Link collection: America’s Gun Debate

In the last week or two I’ve read (or at least skimmed) a lot of interesting pieces on guns, gun crime, gun control, etc. Below are most of the links, listed in order of their publication date. I don’t necessarily agree with or endorse everything in each link (obviously, since some of them are directly contradicting each other), but they gave me a lot to think about, so I’m including them here if anyone else wants to read more.

Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings – National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2013; Study found that up to 77% of mass shootings did not involve an assault weapon or even a high capacity weapon.
Reducing Gun Violence in America – Center for Gun Policy and Research, 2013; This link is to an entire book. I read the forward, in which the authors make the following suggestions:

  1. Require background checks for all gun sales, including private sales at gun shows and online,
  2. Make gun trafficking a federal crime,
  3. Limit the availability of military-style weapons and of high-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds,
  4. Have all federal agencies to submit their relevant data to the national gun background check database,
  5. Have the Justice Department to make a priority of prosecuting convicted criminals who provide false personal information during gun purchase background checks,
  6. Make a recess appointment to get someone to head the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and
  7. Stop supporting the Tiahrt order, which keeps the public in the dark about who gun traffickers are and how they operate.

Guns and School Safety Survey Results – School Improvement Network, January 23, 2013; a little over 1 in 8 educators (13.5%) both own a firearm and would bring it to school if they were allowed to.
Guns In Schools: Firearms Already Allowed In 18 States With Few Restrictions – Huffington Post, March 17, 2013
Police Gun Control Survey: Are legally-armed citizens the best solution to gun violence? –, April 8, 2013;

  • 91% of LEOs didn’t believe an assault weapons ban would help,
  • 91% supported conceal and carry permits for civilians,
  • 86% believed casualties would be reduced at recent mass shootings if armed civilians had been present, and
  • 81% were in favor of arming teachers and school administrators who had been properly trained.

Colorado’s school shooting — over in 80 seconds – CNN, December 15, 2013; An armed Student Resources Officer responded immediately to a school shooter.

Comparing Death Rates from Mass Public Shootings and Mass Public Violence in the US and Europe – Crime Prevention Research Center, June 23, 2015
Here’s where you’re most likely to own a gun – Business Insider, July 3, 2015; Alaska has the highest percentage of gun ownership; Delaware has the lowest.

13 Charts Put America’s Gun Violence in Perspective – Independent Journal Review, January 8, 2016
Across the country, school districts are quietly arming teachers for the next shooting – The Washington Post, April 14, 2016
The Media Keeps Misfiring When It Writes About Guns – Slate, June 26, 2016
Texas school warns: Our teachers ‘may be armed and will use whatever force is necessary’ to protect students – The Washington Post, September 22, 2016
Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications – Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, October 15, 2016; Table 1 summarizes State Campus Carry laws
What Conservatives Get Right About Guns – GQ, October 28, 2016

America’s Complex Relationship With Guns – Pew Research Center, June 22, 2017
Illinois school where teacher took down gunman recently trained for active shooters – CBS, September 22, 2017; An unarmed teacher stopped a gunman.
How to Reduce Mass Shooting Deaths? Experts Rank Gun Laws – New York Times, October 5, 2017; Experts ranked assault weapons bans as slightly more effective than a ban on all semiautomatic guns.
6 Reasons Your Right-Wing Friend Isn’t Coming To Your Side On Gun Control – The Federalist, October 6, 2017
Supporters of stricter gun laws are less likely to contact elected officials – Pew Research Center, October 12, 2017

Background Checks Are Not the Answer to Gun Violence – New York Times, February 12, 2018
US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation – Mother Jones, February 14, 2018
Why The AR-15 Is America’s Rifle – NPR, February 15, 2018
“Fuck you, I like guns.” –, February 15, 2018
An ‘Assault Weapon’ Ban Won’t Stop Mass Shootings – Reason, February 15, 2018
How white nationalists fooled the media about Florida shooter – Politico, February 16, 2018
Disarming ‘Individuals With Mental Illness’ Would Affect a Quarter of the Population – Reason, February 16, 2018
Texas Teachers Can Pack Heat; Florida Lawmakers Pushing For Options – WFMY News, February 17, 2018
Gun Rights Expand Even as Mass Shootings Spur Calls for Stricter Laws – Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2018
A Cure for Mass Shootings Doesn’t Exist – Reason, February 18, 2018; The author explains why he doesn’t believe an assault weapons ban, background checks for private sales, and broadening the exclusion for mental health problems would curtail mass shootings.
Real Solutions for Curtailing Gun Violence – The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2018; The author suggests dramatically increasing penalties for stealing a firearm, enforcing laws against straw purchases of handguns, and finding practical, legal ways of stoppping people with mentall illness from purchasing firearms.
Mass Shooting Survivors Come Out Against Gun Control Too – The Jack News, February 22, 2018
In 2017, Americans narrowly opposed allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns – Pew Research Center, February 23, 2018
Poll: Support for stricter gun laws rises; divisions on arming teachers – CBS, February 23, 2018
The case against arming teachers – Vox, February 23, 2018
Sources: Coral Springs police upset at some Broward deputies for not entering school – CNN, February 24, 2018
What Critics Don’t Understand About Gun Culture – The Atlantic, February 27, 2018

Click on the image to go to the Pew Research Center’s report.

How difficult would it be to arm teachers?

Recently a friend of mine shared this post in which Jim Wright asks a few “basic questions” about how we would arm teachers. Wright suggests it would be essentially impossible to properly train teachers to respond to school shootings, saying even our soldiers aren’t trained to handle such a situation. He asks who will pay for the training, who the teachers will answer to, which weapons will be allowed, what insurance the school will acquire, and whether a teacher will be held liable for mistakenly shooting an innocent bystander or for failing to stop an active shooter. He claims “the hole is bottomless,” concluding:

I’m asking BASIC questions about this idea of arming up teachers and putting amateurs with guns in schools. Questions that any competent gun operator should ask. You want to put more guns, carried by amateurs, into a building packed full of children. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here.

Wright is reflecting the skepticism and indignance of many people. In particular some of my friends who are teachers have made posts clearly stating they do not want to carry weapons to school and are dismayed by the thought. More than one of them have shared this video in response.

