One reader wants to start a discussion on the question:
School shootings are absolutely horrific. They’re like plane crashes; very unlikely to affect you, but terrible and frightening if they do. We don’t want to alter our entire society to respond to a sensational but ultimately quite rare event. If you want to arm teachers, then you might as well mandate that every child in a car wear a full Formula One racing suit and helmet. A child is far more likely to die in a car crash than in a school shooting.
That said, I’d like to hear about other possible remedies and defenses.
I believe that students should be trained and drilled on how to respond to a mass shooter. Look at how Israeli civilians respond to an armed terrorist. Much of their action is due to military training, but there's no reason why our kids are wholly unprepared for this kind of thing. Could be useful as an adult, too.
Instead of arming every teacher, how about entrusting one teacher or the principal with that responsibility? Like an Air Marshall.
Moreover, there must be “lockdown” technology that can be easily implemented. An easy and automatic alarm that triggers when a gunshot is heard. Reinforced classroom doors. Designated shelters. Maybe some kind of teargas that could incapacitate everyone in a room, including the gunman.
Lara N. Dotson-Renta touched on some of those points in her piece for us today on teachers facing the possibility of a shooting:
A teacher in the United States is now likely to […] dutifully practice ever more realistic lockdowns, a safety measure that ultimately feels as though it’s placing shootings on par with fires, earthquakes, and natural disasters. At the elementary-school level, my daughter’s teachers devise quiet lockdown games and crouch-down-under-the-desk dances for their little first-graders, while a group of teachers in Iowa has even devised and marketed a locking mechanism that allows doors to be closed from the inside.
If you have any strong views on the best way for educators to protect themselves and their students, drop me an email and I’ll post. Meanwhile, this list of “unsuccessful attacks related to schools” is interesting to skim through. For example:
De Anza College student Al DeGuzman planned a Columbine style school shooting at the school. An employee at a Longs Drugs store developed pictures of DeGuzman posing with his guns and homemade bombs. She and a coworker called police. DeGuzman was arrested when he returned for his photos.
A remarkable number of those averted attacks—at least seven out of 24—involved would-be killers directly inspired by Columbine. I also looked around for examples of educators who stopped gunmen with their own guns, along the lines of the Air Marshall analogy mentioned by our reader. I found this AP story from 1997:
Luke Woodham [is] the 16-year-old who is charged with slashing his mother to death with a butcher knife and then opening fire on his classmates with a rifle. He is accused of killing Lydia Dew, 17, and his former girlfriend, Christina Menefee, and wounding seven other students, leaving them bleeding on the polished floor of the school cafeteria. [...]
Fearing Woodham would come for him next, [principal Roy] Balentine ran to his office to call the police. As he dialed, more shots rang out. More students fell.
Minutes later, Assistant Principal Joel Myrick chased Woodham down outside the school, held him at bay with a .45-caliber automatic pistol he kept in his truck in the school parking lot. He forced Woodham to the ground and put his foot on the youth’s neck. “I think he’s a coward,” Myrick said. “I had my weapon pointed at his face, and he didn’t want to die.”
Though I guess it’s questionable whether Woodham had already done all his damage before Myrick pinned him down. If you know of any better examples, please let me know.
A reader, Michael Jalovecky, takes the thread on yet another tangent—and a good one:
I found myself in agreement with one reader’s comment that “the Constitution guarantees a right [that pro-life and gun-control activists] don’t like, so they make it as difficult as possible to exercise that right.” Well put. To that I would stretch the comparison to a larger liberal vs. conservative paradigm and highlight that both camps hypocritically apply interpretative theories of the Constitution that suit they’re preferred policy outcomes.
Pro-lifers, which generally are politically conservative, rail against Roe v. Wade as the preeminent example of judicial activism that invented the constitutional right to abortion out of thin air, and that the ruling had no basis in any “original” understanding or reading of the Constitution. Yet, in D.C. v. Heller, conservatives applauded when the Court, through naked judicial activism, overturned 200-plus years of precedent and history and decided for the first time in history that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual rather than a collective right to firearm possession.
Similarly, gun-control activists, which are generally liberal, abhor “originalism” as an interpretive theory for obvious reasons. They embrace Roe v. Wade and its view of the Constitution as a “living document” and applaud judicial efforts to read the Constitution in broader, more modern terms to promote greater conceptions of justice, equality and personal liberty. Yet, when it comes to the Second Amendment, suddenly they’re all Originalists, arguing that it was only intended to protect a collective right to bear arms for purposes of a Militia; and thus the Heller decision was decided incorrectly (in their opinion).
Well, you can’t have it both ways! Gun-control activists (i.e. liberals) cannot be Originalists only when it suits their preferred policy outcome. But perhaps that is to be expected if, as Jim Elliott put it: “gun control advocates and pro-life advocates work upon first principles.” Apparently, there’s no harm in being a hypocrite if it’s in defense of your principles.
Update from Jim Elliott:
I have to take slight issue with your reader who asserted that the Supreme Court, in Heller v. D.C., invented “from whole cloth” an individual right to bear arms. A right to individual self-defense was held in common with the idea of a well-regulated militia—you could not have the latter without the former—and was incorporated into the state constitutions of a number of the original 13 colonies.
In 1776, Pennsylvania stated explicitly in Article XIII of its constitution “that people have the right to bear arms for the defence [sic] of themselves and the state.” This language is similar to that of Virginia, also from 1776. A further Pennsylvania provision gave an obligation to Pennsylvanians to keep and bear arms, or provide a fee if they refused due to conscience. Vermont also incorporated similar language. North Carolina and Massachusetts (the first in the Americas) were explicit in the obligation to keep and bear arms as well, linking it directly to the defense of the commons, because at the time there was no distinction between the two.
