been disarmed.

When in comes to mass murders, the US is average. But there are things we can do to become safer still.

We have a mixed report card on mass murder, but that isn’t from a lack of attention. We studied our schools after the attacks at Columbine and Sandy Hook. Experts concluded that time is critical. A mass murderer has all the time he wants to prepare so, short of keeping him out altogether, it’s difficult to stop a mass murder before it begins. Once it starts, the murderer will kill until he is stopped or until he gets tired of killing.

If we wait until the police arrive, then statistically, the murderer will kill 35 to 45 people. Experts concluded that the solution, then, must already be inside the school when the attack begins. We now have several million man-hours of experience with armed and trained school volunteers. If having them in schools were a problem, it would have been readily apparent by now. So far, they look like a solution. Despite this, some districts have actually ended their resource officer programs.

Schools, however, may be a special case. When we look more broadly, we have seen over a hundred cases in which ordinary citizens used their personal firearms to stop mass murderers in the US.

In the last few years, over half of attempted mass murderers were stopped by ordinary armed citizens if the attack happened where citizens are allowed to be armed. As I reported earlier, armed good-guys save lives every day.

Mass murderers may be crazy, but they’re able to read. They generally aren’t afraid of dying, but they are afraid of failing.

They plan to kill as many people as they can, choosing their targets with that in mind. They plan for one-way shooting, not expecting to face a two-way gunfight. In the last several decades, 97.8 percent of mass murderers deliberately targeted places where ordinary citizens were disarmed by law. If that 98 percent statistic doesn’t convince you, maybe a murderer’s own words will. We know killers target “gun-free” zones because we’ve read the murderers’ own e-mails and journals.

In short, “gun-free” zones lead to more and deadlier mass shootings.

For many of us — and for most politicians — it’s hard to believe that we aren’t safe in places where people are prevented from carrying firearms. But the facts not only speak for themselves, they shout. Putting up a plastic “No Guns” sign hasn’t stopped a single mass murderer but it has disarmed their victims.

One obvious way to make us safer is to stop giving killers large, undefended targets where they can kill at will.

“Gun-free” zones work for politicians even though these zones continue to get us killed. Politicians need to appear concerned and relevant. Since politicians pass laws, they pass more laws to create more “gun-free” zones. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Passing another ineffective law lets the politician issue a very earnest press release saying that the world needs more of what he is selling. Unfortunately, “gun-free” zones only create more disarmed victims. Politicians will stop making us vulnerable when citizens and the press call them out on it and vote them out of office.

I use quotes around the term “gun-free” zone since, in reality, the only areas that are remotely gun-free are places like prisons; places with stone walls, locked doors, armed staff, and magnetometers. And even that’s not always true.

Politicians need to appear needed. Besides the laws already on the books against murder, politicians have passed all manner of laws that were supposed to stop mass killers. They’ve passed mandatory background check laws. But those checks look backward, and mass murder isn’t a long-term career path.

Sometimes people who plan mass murder have a criminal record that makes them a prohibited person who can’t legally buy firearms. We’ve seen these mass murderers borrow guns, steal them, and even commit murder to get the guns they want. They have all the time in the world.

We’ve passed “red flag” laws where police officers, teachers, family, co-workers, and friends can ask a court to disarm someone who’s considered a danger to themselves or to others. We’ve had concerned citizens call the FBI because they thought someone was going commit mass murder.

I don’t have good statistics on the number of attacks that were stopped by mandatory background check laws and “red flag” laws, but we do have horrific examples where those laws failed. We have the results from a real-world test since California had mandatory background check and red-flag laws for over a decade. Last year, California had the most mass murders of any state.

We’ve now seen family members who refused to prosecute or use a “red flag” law because they knew their family member was dangerous. These witnesses feared that the law wouldn’t stop the dangerous person and they’d be targeted for revenge if they reported what they knew. “Red flag” laws depend on good faith and a working system of justice. I’m not sure we have those anymore.

There are other ways to stop mass-murders, and the fist thing to do is to call them by their right name. They are celebrity-murders. These killers want to be known. They’re willing to kill to get the notoriety they want. They’re driven, and they would rather die than remain nameless. Those plans have worked time after time since our corporate news media give these murderers a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign if they manage to kill enough innocent victims.

We’ve been in a similar situation before and we solved it. We learned not to name the victims of sexual assault in order to allow the anonymous victims to testify in court. We learned not to name teenage suicide victims so that others wouldn’t kill themselves simply to get their name and their face on the local news. That phenomenon is now called celebrity-suicide.

Today, our news media has created (or made worse) the phenomenon of celebrity-murder. Politicians appear reluctant to stop it. Fortunately, we can stop it, particularly with the help of advertising sponsors and social media.

We know what doesn’t work. We see example after example where a government employee failed to stop a mass murderer. That can be a call screener at an FBI call center as in the attack at the Pulse nightclub. It can be a School Resource Officer who stood outside the school building while children were being murdered in Parkland, Florida. We saw over a hundred law enforcement officers standing outside an unlocked classroom door in the attack at Uvalde, Texas. We saw school officials return an armed student to class in the attack in Highland, Michigan.

I have little hope that bureaucrats will do any better. Fortunately, we can. The good news is that the solution is in our hands. What will you do?

 

This article originally appeared at Slow Facts and is reprinted here with permission. 

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