Click the image to see the public video on Facebook.

Several go beyond saying they personally don’t want to carry weapons to asserting no one else should have firearms on school property either, often making demands along the lines “Don’t bring more guns into my school.”

Two quick notes on that last part:

  1. Assuming any increase in quantity of guns means an increase in danger seems simplistic to me. More guns can increase or decrease danger depending on who is carrying them and why. A gun in the hands of a kid hoping to kill as many people as possible is not equivalent to a gun in the hands of a trained Student Resources Officer or conceal carry permit holder hoping to keep as many people alive as possible.
  2. In this context, the phrase “my school” is off-putting. Schools don’t belong only to the teachers working in them; they also belong to the children attending and the parents of those children, especially when we are discussing the best ways to protect our children. I understand there are many parents who do not want armed school staff. And there are many parents who do, like me. My point here is not that the answer is simple, obvious, or unified; my point is teachers don’t have the only say in this debate.

Anyway, the objections to arming teachers seem to make several assumptions:

    1. We don’t have the resources to arm teachers.
    2. The logistics of arming teachers are too difficult to disentangle.
    3. Teachers don’t want to be armed.
    4. Armed teachers would make schools less safe, not more safe.

In terms of the law, as of May 2016, there were 17 states that banned conceal carry guns on college campuses; 1 state (Tennessee) banned students and the public from carryng guns on campus but allowed faculty members to do so; 8 states allowed conceal carry guns; and the remaining 24 states left the decision to the school. Of course this information is for only college campuses, not K-12 schools.

Given the option, many school districts already allow their teachers to be armed. This fact alone puts the first three assumptions to rest. Apparently resources, logistics, and desire were not dealbreakers in arranging to have armed school employees on campus. Here is an excerpt from a 2016 Washington Post article:

The Kingsburg Joint Union High School District in Kingsburg, Ca., is the latest district to pass such a measure. At a school board meeting on Monday, the Fresno Bee reported, members unanimously approved a policy that allows district employees to carry a concealed firearm within school bounds.

The employees will be selected by the superintendent, and will have to complete a training and evaluation process. The new policy was made effective immediately.

While proposals to arm teachers have been familiar refrains in Texas and Indiana, the passing of such a mandate on the West Coast signals that the strategy is being considered elsewhere in the country.

In fact, the Folsom Cordova Unified School District covering the cities of Folsom, Rancho Cordova and Mather, Calif., has allowed employees to bring guns to school since 2010, but only revealed the policy to parents last month.

Some people against the idea of arming teachers say it will create an intimidating environment for kids, but note Folsom Cordova’s school district allowed it for 5-6 years before anyone even knew about it. Arming teachers had so little impact on the daily school environment people couldn’t even tell it had happened.

In the wake of the most recent shooting, more school boards are following suit, voting unanimously to allow trained employees to carry concealed weapons.

People opposed to arming teachers seem to envision a bureaucratic and expensive process that results in an intimidating environment where teachers nervously walk the hallways with rifles over their shoulders. The reality is that arming teachers has so far consisted of allowing those who want to be armed to first get training and then either carry concealed weapons or keep weapons locked in safes. From what I can tell, the individuals who want to be armed cover the costs of the training, permit, and firearm themselves. Again, the school’s resources, logistics, and the teacher’s desire don’t seem to be issues.

To my mind, the only real issue is the question of whether allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons will overall increase or decrease student and staff safety. Despite how horrifying school shootings are, they are also exceedingly rare. And while I have no specific data on this, I suspect that even if firearms were permitted on all schools across the country, relatively few teachers and other school staff would choose to carry them. The odds seem very low of a school shooting happening in such a way that an armed staff member would even be present to react. Meanwhile, having legal guns on campus opens the door to accidental injuries. Some of my friends against armed school staff have posted stories about teachers forgetting their firearm or having it stolen while on school property. There’s a cost-benefit question here: if arming teachers increases the chances of accidentally injuring or even killing students but also increases the chances of saving lives during school shootings, how do we quantify those two factors and weigh them against each other?

I know of no hard data here. We do know that in our country, in general, guns are used more often in accidental deaths than in justifiable homicide. However we aren’t just considering accidental deaths but also accidental injuries, and we aren’t just considering justifiable homicide but also self-defense that involves injuring but not killing the shooter or even not firing the gun at all but brandishing it and getting the shooter to stand down. Additionally the overall statistics for the whole country include people who have received no training in the safe use and storage of firearms, whereas conceal and carry permits typically require training, and individual school districts could require further training as needed. Apparently there are quite a few school districts that have allowed armed staff for years, and I have not been able to find any stories of accidental deaths or even injuries from a teacher’s gun on school property.

Meanwhile, it is intuitive to me that if a teacher were to find herself in the position where there is a mass shooter attacking her or her students, both she and her students would have a greater chance of survival if she had a gun than if she did not. When Sandy Hook happened, I cried as I read in absolute horror about Lauren Rousseau and her first graders, completely trapped and defenseless. Even at the time I wondered if it would have been different if she had had a gun.

A note here: I don’t want the world we live in, the society we live in, to require first grade teachers to need guns. I don’t want there to be any guns on any school property at all. I don’t want children to have to do active shooter drills, or teachers to have to be trained to recognize gun shots, or parents to drop their kids off and worry if they will be safe each day. It’s awful. It’s infuriating and heartbreaking, and sometimes I can hardly stand to think about it.

But I also don’t think we have a way to 100% ensure that deranged or evil people will not be able to show up and try to kill as many unarmed teachers and children as possible. In fact, given our country’s unique relationship with guns, and our relatively unique 2nd amendment, I think preventing such shootings is ridiculously difficult. I still think we should try, but I don’t think our efforts to stem the death toll should be limited only to preventing shooters from showing up in the first place. I think we should also have efforts to address what innocent people can do if a shooter does show up.

As I write this post, a news story is breaking suggesting that not only did the School Resources Officer fail to engage Nicholas Cruz, but so did three additional deputies present during the shooting. All four officers remained outside the school while Cruz shot unarmed teachers and students. Some opponents to arming teachers point out that if even trained officers struggle to engage a mass shooter, how can we expect teachers to be able to handle it? But this question presumes that teachers get any choice; the reality is that if the shooter is already in the school and breaking into the classroom, the teacher will have to face the shooter anyway. And I can’t help but wonder: if police won’t engage the shooter, how can we disarm teachers and tell them to wait for the police?