As early as 1650, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware required all men 16 and over to keep and bear arms. Rhode Island did not require you to own a gun, unless you wanted to attend a public meeting or travel more than two miles, in which case you had to appear with one. South Carolina, while not specific that “armes” meant guns, did require men to be able to appear with them, and in 1743 required every man to carry a gun when attending church. Georgia’s law is confusing but clearly levies fines for failing to appear at the militia’s muster without your own firearm and equipment. From the time of its transfer from the Dutch, New York required all men from 16 to 60 to be keep arms. In Maryland, you could not own land unless you could prove you were armed. Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina required masters to give firearms, shot, and gunpowder to indentured servants upon the completion of their service.
Indeed, since the beginning of colonization, individuals armed for the defense of the commons was a hallmark of regulation, just as much as the secure storage of them was also regulated. I mean, let’s remember why the British were coming to Lexington and Concord: To seize arms after a spontaneous militia in Massachusetts had prevented John Gage from imposing his will in Boston. While the original states all expressly tied the keeping of arms to an obligation to defend the commons, and there were laws regarding their use (i.e. Pennsylvania actually had a separate article regarding hunting, and Boston had laws regarding careless discharges of firearms), none inhibited the personal possession of arms or their use in self-defense.
There is also the little matter of the fact that, were your reader correct, the Second Amendment would become the only amendment within the Bill of Rights where “the people” did not have both a collective and individual application. There is no “collective” right to free political speech or religious expression without protection of the individual’s, nor security in one’s own papers and person in some collective sense. It would be sophistry to claim that only in the case of the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms solely based in a need for common defense.
The Supreme Court has made many rulings directly and indirectly affecting the right to bear arms. In Guorko v. U.S., the court struck down jury instructions that told the jurors to consider deliberately arming oneself as indication of premeditation to kill, so long as the individual had armed themselves for the purposes of self-defense. This was re-affirmed by the same court in Thompson v. U.S. Where Heller arguably deviates is from precedence from the Supreme Court (Presser v. Illinois, Miller v. Texas, U.S. v. Miller) that affirmed the ability of states to regulate the carry of firearms.
To this conversation I would also offer the corollary: Pro-Life Activists are very much like Gun Control Activists. As Jim Elliott correctly notes, with both issues you have camps opposed on first principles. In both cases you have camps that are unable to accomplish outright bans, due to a combination of constitutional barriers and public opposition.
Most regulations on abortion are arbitrary, simply meant to make the process as onerous as possible. Requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges is not meant to enhance patient safety. Mandatory ultrasounds, including those of the highly invasive trans-vaginal sort, are not intended to provide the doctor or the patient with important medical information. Since bans are presently not feasible, anti-abortion activists will take any restrictions they can get.
Much is the same with most gun control proposals. Proposals to ban so-called “assault weapons” are perhaps the best example of this. It is essentially the “partial birth abortion” of the gun control world.
They rely predominantly on public confusion and disgust to pass, even though they make no practical difference. But any ban, no matter how pointless or incremental, is welcomed.
Stuck in the middle all of this is the American public. People desperately want to believe that there is a way to preserve a broad 2nd Amendment right to gun ownership, while keeping the guns away from the bad people. The two goals are almost certainly mutually exclusive, so what we end up with is a bunch of meaningless tinkering around the edges.
By “no practical difference,” our reader likely means that the percentage of homicides from assault weapons is very small—less than 3 percent—similar to the percentage of abortions that are “partial birth”—about 0.02 percent. (Those percentages translate to 322 deaths in 2012 from any kind of rifle, and about 2,600 deaths in 2006 from “partial birth abortion.”) Here’s Lois Beckett on the “assault weapon myth”:
In a poll [in December 2014], 59 percent of likely voters said they favor a ban. But in the 10 years since the previous [assault weapons] ban lapsed, even gun control advocates acknowledge a larger truth: The law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference. It turns out that big, scary military rifles don’t kill the vast majority of the 11,000 Americans murdered with guns each year. Little handguns do.
Another reader, like the one above, illustrates “How Pro-Life Activists Are Like Gun Control Activists”:
1. They seem to think degrading their opponents help their cause.
When a Pro-Life activist refers to a scared, young woman seeking an abortion as a “whore,” “slut,” or “baby-killer,” most people, even those who may hold a more moderate Pro-Life views, will be repulsed. Said scared young woman is unlikely to be deterred; she will just become resentful towards those who verbally abused her, and this will probably drive her to resist their cause even more than she would have otherwise.
Gun Control activists do the same thing. “Ammosexual.” “Arsenalists and ‘tactical’ fetishists.” “Domestic Terrorist.” While most people would agree these terms are not nearly as harsh as the ones above, it is pretty clear that anyone who uses these terms hates the people who own firearms (or at least the “wrong” kind of firearms), and takes a certain amount of glee in denigrating them. This name-calling will make someone who values their right to own a firearm wary of anything a Gun Control advocate proposes, regardless of how reasonable it may be. In both cases, the insult says more about the one issuing it than the one receiving it.
2. The Constitution guarantees a right they don’t like, so they make it as difficult as possible to exercise that right.
Roe v. Wade established the right to an abortion. D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago confirmed the 2nd Amendment applied on an individual basis. Overturning either would require a Constitutional amendment that will not pass in the foreseeable future, so the tactic is to make exercising these rights as difficult as possible. From overly complicated requirements to get an abortion, to “may issue” concealed carry laws that require political connections to get a concealed carry license, both sides pass laws that do whatever they can to infringe upon rights they don’t agree with.
3. They sound like idiots to their opponents
As someone who leans conservative, I cringe a little bit whenever a geriatric Republican man starts talking about abortion, or women’s health in general. I either laugh or shake my head in disbelief whenever a Gun Control activist starts talking. From little things like misusing “bullets” and “clips” (when they really mean “cartridges” and “magazines”), to the now classic “the shoulder thing that goes up [see the embedded video above],” it’s hard to take someone seriously who clearly knows nothing about what they’re talking about.
4. Getting what they want will make the problem worse
If Pro-Life activists get what they want, women will go back to coat-hangers in back alleys. If Gun Control activists get what they want (and most of the more prominent activists want a complete ban, even if they do everything they can not to say it), the only people who will be disarmed are the ones you didn’t have to worry about in the first place. Both will create unfavorable situations.
