The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Guns, January 6, and the Big Picture

Yesterday’s mass shooting was in Chattanooga. Saturday’s was in Philadelphia. We seem to be in an epidemic. I’ve read several times over the past few days that one highly publicized mass shooting seems to trigger several more. And here we are.

The January 6 televised hearings begin this week, on Thursday. A question I’ve heard recently is whether the January 6 insurrection still has political importance.

Nearly everything going on in politics right now is tethered to right-wing extremism, so yeah. January 6 didn’t happen in a vaccuum. Our mass shooting epidemic isn’t happening in a vaccuum, either. It’s all of a piece. But seeing this may be a heavy lift for a lot of people.

 Greg Sargent wrote last week,

The Bulwark’s William Kristol and New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait each posit that a fundamental shift is taking place within the Republican Party and conservative establishments. This shift means new reigning orthodoxies are taking hold at the highest levels, and dictating that the insurrection attempt simply did not amount to a serious offense against the country.

This shift also means new institutions are developing in the GOP and on the right that are expressly organized to promote a more militant refusal to accept election losses in the future. As Chait notes, we’re witnessing the “institutionalization of an insurrectionary movement.”

All this may sound very dramatic. But it can’t be dismissed, given that a large swath of the party will respond to the Jan. 6 hearings with a full-fledged propaganda effort to bury a serious political crime against the country — and to substitute a new story in which the true victims related to Jan. 6 are Trump and his supporters.

The gun craziness is feeding into this same institutionalism of insurrection, especially the fervently held false belief that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to be eternally prepared to overthrow the government. And not excepting election results one doesn’t like sounds like a good excuse.

Today Greg Sargent pointed to surging AR-15 sales in Georgia. The good ol’ boys are lining up around the blocks to buy one.

Folks were waiting at the door to purchase AR-15s,” a store manager says in the report, which was first flagged by Ron Filipkowski, a lawyer who closely tracks the right.

The manager also says customers should consider AR-15s precisely because they are semiautomatic. “If you deal with a mob of people possibly trying to take over your home,” he says, “to protect your family, you’ll want as much firepower as you can get.”

We are not, in fact, experiencing a great surge in mobs attacking private homes that I’ve noticed. But the firearm industry wants you to be prepared.

Our current moment is in part the result of the gun industry’s radicalization. It has marketed guns in a way designed to target younger demographics and to encourage the militarization of our culture, the increasing introduction of military-style weaponry into civil society.

But another component of the industry’s radicalization, as former gun company executive Ryan Busse argues, is its push toward ever-increasing firepower, toward a kind of fully armed society and the deliberate exploitation of social antagonisms to jet-fuel this trend.

You hear echoes of this in the customer’s suggestion that the AR-15 has become “America’s rifle,” and in the gun store manager urging the purchase of ever more firepower, on the idea that “mobs,” as opposed to lone intruders, will soon invade your home. You see, the threat can always be inflated further.

And, of course, talk of restricting gun sales even a little bit has ’em out stocking up. Sargent quotes one gun owner as saying “The way this president is driving this country, everybody needs to be carrying at this point.”

The perpetual stoking of fear of big, scary mobs — of whom? Criminals? Black Lives Matter? Antifa? Unitarians? — and the fear that government is going to take something away from white male people somehow keeps them buying those guns.

Whatever is presented in the January 6 hearings, we can bet that the hard-core MAGA heads and right-wing true believers will not believe it, not understand why it’s a problem, and possibly never even hear it because they won’t watch. So we’re not likely to have the kind of bipartisan “ha-HAH” moment some of us may remember from the Watergate hearings of long ago. But maybe the hearings will wake up some people. We’ll see.

Red State Culture and Cornered Animals

Following up the last post on what might reduce gun violence, and what won’t.

There have been several mass shootings since I started this series, including one in a Tulsa hospital a couple of days ago. What we’ve heard so far about that one is that the gunman had recently had back surgery and had been discharged. He had been calling his surgeon asking for help with continued back pain and was not getting a satisfactory response. So he purchased an “AR-15-style weapon” at a gun shop and went to the hospital. He shot and killed his surgeon and another doctor, plus a patient and a receptionist, and then killed himself.  So I guess he’s over the back pain now.

A big chunk of our problem appears to be cultural, and I’m not sure how to address that. But culture is somehow driving growing differences between red and blue states. See Paul Krugman, America’s Red State Death Trip, from December 2019.

Democratic-leaning areas used to look similar to Republican-leaning areas in terms of productivity, income and education. But they have been rapidly diverging, with blue areas getting more productive, richer and better educated. In the close presidential election of 2000, counties that supported Al Gore over George W. Bush accounted for only a little over half the nation’s economic output. In the close election of 2016, counties that supported Hillary Clinton accounted for 64 percent of output, almost twice the share of Trump country.

The thing is, the red-blue divide isn’t just about money. It’s also, increasingly, a matter of life and death….

…The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation. True, a recent Times article on the phenomenon noted that life expectancy in coastal metropolitan areas is still rising about as fast as life expectancy in other advanced countries. But the regional divide goes deeper than that.

This was before covid, mind you. Covid hit the cities first, of course. But within a few months we were seeing the same red state-blue state death gap, with rates of hospitalizations and deaths from covid far higher in counties that voted for Trump in 2016 than in counties that voted for Clinton. And this trend continues. See For red and blue America, a glaring divide in COVID-19 death rates persists 2 years later by Arielle Mitropoulos, ABC News, March 28, 2022. Experts traced this to political beliefs. Blue state folks wore masks and got vaccinated at higher rates than red state folks, and so there is a death gap.

(I live in one of those red counties. Last week I decided it was time to get a second covid booster, and got it the same day, easy peasy, at no cost at a local Walgreens. Currently the vaccination rate in St. Francois County is only 44 percent, and the current positivity rate is 14 percent.)

