WSJ: How to Stop Mass Shootings

I recently read a post by John over at No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money referring to an article by the Wall Street Journal regarding mass shootings, why they take place, and what can be done about it. If you forgive my quoting from the article, I found this part particularly interesting:

[M]assacre killers are typically marked by what are considered personality disorders: grandiosity, resentment, self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement. They become, says Dr. Knoll, ” ‘collectors of injustice’ who nurture their wounded narcissism.” To preserve their egos, they exaggerate past humiliations and externalize their anger, blaming others for their frustrations. They develop violent fantasies of heroic revenge against an uncaring world. Whereas serial killers are driven by long-standing sadistic and sexual pleasure in inflicting pain, massacre killers usually have no prior history of violence. Instead, writes Eric W. Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies, in his 2009 book “Serial Murderers and Their Victims,” massacre killers commit a single and final act in which violence becomes a “medium” to make a ” ‘final statement’ in or about life.” Fantasy, public expression and messaging are central to what motivates and defines massacre killings. Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing. Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing. What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda. The public spectacle, the mass slaughter of mostly random victims, is meant to be seen as an attack against society itself. The typical consummation of the act in suicide denies the course of justice, giving the shooter ultimate and final control. We call mass shootings senseless not only because of the gross disregard for life but because they defy the ordinary motives for violence—robbery, envy, personal grievance—reasons we can condemn but at least wrap our minds around. But mass killings seem like a plague dispatched from some inhuman realm. They don’t just ignore our most basic ideas of justice but assault them directly. The perverse truth is that this senselessness is just the point of mass shootings: It is the means by which the perpetrator seeks to make us feel his hatred. Like terrorists, mass shooters can be seen, in a limited sense, as rational actors, who know that if they follow the right steps they will produce the desired effect in the public consciousness.

All right, that’s a lot of good detail on why people commit these horrible crimes, but what can we do about it? Here’s what they say journalists and police should do:

  • Never publish a shooter’s propaganda.
  • Hide their names and faces.
  • Minimize specifics and gory details.
  • No photos or videos of the event.
  • Talk about the victims but minimize images of grieving families.
  • Decrease the saturation.
  • Tell a different story.

While there is a brief mention of guns (“Massacres also would not be nearly so lethal without the widespread availability of guns and high-capacity magazines designed more for offense than for defense.“), overall the article discusses what motivates mass shooters and some practical, sensible methods of breaking the cycle of killing. The issue is not one of what tool is used to commit such a heinous crime, but why the killer decided to commit it. The article concludes with the following hope for the future:

The massacre killer chooses to believe it is not he but the world that is filled with hatred—and then he tries to prove his dark vision by making it so. If we can deprive him of the ability to make his internal psychodrama a shared public reality, if we can break this ritual of violence and our own ritual response, then we might just banish these dreadful and all too frequent acts to the realm of vile fantasy.

I agree wholeheartedly and share that same hope.

ShotSpotter in DC

David Hardy found an interesting article by the Washington Post, who reports on the use of strategically-located “ShotSpotter” devices which can automatically detect and localize gunshots being fired within an area (Washington DC, in this case). These devices have been installed in roughly one-third of the District.

From the Post,

About 39,000 separate incidents of gunfire [over the last 8 years -AZR] have been documented by ShotSpotter’s unseen web of at least 300 acoustic sensors across 20 square miles of the city, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The data, obtained through a public-records request, offer an unprecedented view of gun crime in a city where shooting a firearm is illegal in virtually all circumstances.

The gunfire logged by ShotSpotter overshadows the number of officially reported felony gun crimes by more than 2 to 1. More than one-half of the incidents detected by the network have involved multiple rounds of gunfire. In 2009 alone, ShotSpotter captured more than 9,000 incidents of gunfire.

That sounds really interesting, and they probably get a lot of cool data from it. If it works as advertised (that is, it only listens for gunshots and isn’t snooping on conversations and whatnot), ShotSpotter seems like a powerful tool for crime detection and public safety.

In the comments section of the article, user Wiggan has an interesting proposal:

Now the follow up piece should develop a similar map for registered gun owners, as the District requires them to be fingerprinted and registered at their local police stations.

The plot I would like to see would be an overlay between registered gun owners and shooting density. 2nd amendment advocates say carry permits reduce crime. Gun control advocates say gun ownership contributes to crime. Here we could have an objective test to see who is right.