Jim Elliott responds to the criticisms from readers in these updates:
First, while all analogies are inherently flawed—there’s no one-to-one equivalence, ever—I think in this case, the analogy is somewhat effective, because it illustrates the practical problem of talking pragmatic policy trying to bridge the divide between camps opposed on first principles. I understand—though don’t agree with—many gun rights advocates’ concerns regarding gun control, because ultimately the “middle ground” solutions your reader says “most” people are in favor of—background checks, cooling off periods, safety training, and no assault rifles—are just tinkering around the edges.
Safety training isn’t something I have any problem with—even California’s test for a permit to buy a handgun is so simple you basically can’t be trusted with the pencil you use to fill it out if you can’t pass. Many states do have more rigorous safety courses for people applying for carry permits, as well they should.
This brings us to the ever-ubiquitous “assault rifle” argument, which was essentially given to the United States by some divine and perverse creature to make sure no one agrees on anything, ever. Definitions of assault rifles are primarily cosmetic; a semi-automatic is a semi-automatic at its basest function whether it is America’s most popular rifle—the .22 caliber Ruger 10/22—or the wet dream of some mil-spec fetishist’s custom AR-15: Detachable magazine, self-loading and cocking, pull the trigger and it (theoretically) works. Rifles, as a whole, historically make up about 2.5 percent of the firearms used in homicides.
So, again ... tinkering.
Gun rights advocates know these figures. They know that if you want to make a substantial, serious impact on homicide and suicide in this country, you need to get rid of handguns. They’re the most-commonly purchased, most-commonly stolen, most-commonly used to harm oneself or another. Full stop.
A gun control advocate who doesn’t want to stop the sale and possession of handguns in their entirety is either fooling themselves or someone who doesn't really care beyond the conversation they’re in at that moment. Now, I don’t particularly care for slippery-slope arguments, and I think the NRA is so afraid of this one they prevent extraordinarily useful tinkering—because saving lives, even around the edges, is a worthy goal. But the logic is inescapable if you’ve bothered to study the issue.
Bringing me to your second reader. If, indeed, she has enough experience to “like and respect” me, then she has been here long enough to know I already know and agree with their point. Medical progress has gifted women with the ability to choose whether or not they will bear the life-long consequences that come to their body from bearing a child, and not acknowledging those consequences is so cavalier it should render one ineligible to discuss the topic.
Let me be clear: While health is a crucial concern in choosing abortion, this does not diminish the fact that this very liberty—to choose not to bear the consequences of pregnancy, to set the course of one's own life—is what is at stake. It’s not liberty “to own a gun” that is at stake, any more than it is just a woman’s choice to be a parent or not that is at stake: It is the liberty to defend the sanctity of one’s own body and its course.
A woman is choosing the course of her life over the potential life inside them. And that’s fine. If I’m going to pick my belief in the human right to the tools of self-defense over potentially-ended lives, I have precisely zero truck to be able to criticize a woman over that choice, and any gun rights advocate who claims otherwise is just engaging in the time-honored human tradition of refusing to apply their own logic to a situation they don't want to because they know it makes them wrong. And vice versa.
Jim Elliott, a reader whose writing on guns Ta-Nehisi featured a few years ago under a pseudonym, rejoins the debate under his real name:
Your reader's comparison of gun rights activists to pro-choice activists made immediate sense to me, as a gun rights liberal. Both gun control advocates and pro-life advocates primarily work upon first principles. They make a moral argument, not a pragmatic one.
As perhaps well they should. Pro-choice advocates, after all, weigh the potential for life against the liberty of a life already existing and choose the latter, whereas gun rights advocates weigh the potential for death against the liberty of a life already existing, and choose the latter.
When you’re essentially arguing against a moral axiom such as life, you’ve just picked the losing team. Just as a pro-choice advocate can’t really argue with the picture of an aborted fetus, neither can a gun rights advocate argue against the picture of a weeping parent. Nor should they; as Ben Carson and Jeb Bush just learned, it’s basically impossible to not be an ass if you even try.
The number of nonfatal firearm-related crimes has dropped from a high of 1,287,190 in 1994 to a bottoming out of 331,618 in 2008. And even though that number has since increased, it remains at around a third of its peak. In 1994, the firearm crime rate was 7.4; in 2011, it was 1.8. And, interestingly, firearm use in non-fatal violent crime remains consistent with its historical range of between 5-8 percent of overall non-fatal violent crime.
But those facts won’t matter.
I could point out that murder and non-negligent manslaughter are down from a 1994 peak of 23,326 to 14,196 in 2013, according to the FBI. I could point out that, also according to the FBI, 8,454 of those deaths in 2013 were caused by firearms—just under 60 percent of them—and that this remains consistent with the historical average of the percentage of murders that are done with firearms.
I could point out that your chance of being criminally killed by a firearm is 0.000267 percent. I could point out that accidental firearm deaths account for 0.6 percent of all accidental deaths in the U.S., and that such deaths are down from a peak of over 2,000 in 1981 to fewer than 600 in 2013.
But that won’t matter.
It won’t matter because I’m basically being an ass: Behind every one of those data points is the story of a life lost. There’s a mother or father who’s not coming home, a son or daughter who won’t be tucked in tonight. How do you argue with the moral equivalent of Dick Cheney’s One-Percent Doctrine couched in the image of a woman screaming in the parking lot of an elementary school [in Newtown, Connecticut, in the photo seen above]? You don’t. Unless you’re a complete ass.
Gun rights activists have to realize this. We don’t have a good answer. We may not even have a right one. We can either avoid this discussion by flinging first principles at one another like good fundamentalists, or we can recognize that the gun control folks aren’t wrong. Unlike with abortion, we can’t fall back on different axiomatic definitions of what a zygote is. Gun control advocates are responding to the loss of what are indisputably innocent lives. We have to respect those lives by recognizing that.
Update from a reader:
But here’s the crucial difference: Most—almost all—anti-abortion activists are very open about wanting to make all abortion illegal. They’re very vocal about how abortion is murder in their eyes, and thus not a negotiable practice.