Regarding suicide, a few days ago I wrote a post about the Southern Baptist scandal and ended up writing about the rot in the patriarchy. I quoted this:

The data also contains a sociological mystery even the experts are unsure how to explainfully: Of the 45,979 people who died by suicide in the United States in 2020, about 70 percent were White men, who are just 30 percent of the country’s overall population. That makes White men the highest-risk group for suicide in the country, especially in middle age, even as they are overrepresented in positions of powerand stature in the United States. The rate that has steadily climbed over the past 20 years.

Some clinical researchers and suicidologists are now asking whether there is something particular about White American masculinity worth interrogating further.The implications are significant: On average, there are more than twice as many deaths by suicide than by homicide each year in the United States.

Men have tended to have higher rates of suicide than women for a long time, probably since anybody started keeping track of rates of suicide. This suggests to me that in spite of our famous raging hormones, women on the whole tend to be more emotionally stable than men. But it seems to me that the gap between male and female suicides is a lot bigger than it used to be. And, as Krugman says, suicide rates are higher in red states than blue ones. It looks here like the more rural the state, the higher the suicide rate.

Krugman’s column referred to another 2019 column by Thomas Edsall, Red and Blue Voters Live in Different Economies. Much of this column discussed the 2016 election and the argument many of us had at the time about whether support for Trump was driven more by economic anxiety or by racial and cultural animus. Racial and cultural animus was a more obvious reason, but I don’t think you can separate the two. As Krugman pointed out, since 2000 the wealth gap between red and blue voting districts has been growing along with the death gap. Individual Trump voters may be doing perfectly well, but the communities they live in mostly aren’t.

And there is a connection between the economic deterioration and the rise of authoritarianism, along with racism and cultural animus generally. The two things are very much connected. I argued this in 2019 also. “If you want people to not become klansmen and nazis, think about how the economy is working for working-class folks,” I wrote at the time.

Red state voters are angry and think the rest of the country is cheating them or out to get them, somehow. They don’t trust the government except for the Republican side. They watch Fox News and get told everything going wrong is Joe Biden’s fault, or the Squad’s, or Hunter Biden’s laptop, or racial minorities’, or the fault of liberals in general. And the angrier they get the more guns they buy.

Because their states are run by Republicans the kinds of public investments that could attract new high-end business — such as in education and infrastructure — aren’t being made; instead, it’s all about cutting taxes and then cutting education and government services to pay for the tax cuts. So businesses that offer better payings jobs, businesses that require an educated workforce, communities employees want to live in, and good infrastructure, don’t come. It’s a downward spiral. (See How to Kill a State from 2016.)

No wonder “great replacement theory” makes sense to them. From their perspective, there’s not much of a future for them. All the good stuff seems to be diverted elsewhere.

And then there’s good ol’ toxic masulinity. IMO a lot of the male suicide issue stems from a lack of relatable role models for 21st century American men. The old John Wayne / “Dirty Harry” / “Rambo” model of years past really has no function in the modern world. Nobody really needs men who don’t communicate, are emotionally stifled, and solve problems mostly by shooting them. I don’t know that anybody ever needed that sort of man, actually.

I’ve read enough history, and enough Civil War letters, to know that 19th century men weren’t nearly as emotionally frozen as men came to be later. Something happened to American men in the 20th century that wasn’t healthy. Maybe it was the two world wars. I don’t know.

Men, white men especially, are assumed to be the lords of the universe, but most of them aren’t. Most of them are just pawns in the mighty U.S. economy. Their lives are being shaped by forces way beyond their control that they don’t understand. They want to have some control, and they imagine they’ve been cheated of some control or power they should have had. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they seized Donald Trump as a hero, because like any good huckster he knows how to say what people want to hear. Trump articulated their frustration, and they project onto him strength and power and knowledge he doesn’t actually have. But he’s just using them, and they haven’t figured that out yet.

Let’s think about the young folks. We learned that the Uvalde shooter had been the victim of bullying. We also learned he liked to threaten teen girls online.

He could be cryptic, demeaning and scary, sending angry messages and photos of guns. If they didn’t respond how he wanted, he sometimes threatened to rape or kidnap them — then laughed it off as some big joke.

But the girls and young women who talked with Salvador Ramos online in the months before he killed 19 children in an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., rarely reported him. His threats seemed too vague, several said in interviews with The Washington Post. One teen who reported Ramos on the social app Yubo said nothing happened as a result.

Some also suspected this was just how teen boys talked on the Internet these days — a blend of rage and misogyny so predictable they could barely tell each one apart. One girl, discussing moments when he had been creepy and threatening, said that was just “how online is.”

That’s just how it is. Almost sixty years after Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. I assume a lot of these boys don’t behave that badly around girls in real-world situations — I could be wrong — but all that rage and misogyny doesn’t go away. It’s part of the dysfunctionality of current male role models.

(Right on schedule — Rep. Billy Long, U.S. congressman from Missouri and Trump-endorsed Senate candidate, has declared that all these mass shootings are happening because women have abortion rights.)

All these angry, alienated young men are growing up in angry, alienated cultures, and their parents probably are too wrapped up in their own problems to be much help. They have no useful role models of masculinity to follow, and often the world doesn’t seem to have a place for them. There was a time in their own communities that a young man could graduate high school and pretty much be guaranteed a job at the local factory or mill or mine or quarry, if he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted to do. Often those were Union jobs, so he could expect to sail into adulthood with good wages and benefits that would support a family. Now, more often, there’s nothing but food service and other minimum wage, dead end jobs for this kid, unless he’s willing to move or maybe get some additional training somewhere. The adult world of marriage,  maintaining a household and raising a family must seem impossibly far away. That may be why so many seem stuck in adolescence well into their 20s and 30s.

