Don't Try to Tell Me More (or Fewer) Guns Would Fix This.

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There's no way to sugarcoat it: this week 27 people were gunned down in an elementary school massacre, 20 of them children. I have been grieving partially out of the sheer enormity of the event by itself, and partially because I have seen this story happen before, far too many times. According to Amy Sullivan of The New Republic, 2012 has been the deadliest year for mass shootings since "mass shootings" became a thing. That statistic confirms what we've all been thinking: there has been a marked increase in the number of crazy people gunning down innocents these past few years.

Nothing can erase the horror, the grief, the loss of life, the loss of potential, from these tragedies. No kind words can bring these children (and grownups, too) back. What we can do, though, is stop pretending like this is a problem with not having the exact right amount of guns in the exact right amount of peoples' hands. 

There are two sides to this argument, it seems, this argument that's completely and totally irrelevant to the actual problem of crazy people gunning down folks in elementary schools, theatres, shopping malls, etc. The first side is the "Too Few Guns" side. Let's discuss that first, because it's the one I find the least helpful and the most insulting. Louie Gohmert, Republican representative from Texas and dumbass of the lowest order, opened his big fat stupid mouth on Fox News Sunday today to say,
Chris, I wish to god she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids...
Where do I even start, with this? So now, elementary school principles are supposed to be like Rambo? They need military training now? This is not even a serious thing to say, even if he thinks he's being serious. Supplying every school principle with a military-grade assault weapon is not going to solve a goddamn thing—if anything, it will drastically decrease the safety of the situation. Louie "Dumbfuck" Gohmert is proposing that the situation would be drastically improved if, instead of one shooter, there were two. How are these 5- and 6-year-old children supposed to react to the vision of their principle sprinting down the halls with an M-4 assault rifle, possibly slathered in war paint, screaming at them Schwarzenegger-style to get down? How would that possibly improve the situation? From a purely statistical standpoint, doubling the amount of shooters (and, perhaps more crucially, doubling the quantity of ammunition flying through the air), necessarily increases the overall danger of the situation. Do I even need to remind everybody that if the shooter got the principle first, then he'd have a M-4 assault rifle in addition to the other guns he brought with him (one of which, reportedly, was an AR-15, the civilian semi-automatic version of the M-4; so the principle might've provided him an upgrade by doing this)?

What Louie Dumbmert is doing there is called "trolling". He's offering as a solution for something that would absolutely not be helpful, but it's just barely plausible enough to get other dumbasses behind him. Let's talk about another shooting.

I heard this very same argument made in the wake of the also-very-tragic Aurora movie theatre shooting. People were coming out of the damn woodwork claiming that if at least one other person in the theatre had a gun, this whole tragedy would've been avoided. No it wouldn't, you fucking retards. What we would have instead is two gunmen in a theatre. If police burst into the theatre ready to save the day, who would they shoot at? Everybody? See, because it's a movie theatre, it's very dark in there, and the shooter threw tear gas grenades to make it even more difficult for anyone to fight back. He was also wearing body armor. The right reaction when that happens is to run the fuck out of there, not to engage a clearly crazy gunman who has more of an upper hand than Alan Rickman in Die Hard. Think about that for a second. John fucking McClane would not have been able to, in the darkness and tear gas, pick off the right shooter (with a headshot, remember, because of the body armor) without at least injuring several other people, and that's the best case scenario. Rambo could've walked into that theatre and completely failed to save the day. What these idiots who keep making these arguments don't seem to realize is that a gunman in a totally unexpected situation like that can easily maintain the upper hand just by surprising everybody. Call it the "Shock and Awe" strategy of mass domestic shootings if you want; it's extremely effective.

We are going to need something better than "MOAR GUNS" to solve this thing.

Let's talk about the other side of the equation for a minute. On the left side of this question are millions of people who want strong gun control laws. I am one of those people, but with a caveat. Gun-rights advocates (correctly) argue that banning guns or the sale thereof would not prevent all these tragedies. It is absolutely true that crazy people and criminals and all kinds of evil people are more than capable of sneaking firearms across the border with Mexico, or smuggling them from abroad via ship, or even machining them themselves at home (so-called "garage guns" are entirely legal in the United States at least at the federal level, mostly because enforcement of restrictions on guns people make in their garages would be costly and impossible at the same time). That is totally true, but machining your own guns at home, smuggling them in from abroad, or buying them on the street illegally are all much more difficult than buying a gun at a pawn shop, and that's why it's still sensible to have better and more effective restrictions to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people. Just because an idea won't be 100% effective 100% of the time doesn't mean the improvement it makes to the situation isn't worthwhile.

