Announcing the January League Symposium: Guns In America


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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382 Responses

  1. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I’ll see you all in February.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    There’s no way I’m going to touch this one.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    As always, I am going to get hung up on the theme offered despite the specific guidance that it’s not supposed to matter.

    Because look: in four comments, we’ve already turned people off the conversation. My position remains the one that has raised such ire in the past: that the themes for these symposia, as chosen and stated and despite any disclaimers that contributors are not expected or even wanted to hue to it, always matter and shape responses.

    I do think that guns need to be part of the conversation that grows out of this tragedy, but I agree that limiting or even framing the discussion around that issue narrows the conversation to a topic that excludes other important questions that must be addressed. This is not to say that the League shouldn’t have guns as a topic for a symposium, but my sense is that right now a fuller conversation is needed. I don’t know if my fellow commenters would be more inclined to participate in a broader discussion than they indicate they are willing to participate in the one introduced here. I’d be disappointed if we lost their contributions to a broader discussion because of a misframing; on the other hand if they simply aren’t up to participating in a conversation about the problem that we have with this kind of incident through this time of family gatherings and so forth, I would of course completely understand that. (Though I hope that there would be a consensus that such a conversation is needed when the time is right.)

    So I guess I’m just longwindedly asking the above commenters: would you participate in a symposium on this type of event, or perhaps an even more broad topic such as, say, violent crime in general, in which guns were the explicit topic only where it was raised by contributors? Would Tod be amenable to changing the topic if so?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      No. Hell no. All it’s going to do is attract the freaks and trolls, they’re already descending on us like a horde of shitflies. These little kids aren’t even buried yet. The country and the world recoils in horror and grief.

      President Garfield didn’t die of his gunshot wound. He died of sepsis because a two-bit self-appointed quack surgeon named Bliss was allowed to manage his case and a platoon of his fellow quacks poked around in Garfield’s wound with unsanitary instruments. Garfield suffered miserably over several months and finally expired, the bullet still in him. Alexander Graham Bell rigged up a metal detector to find the bullet but Bliss and the quacks wouldn’t let him do a proper job.

      That’s how I feel about this proposed Gun Symposium, like poor old Garfield at the mercy of the quacks.

      The Charity Symposium provoked a variety of responses among several knowledgeable people of my acquaintance, varying from laughter to serious annoyance to outright contempt. What I’ve seen today does not inspire me to think we at LoOG are going to make any headway on this particular leg of the Unholy Trinity of Gawd or Gunz or ‘Bortion, the rankest trilogy of flame bait imaginable.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        The whole question I raised was whether a broadened, or just completely different, topic – guns aside though not entirely banished – would elicit your participation in a discussion here about the issues raised/contributing to this event and events like it.

        So your feeling is that you have no interest in such a thing, and perhaps even that the League should be seen as likely incapable of hosting a concerted conversation about that in a constructive way?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          I wrote up my own reaction to this tragedy, quoting Kafka, saying we ought to reverence and love each other as if we were standing before the Gate to Hell. It’s not that we’re incapable of hosting a concerted conversation in a constructive way. But what constructive things could possibly be said at this point? If today was any guide to the matter, I’m not sure I’m capable of transcending the same tired, rancorous flame wars on the Theological Disputations of Gunz.

          Camus once wrote some commentary on Kafka in the Myth of Sisyphus, saying What must be remembered in any case is the secret complicity which joins the logical and the everyday to the tragic. How do you or anyone else propose to elucidate that secret complicity? Camus concludes once Sisyphus was reconciled to his endless and fruitless task, he could at last be happy.

          I’m reasonably happy at my endless and fruitless writing around here, knowing that’s what it is. More than a few people follow me around to read my stuff but this isn’t my blog. I’ve written less for this blog than any other to which I’ve contributed at all. This sort of topic does not encourage me to contribute at all, and you should know that. I feel like Sisyphus, going down the mountain, realising the completely futility of the entire cycle in a blinding flash. There is no answer, no explication to this tragedy, only more bitter questions. Much heat and no light.