See also Young men, guns and the prefrontal cortex at the Washington Post. This is worth reading all the way through, so I took down the firewall for this one. Basically, it says that the young men are going through adolescence feeling isolated and alienated from everything around them, and our culture doesn’t give them any guidance for handling these feelings except to be macho and aggressive. And, of course, social media acts as a reinforcement for alienation and aggression. Many of them drift into a violent fantasy world in which taking “revenge” on black church goers or Asian women may seem like a fine idea. Further, “for every mass shooter who fits a certain profile, there are millions more like him who never act violently.”

So what can these drifting young men do to feel like men? The firearm industry has an answer. In recent years they’ve increasingly turned to marketing firearms as “objects of masculinity.” And you don’t need a Ph.D. in Freud to see the firearm-phallus connection.

In brief, we’ve got a perfect storm of conditions that cause firearm violence, and there are no quick fixes. Gun control will be only part of it. But making any meaningful change is nearly impossible because of red state culture and the way our Constitutional system allows red states to have veto power over progressive form. Joan Walsh wrote recently of what red state culture has become.

It’s a world where marriage is between a man and a woman, the man is king, LGBTQ people have no rights, and women few. Where abortion is criminalized and the social safety net shredded—so that the women forced to bear children must lean on men, or live in desperate poverty. Where guns are everywhere (parents and teachers should be armed to protect kids!), schools are private, medical care returns to private charities, and only the right (mainly white) kind of people vote. It’s an atomized world, where we rely on male-headed nuclear families, churches, the occasional self-interested generosity of oligarchs, and maybe local, homogenous mutual-aid societies—if we so choose.

It’s the dystopian opposite of the world most Americans want: a world where women, LGBTQ people, and non-white Americans enjoy full citizenship, the right to privacy, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness. Here, the Second Amendment is respected, but the right to carry lethal weapons is restricted in myriad sensible ways. Everyone who’s eligible can vote here, and everyone over 18 is eligible. And yes, there are churches, synagogues, mosques, and vibrant community-based organizations, but the most effective mutual aid resides in democratically elected governments, local, state, and federal, that guarantee health, safety, education, and economic security for everyone.

Red state culture is something like the last desperate aggressions of a wounded or cornered animal. It’s white supremacy and the patriarchy lashing out at cultural change that leaves no place for them. I’d like to think that in a couple more generations we will all have moved past this nonsense, but I’m not sure the U.S. will survive as a first-world democracy for a couple more generations. We’re living in terrifying times.

Getting Smarter About Gun Violence

There were some headlines last week about two 18-year-old boys commiting mass shootings — in Buffalo and Uvalde — within a few days of each other. That reminded me of a post I wrote just over a year ago — Two 21-Year-Old Men Killed People Recently — about mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.

(A follow up to the old post — the young man who killed ten people in a Colorado supermarket in 2021, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, has been found incompetent to stand trial by two different panels of psychiatric experts. A diagnosis was not given, but courts don’t usually keep a trial from going forward unless the defendant is seriously psychotic, as in pretty much untethered to reality and unable to comprehend what he did. The prosecutors fought the incompetence finding tooth and nail. One of the people Alissa killed was a police officer. The most recent news stories say he’s going to be confined to a psychiatric hospital indefinitely. As I understand it, they might still try to prosecute him some day once his psychosis is under control.)

School shooters are nearly always teenage males. The average age of a school shooter is 18, I read this week. I read here than the median age of school shooters is 16. This page doesn’t have data more recent than 2020, but it says 95.7 percent of all mass shooters are male, and their average age is 33.2. Various studies have found that a quarter or more of mass shooters are under the age of 25. There have been a few in their 60s, also.

Also, just about three fourths of mass shooters used semiautomatic handguns and not AR-15s. That was true of last year’s shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. There has been some talk this week about an AR-15 ban, which I don’t expect to happen (although I wouldn’t stand in its way, if it did), but that still leaves a lot of mass shootings.

Josh Marshall wrote,

A stunningly large number of mass shooters are between the ages of 18 and 21. Uvalde shooter, 18; Buffalo shooter 18; Newtown shooter, 20; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, 19. In addition to those in this three year age range many others are just above it. The shooter in the 2019 El Paso mass shooting was 23; the shooter in the AME Church mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina was 21. This isn’t random chance. There’s a lot we know about the teenage and young adult male brain that makes those who are 18, 19 and 20 much higher risk for this stew of interlocking behaviors than men ten or twenty or for that matter even five years older. (Check out the actuarial tables that put a premium for auto insurance for men under the age of 25.) The shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde both appear to have waited until their 18th birthdays to purchase assault rifles to use in their massacres.

Of course young sociopaths can find other ways to get AR-15s. But getting them illegally is another way to get caught. You might say, “Well, they could still just buy a hand gun.” But in fact they can’t. Perversely, federal law requires purchasers of handguns to be 21. But you can buy rifles and shotguns (which includes all assault rifles) when you’re 18.

This is in the context of arguing that raising the age to legally purchase any sort of “long gun” to 21 would do some good. It probably would. Raising the age to 25 would do even more good. I hear a lot of arguing that if 18-year-olds can join the military they ought to be able to handle guns, but in the bleeping military they are supervised. And on most military posts there are a lot more rules about personal firearms — registration, where they must be stored, where they can be carried — than is true in most right-leaning states. Troops living in barracks can’t keep their personal firearms with them but must store them in a base firearm storage facility, for example. Because the officers aren’t stupid.

There’s a fascinating interview in Politico with two criminologists who have studied mass shooters in depth. The young men are angry and alienated and see no future for themselves, but they aren’t “mentally ill.” They are troubled; they are badly socialized. But as a rule most aren’t crazy and would not qualify as “mentally ill” as medical science defines the term. One of the criminologists said,

“Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, oftentimes rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts.”