Why Are We Addicted to Panic?

Photo by Charles Knowles.

Four days ago The Independent (an online UK magazine) ran this story: Bulletproof backpacks for children reflect a new reality in America. The article, and plenty like it, are leading to dramatic Facebook posts from or about teachers about how they help their high school students deal with the new reality that they might be gunned down in their schools at any time. Parents are afraid, kids are afraid, teachers are afraid, everyone seems to be afraid.

But why?

And no, I’m being earnest here. Why?

If there’s one topic that’s been prominent in media over the past few years, it’s been human irrationality. For a while there, “cognitive bias” threatened to become almost as much of a buzzword as “machine learning” has become, and it seemed like Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases was getting a new entry every day. Everyone in any academic discipline even tangentially related to how humans evaluate risk–evolutionary psychology, economics, finance, etc. etc.–had a new book or a new study that showed how bad humans are at evaluating risk.

Some of the most prominent cognitive biases studied in experiments and written about in the popular press include the availability heuristic and the recency effect. So we know–or at least we should know–that in the immediate wake of a horrific school shooting our cognitive biases are going to go into overdrive to exaggerate the threat. This isn’t unique to school shootings. We do the same thing with all kinds of dramatic/traumatic events, especially terrorism. More Americans died because of the shift from flying to driving in the wake of 9/11 than died in the attack themselves. The fear of terrorism was quite literally more deadly than actual terrorism.

This over-reaction to the threat of terrorism has had horrific consequences. Some have been felt here in the United States, including the erosion of civil liberties and a lamentably paranoid tinge to any discussion of immigration, but for the most part we (ordinary Americans) have been free to go about our lives because we have outsourced the cost of our fear-driven policies. We don’t pay the price. The small minority of Americans who volunteer to serve in the armed forces pay the price–including physical and mental trauma that no amount of yellow ribbons at home can compensate for–along with children killed in drone strikes, collateral damage from American interventionism, and desperate refugees who were barred a safe escape.

Now, in the wake of another awful school shooting, we’re witnessing again America’s masochistic addiction to panic and fear.

If you read an article like the one from The Independent or this one from The Cut or any of the thousands of emotional Facebook posts about how teachers and students shouldn’t have to fear for their lives just because they’re going to school, then you’d think we were suffering some kind of massive tidal wave of school shootings.

But what’s actually going on?

Enter Business Insider with their article: How likely is gun violence to kill the average American? The odds may surprise you. The centerpiece of the article is this chart, which compares lifetime odds (for Americans) of dying from various causes:

Right off the bat, the odds of dying in a school shootings are significantly lower than the kinds of deaths that we Americans don’t fear: car accidents, drowning, choking are all much more likely to end your life than a mass shooting. What’s even more interesting, to me, is that you are apparently more likely to die because a police officer killed you than because a mass shooter killed you.

However, a major problem with the Business Insider numbers is that they aren’t talking about school shootings, they’re talking about “mass shootings” with the definition of “any event where four or more victims were injured (regardless of death)”.

I went to Wikipedia and created two lists of my own. One of all the school shootings for 2015 – 2017 (the same years as the data available from the BI article) and another of all the school shootings that fit the popular perception of a school shooting. I called this narrowest category “mass school shootings” and I counted any shooting perpetrated by a student / former student resulting in at least 2 fatalities (other than the attacker) at a school. This table illustrates what the numbers look like using these three different categories:

From this, I’m able to calculate the lifetime odds of death from the two new categories: school shootings and mass school shootings. Compared to the 1 in 11,125 odds for any mass shooting, the odds of dying in a school shooting are 1 in 280,350 and the odds of dying in a mass school shooting are 1 in 934,500.

First, let me deal with a couple of quick math issues. These numbers are for all people. Obviously a random 70-year old is unlikely to be in a school and so is much, much less likely to die in a school shooting, and a high school student is (relative to some random 70-year old) much, much more likely. But if you want to do a relative comparison, then you should keep this list as-is. The only way to get the risk assessment for high school students (or all K-12 students, or all K – college students) would also be to look at their likelihoods of dying across all the categories. You’d see heart disease drop off the list, but you’d also see car accidents go much higher. So no: this is not scientific. These are what I’d call back-of-the-envelope calculations. And according to them, you’re more likely to die from being struck by lightning than from a school shooting (category #2) and the only things on the BI table less likely to kill you than a mass school shooting (category #3) is a regional asteroid impact or a shark attack.

Asteroids and shark attacks, people.

I know people are going to be mad at me for being insensitive, but maximum sensitivity isn’t always the right course. When you have a child–your own child or a kid that you’re responsible for–and they are afraid of something than your job as an adult is more than empathy. You can’t just share the child’s fear. You have to allay that fear when possible.

When my children were younger, they were really, genuinely afraid of dying in a tornado. We had moved from Virginia to Michigan and they heard the tornado sirens being tested every now and then, and so they were afraid. Part of my job was to empathize. Part of my job was also to allay their fears by explaining realistically that–while dangerous–tornados were not that common.

More recently, one of my children came to me and confided with a quaver of real fear in their voice that they thought they might have tetanus because “my jaw is starting to feel kind of tight.” This is funny to us, but my kid was really, truly scared and on the verge of tears. My job was not to participate in their fear. It also wasn’t to mock their fear. It was to empathize but–again–allay the fear.

Please note that this doesn’t mean I’m trivializing the devastation of an actual tornado. During the tornado outbreak of Dec 2015, 13 people were killed. Nothing about that is funny. Nothing about that is trivial. Tetanus isn’t a joke, either. Because of vaccinations, only a few people die in the US every year from tetanus, but historically it was a real killer and it continues to be a serious health concern in many parts of the world (especially India).

So I’m not trivializing terrorism when I point out that more people died from avoiding planes after 9/11 than died on 9/11. I’m not trivializing tetanus or tornados when I help allay my kids’ fears. And I’m not trivializing school shootings when I point out that our fears of them are vastly overblown.