But most gun-control supporters fall in the middle of the bell curve, just wanting background checks, a cooling off period, maybe some basic training in gun safety, and no assault rifles. And I don’t think they’re being cagy about it. That’s really all most of them want.
So the unwillingness of the pro-life crowd to negotiate makes sense, while the intransigence of the NRA is something else.
Jim Elliott’s comparison of pro-choice activists with gun-rights activists is deeply flawed. He writes:
Pro-choice advocates [...] weigh the potential for life against the liberty of a life already existing and choose the latter, whereas gun rights advocates weigh the potential for death against the liberty of a life already existing, and choose the latter. When you’re essentially arguing against a moral axiom such as life, you’ve just picked the losing team.
Let me be blunt: It is wrong to suggest a woman’s liberty is the only thing at risk when she is denied the right to have an abortion, given that many women need an abortion to save their own lives. It almost pisses me off that I have to point this out to Jim, whom I like and respect, but it’s disheartening so many men seem to skip over the whole thing about our bodies being part of their risk-analysis equation. A woman’s liberty to control what happens to her own body, and the lifelong consequences of denying her that liberty, are profoundly different than those involved with a person’s liberty to own a gun (and I think even pro-life advocates would agree with me on this point). While there may be some shared concerns about preserving life, these issues are much too complex to be analogized.
Fallows promotes on Twitter an extensive, ongoing feature from The Guardian illustrating mass shootings across the U.S.:
The whole, depressingly long graphic is here. The current tally is “994 mass shootings in 1,004 days.” Those six red figures in the lower-right corner probably caught your eye, too. Details:
Scott and Nicole Westerhuis, along with their four children, third-grader Kailey, fifth-grader Jaeci, eighth-grader Connor, and sophomore Michael were believed to have died in a fire on Sept. 17 at their home at 36705 379th Street, 3 miles south of Platte.
On Monday, the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office released the family's preliminary autopsy reports, which indicate that cause and manner of death for Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael Westerhuis were homicide by shotgun wounds. The attorney general’s office released information late on Monday that says the cause of death for Scott Westerhuis is suspected suicide based on the current investigation findings.
They both oppose any incremental regulations to abortion and guns, respectively, believing those incremental steps are a means to banning. At least that’s what the following reader suggests, quoting an earlier reader:
But the interesting point is that I don’t think any of the owners of these collections would take umbrage at being called the appropriate type of nut.* They’d just smile, say they love their hobby, and think wistfully about the next addition to their collection. So why do gun owners react so differently? Is it because they’re defensive about the reactions of others to their “hobby”? Because the central organizing theme of their collection is lethality?
Being defensive about other’s reaction to an arsenal is a lot different than being defensive about a collection of shoes. If you embarrass your friend about his computer collection, or his shoe collection, he only has to deal with embarrassment. In fact, he has no reason to suspect you noticing the number of shoes or computers he has at all, since nobody has ever mentioned or floated a ban on him owning multiple numbers of shoes or computers or tools or cars.
In this case, though, you have voices calling for a ban on arsenals, and defining arsenals as a number of guns generally lower than ten.
In this case, the guy isn’t oversensitive because you are implying he’s overcompensating (well, sometimes maybe) but because you are implying that other men with guns should come and tell him it would be a very good idea for him to not have those anymore, or face jail time. That’s being floated about.
And then when he gets down to thinking about it, he realizes that a lot of shootings happen with numbers of guns as small as one, and never much larger than three. So he then gets to thinking: Maybe when it comes time to ban arsenals, someone will say, “Well, what we really meant was multiple guns, because just two or three is all it takes to multiply the risk from a single shooter.”
When pro-life people come in and try to incrementally restrict access to abortions in arbitrary ways, do you pretend what they’re doing isn’t going for a full and total ban, eventually? Nobody seriously does, because it’s clear what they’re doing is trying to restrict access in any way they can, any opportunity they get, because they are working towards the endgame of banning abortions. It’s transparent.
I don’t own guns, and I don’t enjoy shooting. That being said, what you are asking these people to do is either accept arbitrary regulation that doesn’t do anything (less than ten guns is still plenty to do a mass shooting with) or ignore the fact that what the people who mention “arsenals” and “assault rifles” without defining those terms really want as an endgame is no guns, at all, for anyone.
In an item after the Oregon shootings, I quoted a reader from Florida saying that if you owned more than 10 guns yourself, you might be considered to have an “arsenal.” And just now on TV I heard the British father of the Oregon murderer asking why anyone, including his son, would want or need so many guns.
Yesterday I quoted a reader who said, on the contrary, ten or more guns could be a perfectly reasonable collection for perfectly non-threatening citizens to have.
On the “how much is enough” point, responses from two readers. First, on the similarities and differences between “gun nuts” and other types of nuts, a reader argues that there really is something different in how gun owners relate with the rest of us.
Your correspondent argues that you can own ten guns without being a "gun nut", then proceeds to list an inventory that he feels makes his case.
Let's try to approach on different collections. Suppose I owned ten motorcycles of different types. Perhaps a cafe racer, an enduro bike, a big touring bike, and so on. Would that make me a motorcycle nut? Probably. You're a runner (I think). Maybe you own ten or more pairs of running shoes. [JF note: Over the years, yes. And let’s not get into old computers, or types of beer.] I'm sure you can come up with a better list than I can, but I can imagine shoes for street running, dirt running, trail running, training, racing, and so on.
How about woodworkers? Some may have a dozen different types of saw, even more different types of planes. Are they tool nuts? Uh-huh.
If you had a couple of PCs, a few laptops, some tablets, more than one cellphone, a Raspberry Pi, a bunch of Arduinos lying around the house would you be an uber-geek, alternately known as a computer nut? Sure. Depending on budget, you could make a list like this for cars, boats, airplanes - almost anything.
But the interesting point is that I don't think any of the owners of these collections would take umbrage at being called the appropriate type of nut.* They'd just smile, say they love their hobby, and think wistfully about the next addition to their collection. So why do gun owners react so differently? Is it because they're defensive about the reactions of others to their "hobby"? Because the central organizing theme of their collection is lethality?