But the people arguing that strict gun control laws alone would solve this are also wrong, because merely regulating firearms in a sane and civilized manner isn't nearly enough. We also need to have a conversation in this country about mental health, and whether it was a good idea when Reagan dismantled our national mental health care system after doing the same to California's state-run system. The Aurora theatre shooter and also the Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, had one thing in common in addition to their mental illness: both had sought help earlier and had not received the care they needed. In the case of Loughner, people close to him and his schools clearly noticed that something was wrong and he had many opportunities where police might have put him in front of a psychiatrist, but at no point was the alarm raised that maybe this was a guy who, if left untreated, might suddenly become violent, as if we don't have more than plenty of examples of this same pattern. In the case of the Aurora shooter, James Holmes, he had had frequent interaction with psychiatrists and, in the months before the shooting, exhibited a patently dangerous pattern of buying several guns and huge amounts of ammunition in a very short time.

The solution to this problem is not going to be a simple one, and it requires a lot of research, a lot of discussion, and a lot of debate. I do know that we can't keep pretending it's totally fine for crazy people to legally buy all the guns they want, and I have some modest suggestions for how we might prevent that.

1) Add even the most cursory psychological evaluation to the background check process. There has got to be some way we can eliminate even a modest percentage of crazy people just by requiring someone to talk to them for a minute before they buy their first firearm. It doesn't have to be an especially onerous requirement, maybe just a five-minute conversation with the gun dealer or a written questionnaire would reduce the risk by a few percentage points.

2) Restrict mass-purchasing of firearms. One of the most alarming things about the Aurora shooting is that the gunman bought all his guns and ammunition openly through completely legitimate means. The gunmen in the infamous Columbine shooting, by contrast, bought theirs from gun shows (so, still purchased legally, but via a widely-acknowledged loophole in the law). There is no legitimate reason for someone to rapidly stockpile large amounts of guns and ammunition, at all, and limiting people to buying fewer firearms in short time periods (I've heard one gun per month thrown out as a possible figure for this, which would not be onerous at all on legitimate gun owners). The sale of ammunition is barely regulated if at all in this country. If James Holmes had to buy all his ammunition in person, it might've been easier to spot the pattern in his behaviour. Then again, it's not like online retailers are incapable of writing software to match these kinds of patterns. Online merchants have all manner of software already tracking patterns in our purchasing behaviour for marketing purposes; why not also for violence-prevention purposes?

3) Very tightly regulate especially-dangerous kinds of firearms and firearm accessories. I'm not talkin' about grandpappy's shotgun here. I'm talking about big semiautomatic assault rifles—which up until a few years ago were banned but can now be legally purchased by anyone. I'm talking about semiautomatic handguns that can fit in your pocket, and police weaponry. These are not the kinds of "arms" the Founders were talking about when they wrote the Second Amendment (nor were they necessarily talking about private citizens, but the wording is very vague and that's another discussion entirely). Nobody except the military needs assault rifles, and nobody legitimately needs more than one or two handguns, and no private citizen needs extended clips that hold scores of bullets. I know some of you are trying to come up with a reason for this, but go ahead and stop right now: there is no reason to have a whole bunch of handguns unless you're some kind of drug trafficker or mafioso or something. If you want to shoot an assault rifle then go join the military; they have them there, I hear.

4) Don't let crazy people slip through the cracks. Again, one of the most alarming aspects of this pattern of mass shootings in this country is that police and psychiatrists and school administrators and friends all had multiple opportunities to at the very least see that something was clearly wrong with the shooters, long before they turned violent, but somehow nothing was done about it. Each one was followed by interviews with psychologists who, in retrospect, regard the tragic events as likely terminations of a known pattern. We need to catch more of these sooner, before the violence that ensues when a psychologically unwell person retreats into isolation, stockpiles armaments, and lashes out. I am not nor would I ever be saying that these peoples' actions are not their faults—they are ultimately responsible for what they've done—but I am saying that in these cases enough evidence existed to suggest the perpetrators should be institutionalized and highly medicated, they weren't, and that is a huge problem.

5) Don't fetishize absolute security. No solution will prevent absolutely 100.000% of all shootings everywhere. Don't rule out solutions just because they only reduce the risk rather than completely mitigate it. A reduction of 20% of the risk of mass shootings would mean 28 people (out of a staggering 140) wouldn't've been killed in 2012 alone, and those lives would have been worth it.

That's all I've got for you today, space cadets.