Far from it. The reason I’m writing this is that it broke my heart to read a post from a friend on Facebook about how his wife (a teacher) could do nothing but share the fear and panic of her high school students. They are afraid, and she wasn’t able to offer anything substantive to combat that fear. I don’t blame her personally for that at all, but–as a society–we should be mature and sober enough to tackle risk and fear responsibly. We need to do better for our kids.

I think I know the answer to my question. I know why we’re addicted to fear. Some of it is human nature, as we mentioned already. Evolutionarily, risks are more important than rewards. But there’s more to it than that.

For one thing, fear is profitable. It drives traffic and donations. That explains most of what human nature alone cannot.

But I have my suspicions that it doesn’t explain everything. I wonder if human beings are calibrated to a certain degree of threat and risk in our lives. And–living in what is without any doubt the safest and most comfortable period of human history–it’s almost as though we are incapable of accepting that realty and intent on manufacturing risks and dangers we keep expecting to be there, but aren’t.

This post is not about gun control or even school shootings in particular.

It’s just about risk, and fear, and how we need to deal better with the fear if we want–individually and as a society–to find ways to batter manage risk.

Does Dallas prove “good guys with guns” is a lie?

After the sniper in Dallas killed five police officers, I saw several posts like this:

GGWG pieces

The idea is that there were not only armed police officers present but also citizens with open carry licenses, and yet all these “good guys with guns” didn’t stop the bad guy with a gun from killing people. That much is true. The people pointing this out then often conclude that good guys with guns won’t protect us. That much is false.

Of course if you mean good guys with guns can’t prevent bad guys with guns from hurting anyone ever again, yes, I agree. But I doubt most gun rights advocates believe or have made such an extreme claim. It’s not that good guys with guns will always be able to keep everyone safe; it’s that good guys with guns will be able to protect people more often than good guys without guns.

I think most people on both sides of the gun control debate recognize this to some extent, because almost everyone agrees the police (“good guys with guns”) should be armed. In fact, using Dallas to claim good guys with guns don’t protect us is especially interesting because both civilians and LEOs with guns weren’t able to stop the sniper. Yet gun control advocates are pointing to Dallas as a reason to disarm civlians only, not the police.

And, I mean, I agree that we definitely shouldn’t disarm the police. It seems clear to me that (1) a military-trained sniper is not representative of the dangerous people police are more typically up against, and (2) everyone would have been worse off if the police hadn’t had guns.

It’s true that civilians and LEOs with guns were unable to stop the sniper before he hurt anyone, but it’s false to suggest the guns were irrelevant or of no benefit, and it’s nonsensical to suggest that if good guys can’t protect people from a military-trained sniper, they can’t protect people in more typical situations. For example, just yesterday (also in Dallas incidentally), a legal gun owner with a pistol stopped a robber with an AK-47.


There are snippet self-defense stories like that regularly, but they don’t make nearly the media ripples that shootings make. I think that’s understandable to some extent: stories about things going right generally don’t get as much attention as stories about things going wrong, especially when things go really wrong. And there’s a matter of degree here too: in terms of media exposure, a snippet about a civilian stopping a robber might be parallel to a snippet about a robber shooting and wounding a single person. They’re both relatively minor stories. But what would the “good guy” equivalent be to stories about horrific mass shootings? Because a story about preventing a mass shooting doesn’t have nearly the media impact mass shootings have. But I digress.

Gun control advocates point out that if the sniper hadn’t had a gun, he couldn’t have done the damage he did. And I think they’re right. I think it’s obvious. I don’t find compelling the gun rights arguments that imply people can be just as dangerous with knives or baseball bats or whatever as they are with guns.

But while I also wish the sniper hadn’t had a gun, it’s not clear to me what the solution is, for two main reasons. (1) Gun ownership is a Constitutional right, so, absent amending the Constitution, gun control measures can’t undermine that right. (2) The measures would have to effectively stop people from obtaining guns illegally, at least at a level that would make up for stopping “good guys with guns” from being able to protect themselves and others from “bad guys with guns.”

I’m open to the possibility that there are gun control measures that can accomplish both of these feats, it’s just not clear to me right now what those measures would be. I think I’ll save that topic for future posts.

Citizen stops potential mass shooter, Snopes quibbles.

Gotta say I’m pretty pissed at Snopes about this one.

Jody Ray Thompson shoots into a crowd, injuring three. Then a citizen with a conceal carry permit shoots Thompson. Now one side says the  citizen “stopped a mass shooting.”

When people quote the outrageous number of mass shootings that have happened in a short time frame, they’re usually using the (FBI-derived) definition of “mass shooting”: “FOUR or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.”

So Thompson shot three people and was stopped. He didn’t reach the level of a mass shooting (four people), but he was as close as you can get when he was stopped. So it seems pretty reasonable to say the citizen who shot him “stopped a mass shooting.”

But Snopes isn’t so sure, because now, for some reason, they’re defining “mass shooting” as: “one or more gunmen deliberately setting out to indiscriminately kill multiple randomly-selected victims.” [Emphasis added.] Snopes goes on to claim it’s unclear Thompson intended to kill anyone. So is it really a “mass shooting”?

Snopes even has a previous article discussing the different definitions of “mass shooting,” and, spoiler, none of the definitions they review discuss motive.  Yet in this Thompson article they assert that motive is “typically” part of the definition. Just not typical enough to have been mentioned in their article about mass shooting definitions.

It was annoying enough that I could only find this story on Fox and Washington Times (traditionally conservative outlets) and no other major outlets. Even more annoying that Snopes would grasp at straws so hard to avoid simply marking the story as “true.” Snopes in a nutshell:

Well technically I guess a legal gun owner stopped another dude from shooting more people but the shooter wasn’t a psychopath per se, so this is iffy.

What a bunch of crap.

Left: Playoffz night club where the shooting occurred. Right: Jody Ray Thompson, the shooter.
Left: Playoffz night club where the shooting occurred.
Right: Jody Ray Thompson, the shooter.