NB: In your writer's example, the common theme is NOT hunting, which might be an alternative explanation of owning a wide variety of firearms. The common theme is the guns themselves.
*in fact, not only do they not take umbrage, but many of these collector types have their own names (and reality TV shows). The only objection to being called a car nut is that gearhead is the appropriate term.
Now, from the original “reader in Florida” who originally asserted that if you had 10 or more guns, you were moving into “arsenalist” territory:
That guy's defensive reaction to the "arsenalist" label is exactly what I'm after.
Trying to respect and reason with mass collectors within the 35 percent of gun-owning households has gotten us absolutely nowhere. Nowhere. That's because arsenalists and "tactical" fetishists do not respect the rest of us. And the gun hustler industry thrives on this disrespect. This isn't about defense; it's about dominance. And people like your reader have done absolutely nothing to clean up the culture they perpetuate.
I grew up in a house with 5 hunting rifles and some sort semi-automatic weapon (a mini 14, I believe) mounted on the wall above my dad's chair. [JF note: This is the time to point out that I got the old Marksmanship merit badge as a Boy Scout, now called something else, and that my father was part of the local auxiliary-police force and carried a pistol with him when he went on nighttime house calls as a local doctor.]
We had a handgun stored somewhere. Not quite an arsenal, but a collection. Mostly the legacy of childhood hunting that lost its charm for my dad after Vietnam. The book I wrote revolves largely around heroic, armed self-defense. Armed self-defense is a family legacy. Modern American gun pimp culture dishonors everyone who has ever used a weapon for self-defense.
I'm sorry, if you collect "tactical" weapons for the fun of it, you're an asshole. You're a bully and a thug. You're sending a clear message to fellow countrymen: I'm going to dominate you. Modern American gun culture rests entirely upon implicit intimidation and the economic benefits of it.
And I love the guy's final line: "Why can't we get rid of guns?", not "What is wrong with us?"
Ah yes, the all inclusive "we," the coverer of all sins. There's no "we." He doesn't get to include "me" in his whiny, handwringing pathology of of anti-gun-safety.
Your reader and I have very similar household gun experiences. But faced with the debauchery and hedonism of modern American gun culture, we've made very different political and moral choices. His culture, not mine, puts "tactical" weapons in lunatics hands. If he's going to defend that culture, he should fucking own it and not cower behind "we."
I am anti-prohibitionist. It's my core political philosophy, based on my reading of history and economics and human behavior. I didn't say a damn word about "get rid of guns". That's his language. In fact, I'm not even thinking about laws. I'm thinking about culture. He doesn't like that I use "arsenalist," think it doesn't apply to him, then he should do something about the damn arsenalists in his own culture. Stigmatize them.
Arsenalists have power. I recognize that power. But it does not entitle them to my respect. And if it stings a little to have arsenalist hung on him, good. That is what I intend. Like I said before, stigmatizing the legal thuggery of American gun culture is a long-term project. It is a culture war. It just is. It's been waged against the rest of us for a long time. I'm done pretending that your reader isn't part of it.
In a similar vein, one short email from another reader:
I think we need a simple t-shirt slogan: "The NRA is immoral."
The fact that everyone will understand the message is all that really needs to be said.
Are we doomed to the ritual of “our thoughts and prayers go to the families” after whatever is the latest mass-shooting massacre, and to the knowledge that only in the United States will this keep happening week after week after week? That’s the theme of the posts you see collected in this thread. Now, further reader response.
The answer is the market. One reader says:
Two points. First, the reason for the certainty [of more shootings] is our bizarre, obsolete 2nd amendment. The only other nations with a constitutional guarantee are Mexico and Haiti. The rest of the world understands that they want their communities to choose the regulations they can apply to the ownership, storage and use of deadly weapons. But in the US, one zealot—ONE—can go to court, and on the basis of the 2nd amendment overrule the entire community’s decision. Now, that constitutional guarantee isn't going anywhere, but as long as it is in place, there’s not stopping the horrors from recurring.
Second, the only path to any kind of gun control in the US is market-based. The constitution guarantees you the right to own guns, but it doesn’t guarantee that you'll be able to afford them. Liability insurance, transfer fees, import quotas—we should concentrate on everything that can be done non-legislatively to drive up the cost and scarcity of handguns. It’s all we've got...
By the typical definition of terrorism (non-government violence advancing a political agenda via intimidation) many of the mass shootings in America are terrorism. Because of racism and probably other reasons, Americans resist calling it terrorism when the perpetrator is white or his political goals seem silly, vague or arcane.
The line between mass shootings and terrorism in America is often gray and we are solely interested in curtailing terrorism when foreigners (or persons of color) perpetrate it.
Make it a pro-life campaign. From a reader in California:
I suggest the following:
1. Those of us who recognize the insanity and toll of our benighted gun policies need to change the paradigm. We need to make this a pro-life issue. We need to put the issue in the conservative camp, where gun control goes to die, by forcing them to defend letting so many Americans die in their terms. Guns and pro-life should be entwined and repeated ceaselessly.
2. We need to lobby the media (local, state and national) to include the daily death toll, preferably in photos, every day. Every newspaper should run a large boldfaced number summarizing the death toll locally and nationally, daily. Every web site needs a counter in the corner. Every TV news broadcast, ditto. We need to put signs up with victim photos of victims like we do for victims of car accidents along roads. There needs to be no escape from the consequences of our policies.
3. We need to highlight suicide more. Victims of gun suicides tend to be white guys, not inner city gangbangers. The public doesn’t realize how many gun deaths are from suicide.
4. We have to address the irrational fear of so many gun owners that background checks leads to registration which leads to confiscation. We need to confront those on the right who stoke the irrational fear of black helicopters and government confiscation as people with blood on their hands.
Why owning 10+ guns doesn’t make you a gun nut. From another reader, in a message related to David’s post from yesterday:
The reader from Florida who referred to those who own 10+ guns as “arsenalists” illustrates one reason why those Americans who do own guns are afraid of gun control legislation. To this reader, it appears, a gun in a gun is a gun, and anybody with 10 or more guns is an arsenalist (with evil intent, or perhaps mentally deranged).
