The massacre at a Florida High School by nineteen year old Nikolas Cruz begs us yet again to address the growing horror of mass shootings in America. Children should never have to watch their fellow classmates be mowed down by a crazed gunman, nor should any parent ever lose a child this way. It happens though and no, it’s not too early to talk about gun control and other possible methods of prevention.
While mass shootings are not occurring as often as the wildly misleading headline, “18 School Shootings in 2018” would have you believe, they have gotten more deadly, as the number of people shot per incident has increased.
In my view the question isn’t if anything should be done, but what? What new policies or laws could be enacted that would help prevent another tragedy like this?
Would New Gun Laws be Effective?
Many think more restrictions on guns are the answer, but are they? It’s way too early to tell in this case, but a 2015 analysis by the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler of other high profile shootings offers some interesting insight. Kessler did a detailed fact check of Marco Rubio’s claim that new gun laws wouldn’t have prevented any recent mass shootings and came to the conclusion that Rubio was right.
Starting with the Newtown tragedy in 2012 and ending with the Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik San Bernardino terrorist attacks in 2015, Kessler lists how the guns were obtained for each incident and an analysis as to why stricter gun regulations would not have prevented this.
In each case the perpetrators either bought their guns legally, stole them from someone else who obtained them legally, or should have been stopped by existing laws but the system failed. Four out of twelve shootings by the way were committed in California, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation.
Kessler’s article is not the end all be all study on gun control of course, but it offers up points that anyone serious about pro active prevention of mass shooters needs to digest. It’s a good read and can be found here.
Gun Violence is Down
Keep in mind too that overall rates of gun crime and violence have gone down dramatically over the last two decades; while at the same time many states were reducing gun control regulations.
As Nick Gillespie states in this post on Reason.com
“In the wake of last fall’s Las Vegas shooting, I wrote “‘From 1993 to 2015, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older, says the Bureau of Justice Statistics in its most recent comprehensive report (published last October, using data through 2015).
Over the same period, rates for crimes using guns dropped from 7.3 per 1,000 people to 1.1 per 1,000 people. The homicide rate is down from 7.4 to 4.9. These are not simply good things, they are great things. They are the essential backdrop of all discussions about gun crime and mass shootings, even as we grieve the people killed nonsensically in Vegas.
None of that takes away an iota of the pain and terror of what is still unfolding in Florida, but the most basic argument for gun control remains that reducing the number of guns in circulation will reduce the amount of gun violence in society. Yet since the mid-1990s, states and localities (and certainly Florida) have mostly made it easier for more people to buy and carry guns in more sorts of situations. The correlation has been with vast reductions in gun crime and gun violence.”
Red Flags Ignored
The thing about mass shootings is that they tend to be premeditated, giving the shooter plenty of time to map out a plan and obtain needed supplies. Someone intent on murdering people is going to find ways to get those items, illegal or not.
Wouldn’t perhaps a better strategy at prevention be to improve how we respond to the numerous red flags that usually arise long before the crime occurs?
Apparently it was no surprise to anyone that knew Nikolas Cruz that he ended up a mass murderer. He even stated in a YouTube comments section, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter…” prompting the account holder to notify the FBI.
He’d also been expelled from school for numerous fights and possession of ammunition, had tried to poison a neighborhood dog and left a trail of disturbing social media posts. Could not some type of intervention have happened? Did anyone say anything to anyone of authority that might have been able to do something?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that focusing just on gun control to prevent mass shootings is simplistic and in fact may even be counter productive. If the end game is to DO SOMETHING effective, than passing rushed and probably crappy legislation based on the understandably raw emotions of the moment is not going to get us there.
So yes, let’s talk about gun control, but let’s be honest about its limits and the negative trade off of sacrificing civil liberties for public safety.
Stop Demonizing Others
And for God’s sake stop demonizing those who are skeptical about its effectiveness as “not caring about dead children.” That’s so needlessly divisive and just makes moving towards a successful solution less likely.
The problem of mass shootings is complex and requires more than just looking at gun control. Mental health issues, effective red flag response methods, enforcing existing gun laws already on the books, new ideas on school security and having better channels of support for parents dealing with extremely problematic kids all need to be a part of the discussion.