          Perhaps I was unfair to ask how you or anyone else could elucidate the secret complicity of the quotidian and the tragic. I am not capable of solving that riddle and I am seriously revolted by the Issues Raised contributing to this event and all events like it. I am reading the papers, watching Syria unravel into a tumult of sectarian war, all the while, my own nation is convulsed in paroxysms of grief over the deaths of these innocents. Damascus is being pulverised by artillery and tank fire. Stalin once said “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic” There can be no scoping this tragedy, no nice Gaussian limits to it. And for the nonce, I think we’d be best served to quit shoving our fingers into this wound.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Totally fair, Blaise. Best.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            I see that you have improved your efficiency. Not that it wasn’t commendable in the past, but now you are delivering your usual screeds against the League before we have even written a word.

            My hat is off to you, sir. Bravo.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              I breathlessly await your contribution to this debate. Will you drag in more of Cato’s gospel line on gun control? The basic premise of the gun control movement, that easy access to guns causes higher crime, is contradicted by the facts, by history and by reason. Let’s hope more people are catching on.

              That’s sure to raise the hit count around here. If it drives off thoughtful people and provokes yet another fruitless flame war, well, let’s hope more people will Catch On.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                We could talk about how you dislike the facts presented in that piece. That might be an interesting conversation.

                But actually I’d planned something quite different, I’d already begun writing it, and barring new evidence, I’m not really interested in revisiting some things I already think are true.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                I’m not really interested in revisiting some things I already think are true.

                Damn the facts if they contradict my belief!Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Selective quotation for the win!

                Let’s try this quote, from M.A.:

                “[t]he facts…contradict my belief.”

                Oh, this is gonna be fun. Now I’ve got a new way to respond to you, every single time!Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                I wrote three responses to this. I’ve trashed them all.

                You’re trying to troll me, and nothing more than that. Not taking the bait.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                You quoted me in a way that made me sound as if I were saying something that I very clearly wasn’t.

                Anyone can look at the comment sequence and see that these two things are entirely different:

                Me: barring new evidence, I’m not really interested in revisiting some things I already think are true.

                And your quote: I’m not really interested in revisiting some things I already think are true.

                Those two are very, very different statements. Completely different, in fact. Diametrically opposed. What you did wasn’t just dishonest, because a liar would at least try a little bit harder to tell a believable falsehood. My three-year-old tells better lies than this.

                What you did was like waiting until the game was over, then kicking the ball into the net repeatedly, claiming you’d “won.”

                Who exactly did you think you were fooling?Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                The problem with Cato’s gospel line is that the research clearly says otherwise.

                Kuznicki, care to weigh in on why Cato’s willing to misrepresent the state of research?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                This is, in fact, new evidence. I’ll take a look at it. I’ll get back to you.Report

              • Avatar Major Zed says:

                The earlier Miller, Azrael & Hemenway 2002 shows the troubling positive correlation between gun ownership rates and homicide rates. But it also shows a (lower) positive correlation between gun ownership and non-gun-related homicide. That makes me wonder about the underlying causation and suggests the need for a better “look inside” to understand what’s really going on. It would seem obvious that “stupid owners” has a causal link with gun deaths. But it is not obvious how the presence of guns would lead to non-gun-related homicide, and that makes policy prescription less than perfectly clear. (Caveat: I am not familiar with the literature, so am in no position to summarize nor draw conclusions.)Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                It’s not even remotely new evidence.
                Most of it dates back years.
                It’s just not orthodox canon and so it’s ignored.
                Of course the “other side does it too” so, whatever.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Jason, perhaps it’s because I came at it from a different direction, but I took Blaise’s comment to be a screed against our culture generally, not just here on the League. And I agree with it broadly. That is, I think we tend to get so obsessed with violent disruptions of the most everyday aspects of our everdayness that, on the one hand, we make them so much worse than they have to be, and on the other, magnify them to the point that, not only do they outshine so much suffering , but also the way we present them make such violent disruptions of the quotidian seem attractive to people with certain types of mental illness and despair (maybe Chestov would have been a better source than Kafka, Blaise?).

              On the first part, making them worse than they have to be, I remember the response to Columbine, with metal detectors and armed guards in schools, and a new kind of profiling and marginalizing of certain types of kids who were already marginalized enough. On the second part, Blaise brings up Syria, but he might also have mentioned the ten children who were blown up in Afghanistan yesterday, or the children who are dying in Afghanistan every month, and for whose deaths we bear some responsibility.

