Dave Petzal on the Aurora Shooting

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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38 Responses

  1. I fear we have edged just a little too close to the world depicted in this book.Report

  2. Dan Miller says:

    Man, it’s a good thing that Canada (and other OECD countries) don’t have such a surplus of hard hearts. Maybe we should figure out what they’re doing differently–sensitivity training?


  3. scott says:

    We in the US are starting to see the result of 50 years of liberal social policies.Report

    • North in reply to scott says:

      Gosh! James Foster in 1891 and Andrew Kehoe in 1927 must have been usin them there liberal time machines to go back and carry the results of liberal social polities into the conservative golden years. Honestly old boy, how can a person in this age of google et all still say something so foolish?Report

      • Scott in reply to North says:

        I’m not claiming that the US has never suffered from mass killings. I would argue that their frequency has increased and that is related to lack of respect for life, lack of personal responsibility, etc, that the last 50 years of liberal social policies have encouraged.Report

        • North in reply to Scott says:

          Looking at the frequency over the last century or so I’m not convinced that the intentions have gotten any worse over the years; just the ability to do harm has heightened.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to North says:

            Frequency HAS gone up, however we’re talking 10 mass-murders from 1900-1913 and 18 shootings from 2000-2013.Report

            • Rod in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              But normalize that for population and I’m pretty sure it’s gone down. A lot.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Rod says:

                So then I assume that means you believe our current regime of gun laws is more than adequate if it has reduced the number that much?Report

              • Rod in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                I thought I made it clear that I’m not flogging for more gun restrictions. Anyway, I really doubt that our existing restrictions had much to do with the reductions in any case. Spree killings are random enough events, following something like a Poisson distribution, that discerning meaningful trends, much less establishing correlations or causation is dicey. A little bit of signal in a lot of noise.

                It’s just that statistic popped out at me as less than meaningfully constructed.Report

  4. Fnord says:

    In 1927, Andrew Kehoe set off bombs in a Michigan school, killing 45 (including himself) and injuring 58.

    In 1929, Leung Ying, armed with a rifle and a hatchet, killed 11 people and injured 4, in California before fleeing the scene in a car belonging to one of his victims.

    In 1946, William Smith, a seaman on a US Navy ship, killed 7 people and wounded 3 with a pistol and a carbine before he was disarmed and knocked out.

    In 1949, Howard Unruh killed 13 people with a pistol in the street and businesses around his New Jersey home before being cornered and eventually surrendering to police.

    Wikipedia’s list of spree killers in the Americas has an entry from 1863. Details are sketchy, but it references a newspaper article that describes a man named Cornell attacking people with an axe in California, apparently killing 3 and seriously injuring a further 5 before being killed himself.Report

  5. Aaron says:

    The question of whether there are spree or mass killings in other countries (there are, even in nations with gun control), or spree or mass killings at various points in history that were effected through means other than guns, is not particularly relevant to the question of whether or not gun control can reduce the number of such killings or, on the whole, the number of casualties involved. If you control for enough factors, perhaps such a comparison can be relevant to a cost-benefit analysis: do the costs of increased gun control, borne by law-abiding citizens, outweigh the benefits that might be obtained through reduced gun crime.

    The notion that human nature has suddenly changed, and that we’re not exploring what issues in society might have contributed to the assumed change in human nature? That seems like a red herring. We’ve had depraved killers throughout human history, spree, serial, mass… and no evidence is offered of any actual change in human nature.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Aaron says:


      Here’s what is interesting about US history though. During the two times in the 20th century when we had the most upheaval, we had less than half the number of mass murders that we have seen so far this millenium.

      Great Depression / WWII (1930-1945) – 7 mass murders

      Vietnam Era / Social Change (1960-1975) – 8 mass murders

      New Millenium (2000-2012) – 18 mass murdersReport

      • Fnord in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Put another way:
        Mass killings per hundred million population (based on the 1940, 1970, and 2010 censuses):
        1930-45: 5.3
        1960-75: 3.9
        2000-12: 5.8

        Mostly, I see random variation.Report

  6. North says:

    It’s a good thoughtful quote Mike but I fear the assertion that this kind of spree killing is a modern development is an utter canard. The spree killers seem to have always been with us; they just used rocks, then sticks, then spears, then guns.Report

  7. Rod says:

    You know, Mike, I’m not a big advocate of gun control. It’s not a huge issue for me either way to be honest. I’m a member of neither the NRA nor the Brady people (whatever they call themselves). I don’t own any guns at present but I’ve hunted and shot for sport and several of my friends and family own guns and it doesn’t keep me awake at night. I say this to make it clear that I don’t have any particular axe to grind either way.

    Having said that I find the rhetoric from the right bothersome on this topic. It’s like for some reason the Second Amendment has some special outsized status that renders any discussion of gun controls off limits. None of our constitutional rights are absolute. Freedom of religion? Sure. But that doesn’t mean you can sacrifice virgins to the volcano god. Speech and Press? Yes, of course. But not libel, slander, fighting words, or anything that could infringe on the copyright of Mickey Mouse. Assembly? Feel free! Just not in a way that would really inconvenience anyone like the freeway at rush hour. And certainly not anywhere near former President Bush.