For most of them, the mass shooting is intended as a final act of defiance against the world they think has wronged them. They don’t expect to survive.

I don’t think most people realize that these are suicides, in addition to homicides. Mass shooters design these to be their final acts. When you realize this, it completely flips the idea that someone with a gun on the scene is going to deter this. If anything, that’s an incentive for these individuals. They are going in to be killed.

So arming teachers isn’t likely to work. What also doesn’t work is labeling the perpetrators as “monstors” or “evil.”

If we explain this problem as pure evil or other labels like terrorist attack or hate crime, we feel better because it makes it seem like we’ve found the motive and solved the puzzle. But we haven’t solved anything. We’ve just explained the problem away. What this really problematic terminology does is prevent us from recognizing that mass shooters are us. This is hard for people to relate to because these individuals have done horrific, monstrous things. But three days earlier, that school shooter was somebody’s son, grandson, neighbor, colleague or classmate. We have to recognize them as the troubled human being earlier if we want to intervene before they become the monster.

The Buffalo shooter told one of his teacher he was going to commit a murder-suicide after he graduated high school, and she didn’t report this because she didn’t think he was serious. He wasn’t “evil” or a “monster” to her. And if we’re going to round up all the 18- to 21-year old males who are angry and alienated and say threatening things, we’re going to need a lot more prisons. Maybe we should barb-wire Idaho and throw them all in there until they straighten out.

On the other hand, it would be great if schools had more resources to identify and help young males who show signs of fitting the profile. This is not just to prevent mass shooting, because most of them aren’t going to go that route. More of them may “graduate” to domestic violence or drugs or binge drinking and driving or other destructive behavior.

More from the interview:

Post-Columbine there’s been this real focus on hardening schools — metal detectors, armed officers, teaching our kids to run and hide. The shift I’m starting to see, at least here in Minnesota, is that people are realizing hardening doesn’t work. Over 90 percent of the time, school shooters target their own school. These are insiders, not outsiders. We just had a bill in Minnesota that recognized public safety as training people in suicide prevention and funding counselors. I hope we keep moving in that direction.

The past several posts have been about why more and more guns just make us less and less safe. Gun control laws do reduce gun homicides and other firearm deaths. Anything that can be done to make acquiring a firearm a bit more complicated — required background checks, waiting periods, raising age limits, licensing, etc. — would discourage some of the younger mass shooters. I’ve written in the past about why I’d like to see most if not all semiautomatic firearms be off limits to most civilians, although I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Regarding mental health services, what would be really useful is helping schools and other institutions recognize and provide counseling services to those who are moving into self-destruct mode. Building more psychiatric hospitals might be a good idea for our mental health system overall, but most of our mass shooters don’t have the kinds of “mental illness” that are treated in hospitals, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa being an exception. And the last thing we need to do is to further stigmatize mental illness either by blaming it or creating a database of “mentally ill” people who aren’t allowed to purchase guns, which has been suggested in the past. Few mass shooters have been diagnosed with anything at the time of the shootings. Most of them don’t have a true “mental illness” so much as just being seriously maladjusted.

Since this is getting a bit long already, I’m going to do my “seriously maladjusted rant in another post.

Next: What to do about serious majadjustment.

Choosing Guns Over Children

Eleanor Kilbanoff writes in the Texas Tribune:

Yes, which doesn’t leave us much space in which to compromise. Oh, and as of this morning there have been eleven mass shootings in the U.S. this Memorial Day weekend.

The Texas Tribune article is very much worth reading. It tells a story that begins with the Luby’s Cafeteria shooting in Killeen, Texas, in 1991. One of the survivors, Suzanna Hupp, came away from the experience convinced that if she had been allowed to carry a firearm into the cafeteria she could have saved a lot of lives. So she began a crusade to loosen gun laws, especially to allow concealed carry. Since then active shooter incidents have become a lot more common, not less.

For years, the Right has argued that more guns equals less crime. A lot of these arguments go back to John Lott’s highly discredited 1988 book, More Guns Less Crime. Since 1988 a huge amount of data has been gathered that shows more guns do not equal less crime of any sort, and in fact more guns correlate directly to more gun homicides as well as others kinds of deaths by firearm.

Of course, the NRA talking points always use the word “crime” instead of “deaths,” the idea being that only crimes are a cause of concern and that deaths by accident or suicide don’t count. (Apparently, homicide doesn’t count, either.) “Crime” connotes a “criminal” who is doing something bad to “law-abiding citizens.” NRA rhetoric always separates humanity cleanly into “good guys” and “bad guys,” although in the real world the line of separation often is pretty damn blurry and is easily crossed.

Lott is also the originator of the claim that mass shootings only take place in “gun-free zones,” even though that’s hardly ever been the case in recent years. You can’t even say that Robb Elementary School was a strict gun-free zone. There was supposed to have been an armed security officer there, and Texas has programs that enable public school teachers and other staff to carry guns in the school, although I haven’t heard that any Robb Elementary staff had taken part in that program.

I wrote back in 2016 about a mass shooting in Dallas that took the lives of five police officers. This had been at a demonstration against police shootings, and a number of protesters and counter-protesters showed up armed with AR-15s and wearing gas masks and bullet-proof vests. When the shooting started (by a sniper from a perched position) they all began to run, and police later complained the number of armed suspects at the scene created chaos. But that was hardly a gun-free zone.

I found a 2020 Rand study that said there are “no qualifying studies” showing that “gun free zones” in the U.S. are safer or less safe from gun violence than other zones. Some of the claims about there being more mass shootings in gun-free zones were based on data that cherry picked what qualifies as a “mass shooting” and how “gun free zones” are defined; for example, for some reason, the presence of armed guards or law enforcement may not disqualify a zone as gun free.  .