Mass Shootings and Missing White Woman Syndrome

Girls' rifle team at Central High, Washington, DC. November 1922. (Wikimedia Commons)
Girls’ rifle team at Central High, Washington, DC. November 1922. (Wikimedia Commons)

I haven’t posted anything about gun control in the middle of this most recent medley of outrage. This is primarily because I haven’t seen anything that looks remotely like a rational debate in which I could participate. It’s also because I’ve written on this topic at great length already, and there is not a whole lot new to add.

It’s not that I’m opposed to considering new policies to solve the problems of widespread gun ownership. Nope, the problem is that I find most of the folks who are calling for greater gun control are suggesting the wrong solutions to the wrong problems.

The degree of irresponsibility this time around has been particularly shocking. The most prominent example of this is the way that the media has adopted a completely baseless definition of “mass shooting” to sensationalize the issue. You’ve probably heard that there have been “more mass shootings than days this year” or something similar. All those articles are using data assembled by the Mass Shooting Tracker website. Their definition is, shall we say, non-standard: it includes any shooting in which at least four people are injured. The FBI definition is more stringent: a shooting in which there are at least 4 fatalities. The database maintained by Mark Follman and Mother Jones is even more narrow: it excludes attacks related to gang violence or domestic violence. Follman explains this logic in a piece for the New York Times:

While all the victims are important, conflating those many other crimes with indiscriminate slaughter in public venues obscures our understanding of this complicated and growing problem. Everyone is desperate to know why these attacks happen and how we might stop them—and we can’t know, unless we collect and focus on useful data that filter out the noise.

German Lopez of Vox (which uses the Mass Shooting Tracker data) thinks Follman is being silly for caring so much about specific definitions: “this entire debate is ridiculous. A shooting is a shooting.” But of course, if that were true, Lopez would have to deal with the fact that gun deaths in America are in a steep decline. According to the Pew Research Center, “Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew.” I’m not saying the current level is acceptable, I’m just saying that  there is no possible way for a person to simultaneously believe “a shooting is a shooting” and also believe that we’re in some kind of unprecedented crisis. Follman has a point: mass shootings (narrowly defined) are on the rise. Lopez—and anyone else jumping on the Mass Shooting Tracker bandwagon—has nothing but hand-waving and posturing.

752 - Gun Homicide Decline

So, if gun violence is actually at historical lows and on the decline, why are gun control advocates convinced that we’re facing some kind of massive epidemic? After all, the New York Times ran a front-page editorial for the first time in almost 100 years to support gun-control. What explains such an extreme reaction?

One theory: missing white woman syndrome:

Missing white woman syndrome is a phrase used by social scientists and media commentators to describe the extensive media coverage, especially in television, of missing person cases involving young, white, upper-middle-class women or girls. The phenomenon is defined as the media’s undue focus on upper-middle-class white women who disappear, with the disproportionate degree of coverage they receive being compared to cases of missing women of other ethnicities and social classes, or with missing males of all social classes and ethnicities.

Although missing white woman syndrome is primarily about kidnapping cases, “it is sometimes used to describe the disparity in news coverage of other violent crimes.”

So, to be perfectly plain about it, mass shootings are sensational because the victims are often white, often middle or upper-class, suburban and–relative to homicide rates in general–female. Crime might be down overall, but who cares? If college students and suburban white kids can be killed, then we have a crisis.

It’s not just the perception of the problem that is skewed by race and class, but also the proposed solutions. You see, there are policies that have been tried and found to be effective in combating urban violence. But no one seems to know or care about such initiatives, leading The New Republic to run an article to explain “why no one in Washington—not even President Obama—will embrace a program that could actually reduce gun violence.” Lois Beckett points out that “America’s high rate of gun murders isn’t caused by events like Sandy Hook or the shootings this fall at a community college in Oregon. It’s fueled by a relentless drumbeat of deaths of black men.” He then went on to talk about a program called Ceasefire. It isn’t new and it isn’t sexy, but “in Boston, the city that developed Ceasefire, the average monthly number of youth homicides dropped by 63 percent in the two years after it was launched.” The US Department of Justice has officially labeled it “effective.”

If “a shooting is a shooting”, and if the highest rates of crime are in inner cities, and if the disproportionate rate of murder victims are black Americans, and if we have a proven program to reduce those crimes… why isn’t anyone talking about them?

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Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney quoted in Beckett’s article, has a pretty simple hypothesis:

I think that people in those communities are perceived as not sufficiently important because they don’t vote, they don’t have economic power. I think there’s some racism involved. I don’t think we care about African-American lives as much as we care about white lives.

So the problem is misdiagnosed, and the most promising solutions are ignored. But it gets worse than that. The reality is that the proposed “common sense” gun regulations will have basically no impact on mass shootings whatsoever. For example, Marco Rubio recently stated that “None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented them.” The Washington Post fact-checked his claim and ended up giving out “a rare Geppetto Checkmark.”

The idea of “common sense” gun regulation coming to the rescue is a politically convenient fiction. It is designed to appeal to moderate voters, but it’s just an empty slogan. The only kinds of gun laws that would have any kind of impact would have to involve a massive reduction in the number of firearms currently in circulation with a forced buyback and stric enforcement. But those laws are guaranteed to be enforced in unequal ways, a point that Ross Douthat made on Sunday:

I suspect liberals imagine, at some level, that a Prohibition-style campaign against guns would mostly involve busting up gun shows and disarming Robert Dear-like trailer-park loners. But in practice it would probably look more like Michael Bloomberg’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, with a counterterrorism component that ended up heavily targeting Muslim Americans. In areas where gun ownership is high but crime rates low, like Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, authorities would mostly turn a blind eye to illegal guns, while poor and minority communities bore the brunt of raids and fines and jail terms.

If that sounds at all farfetched you simply need to ask yourself this question: has the War on Drugs had a disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities? Then what makes you think a War on Guns would be any different?

Nor is this hypothetical. The history of gun control is a primarily racist history in which gun control was used as a pretext to disarm African Americans to make them easier targets. The Atlantic covered this thoroughly in an article called The Secret History of Guns, noting that “no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement.”