    And we look at these restrictions on our sovereign rights and generally agree that, on balance, they’re a good thing. But suggest any restriction on gun rights and it’s all “intolerable infringement on our civil liberties!” time. The NRA basically lost me back in the late ’70s or early ’80s–I forget the timeline exactly–when hijacking planes to Cuba was all the rage. That’s when we started to see security gates in airports and the neat-o tech security device was the metal detector. So some enterprising outfit manages to create an all-plastic gun so you could get it past the metal detectors. I can’t imagine it was a particularly fine weapon; hard to imagine it being good for more than a few rounds, but it could do some damage nonetheless. So Congress says, “Hey! You can’t just walk around our new-fangled security procedures!” and bans the manufacture and sale of such weapons. Oh, God, the NRA and general Second Amendment crowd howled! And I’m looking at them thinking, Really? That’s the hill you want to die on? An otherwise crappy weapon whose sole purpose is to circumvent security gates at airports and courthouses?

    So I hear a lot from the right about how any particular proposal–and most current ones–are an intolerable infringement of liberty. But what I don’t hear is where you actually believe the line should lay wrt to personal possession of weapons.

    Exploding bullets? Armor-piercing rounds tipped with depleted uranium? How about a belt-feed 50-cal mounted on the back of your Ford F-150? The Tommy gun you mentioned in your post?

    Is it just guns as we normally understand them? How about rocket-propelled grenades? Hand grenades? How about land-mines around the perimeter of your property? (That’ll keep the damn kids off your lawn!)

    And then there’s the whole NBC complex: Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

    My point isn’t to ridicule, not entirely anyway. But, like Justice Kennedy in the recent hearings over the personal mandate, I genuinely want to ask: What is the limiting principle? If you believe (and, God, I hope and trust you do) that civilians simply shouldn’t be allowed to own some of the things I mentioned, how do you decide what’s on the nice list and what’s on the naughty?

    And how do you square that reckoning with the clear historical intent of the authors of the Second, which was to avoid the formation of a standing army by ensuring that communities could provide for defense vis-a-vis “well-regulated militia?” I’m just looking for some clarity as to what you consider the proper bounds of debate on this topic to be.Report

    • A Teacher in reply to Rod says:

      The well regulated militia of the 2nd ammendment was handwaved away a long time ago.

      While any student of history knows what those terms mean, especially that “regulated” meant trained in the tactics of the day, such as how to march in formation, fire in formation, reload in formation, etc, those are discarded by the need for men with small … parts to have big guns.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to A Teacher says:

        But that phrase in the second amendment is explanatory, not limiting . It says why the ight won’t be infringed, but it does not say the right is limited to that purpose. That’s not mere hand waving; it’s a pretty normal method of constitutional interpretation.Report

        • Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

          It’s curious to me, though. AFAIK, that’s the only such phrase in the whole document, including the amendments and apart from the preamble. Otherwise it’s just a long string of declarative statements. Every sentence, every phrase, and every clause has, unless obsoleted by history or superseded by amendment, some actual operative meaning. Congress shall…, the President shall…, etc. Basically the claim is that in this one instance, and this instance only the authors of the constitution and the BOR felt the need to explain themselves. And to do so in a way that has absolutely no practical effect.

          Okay. Whatever. At the very least, if what you say is true, then the Second was just very poorly worded.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Rod says:


            I agree totally. That phrasing in the 2nd Amendment really is something of a mystery. I don’t say that casually. But the structure of it really doesn’t allow it to be a limiting statement.Report

            • Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

              Historically it’s not that big of a mystery. The framers–some of them at least, and Jefferson in particular–very much distrusted the idea of a standing army. They had plenty of historical precedent to draw upon whereby the army was an instrument of oppression against the people the were supposedly protecting. And they were right; Syria is a particularly powerful contemporary example. We’ve largely avoided that fate although the recent trend toward militarization of our police agencies is more than a little troubling, IMO.

              Anyway, the 2nd amendment was directly lifted, albeit in abridged form, from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s almost like a sloppy cut-and-paste for a term paper or something. Sigh…Report

        • A Teacher in reply to James Hanley says:

          Which begs the question: How does our current state of gun laws/ ownership support the safety of the free state? How many people get “called up” with their personal sidearms and rifles to defend the borders? Or go over seas?

          Heck how many are willing to ~register~ their guns.. ALL their guns so that the the government can organize them, vis a vis a militia?

          I get the argument that it was just a little phrase tossed in as to why they wanted people to have the right to bear arms. But like Rod I agree that there’s something odd in that being the only case it’s not meant to be binding. Also, when you look at the day, I just don’t see them thinking “hey, let’s let everyone have muskets so they can hunt.”

          More than likely it was “The world’s a dangerous place and we need every able-bodied man to be able to take up arms if we need them. Better put in some provisions to be sure that no one takes away the guns from those people!”Report

          • James Hanley in reply to A Teacher says:

            I think your last paragraph is probably exactly right as to what they were thinking. I doubt squirrel hunters in western Virginia were their primary concern. But then we end up, as you say, “no one takes guns away.” The fact that we don’t rely on a militia now is politically relevant, but not constitutionally so, because the final clause of the 2nd is an absolute statement. It doesn’t say “if” or “under these conditions.”