For that matter, how often has an armed citizen stopped a mass shooter? Hardly ever.

[E]xpansive research out of Stanford University found states that passed right-to-carry (RTC) concealed handgun laws saw between a 13 to 15% increase in violent crimes in the 10 years after. The data spanned stats from the 1970s up until 2014.

Yep, that says increase, not decrease.

“There is not even the slightest hint in the data that RTC laws reduce overall violent crime,” Stanford Law professor John Donohue stated in the paper.

Previous research on this topic came to similar conclusions, though noted not enough data was currently available.

In 2019, KXAN News in Austin worked with the ALERRT Center at Texas State University to compile data on 316 mass shootings in Texas between 2000 and 2019. The data showed that citizens stopped shooters 50 times out of 316 but only 10 of those instances were by using a gun. The other 40 times, the citizen used either their hands or another weapon.

It seems to me that what the data are telling us is that when citizens are more and more armed in public there is more and more shooting in public. The increase in shooting fatalities and injurites overwhelms the tiny number of shootings prevented or stopped by an armed citizen. More often than not, when citizens stop mass shooters they don’t use a gun to do it. The numbers tell us that all this arming of citizens makes us less safe, not more safe. 

Even this week, at the NRA convention in Dallas, Trump and other gun apologists were calling for an end to gun free zones. No one was allowed to be armed in the conventional hall where this was said, I understand.

Let’s look at I’m from Uvalde. I’m not surprised this happened. by Neil Meyer in the Washington Post:

First, you would be challenged to find a more heavily armed place in the United States than Uvalde. It’s a town where the love of guns overwhelms any notion of common-sense regulations, and the minority White ruling class places its right-wing Republican ideology above the safety of its most vulnerable citizens — its impoverished and its children, most of whom are Hispanic.

Note that Ulvade appears to have above-average crime rates in spite of all these guns being carried by the law-abiding citizens. Go figure.

Yet, in spite of all the data, the “more guns” people are in control and write the laws. Republican state legislatures push harder and harder to eliminate any barriers to owning and carrying whatever firearm one wants. Every time there’s another attention-grabbing mass shooting they trip all over themselves to prove their loyalty to guns by loosening the gun laws even more.

Why are we all so helpless to stop this? A big one is the anti-democratic Senate, which not only overrepresents rural voters but also keeps the filibuster rule that allows those rural voters veto power over what the majority of Americans want. See The Real Reason America Doesn’t Have Gun Control by Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.

And the other reason is that our gun laws were not built rationally; our gun laws were built on fantasy and terror, says Paul Waldman.

[T]o imagine something different, we have to understand the ideology that created our current legal regime. It was constructed on a foundation of fantasy and terror, one that elevates imaginary threats and decrees that our response to those threats can only be confronted by each of us alone, never through the institutions we create or the government that represents us.

No, only the isolated, heavily armed, perpetually terrified individual can hope to keep his family safe — so don’t even think about changing the laws, unless it’s to put more guns in more people’s hands.

Keeping them afraid is also very good at getting them to turn out to vote for Republicans.

What kind of fantasies are we talking about? The most important is that the U.S. government — the one designed by those sainted Framers whose genius conservatives praise so often — is always moments away from devolving into totalitarian oppression, and all that keeps it from happening is its fear of an armed populace ready to start killing soldiers and cops.

So after the killings in Uvalde, Tex., a Florida state representative tweetedan explicit threat to kill the president of the United States: “I have news for the embarrassment that claims to be our President — try to take our guns and you’ll learn why the Second Amendment was written in the first place.”

Of course, being perpetually ready to overthrow the government has nothing whatsoever to do with why the Second Amendment was written in the first place. That’s a fantasy.

This idea of a world of chaotic violence saturates conservative media (where antifa and Black Lives Matter are forever burning down cities and coming to destroy your community) and the rhetoric of gun groups and gun enthusiasts. It’s absolutely central to that message that no collective or governmental response will protect you and your family. The cops won’t get there fast enough, laws don’t stop “the bad guys,” and in the end you are atomized and alone, left to either kill or be killed.

So people keep guns in their homes for “protection,” which makes them more and not less likely to die by firearm. But you can’t tell the fearful people that.

There’s a lot of untruths about gun laws in circulation, like the Chicago Myth that says Chicago has the nation’s toughest gun laws and the highest firearm homide rates. Neither assertion is true. Today I ran into a guy ranting that “Democrat cities” like St. Louis are the cause of all the firearm deaths. St. Louis may be the firearm homicide capital of the nation right now. It may have a Democratic mayor, but its gun laws are just about identical to those of Texas, courtesy of the righter-then-right Republican state legislature. And the state legislature won’t allow the city to pass stricter laws.

On top of that, I believe that all the fear-mongering, all the rhetoric that pits us against them, also pushes people toward more violence. To keep power, Republicans are causing the violence they want voters to fear. And it keeps escalating.

Next: Getting smarter about gun violence.

More Republican Excuses for Gun Violence

The narrative about how Uvalde police responded to Tuesday’s shooting keeps changing. It may be another week before we have the whole story. At the moment it appears they just plain royally screwed up.

In the meantime, the Right is coming up with more excuses for why gun control laws are still off the table. Media matters compiled a list of excuses offered on Fox News. These included a lack of booby traps around the schools (seriously), a “lack of discipline” in schools, the decay of “Judeo-Christian principles,” and blaming the children by claiming they didn’t call 911 for fear of being a “snitch.”  We know at least one ten-year-old girl, Amerie Garza, was killed while trying to call 911, so that last one is especially cruel.

Regarding the decay of “Judeo-Christian principles,” Paul Waldman pointed out yesterday that the United States is far and away the most religious of the world’s wealthy countries, yet our homicide rate is 7.5 times higher than the homicide rate in the other high-income countries combined, largely attributable to a firearm homicide rate that is 24.9 times higher.