And let me just end with a note about how spectacularly bad some of the proposed new “common sense” regulations are. In his address to the nation, President Obama doubled down on the idea of using the terrorist watch list to screen gun purchases. This sounds entirely reasonable for about a second or two. After that, however, you might remember that—before it was brought up in this context—the terrorist watch list showed up in the news only in story after story of how horrifically mismanaged and unfair it was. This is the same terrorist watchlist that contained 72 Department of Homeland Security employees, a finding that led the DHS director to resign. Even ThinkProgress thinks it’s a terrible idea. Aviva Shen quoted Marco Rubio in The Problem With Banning Guns From People On The Terrorist Watch List:

The majority of the people on the no-fly list are oftentimes people that just basically have the same name as somebody else, who doesn’t belong on the no-fly list. Former Senator Ted Kennedy once said he was on a no-fly list. There are journalists on the no-fly list.

It’s not just a matter of plain bureaucratic incompetence, however. Ken White pointed out the philosophical problems with the idea for Popehat:

Last night the President of the United States — the President of the United States — suggested that people should be deprived of Second Amendment rights if the government, using secret criteria, in a secret process using secret facts, puts them onto a list that is almost entirely free of due process or judicial review. Because we’re afraid, because they could be dangerous was his only justification; he didn’t engage the due process issue at all.

Do I even need to point out that this list is also guaranteed to skew along ethnic and religious lines? The exact same folks who are horrified by Donald Trump’s bigotry don’t seem to realize that a proposal like adding the terrorist watchlist to the background check is basically a backdoor method of accomplishing the same kind of religiously-based stripping of civil liberties from American citizens.

This is what passes for “common sense” regulation? Clearly some people are using the phrase “common sense” in novel and fascinating ways.

To recap: gun violence is ignored when it effects primarily young black men, but when it happens in suburban schools or movie theaters it is a crisis that demands swift and thorough response. Anti-violence programs with a proven record of lowering gun crime where it is worst—in inner cities—and thereby saving the lives of young black men are also ignored. Instead, we hear about “common sense” gun regulations that sound reassuring but would help no one and end up (you guessed it) further compounding the systematic inequalities in our society that target the poor and minorities.

The left is very, very good at sniffing out the faintest whiff of white privilege from the right, but—when it comes to handling the gun issue—it’s time to say: physician, heal thyself.

Missing Fathers and Mass Killers

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Damon Linker has a good piece about the violence of mass shootings: Men and mass murder: What gender tells us about America’s epidemic of gun violence. Most perpetrators of violence in all societies (this is one of those social universals) are men, and mass shooters are no exception: “Murder is an overwhelmingly male act, with the offender proving to be a man 90 percent of the time the person’s gender is known. When it comes to mass shootings, the gender disparity is even greater, with something like 98 percent of them perpetrated by men.”

So, first there’s a connection between men and mass shootings. Then Linker goes one step farther and links a particular male response to perceived grievance:

Men and women both experience righteous indignation, of course. But there may be something specific about masculinity — perhaps its deep ties to irrational pride — that leads some men to experience a perceived injustice (and especially a string of them) as an excruciating personal humiliation that cries out not just for redress but for revenge. In this way, wounded pride provokes some men to lash out in a violent fury at their fellow human beings as a way of striking back at the intolerable injustice of the world.

And then he stops. Which is a shame. He should have kept going.

Because there’s another trait that mass shooters have in common: fatherlessness. Peter Hasson covered this for The Federalist: Guess Which Mass Murderers Came From A Fatherless Home. He cites a Brad Wilcox National Review article from 2013 (Sons of Divorce, School Shooters) in which Wilcox says:

From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s ‘list of U.S. school attacks’ involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.

Let me pull in just one more article and then make some final observations. This one is from Sue Shellenbarger in the WSJ: Roughhousing Lessons From Dad. Shellenbarger starts out with an incredibly important observation:

There is no question among researchers that fathers who spend time with their children instill self-control and social skills in their offspring.

If you could name just two traits to lessen the likelihood that a young man ever considers school shootings as the solutions to his life’s problems, these would be the two traits. Social skills to avoid a lot of the alienation and failure that engenders the grievances in the first place, and to help these young men find constructive ways to deal with those grievances that do arise. And self-control to ensure that any grievances which cannot be ameliorated do not become a basis for action.

Everyone wants to find the one solution that’s going to solve school shootings. There isn’t one solution. No complex social problem has a simple, easy solution. In particular, gun control debates basically do nothing but make people angry and waste our time. That’s not to say that we should not change our gun laws. There are actually very good arguments–philosophical and practical–for changing gun laws. School shootings, however, are not among those arguments. The basic reason for this is straightforward: most school shootings are premeditated. This means the killer has lots of time to acquire a gun. Most do so legally, passing background checks (which can’t screen for crimes you haven’t committed yet) and following all applicable laws. Those that do not, have the time and the means to acquire them illegally. So the only gun control laws that would do anything are gun control laws that would significantly decrease the availability of guns in the long term. Considering that there are more firearms than human beings in this country, nothing short of a massive, nation-wide confiscation program is going to put a dent in the practical availability of firearms, and therefore nothing that falls short of that is going to have a meaningful impact on the specific type of crime we’re talking about here.Such a sweeping change is not on the table.

Now, I understand a lot of folks will want to push back and insist that there are common sense changes we can make that will help at least a little bit. There really aren’t. Not when it comes to school shootings. When it comes to other gun-related problems–from suicide to gang violence–there is certainly a lot to talk about. I’m not trying to shut down the debate by claiming that laws don’t matter. Obviously, in general, they do. But in the specific case of school shootings–due to the nature of the attacks and the attackers–most incremental changes will have no effect. Add a waiting period? These guys are planning their attacks months or years in advance anyway. Close the gunshow loophole? Most of the shooters acquired their guns by going through the background check process. They didn’t need the loophole. Ban assault weapons? Almost all attacks use handguns anyway, including the deadliest. Reduce the magazine capacity? There is no practical difference in lethality–when attacking unarmed civilians–between a standard 15-round magazine and a low-capacity 10-round magazine. The deadliest school shooter used a mixture of 19 pre-loaded 10- and 15-round magazines. If they’d all been 10-round magazines, he would have maybe carried a few more and maybe reloaded a little more often. (It takes less than a second or two.)

So if you want to debate gun policy: that’s fine. There is lots to talk about. But insisting that incremental policies will have an effect in this particular case is just wishful thinking. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality.

