Mass shootings.

What is a “mass shooting”? Answers differ: at least four people shot dead in a public place; or at least four people shot dead anywhere; or at least four people shot—wounded or killed–anywhere.

In liberal discourse, the US leads the world in mass shootings. By one count, 31 percent of all mass shootings occur in the United States.[1] Proponents of this view are quick to slide in the “developed country” qualifier because in reality, it doesn’t. Why not drive into a Mexican border town to check it out? Still, saying “well it’s worse in Guatemala” doesn’t help.

The most expansive totals for “mass shootings” appear to be arrived at by rolling in all the shootings associated with a sub-culture of violence among poor people. Drive-by shootings get counted just like massacres in fast-food restaurants. “Would you like death with that?”

One trope, less noticed and less publicized than others, holds that mass killings have a copy-cat element to them. Mass media attention devoted to one killer then helps put the idea into the pointy little heads of others. So, one solution would be to regulate the press to reduce the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality.[2] This would involve curtailing the First Amendment.

Another trope, much more widely noticed, holds that these appalling crimes arise from American “gun culture.” Widespread gun-ownership and feeble limits on access to guns by evil-doers leads to slaughter. Leaving aside the people who beef with someone at an after-hours party in a rotting former greenhouse on a Saturday night, who are the shooters? Almost all are men; almost two thirds (64 percent) are white.[3] Working backward after mass shootings, scholars have found in about half of the killers some earlier sign of “mental illness.” The trouble is that this runs the gamut from depression to paranoia to full-blown schizophrenia. Moreover, “there is no one diagnosis that’s linked to mass shootings.” Many different diagnoses have been offered. Hence, “We can’t go out and lock up all the socially awkward young men in the world.”[4] Of course not: they often become college professors. (I can hear the gears turning in Lynn Cheney’s head already.) Furthermore, millions of men suffer from some kind of mental illness without ever becoming violent. In our current state of knowledge, it is impossible to predict who will be a killer (perhaps 20 a year) and who will not (millions).[5] Like convicted felons, people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility are barred from purchasing guns. However, less than a quarter of the killers in mass shootings (23 percent) have been treated for a prior mental illness.

So, if you can’t invade First Amendment freedoms because the right of businesses to sell faulty products is sacred, and you can’t predict which mentally ill person will turn into a mass killer, and you don’t like a high murder rate, and the regulation of sales of guns is flawed by human error, then the only logical solution to the problem would be to disarm Americans in general. This is where a lot of the push-back originates.

About 100 people get killed a year in mass shootings out of 11-12,000 murder victims. That is both a drop in the bucket and a sign of the malign influence of media.

[1]. “The killing contagion,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 11.

[2] Hillary Clinton has recently endorsed proposals to try to deter the “short term” obsession of the stock market traders, so it isn’t much of a jump to deterring the obsessions of reporters and advertising managers.

[3] Compared with African-Americans (16%) and Asians (9%). The white share of mass shooters matches with the share of the over-all population, while the African-American share somewhat exceeds the share of over-all population (12.2%) and the Asian share is dramatically higher than the share of over-all population (4.7%).

[4] Jeffrey Swanson, Duke University, quoted in “The killing contagion,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 11.

[5] See: “Minority Report” (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1995).

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