            Put another way, the Bill of Rights contains substantive freedoms (“Congress shall make no law restricting the free exercise of religion”) and procedural freedoms (“No person shall be deprive of life, liberty, or property unless due process of law is followed.”*) It’s tempting to see the 2nd Amendment as procedural, but if it was it would surely say something like, “The right of the people who participate in a well regulated militia to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

            Granted, you can find plenty of intelligent people with a good knowledge of constitutional law who disagree with this interpretation. It seems to me, though, that in recent decades this approach has been the most widely accepted among serious constitutional scholars, even though lots of them aren’t exactly comfortable with it.

            *Paraphrased for emphasis.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Rod says:


      The ‘NRA crowd’ does support restrictions and it’s misleading to claim they don’t. For example, they support federal licensing for fully-automatic guns. They do not advocate for armor piercing rounds or grenade launchers to be readily available. Same for grenades, etc.

      The line is really just that we won’t restrict the sale of semi-automatic firearms of any caliber and make. It’s that simple.Report

      • Rod in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Okay. That’s clarity.

        I hope you’ll admit that while the latest SC ruling affirms the individual right to bear arms, that past rulings have been all over the place. And that variance has been rooted in interpreting the “militia” clause. Particularly Miller in ’39 which seemed to say that the 2nd only protected military style weapons useful in the context of a militia. So on that interpretation hand grenades would be more protected than a cheap handgun.

        I think you guys are on firmer ground when arguing from basic libertarian principles than relying on the 2nd. I wouldn’t count on the current interpretation to stand forever.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Rod says:

          I’m a believer in a living Constitution so the 2nd Amendment is more fluid from my perspective. I have no doubt that gun laws will ebb and flow for the next several decades. Right now we are on an upswing for gun proponents.Report

          • damon in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I always liked that phrase “living”. That means “it means whatever I decide it means”, regardless of what was actually written. If I can squeeze out a decision, using a convoluted rationale on what each word means to support my political beliefs, I’m good.

            The constitution has a process for change. It’s called an amendment. Use it and quite trying to “interpret” it to get your politics affirmed.Report

            • Mike Dwyer in reply to damon says:

              Actually I think ‘living’ simply acknowledges that interpretations are always tied to culture and cultural experiences at that given time. People like to pretend that a justice can ignore all of their own baggage and interpret the Constitution logically. Nonsense. They are all shaped by different things hence the split rulings on the court.Report

  8. Rod says:

    And it doesn’t answer my larger question…Report

  9. John Caelan says:

    “Mostly, we are terrified of terror without cause. It feeds no agenda, it supports no doctrine, its takes no side. The pitiful attempt to assign it purpose reveals our darkest fears-that sometimes evil has no design. Sometimes, it has no rhyme or reason.”

    Aurora: No Rhyme or Reason…What We Really Fear

  10. Chris says:

    I hate guns, but I always wonder why these sorts of things don’t make us panic about the state of our mental health system instead of about our gun laws or lack thereof.Report

  11. Morat20 says:

    Ah, yes. “Blame the young”. Nevermind that violence and crime are at a record low, the young must have “hard hearts”.

    Or let’s blame society — whether it’s them goddless liberals or them jingoist conservatives with their ‘shoot to kill’ political rhetoric! Nevermind that violence and crime are at record low.

    Awful tragedy, horrible. Discussing the whys and wherefores and what-to-dos is important. But if your explanation has to account for the fact that, well, as far as murder and rape and violent assault goes, even in the depths of a nasty recession it’s still….at a record low.

    Hard to believe, with all the craziness on the news, but you’re far, far less likely today to be the victim of a violent crime than 30 years ago.

    In fact, I believe you have to go back to the 40s and 50s to find a similar period — and in that case, it was because we gave all the young whippersnappers guns and sent them off to fight overseas. WWII kinda put a crimp in violence here, because the most violent cohort (demographically) had been drafted and spent their peak raping, robbing, assaulting, and killing years trying to survive.Report

  12. Patrick Cahalan says:

    I’m pretty firmly in the camp that this is a nature, not nurture, root problem.

    Serial killers (sociopaths) and spree killers (the violently insane) may have their propensities channeled by certain stimuli… but the broken brain is the root cause. This isn’t “violent crime”, as in robberies or even rape. This is something different.

    And I really think this is rare enough that all of the environmental factors are likely noise, unless there’s a specific *biological* environmental factor that is damaging people’s amygdalas.

    Per N people, you’re going to get X sociopaths and Y people with broken aggression-response triggers.Report

  13. Rod says:

    Hey, Mike. Check this out: Scalia on hand-held rocket launchers.

    So my question wasn’t so ridiculous, huh?Report

  14. Kimmi says:

    Clearly we ought to find such people and promote them to being CEOs.
    Let them live a life where they drive millions into starvation…Report