What can be done?

What can we do? Solutions—in my mind—divide between the nonsensical (but effective) and the practical (but imperfect).


The Constitution allows for Amendment. Prohibition was instituted by Constitutional amendment and it was repealed by Constitutional amendment. The same could be true of the Second Amendment. So, amend the Constitution to repeal the current Second Amendment and replace with something that allows for more effective regulation.

This is where a lot of the push-back originates. Part of this reflects a deep distrust of the federal government.[1] Sales of semi-automatic, civilian versions of “assault rifles” have been booming. One type rose from 4,600 sold in 2006 to 100,000 sold in 2010. “The weapons that would be most suited to overthrow a dictatorial federal government would, of course, be weapons of war, and not sports equipment.”[2]

Part of it springs from a realistic belief in self-defense. The number of justifiable homicides by civilians is not great and has declined. From a high of about 325 in 1980, the number of justifiable homicides while disrupting a crime had fallen to about 150 in 2008. Among murder victims age 40 or older, the proportion of homicides committed during a felony began increasing, accounting for 32.8 percent of homicides of 64-year-old victims and 40.3 percent of homicides of 76-year-old victims. That is, some old person is at home or returns home while someone is breaking into their house and gets killed.

Between 1980 and 2008 the number of justifiable homicides while resisting attack bounced up and down between 50 and 100 a year. In sum, civilians kill with legal justification 200 to 250 times a year.

Regulate gun-ownership by age. The drinking age (21) is higher than the age to vote, to enlist in the military without your parents’ permission, to get married without your parents’ permission, and to be charged as an adult for whatever stupid thing you did last Saturday night (all 18). The courts have already approved an age distinction. So, if young men under 25 are the chief source of the murder problem, raise the age of legal gun ownership/possession to 25. For that matter, require men to surrender their guns when they hit 50, hold them in trust until they are 60, and ban gun sales to men in that age range.

Practical: Regulatory.

Greatly tighten ATF regulation of gun-dealers to eliminate the 8 percent of them (in the estimation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)), who supply the black market in guns. This will mean repealing or amending the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

A lot of prescriptions for anti-depressants are written by primary care physicians, rather than by psychiatrists. Push primary care physicians to aggressively inquire of their male patients aged 50 or more, about their state of mind. Look for signs of depression, ask whether they have guns in the house (pediatricians already do this), and require them to report cases where they fear someone may harm themselves (psychiatrists already have to report cases of potential violence to the police). Sure, there are privacy issues here. But who wants to be scrubbing brain-matter off bathroom tile?

Practical: Political.

End the “war on drugs.” One effect of the “war on drugs” has been to increase the supply of drugs and reduce the price. Another effect has been the “war for the corners” that has led to so many deaths. How is this a successful public policy? We’ve tried a “war on alcohol,” a “war on abortion” before Roe v. Wade, and a “war on drugs.” They all end in the same place.

Roger Lane, author of Murder in America: A History, tells us that, between 1865 and 1917, the “police, the temperance movement, the public schools–the items on the reform agenda designed to discipline the population–were successful as never before. And underlying all of them were the direct demands of the new kind of work itself, which helped create a whole new social psychology.” (p. 182.) Police departments got control of the streets after the Civil War, suppressing riotous behavior. Temperance movements cut down on the amount of alcohol consumed. Young people spent a lot more time in school (and out of trouble) learning how to put up with being bored. Most importantly, industrialization created enormous employment opportunities, even for the semi-skilled and unskilled, so they went to work instead of hanging around the street corner and boozing.

The same thing could happen again now. De-militarize the attitudes—not the weapons—of the police. Whatever you think of Planned Parenthood, fund Narcotics Anonymous. Reorganize the funding of public schools to transfer resources from suburbs toward inner cities. (You can always change your mind if it turns into a rat-hole.) Finally, make thoughtful choices in elections. Which candidates are actually likely to promote a renaissance of the American economy so that there is broad-based prosperity? Both parties claim that to be their goal. Both may have policies that would achieve that goal. It is up to each voter. You’re not a potted plant.

[1] Which criminalized Japanese ancestry in 1941.

[2] David Kopel, Cato Institute, quoted in “The assault weapon,” The Week, 15 February 2013, p. 11.

Suicide generis.

In suicide, the United States ranks 50th among countries, with a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 people. South Korea[1] (28.9) ranks 2nd; Japan (18.5) ranks 17th; Belgium (14.2) ranks 34th; France (12.4) ranks 47th; Canada (10.8) ranks 70th; and Britain (6.2) ranks 102nd.[2] Within this broad figure are many sub-categories. We can cut up the data by gender, race, age, and region.

Within the American rate of 12.1 suicides per 100,000 people is a big disparity. The rate for men is 19.4 per 100,000; the rate for women is 5.2 per 100,000. American men who attempt suicide are almost four times as likely to succeed as are American women. Almost all firearm suicides are men. Why is this? Possibly because most women don’t like guns and don’t want to know how to use one, so guns aren’t an option when they want to commit suicide—even if the guns are available. Possibly, women just want to make a demonstration that something in their life is terrible, while men really do want to blow out their brains. Why would men, more than women, want to make sure that suicide ends in death?

The highest U.S. suicide rate (14.2) was among Whites and the second highest rate (11.7) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.8), Blacks (5.4) and Hispanics (5.7).[3]

The highest U.S. suicide rate (19.1) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (18.6) occurred in those 85 years and older. (That I can understand: no months in bed with tubes in you and with somebody wiping your backside just so the doctors can bill your heirs.) Everyone younger than these groups has had consistently lower suicide rates.[4]

In 2013, nine Western states had suicide rates in excess of 18/100,000: Montana (23.7), Alaska (23.1), Utah (21.4), Wyoming (21.4), New Mexico (20.3), Idaho (19.2), Nevada (18.2), Colorado (18.5), and South Dakota (18.2).[5] Conversely, places in the Northeast had suicide rates lower than 9 per 100,000: District of Columbia (5.8), New Jersey (8.0), New York (8.1), Massachusetts (8.2), and Connecticut (8.7). Shoveling snow and warding-off black flies is good.

What is it about being a middle-aged white man in contemporary America that has the same psychological effect as living on an Indian Reservation, among the bleakest places in America? One criminal justice scholar has offered an explanation for mass shootings that may also bear on the suicide rate in the United States. American culture says that hard work leads to success. Except that it often does not (or people persuade themselves that they have worked hard when that isn’t exactly true). At some point, these men come to despair. For mass shooters, “they are in real pain, but they’re eager to blame that pain on those around them.”[6] They lash out. Perhaps far more men conclude that they themselves are to blame for their misfortunes. Hence, suicide. So, is it possible that “the American Dream” is more of a nightmare?

[1] What’s so awful about South Korea? Well, it’s a country that has gone through a dramatic social transformation in less than half a century. Now it’s mostly educated, industrial, urban, and exciting (leaving aside the kim-chee). However, the older generation is stuck in the countryside, farming hard-scrabble land, without much education (or the opportunity that comes with education), and un-exciting. The kids rarely visit; they just send you a TV so you can see what you’re missing. Many older people feel cast-aside or a burden. This is true of both old men and old women: the suicide rate is nearly the same for both genders. Eventually, the suicide rate will drop.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

[3] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures

[4] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures   However, in 2013, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.9.

[5] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures Ouch! A bunch of these are places I’d like to retire.

[6] John Lankford, University of Alabama, quoted in “The killing contagion,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 11.