But that doesn’t mean we are helpless to do anything. It just means that laws are not the solution to all social problems. I don’t think that that should really be a revelation, but in some sense it is. We love politics because it’s a spectator sport. It has a score. It has winners and losers. It has teams, and traditions, and tribes, and flags, and symbols, and so naturally it occupies a huge amount of our attention. Too much, I think.

The older I get, the more I think that it’s the quiet, informal, decentralized aspects of our society that are the most important. The traditions, the habits, the expectations, and the attitudes of a people matter a lot more than their laws. And there is room for us to make changes there. The only problem is that, because they happen at the individual level, they are not connected to an exciting sports spectacle. And, in addition, there is really no guarantee that our efforts will have any impact. But I think it’s the only thing that can really help maintain the aspects of our society we cherish and restore or fix the aspects that are broken.

I already posted about the danger of glorifying the mass killers. That’s not a legal change. That’s not a policy change. That’s a social change. It’s enough people–one at a time–deciding to turn off 24-hour cable news coverage, steer clear of clickbait and rumors and conspiracy theories, and opt out of lurid headlines full of details about the killers: their names, their pictures, their backgrounds, their manifestos, all of it.

Even bigger than that is the crisis of fatherlessness in our society. Kids need parents. They need mom. They need dad. We as a society have to figure out how to stem the tide of kids growing up without the irreplaceable guidance and influence of their fathers. We’re paying an incredibly high price for a lax attitudes about sex and parental responsibility that have time and time again placed the interests of adults above the interests of children. As time goes on, that price tag is only going to get higher. School shootings are just one particular symptom.


Mass Shootings and Heroes

There was another school shooting yesterday, this time at a community college in Oregon. There are all kinds of rumors and arguments flying around Facebook. For the most part, that just makes me want to turn off my computer for the day. But there is one thing I want to share first.

Almost exactly one year ago, Mother Jones published an article summarizing research concluding that “Rate of Mass Shootings Has Tripled Since 2011.” I’ve read the research claiming that the rate has actually not increased and, after reading the article in Mother Jones, I am convinced that this new research is correct. The rate of mass shootings (“attacks that took place in public, in which the shooter and the victims generally were unrelated and unknown to each other, and in which the shooter murdered four or more people”) has increased dramatically.

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This chart shows that the time between mass shootings has gone from about 200 days to about 60.

The data strongly indicates that “the underlying process has changed.” Meaning: something is different now than prior to 2011 that is leading to this increased rate of mass shootings.

Gun laws are not a plausible explanation because they have not changed significantly (at the federal or at the state level) during this time frame. That statement is not an argument either for or against changes to existing gun laws. Just because gun laws didn’t cause the rate of attacks to increase does not mean that newer, tighter gun laws couldn’t in theory prevent some of these attacks. This post is not about gun control one way or the other. It is about something else.

I have argued strongly that the way we cover these attacks is a major factor in encouraging future attacks. The media leads with front-page photos of the killers, burns their names into the national consciousness, and implicitly ranks the tallies of their victims like a perverse score board and we the American people eat it up. We tune in, we click links, we debate, and again and again and again we repeat the killers’ names.

There is no hard data linking media coverage to the rate of killings, and due to the nature of these events there probably never will be. But the circumstantial evidence is quite strong. These killers often (not always, but often) talk about their desire for fame, for attention, for a sense of affirmation that their lives matter, and they know how to get that recognition because the media has promised to put their names and likenesses up in neon lights if they are willing to kill enough people to earn it.

This time is no exception. As the Daily Beast notes, the most recent killer paid close attention to media coverage of the last sensationalized murder (when a disgruntled former news anchor killed two of his old colleagues on live television) and wrote just over a month ago:

On an interesting note, I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. . . A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.

Read that. Look at the Mother Jones chart again. Is the sudden increase in the rate of killings really that surprising? This is a textbook example of a positive feedback loop: each successive mass shooting elevates the topic in our national consciousness, leading to more and more coverage, and that coverage in turn motivates more and more killers to take their shot at “the limelight.” The question is: how long are we going to allow this to continue? Have we gotten our fill yet?

There are signs that we have. The Daily Beast article is a wonderful example whose time has come. This is the headline: Forget Oregon’s Gunman. Remember the Hero Who Charged Straight at Him. The article does not mention the full name of the killer. It does not include a photo of him. It does not make him into a star. Instead, it focuses on Chris Mintz, an army veteran who was shot five times during the attack while charging the killer head on in an attempt to stop the attack. It was Mintz’s son’s birthday, and that is what he kept repeating to himself again and again as another student (training to be a nurse) held his hand and prayed with him while they waited for the ambulances to arrive. Mintz is still alive, recovering in the hospital after surgery, although a friend says Mintz may have to learn to walk again.

This is the kind of coverage we need. Michaely Daly and Kate Briquelet, who wrote the article, should be commended. The subtitle of the article is simply “reward courage,” and that’s what he did. While journalists all over the country are going to start the inevitable scramble to unearth every last rumor and irrelevant detail about the killer’s life and fill articles with inane quotes from neighbors and fellow students, Daly instead interviewed the friends and family of a heroic father who risked his life in an attempt to stop a murderer. The Daily Beast should be commended for running this article. Instead of plastering the Internet with photos of an attention-seeking murderer (which is to say: rewarding a murderer), they ran photos of Mintz like this one as their cover image:

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I’m not trying to short-circuit the debate on gun control that will follow. Gun control is an important issue and worth our time to discuss. I’m also not trying to advocate for censorship or burying the truth.

I’m just saying maybe we don’t need so much coverage so quickly so focused on the bad guy. Maybe we write about the good guys, like Daly did. Maybe we just have a little less coverage and spaced out a little more. Right now, 1/2 of what you read about this event is going to turn out to be false anyway. Why are we so desperate to study rumors? Do we really need to watch more completely uninformative aerial footage of hospitals and cars with blinking lights while reporters desperately peddle rumors, guesses, and ignorant analysis? Within a couple of weeks we will likely have a much clearer account of what happened and–to the extent that it is possible–why. If you can’t wait that long to learn the facts, then you may want to examine your own motives. Is it concern for the victims and for possible future victims? Or is it just tragedy voyeurism (using the horrific details of tragedy just to titillate) or outrage porn (turning tragedy into fuel for your pre-existing political self-righteousness)?

