Strategies for Dealing With Mass Shootings

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

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...


Why we don’t call it “terrorism.” Another reader:

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.