I for one would be highly interested in seeing such a map. While it might not be completely conclusive, it’d certainly provide fascinating insight.

Another commenter inquires if the ShotSpotter sensors are connected to surveilance cameras operated by the police. While CCTV can provide useful information in regards to crime (particularly if they are able to focus in on an area where shots were just fired, or are placed strategically based on ShotSpotter data), I have some reservations in regards to privacy rights. Still, with proper privacy protections in place, such a system could be a valuable crime-fighting system.

MDA not interested in gun deaths, suicide prevention — only banning guns

A few days ago the Twitter user @deborahdouhner tried making some in-roads with Moms Demand Action and its founder, Shannon Watts. You can read about their story here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that Ms. Watts and MDA really don’t care about reducing violent crime or suicides (which account for 61% of all gun deaths). Rather, they only care about getting rid of guns.

Ms. Watts isn’t some random person who supports gun control; she is the founder of a new anti-gun group that’s been getting a little bit of media attention. I think it’d be fair to say that she reasonably represents the aims of the group: neither she nor MDA are interested in reducing deaths, nor working toward any sort of compromise — they simply want to ban guns.

This should be clear from their website, where they list their objectives:

  1. Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases;
  2. Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds;
  3. Track the sale of large quantities of ammunition, and ban online sales;
  4. Establish product safety oversight of guns and ammunition, and require child-safe gun technology;
  5. Support policies at companies and public institutions that promote gun safety;
  6. Counter the gun industry’s efforts to weaken gun laws at the state level.

Those points have been the objective of extremist groups like the Brady Campaign for decades. There simply is no “middle ground” or compromise with these groups. They must be opposed at every step.

Hat tip to mike, a commenter at SNBQ. The linked-to post at SNBQ is also quite telling: it turns out that Ms. Watts defines an “assault weapon” as any gun that can fire 10 shots per minute — that includes essentially every gun except muzzleloaders. Even lever-action guns and single-shot shotguns can fire more than 10 shots per minute.

“Military-style” no longer cutting it, now it’s “law-enforcement style”

[T]he suspect, Aaron Alexis of Texas, bought a law-enforcement-style shotgun — an 870 Remington pump-action — and used it on Monday as he rampaged through the navy yard, said the officials, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

[snip]

The gunman then perched himself above an atrium where he fired down on people who had been eating breakfast, officials said, adding that he used shotgun shells that had roughly a dozen large ball-bearing-like shots in them, increasing their lethal nature.

“When he discharged, the pieces of lead would spread the farther they went,” the one official said. “It is similar to weapons used in bird shooting but on a more serious scale. These were not bullets but many small pieces of lead flying through the air.”

- The New York Times

Evidently The New York Times is not satisfied with simply calling the Remington 870 “a pump-action shotgun” and had to slip “law-enforcement style” in there to make it sound particularly scary. Also, they evidently haven’t heard of buckshot before and make it out to be some sort of special, unusual, extra-deadly type of ammo.

Is a shotgun loaded with buckshot dangerous? Absolutely. It’s a gun. Putting black plastic furniture on one of the most popular shotguns in the country for sporting, self-defense, and yes, law-enforcement use doesn’t make it any more dangerous than the same shotgun with wood furniture.

NBC special on “youth violence”

NBC was showing a program called “America Now: Faces Against Violence” that depicted the people involved with trying to reduce violent crime in Chicago.

I was intrigued that they really focused on “gun violence”, and many of the discussions involved complaints about “easy access to guns” rather than a profusion of violent criminals.

I commented to my wife that we have incredibly easy access to guns in our condo1, yet we’re not even remotely prone to violence2. Clearly, there’s more contributing to violent crime than simple access to firearms.

The parts of Chicago they were discussing had serious issues with gangs, drugs, and economic depression. I suspect these issues are a bit more important than bad guys getting guns. Take the guns away, and the gangs will use knives, rocks, or boards with a nail through it. Get rid of the gangs, and violent crime goes away. Funny how that works. I truly respect and admire those who are willing to guide vulnerable youth on the good path, away from violence and gangs.

I’m also quite happy that the law-abiding people in Chicago have had the most egregious restrictions overturned, and are able to (even though they need to jump through some hoops) own firearms for their own defense. Hopefully the remaining infringements will be overturned shortly, without the need for time-consuming legal battles.

  1. the holstered gun on my waist, two old revolvers in a case on the coffee table, and a pile of long guns in the closet []
  2. Though we do take MarioKart for Wii quite seriously []