Stop rewarding murderers. Start rewarding courage.

The Charleston Attack Was Terrorism

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The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Original photo by Cal Sr: Used under Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Less than 48 hours ago, a mass shooting took place at the historic  Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. Since then I have read many articles, Tweets, and statuses about this tragic attack. And, while there is still a lot we do not know, we do know this much: this was a terrorist attack motivated by racism and white supremacist ideology. From the Wikipedia entry:

Dylann Storm Roof (born April 3, 1994) was named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the suspected killer… One image on his Facebook page shows him in a jacket decorated with the flags of two former nations noted for their white supremacist policies, apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia… According to his roommate, Roof expressed his support of racial segregation in the United States and had intended to start a civil war…He also often claimed that “blacks were taking over the world”. Roof reportedly told neighbors of his plans to kill people, including a plot to attack the College of Charleston, but his claims were not taken seriously.

Before opening fire, Roof spent nearly an hour with the Bible study group. According to Gawker, “Roof told police he ‘almost didn’t’ kill nine people at Emanuel AME Church Wednesday night ‘because everyone was so nice’ to him,” but eventually he said “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” With that, he opened fire “while shouting racial epithets” on the 12 unarmed worshipers. He killed nine of them and intentionally left one survivor. Two others, one a five-year old child, survived by pretending to be dead. During the carnage, he reloaded five times.

Roof was caught yesterday morning after being tipped off by Debbie Dills, who is white. Dills spotted him on her way to work in North Carolina, called her boss (who called police), and then tailed Roof for another 35 miles until police arrived and arrested him. Roof waived his extradition rights and was brought back to South Carolina where conservative Republican governor Nikki Haley has called for prosecutors to pursue the death penalty. I mention the race of Dills and the politics of Haley for a simple reason: I am deeply saddened that many people, perhaps because they are accustomed to the terminology of Critical Race Theory, seem to believe that the kind of white supremacy behind Roof’s actions is endemic within American society, or at least among white conservatives. It is not. I do not say this to defend political allies, but in the interests of bridging wounds.

I believe we are all in this together. I will not pretend for a moment that we all suffer from racism or sexism or other forms of intolerance and bigotry equally. Clearly we do not, and the long history of violent racial terrorism in the South–which is my home–should not be whitewashed or ignored. I do not believe that we should assume Roof was a lone wolf without first conducting an aggressive investigation to determine what group–if any–lent him material support or advocated his heinous course of action. Calls to take down the Confederate flag are legitimate. So are calls for white people–even those horrified by this action–to engage in some soul-searching about how we view white killers vs. black killers in the mainstream media.

I want to make it clear that in my view there is nothing ambiguous about who Roof is or what he has done. He is a monster who committed an atrocity. I am concerned that there are those who–in understandable shock and outrage, perhaps–believe that Roof has far more allies or sympathizers than he actually does . I am worried that an act like this–which, although the black community obviously bears the tragic cost directly–somehow will be seen as political when it is not. In addition to the personal tragedy faced by the victims and their families, this is a blow struck against the dream of equality and tolerance and understanding, and that is a dream that I believe can be shared (or sometimes neglected) by all Americans.

I pray for Roof to face justice, for his victims to be able to find some measure of peace, and also for us as a nation to find a way to draw closer together rather than farther apart.

In Which Guns Save Lives

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I haven’t written about guns and gun control in a long time. In part, this is a sad indictment of American politics: we talk about gun control pretty much exclusively in the wake of some horrific massacre (here or abroad) and, other than that, pretty much not at all. It’s not just gun policy that is addressed in this haphazard, sensationalist way, of course. It’s basically everything in American politics–short of a few issues that have movements behind them to give them perennial visibility–that basically ping-pong between utter obscurity and nauseating sensationalism.

But two events from earlier this month brought the issue to mind, and I at least wanted to note them. The first is the massacre that did not take place in Texas on May 3, 2015. ISIS later claimed credit for this attack, making it the first ISIS-backed terrorist attack on US soil. I’m not really sure why they claimed credit, however, because the attack was shortlived and no one died except the would-be mass murderers. A contest was being held, attended by a sparse crowd of about 75, to see who could come up with the best cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammad, and two men drove up, got out of their car, and opened fire with semi-automatic rifles at a security guard in an attempt to gain entrance. Instead, the security guard drew his handgun and shot  both attackers to death. No one else was killed, although another unarmed security guard was lightly wounded by the attackers.

Breitbart drew a straight line between the failed attack in Texas and the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of this year, noting that “When armed terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo headquarters over Muhammad cartoons on January 7, unarmed police officers were forced to flee for their lives.” I’m not really thrilled at the glee with which some conservatives embraced this story. It’s hard to reconcile fear of a militarized police force with sneering condescension at our European neighbors for having unarmed police. Still, the story does underscore one sad reality: the only short-run response to a violent attack is with more, better violence.

The second example is even more interesting. As Business Insider reports, “An Uber driver with a concealed handgun prevented a mass shooting in Chicago.” The city of Chicago is, of course, known for both its horrific gun violence and also its draconian anti-gun laws. These laws made it the focus of the SCOTUS case McDonald v. Chicago which held that the 2nd Amendment (like other Constitutional rights) applies at the state level.

Gun control advocates openly scoffed at the idea that a concealed carry permit holder would ever be able to stop a crime in progress, suggesting that the only thing that would happen would be more fatalities. And yet the Uber driver in Chicago fired 6 shots, hit the target multiple times, and nobody else was injured. The list of mass shootings stopped by a civilian just got a little longer.

In some ways it’s fitting that Charlie Hebdo come up in this conversation. Like a lot of people, I preferred to say “We are Ahmed” rather than “We are Charlie” in the days following the attack. I support the right of free speech, but some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo made me support that right with a grimace rather than a smile. The same goes for guns. There is nothing happy or beautiful in the act of killing, even when the motives are noble and the violence is necessary. The fundamental right to self-defense is one I support in both theory and in practice, but it’s never been something I can be unreservedly excited about.