Let’s look at one way a person might have ten guns:
1. A 12-gauge pump shotgun for duck hunting
2. A 20-gauge over/under shotgun for upland bird hunting
3. A single-barrel 12-gauge specialized for trap shooting
4. A bolt-action .270 rifle for deer hunting
5. A bolt-action (insert larger/more powerful rifle cartridge here) rifle for long-range target shooting or big-game hunting
6. An M1 Garand or AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle for “high-powered rifle” competition—which is a highly structured/organized competition at the national level; see this.
7. A .22LR rifle for cheap target practice
8. A .22LR semi-automatic pistol for cheap pistol target practice
9. A break-barrel single shot pistol for competitive silhouette shooting
10. Any kind of family heirloom hand-me-down gun that you want to keep for sentimental reasons but don’t want to shoot much for wear-and-tear reasons.
Note that that list does not include a single gun for the purpose of home defense or concealed carry; i.e., not a single gun owned with the express intent of possibly being shot at a person, but those could also be different and specialized.
I personally don’t own such a collection (I don't have time/money to pursue all of these sports) but my grandfather did. It really bothers me to think that there are people out there who want to set an arbitrary limit on the number of guns a person could/should own because they are ignorant of the different types of competitive/recreational shooting that exist. [JF note: In the whole range of “arbitrary limits” that modern life imposes on us, a 10-gun ceiling does not strike me as particularly onerous. But I understand that it’s a big country with lots of different lifestyles and tastes, and that collections like this grandparent’s can seem reasonable for the right people in the right circumstances.]
The final comment cited your blog post sums up my thoughts on the subject: this recent American phenomenon of mass shootings every month does not seem correlated with the number of guns in existence, but the question everybody seems to ask after a mass shooting is “Why can’t we get rid of guns?,” not “What is wrong with us?”
The emptiness of “our prayers are with the families.” From another reader in California:
I can’t believe most gun owners are happy with this. That it doesn't make them sick and want to do something. Even the gun “nuts” that I’ve known would want to do something. I put it in quotes to differentiate them from the militia/survivalist types who are way past the gun hobbyist.
The NRA has succeeded in making us think we can’t do anything. They’ve succeeded in making us believe that because we can’t be perfect, why even try to be good.
It’s just so sad. The repeated expression of “our thoughts and prayers are with the families” is analogous to mindlessly calling every service person a hero. It’s more for the speaker than the recipient.
I’ve received a flood of mail in response to the Oregon shooting and this item on whether the United States is doomed to be the only developed nation that tolerates mass-fatality shootings as routine.
The message quoted below is related to the evocative photo above, showing the moment in 1967 when armed Black Panthers marched into the California state capitol building in Sacramento. (This moment is also part of a great new documentary on the Black Panthers, which its director Stanley Nelson discussed with our editor James Bennet at the Washington Ideas Forum this week.) This reader imagines what it would be like if today’s Muslims applied a similar approach:
One sentence in your article reminded me of an idea a friend and I have had for a couple of years to combat the NRA. "[The President] highlighting the disproportion between America’s sky-is-falling sensitivity to the slightest potential risk that could be defined as 'terrorism' versus its blasé acceptance of unending home-grown killings." What if gun control advocates combined the two and exploited that terrorism sensitivity?
One evening, my friend, who happens to be of Indian and Sri Lankan descent, noted the potential hypocrisy of many Second Amendment supporters in that all hell would likely break loose if he walked the streets with an AR-15.
Over drinks, we imagined a video project whereby Muslim Americans legally purchase and carry firearms within the bounds of existing laws. However, maybe in the introduction they are wearing hijabs, maybe they are speaking Arabic, maybe they are praying to Mecca. And then with the help of body cameras, you can watch them purchase firearms at a gun show without a background check and maybe watch them buy 5 guns in a month. Pursuant to proper permit, you can watch them carry, either concealed or openly, such firearm(s) to their mosque, to the park or to the grocery store. Lastly, you can watch a group of Muslims Americans fire off hundreds of rounds a minute legally at a gun range.
Additional videos could feature other minority groups which many 2nd Amendment supporters might consider members of the scary "other". A 6'8'' African American male taking an assault rifle to a Black Panther meeting! A bandana and tattooed clad Mexican American with a gun in his low rider. The point being to highlight the deficiencies in the existing system with Americans that NRA members might fear, or at least not be sympathetic to. You can also explain how real undesirables, existing mass murderers or individuals with undocumented mental illness, exploited the system and/or stockpiled firearms and ammo.
If the videos got big enough, it would be interesting to see the NRA's response as supporting everyone's right to easy access to guns may alienate some of their members and supporters.
Both my friend and I are attorneys with young families so while we would actually like to undertake this labor intensive endeavor, there will likely never be the time.
I am a registered New York Republican. My father was in law enforcement for 40+ years and I grew up in a home with firearms, which were properly protected. I believe in the 2nd Amendment but obviously agree with your writings that there are reasonable restrictions that could and should be put in place to reduce the risk of mass shootings. A part of my humanity died on December 14, 2012 as a result of the shooting itself but also the failure to take any steps to prevent further bloodshed. I know it is underhanded to play off the biases of people but if it serves the greater good and results in less death and tragedy, I could look myself in the mirror.
Three years ago, after the then-latest horrific mass shooting (the one in Aurora, Colorado), I did a short, angry Atlantic item called “The Certainty of More Shootings.” It ended this way:
There will be more of these; we absolutely know it; we also know that we will not change the circumstances that allow such episodes to recur. I am an optimist about most things, but not about this. Everyone around the world understands this reality too. It is the kind of thing that makes them consider America dangerous, and mad.
After that came: the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, with six people killed; the shooting in a business office in Minneapolis, with six people killed; the shooting in a hair salon in Wisconsin, with three people killed; the Sandy Hook / Newtown elementary school massacre, with 27 children and teachers shot to death; the shooting at Santa Monica College in California, with five people killed; the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, with 13 people killed; the shooting at Ft. Hood in Texas, with three people killed (which was different from the earlier Ft. Hood shooting, with 13 people killed); the shooting at UC Santa Barbara, with 7 people killed; the shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, with nine people killed; the on-air shooting of two TV reporters in Virginia; yesterday’s shooting outside Roseburg, Oregon, with ten people killed; and of course the countless other gun-death episodes.