“Many of the least religious countries, on the other hand, are also the ones with the lowest rates of homicide,” Waldman wrote. “To take just one example, in the Netherlands, 20 percent of people say religion is very important to them, compared to 53 percent of Americans. Yet their homicide rate is one tenth of ours.”

See also Fox News’ Coverage of the Uvalde Shooting Was Sickening by Ryan Bort at Rolling Stone.

And see Erik Wemple, Fox News is your HQ for post-Uvalde thoughts and prayers. Wemple writes that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick got on Tucker Carlson’s show — “We’ve got to unify in prayer, we have to unify in faith. We have to unify in who are we?” Patrick said.

You might remember Dan Patrick as the guy who thought the elderly should agree to die of covid to save the economy. Last year Mr. Unify also accused Democrats of allowing illegal immigrants into the country to “take over our country without firing a shot.” Not exactly a beacon of peace and love.

There are many reports today about how Texas had already “hardened” schools to prevent mass shootings. This is from the Texas Tribune:

…“This concept of hardening, the more it has been done, it’s not shown the results,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a public health professor at New Mexico State University who studies school security practices and their effectiveness.

Texas law already allows teachers to be armed, btw.

Next: Choosing guns over children.

The Many Republican Excuses for Gun Violence

Behold the bullshit:

Since Tuesday’s massacre of children, Cruz has spoken several times of his grand plan to keep schools safer — we need school buildings with only one door that can be guarded by armed security officers. Just the thing if there’s a fire or bomb threat and the building must be evacuated quickly.

But let’s look at the many excuses Republicans make for U.S. gun violence.

Excuse #1: The Shooter Was Evil

I douldn’t find a transcript, but you’ve probably seen the video of the news conference in which Greg Abbott went on and on about how the shooter was evil and the shooting was senseless. He did so in a manner that almost looked like a shrug, as if the presence of evil and the senselessness of the act rendered him helpless to prevent it. He was trying to exonerate himself from blame. Here’s something I wrote a few years ago after another evil, senseless mass shooting:

Of all the labels being attached to Paddock, “evil” is the most useless. Calling something or someone “evil” is an avoidance strategy, in my opinion. It’s a way of absolving oneself or one’s culture, society or nation of responsibility for something. IMO our proclivity for sorting humanity into “good buys” and “bad guys” bins — we are always one of the “good guys,” of course — is the cause of most of the atrocities of the world. I’ve written about this in the past. Very few of the atrocities of human history were carried out by people who were fully aware they were doing something evil.

Calling the shooter “evil” doesn’t exonerate anyone. Same thing with calling them “crazy.” It doesn’t solve any problems. It serves no purpose. It provides no solutions.

And the fact remains that the U.S. hardly has a patent on evil, yet we have somehow cornered the market on school shootings. It’s a uniquely U.S. problem.

Excuse #2: The Shooter Was Mentally Ill

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the Uvalde school shooter had a “mental health challenge” and the state needed to “do a better job with mental health” — yet in April he slashed $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs.

In addition, Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

Prediction: Abbott will make no move to replace that $211 million. In a few weeks people will quit asking about it. We really do need better health services for people with psychiatric illnesses in this country, but I’m not seeing a big rush to supply such services coming from Republicans.

The “mental health” excuse may or may not have a basis in fact, but even if there were a law that prevented people with a diagnosed “mental illness” from purchasing firearms, it would make little difference because very few perpetrators of gun violence have a diagnosed mental illness at the time they obtained the firearm, whether legally or illegally, and when they committed the violence. I’ve written about this before, too. A lot.

Most of the time, mass shooters don’t have a definable “mental illness.” They do tend to have a similar complex of common personality and behavioral characteristics, however. They tend to be hotheads. They tend to be impulsive. Often they are socially awkward in some way; women may call them “creepy.” They don’t tend to have successful relationships, in other words, although sometimes they are married. Very often they have histories of domestic violence and animal abuse. They probably hoard several firearms and have for a while.

Guys like this are as common as toast. What they don’t have is any kind of brain or medically defined psychiatric illness that accounts for their decisions to kill people. They are not psychotic; they are not hearing voices in their heads or imagining that the nice people in the church are really space invaders.

And there is no way for the psychiatrists to know whether this or that creepy hotheaded asshole is the one who might be a mass shooter, or not.  Further, there is no medical treatment for being a creepy hotheaded asshole.

When I say that most perps are not mentally ill I don’t mean that mental illness is never a factor. A couple of our famous mass shooters — James Holmes (Aurora) and Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook) could both have qualified as mentally ill at the time of the shootings, I believe, according to their medical records. But that’s two out of how many? There have been 27 school shootings in the U.S. just this year, and over two hundred mass shootings. Not to mention other firearm violence to be sorted into other categories. Even if you could stop every diagnosed schizophrenic in the U.S. from owning or carrying a firearm — and that wouldn’t be a bad idea —  it would probably make no measurable difference in the gun violence data.

One study found that only 11% of all mass murderers (including shooters) and only 8% of mass shooters had a serious mental illness.

Excuse #3: Laws Don’t Work

Let’s get one fact out of the way — states with loose and permissive gun laws have higher rates of firearm related homicides than those with stricter gun laws. So, it would seem, gun laws DO work in the real world.

Here’s Ken Paxton making the same old argument that more gun laws don’t work because “criminals” won’t follow them:

Basically, this argument is an admission of helpessness, that there is nothing that can be done about gun violence. Laws won’t work. It just is what it is.

A variation of the “laws don’t work” argument is the Chicago myth — that Chicago has strict gun laws and yet it’s a shooting gallery. Greg Abbott made that argument in his press conference. “I hate to say it, but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” Abbott said, according to CNN. “So, you’re looking for a real solution, Chicago teaches that what you’re talking about [gun regulations] is not a real solution. Our job is to come up with real solutions that we can implement.”

