|Yes, he was arrested for "child endangerment."|
|You go, Will!|
Lately, there was a massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut and people were naturally overwhelmed with grief and horror. A mentally ill young man off his meds stole a gun from his mother, killed his mother, several schoolchildren, a pair of teachers, and himself. The unsentimental might wonder why these people cannot start their spree at the other end of the string and kill themselves first, saving us all the agony. Naturally, the country immediately engaged in a vast debate on the subject of lunatic control.
I'm joking of course. In all the discussion on how this could have happened, relatively little was said about the young man who actually killed the children and much was made of the instrument he used to do it. One NYC TV news-repeater actually broke down live on camera at the scene and vented on the wickedness of the instrument. We don't like to actually, you know, blame the people who actually commit the crimes.
|Calvin explains why we would rather address the instrumental cause rather than the efficient cause. |
Not coincidentally, he hints at why there are mass school shootings: the inability of some to deal
with disappointment or affliction by others.
Example: Study after study has shown that Head Start (the Means) has no discernible impact on academic performance (the Ends) beyond the first few years. Yet opposition to the program is immediately touted as being against The Children™. The money spent on the program is money that cannot be spent on another, possibly effective program that actually does help; perhaps something like the école maternelle of France.
Example: An attack on the World Trade Center by Islamist radicals led to the imposition of a vast security bureaucracy and a set of new laws (the Means) which, had they been in effect at the time, would have done absolutely nothing to prevent the attack (the Ends).
Example: The 1963 Community Mental Health Act addressed the abuses of the state mental hospitals (the Ends) by ordering them closed and replaced by community health centers (the Means). This allowed the supporters of the bill to feel good about themselves; but few community health centers were built and the mentally ill were simply dumped on the streets in an act of mass compassion, thus creating the homeless problem that plagues us whenever a Republican is in office.
That Gun is Scary!
In the graph below, we see the association of this ban with homicides. At first blush, we might think the ban was effective, except that...
|graph by Wm Briggs, Statistician to the Stars!|
- The homide rate continued to fall even after the ban expired.
- All homicides fell not just those committed with firearms.
- Most firearms used in homicides are handguns or shotguns, not rifles (incl. assault rifles)
- In fact, all violent crimes fell, including robbery, rape, etc.
- A Pareto breakdown of homicides by instrument gives us
- 60.2% handguns
- 13.1% knives
- 5.7% kicking and other uses of the human body
- 4.2% blunt objects
- 3.7% shotguns
- 3.6% rifles (including assault rifles)
Mass killings are a relatively thin slice of the total problem. Somehow, children killed as collateral damage in a drug gang drive-by seem less horrifying than many children killed with deliberate intent by mentally-disturbed individuals. (They shouldn't, but quantity and intent have their own quality.)
Now mass killings have actually been on the decline per capita:
The modern gun rights/control movement began May 2, 1967 when Bobby Seale and thirty Black Panthers carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols climbed the capitol steps in Sacremento, and Bobby Seale "opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way."
“Article number two of the constitutional amendments
provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.” -- Malcolm X
Robert Heinlein famously coined the aphorism: An armed society is a polite society. This invited a rejoinder: Ask the Lebanese, who were at the time engaging in a brutal civil war. But of course politeness does not prohibit civil war, and Arabs are among the most polite of peoples. It simply means a level of courtesy in ordinary interactions. One's fights ought to be deliberate, not accidental. But here is the rub. As James Bowman notes
The Founding Fathers put the Second Amendment into the Constitution not because they thought guns would make people virtuous but because they thought Americans already were virtuous and would continue to be so and, therefore, that they could be trusted with lethal weapons.And Mary Dejevsky of the U.K. Independent, cited by Bowman elaborates:
A state that allows its citizens to carry arms is a state that is confident in its legality and unafraid of its people. Americans do not often defend their attitude to guns in this way, but if they did, they might be better understood.But this might no longer be true. For example, NYC police recently found a weapons cache and some hexamethylene triperoxide diamine high explosive in the apartment of an Occupy Wall Street activist and his society girl friend. A certain lack of trust was on display. So it may be that that people-government trust thingie is frayed a bit on both directions. There are folks trying to remake the entire fabric of society so that it conforms with their theory rather than with the Constitution; but
and no good intention is wasted as infernal paving material."The love of theory is the root of all evil." -- Wm. Briggs, Statistician to the Stars.
Mental Illness + Gun = MassacreEveryone seems to agree that lunatics should not have guns; so background checks and waiting periods make sense. But it might also make sense to put as much emphasis on controlling the mentally ill in the equation as on controlling the gun.
The mentally ill were "deinstitutionalized" in the 1960s and 70s by the Community Mental Health Act, which ordered the closing of the state mental institutions and their replacement by “community health centers.” But few of these centers were ever built and the ill were basically dumped on the streets in a fit of mass compassion, thus creating the homeless problem that plagues us every time there is a Republican in office. But just to emphasize the difficulties in any blanket action: those mental hospitals were closed for some very good reasons. Can you say "lobotomy"? (If so, you didn't have one.) Some upper middle class husbands put their wives away when they got uppity. So today, in a confusion of babies and bathwater, we don't put lunatics in asylums. We put our parents in asylums. I mean Retirement Communities.But just as the vast majority of guns are never used to commit crimes, the vast majority of the mentally ill do not commit crimes, either. It doesn't matter what the decision rule is. Some will be treated unjustly. In statistics, it is called alpha-risk and beta-risk, or Type I and Type II error.
What it comes down to is that there are no solutions; at least, no universal, iron-clad solutions. There will always be errors, gray zones, loopholes, exceptional cases, and the like. The decision to allow Joe to carry a weapon or forbid him will always produce Joes who should have been blocked but were not, and Joes who were unjustly deprived. And the same goes for their liberties as regards mental institutions. Some will be committed who should not have been; others will roam about who should have been. In a culture that insists that nothing should ever go wrong, random errors must the malevolent outcome of witchcraft, or something. Perhaps the Cold-heartedness or incipient Tyranny, depending on what floats your boat.
In closing, consider three instances.
|Deputy on school guard duty pulls a gun on armed intruder.|
- An armed man was fatally shot by deputies Monday at an East Tennessee high school after he went inside and pointed a gun at the principal's head.
- Two of the three Virginia law students who overpowered a gunman in a fatal school shooting were armed and used their weapons to disarm the shooter.
- A shooter at a Portland mall shot himself after another patron pulled a gun on him without firing.
- A 16-year-old student armed with a shotgun walked into a rural California high school on Thursday, shot one student and fired at others and missed before a teacher and another staff member talked him into surrendering, officials said.
The answer, to the extent that there is any answer at all, is not in guards, machine gun nests, deadfall traps around the school, or with all-pervasive surveillance and security. The point that needs investigating is why so many people seem to think that the answers to their frustrations with a spouse, girl friend, bully, or other is to bring a gun to school or a workplace and start shooting at anyone and everyone.