I agreed with every word, and with every point of furious emphasis, in President Obama’s powerful statement last night after the latest massacre, in Oregon: His anger at the ritual of saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the families” but doing nothing to prevent further such killings. His stress on America’s status as the only “advanced” society in which mass shootings are routine. His highlighting the disproportion between America’s sky-is-falling sensitivity to the slightest potential risk that could be defined as “terrorism” versus its blasé acceptance of unending home-grown killings. His clear, cold reminder that it is an ongoing political decision by America collectively not to do anything to prevent these killings.
For now, all I can add is views from readers. From one in Los Angeles:
The astonishing chart in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog today, showing that the likelihood of dying in a car crash is severely negatively correlated with education, makes me wonder if the same is true for dying in gun violence. I bet it is.
And I bet that's a major reason there is no serious public policy attempt to stop gun violence. If dying of gun violence were positively correlated with country club membership or levels of investment income, I bet there would be dramatic policy changes tomorrow. But when the victims are poorer, or younger, or less white - those with real power simply do not care. It's heartbreaking and wrong
In real-time chronicling mode, I am putting up this note before completing a search for graphs or studies on this point. I am sure that the reader’s supposition is right it comes to “routine” urban shootings. The mass murders in schoolyards, colleges, theaters, and shopping-malls are different, in making it easier for better-off Americans to think, that could have been me. Worse, that could have been my child. But evidently not enough people have made that imaginative leap to make a political difference.
From a reader in Florida:
I have a "modest proposal", ala Swift, as an attempt to get some cultural change in our our acceptance of gun violence.
Fully publicized unretouched crime scene photos. Think for just a second if we all could see what a hollow point did to the head of a child at Sandy Hook... or Aurora... or Umpqua or .... it might get some action.
If we want easy access weapons, we should see what they really do to a human body.
On one hand it's like making folks convicted of DUI's to watch crash movies, excepting that we in the popular culture haven't been convicted of a crime. But then, maybe, we all have been guilty of doing nothing for long enough. It's crazy, I know, but sane proposals haven't worked.
From another reader in Florida. An important backdrop point about his message, of course, is that the very sheriff in Oregon running the Roseburg investigation is himself a ferociously outspoken foe of gun-control laws. Here’s the Florida reader, with emphasis added:
There's a really important dynamic that I think gives arsenalists their political power. It's open law enforcement sympathy for the armed faction of American society against the unarmed.
Culturally, I think American law enforcement thinks of itself as protecting the 35 percent of armed Americans against the 65 percent who aren't. It's crazy; but I think it's true. That's because actual police generally come from the 35 percent of American households that own guns. And more importantly, I think most of them probably sympathize with arsenal owners because many of them own their own arsenals. (10+ guns)
As long as police rhetoric and sympathy rests with armed arsenalists and not the unarmed, nothing is going to change. Police overwhelmingly support the laws that allow our debased gun culture to thrive.
It's worth noting that mass shootings are good for the gun business, especially during Democratic administrations. It's similar to how Katrina was a great achievement for the anti-government right. We have got to stigmatize the "gun hustler" industry. We've got to stigmatize the business of arsenalists in a way that splits them from police.
A very long-term project. And we have to come up with the language of seediness and gangsterism, like "gun hustler," to do it. Or at least that's my take. So mass shootings, like street level brutality and the Drug War are all part of the same issue.
From another reader, on possible cultural / commercial pressures:
Ernest Hemingway bought a shotgun from Abercrombie & Fitch and then went home and shot himself. After that, A&F stopped selling guns.
It might be effective to start publishing the names of the gun manufacturer and retail store who sold that gun for each killing. Shame is not the best motivator but sometimes it can work. And a policy like that wouldn't require any legislation, just journalist initiative.
WalMart did of course decide to stop selling AR-15 rifles, cousin of the military’s M-16, earlier this year. Unfortunately it is hard to imagine gun-show vendors or local weapons shops being as responsive as the old A&F to a mainstream-media shaming campaign.
And, finally for today, perhaps the most sobering observation:
The problem isn't simply that we have too many guns in the US and that the barriers to acquiring one are so low; other countries such as Canada and Switzerland have comparable gun to population rates, and they do it without having a school massacre every year or two.
This school shooting phenomenon is distinctly American; it has become part of our culture, like it or not, one in which kids grow up being told they are the greatest thing on earth, one in which we have killed off all sense of humor for the sake of not offending anyone, one with very poor services for those with mental health problems, and one where now we've seen so many school massacres its well within our normal daily consciousness and cultural dialogue.
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.
Last year, John Eastman, whom CNN describes as an attorney working with Donald Trump’s legal team, wrote a preposterous memo outlining how then–Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the 2020 election by fiat or, failing that, throw the election to the House of Representatives, where Republicans could install Trump in office despite his loss to Joe Biden. The document, which was first reported by the Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their new book, is a step-by-step plan to overthrow the government of the United States through a preposterous interpretation of legal procedure.
Pence apparently took the idea seriously—so seriously, in fact, that, according to Woodward and Costa, former Vice President Dan Quayle had to talk him out of it. Prior to November, the possibility of Trump attempting a coup was seen as the deranged fever dream of crazed liberals. But as it turns out, Trump and his advisers had devised explicit plans for reversing Trump’s loss. Republican leaders deliberately stoked election conspiracy theories they knew to be false, in order to lay a political pretext for invalidating the results. Now, more than 10 months after the election, the country knows of at least five ways in which Trump attempted to retain power despite his defeat.
The Illinois representative thought the GOP was filled with democracy-loving internationalists. Now he sees the party as a corrupt shell of itself.
In each edition of my newsletter, I’ll bring readers inside The Atlantic, and discuss the issues that concern us the most. Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get future issues of Notes from the Editor in Chief.