Yeah, we’re all waiting for you to come up with those real solutions, governor. Haven’t seen any yet. But I’ve written about the Chicago myth before. Chicago doesn’t have exceptionally tough gun laws. It used to, but the Supreme Court nixed those laws in 2010. And there are several other cities with higher homicide rates, or the rate of homicides per 100,000 population. (I couldn’t find city data for shooting deaths specifically, just state data.) St. Louis is still #1. See also griping from the Chicago Tribune.

School shootings aside, there is a strong correlation between domestic violence and mass shootings outside of schools. A high percentage of such shootings are linked in some way to domestic violence, and there is reason to believe that keeping firearms out of the hands of people with a history of domestic violence would stop at least some mass shootings, not to mention save the lives of intimate partners. But even where such laws exist, they are badly enforced. And the NRA doesn’t like them.

See How the US fails to take away guns from domestic abusers: ‘These deaths are preventable’ at The Guardian. Here we have an example of one kind of criminal who really should be stopped from possessing firearms, and the law ‘n’ order crowd often can’t bring themselves to carry this out. So don’t waste our time whining about how laws don’t work.

School shooters are a slightly different crew. A study of U.S. school shooters found that all school shooters are male, with an average age of 18. Most of the time, these shooters intend the shooting to be a final act that they’ve been thinking about for a while; they are not acting impulsively out of rage. They post about mass shootings on social media. They are deeply unhappy, but not psychotic.

Inspired by past school shooters, some perpetrators are seeking fame and notoriety. However, most school shooters are motivated by a generalized anger. Their path to violence involves self-hate and despair turned outward at the world, and our research finds they often communicate their intent to do harm in advance as a final, desperate cry for help. The key to stopping these tragedies is for society to be alert to these warning signs and act on them immediately.

Making it easy and acceptable for these young people to seek help, to just bleeping talk to someone instead of holding it in, would probably help a lot also. I didn’t hear Gov. Abbott talk about that, though.

Excuse #4: We Need More Guns to Make People Safer

It’s a myth that more guns equal less crime, of course. There is all kinds of data showing that higher rates of gun ownership correlate to higher rates of gun death, including homicide. Putting more guns in the hands of “law-abiding citizens” absolutely does not make anybody safer, especially considering that many if not most mass shooters (including, I believe, the Uvalde shooter) were law-abiding citizens up to the moment they shot their first victim.

So making guns easier to purchase does drive up homicide rates, as we’ve been seeing in the U.S. in recent years. And “stand your ground” laws are linked to an 11 percent rise in firearm homicdes.

If you can think of any other excuses, please put them in the comments. I want to write another post about what needs to be done to reduce gun violence in the U.S.

Next: More Republican Excuses for Gun Violence.

The Do-Nothing Committee

The Gun Problem Is Guns

Dharma help us, but Marianne Williamson wrote an op ed about the gun violence crisis. I actually agree with some of it. This includes the part in the second paragraph where she says he must break the influence of money in politics; can’t argue with that.

Sometimes she gets too wound up in saying something clever rather than sensible. “It is not just our gun policy but our politics that fails to free us of this insanity.” Um, sweetums, “gun policy” and “politics” are kind of inextricably bound together. Then she says,

America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.


Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be. Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate. Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.

Right. But there is one critical word that doesn’t appear anywhere in Williamson’s op ed. That word is greed. Our environmental policies cater to greed rather than protection. Greed is the real creator of poverty, IMO. I also would argue the military policies and most of the other stuff Williamson complains about are rooted in greed. If there is violence, it is greed fueling the violence. Toss in some ignorance, especially bigotry, and fear with that and you’ve accounted for it all. Violence is just a by-product. And government isn’t mitigating the effects of greed because of corruption.

Williamson’s Big Idea is to create a Department of Peace to battle the culture of conflict, which amounts to more wasted money, IMO. The eternally flakey Dennis Kucinich has been pushing a Department of Peace for a long time; these two should get together. But that’s the problem with the New Agey types; they are big on how everybody should be more about love and kindness, but they have no idea why they aren’t or how to bring about change. Williamson’s general method is to snarl at people about how they should be nicer. See also this passage from a New York Times article about Williamson

She finished her speech in New Hampshire to great applause and asked for questions, but nobody wanted to know how “a politics of love,” as she called it, would handle, say, President Vladimir Putin’s annexing Crimea, or how it would prevent a mass shooting, which were things she had thought about deeply and had specific and elaborate plans for. They didn’t want to know about her Department of Children and Youth or her Department of Peace. No, they wanted self-help. A woman raised her hand and said she didn’t know what to do about her trauma and her rage these days — how she couldn’t find forgiveness for the people who voted for Trump, even though those people weren’t exactly asking for it. “It’s like I’ve been infected,” the woman said. “How do I manage that?”

Williamson told her she has no time for people traumatized by the election.

Well, then, I have no more time for Williamson, and with any luck she soon will fade back into the pop culture woodwork. So let’s go on.

What’s killing the United States and the planet is greed and corruption. Gun violence is just a by-product; it’s greed and corruption that keeps turning up the flames of gun-rights zealotry, making us by far the most heavily armed citizenry on the planet. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s populations and an estimated 41 percent of the world’s civilian-owned firearms.

And that’s why we have a gun violence problem. I suspect any other group of people as heavily armed as we are would be shooting each other a lot, too. The presence of guns makes shooting a lot more likely. And there is a plausible argument to be made that the presence of guns stokes violent behavior, a phenomenon known in social psychology as the “weapons effect.”

As long as our knee-jerk reaction to gun violence is to buy more guns, our gun violence problem is just going to get worse. The problem of guns is guns.

Scientific American:

In a 2015 study using data from the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University reported that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus those with the least. Also in 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not.

In the minds of gun activists, strangers are eternally plotting to break into their homes and kill them, so they need a gun. I looked; the enormous majority of home break-ins are burglaries that take place when the residents are not at home. According to this, about 86 to 100 people a year in the U.S. are murdered by burglers who broke into their home, possibly, but the way the crime data is reported makes it all kind of murky. But let’s say 100 Americans a year are murdered by strangers invading their homes.

(Also, FYI, according to FBI crime statistics, where the relationship between the victim and perpetrator is known, only about 10 percent of homicide victims are killed by complete strangers. Apparently it’s the people you know you’ve got to watch.)

Compare/contrast to the nearly 2,900 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) who are shot and killed in the U.S every year, many of whom died by the gun their parents bought “for protection.” Nearly 15,600 are shot and injured. But you can’t tell the gun fanatics that having a gun in their home is a danger to their family. They need to “for protection.” They will not look at the data. They will not listen to reason. They have to have that gun.

Where is that fear coming from? At least some of it is being manufactured by gun lobbyists and the NRA, I’m sure. Our children have to die so that some people can make more money.

Yes, it’s madness, but the first path out of the madness is to reduce the prevalence of guns. I don’t see any way around that. As long as Americans are acquiring more and more guns, they are going to be more and more violent.

How to reduce the number of guns in circulation is another question, and I am sure there will be no magic bullet. And, ultimately, the greed has to be called out and punished, and we need a functioning government to do that. Well, good luck to us.

Real Courage

Josh Marshall:

As I’ve said, I live across the street from where the Chelsea bombing occurred. But I wasn’t there when it happened. I came home with my family Sunday evening. Since subways were still not stopping at the station’s closest to the bomb area we walked ten blocks. Returning to our neighborhood and approaching the guarded perimeter I felt a deep-seated pride in the community I live in, pride as a New Yorker. Immediately outside the sealed off perimeter people were going about their business as if nothing had happened. There was no climate of fear, no sense of a community on lock down. People were walking the streets, going to restaurants and bars.

New Yorkers are the best. Compare/contrast that to the weenies in the Gun Nation video, or this guy who can’t go to a Wal-Mart without an AR-15. Weenies, the lot of them.

This Isn’t Freedom

My home state only gets in the New York Times when it does something stupid.

Missouri’s Republican-controlled Legislature voted Wednesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and enact a wholesale retreat from gun safety in the state.

The law will let citizens carry concealed weapons in public without a state gun permit, criminal background check or firearms training. It strips local law enforcement of its current authority to deny firearms to those guilty of domestic violence and to other high-risk individuals. And it establishes a dangerous “stand your ground” standard that will allow gun owners to shoot and claim self-defense based on their own sense of feeling threatened. …

… Republican legislative leaders, who cut short debate on the override vote on the last day of the session, were ebullient in overriding a variety of the governor’s vetoes beyond the gun measure, including one that will force voters to show a government photo ID.

That’s right; they also overrode a veto of a voter ID law. That one is problematic, however —

Even though the veto was overridden, the bill won’t become law unless voters decide in November to amend the state’s constitution to allow a photo ID requirement. That’s because the Missouri Supreme Court deemed voter ID unconstitutional in 2006, ruling that the law amounted to a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

If voters reject the constitutional amendment this fall, voter ID remains unconstitutional and the enacting legislation voted on Wednesday is moot.

We’ll see. Anyway, regarding the “Shoot-Me State’s” new Derp Gun Law, most of it won’t go into effect until January 1. This gives residents with any sense more than three months to clear out.

The Guardian has a half hour documentary video up called Gun Nation, “A revealing and unsettling journey to the heart of America’s deadly love affair with the gun.” It’s a genteel British guy interviewing gun owners about why they insist on keeping guns. Several of them mention “freedom,” but these people are not free. Nobody that obsessed with the Awful Dangerous Things That Could Get Me is free.

Texas Open Carry and the Dallas Shooting

Right after last week’s massacre in Dallas I wrote on Facebook,

Today the New York Times explains why the Texas open carry law not only didn’t prevent the massacre; it made law enforcement’s job more complicated.

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, described to CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday the amount of confusion the armed protesters initially caused.

He said the event had attracted “20 or 30 people” who “showed up with AR-15 rifles slung across their shoulder.”

“They were wearing gas masks,” Mr. Brown said. “They were wearing bulletproof vests and camo fatigues, for effect, for whatever reason.”

When the shooting started, “they began to run,” he said. And because they ran in the middle of the shooting, he said, the police on the scene viewed them as suspects. “Someone is shooting at you from a perched position, and people are running with AR-15s and camo gear and gas masks and bulletproof vests, they are suspects, until we eliminate that.”

There were also some presumably armed men staging a counter-protest to BLM at the scene. I assume they ran also. It’s a wonder it didn’t turn into a regular battle, though.

Gun nuts gun rights activists have long argued that all mass shootings take place in “gun-free zones,” even though that isn’t actually true.

In a 2014 report, Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-gun control group, said that from 2009 to July 2014, 18 multiple-victim U.S. shootings–meaning any incident where at least four people were killed with a gun–occurred in places where civilian handguns were allowed.

Of 33 incidents in public spaces, the report said, 18 took place wholly or in part where concealed guns could be lawfully carried. Conversely, no more than 15 incidents “took place entirely in public spaces that were so-called ‘gun-free zones,'” the report said.

The gun culties gun rights activists also like to deny that the presence of armed law enforcement officers count. For example, they will tell you that military bases are “gun free zones” because civilians and non-security personnel are unarmed. But the MPs are armed.

But I don’t think even Wayne LaPierre is demented enough to try to argue the Dallas shooting happened because it was a gun-free zone.