Political courage is a fascinating phenomenon, particularly at moments when it is largely absent. Which is why I’m so interested in the imperiled career of Representative Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has described Donald Trump’s demagogy for what it is—a danger to the republic—and who possesses spine enough to excoriate members of his own party for succumbing to Trump’s imbecilic authoritarianism.
As Anne Applebaum described so well in her Atlantic cover story last year, “We all feel the urge to conform; it is the most normal of human desires.” Her essay, “History Will Judge the Complicit,” made the argument that collaboration, and not dissent, is the default posture of frightened humans, including and especially careerist politicians. Dissent can often lead to social and political death (and sometimes, physical death), and, as we’ve learned in the months following the insurrection of January 6, most Republicans would sooner cast people like Kinzinger into the wilderness than risk ostracism.
After last year’s eerie lull, flu viruses could be poised to return packing a bigger punch.
On Saturday morning, I finally rolled up my sleeve for the vaccine I’d been waiting for all summer: my annual flu shot, a technological marvel that I opt to receive every fall.
During non-pandemic times, the flu vaccine is a hot autumn commodity that holds a coveted place in the public-health spotlight. As of late, though, the shot’s been eclipsed by the prominence of its COVID-blocking cousins, fueled by debates over boosters and mandates. It’s also been a while since we’ve had to tussle with the flu directly. Thanks to the infection-prevention measures the world took to fight SARS-CoV-2 when the pandemic began, many other respiratory viruses vanished. Last winter, we essentially had “no flu season at all,” Florian Krammer, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, told me. The human attention span is short; the flu’s brief sabbatical might have purged it from our minds at an inopportune time.
These words came from an elderly woman sitting behind me on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The plane was dark and quiet. A man I assumed to be her husband murmured almost inaudibly in response, something to the effect of “I wish I was dead.”
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. I listened with morbid fascination, forming an image of the man in my head as they talked. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity, someone with unfulfilled dreams—perhaps of the degree he never attained, the career he never pursued, the company he never started.
Eventually we might all have to deal with COVID-19—but a shorter, gentler version, thanks to vaccines.
Boghuma Kabisen Titanji was just 8 years old when the hyper-contagious virus swept through her classroom. Days later, she started to feel feverish, and developed a sparse, rosy rash. Three years after being fully dosed with the measles vaccine, one of the most durably effective immunizations in our roster, Titanji fell ill with the very pathogen her shots were designed to prevent.
Her parents rushed her to a pediatrician, worried that her first inoculations had failed to take. But the doctor allayed their fears: “It happens. She’ll be fine.” And she was. Her fever and rash cleared up in just a couple of days; she never sickened anyone else in her family. It was, says Titanji, now an infectious-disease physician and a researcher at Emory University, a textbook case of “modified” measles, a rare post-vaccination illness so mild and unthreatening that it doesn’t even deserve the full measles name.
The jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of America’s local hierarchies.
American wealth and power usually have a certain look: glass-walled penthouse apartments in glittering urban skyscrapers, sprawling country mansions, ivy-covered prep schools, vacation homes in the Hamptons. These are the outward symbols of an entrenched oligarchy, the political-economic ruling class portrayed by the media that entertains us and the conspiracy theories that animate the darker corners of the American imagination.
The reality of American wealth and power is more banal. The conspicuously consuming celebrities and jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of the local hierarchies that govern daily life for tens of millions of people. Donald Trump grasped this group’s existence and its importance, acting, as he often does, on unthinking but effective instinct. When he crowed about his “beautiful boaters,” lauding the flotillas of supporters trailing MAGA flags from their watercraft in his honor, or addressed his devoted followers among a rioting January 6 crowd that included people who had flown to the event on private jets, he knew what he was doing. Trump was courting the support of the American gentry, the salt-of-the-earth millionaires who see themselves as local leaders in business and politics, the unappreciated backbone of a once-great nation.
The pandemic was a big social experiment that sent asthma attacks plummeting.
Nicole Lawson spent the beginning of the pandemic incredibly worried about her daughter, who has asthma. Five-year-old Scarlett’s asthma attacks were already landing her in the ER or urgent care every few months. Now a scary new virus was spreading. Respiratory viruses are known triggers of asthma attacks, and doctors also feared at the time that asthma itself could lead to more severe coronavirus infections. So Lawson’s family in Ohio hunkered down quickly and masked up often to keep Scarlett healthy.
The ensuing months, to everyone’s surprise, turned into “this beautiful year,” Lawson told me. Scarlett hasn’t had a single asthma attack. Not a single visit to the ER. Nothing. She’s breathing so much better, and all it took was a global pandemic that completely upended normal life.
On the day that SpaceX’s first space tourists launched, Elon Musk was there at Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, to see them off, cheering as the private astronauts walked to the Teslas that would take them to suit up. And after they landed safely, having orbited Earth about 45 times, Musk was there again to congratulate them in person.
The Inspiration4 mission marked SpaceX’s fourth successful human spaceflight, and a SpaceX official says the company wants to fly paying customers “three, four, five, six times a year at least.” In this era’s space race among private companies, Musk’s SpaceX pulled ahead on essentially every measure but one—giving the CEO a lift above the atmosphere. Branson did it, Bezos did it—so why hasn’t Musk himself flown yet?
Robert Malone claims to have invented mRNA technology. Why is he trying so hard to undermine its use?
Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on August 23, 2021
Robert Malone—a medical doctor and an infectious-disease researcher—recently suggested that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines might actually make COVID-19 infections worse. He chuckled as he imagined Anthony Fauci announcing that the vaccination campaign was all a big mistake (“Oh darn, I was wrong!”) and would need to be abandoned. When he floated that nightmare scenario during a recent podcast interview with Steve Bannon, both men seemed almost delighted at the prospect of public-health officials and pharmaceutical companies getting their comeuppance. “This is a catastrophe,” Bannon declared, beaming at his guest. “You’re hearing it from an individual who invented the mRNA [vaccine] and has dedicated his life to vaccines. He’s the opposite of an anti-vaxxer.”