              I don’t really have a problem with a League symposium on guns, or a national conversation about guns, because let’s face it, our attitude towards guns in this country is pretty adolescent, but the fact that our immediate response to such events is to dive down the gun rabbit hole, strikes me as a form of avoidance. “Hey, instead of addressing this thing head on, and asking what we can do to prevent such things in the future, let’s go back to yelling at each other about something that it’s easy to yell at each other about.” So we don’t see any talk about reforming our mental health system, or changing the way the media reports on these events so that shooting a bunch of people in a public place doesn’t look like a good way to achieve immortality to some, and hell, we don’t really talk about guns, either, not in a way that might actually help.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                If that’s what he was saying, it would have been good of him to say it.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Well, you and I both know that wasn’t going to happen. Harder to quote Camus or Kafka that way.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                For what it’s worth, I agree with your comment. We would do better to look into our mental health system, our reporting about these events, adopt some forms of gun restrictions, and… well, one other really gigantic thing that I’m not going to talk about until my post for the symposium.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Yeah, I wasn’t sure where you’d stand in the gun conversation, exactly, but I figured you’d agree with the rest.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If I quote Kafka and Camus, attempting, like Prufrock, to have bitten off the matter with a smile and squeezed the universe into a ball and rolled it toward some overwhelming question, I can also, like Prufrock, count on someone to respond “That is not what I meant at all.”

                If I bandy chunks of Famous Dead People’s prose about, yeah, this is about society as a whole and some of what they said is more substantive than anything I’ve got to say. There’s a reason they’re famous. But mostly it’s also about our predictably petty responses. We’re so locked inside our own positions, our every opinion formed by our own private biases, armed with our own set of factoids — when this debate degenerates into yet another flame war, don’t say you weren’t warned.

                But who am I to say such things? America doesn’t want the facts, it never did. It wants a story, about heroes and villains and right triumphing over wrong and freedom and living happily ever after. Kafka and Camus had a few things to say about the human condition you won’t find elsewhere. So, go ahead and have a big Humpty Dumpty nice knock-down argument. There’s glory for you. It’s the new American debate format.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Kierkegaard is hard going, Shestov harder still. As the navigator’s divider in my head walks over from Shestov, (who I only remember as Kierkegaard only more so) to Camus to Isaiah Berlin, I remembered an old anti-Enlightenment philosopher which suddenly came to mind: Johann Georg Hamann,

                Let us assume that we invited an unknown person to a game of cards. If this person answered us, “I don’t play,” we would either interpret this to mean that he did not understand the game, or that he had an aversion to it which arose from economic, ethical, or other reasons. Let us imagine, however, that an honourable man, who was known to possess every possible skill in the game, and who was well versed in its rules and its forbidden tricks, but who could like a game and participate in it only when it was an innocent pastime, were invited into a company of clever swindlers, who were known as good players and to whom he was equal on both scores, to join them in a game. If he said, “I do not play,” we would have to join him in looking the people with whom he was talking straight in the face, and would be able to supplement his words as follows: “I don’t play, that is, with people such as you, who break the rules of the game, and rob it of its pleasure. If you offer to play a game, our mutual agreement, then, is that we recognize the capriciousness of chance as our master; and you call the science of your nimble fingers chance, and I must accept it as such, it I will, or run the risk of insulting you or choose the shame of imitating you.” … The opinion of Socrates can be summarized in these blunt words, when he said to the Sophists, the leaned men of his time, “I know nothing.” Therefore these words were a thorn in their eyes and a scourge on their backs.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Now that is an awesome quote.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I’m probably going to talk about violence in video games (touching on Far Cry 3 and going from there into a discussion of shooters, military video games, and violence as entertainment in general).

      I’m 99% sure that the subject is “Guns In America” because we had to make a concession to the “we’ve got to give this thing a name” gods.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Maybe I just have a hangup. It seems to me that if what you want is a symposium on Violence in America in which people can talk about guns if they want, it’s really easy to say you want a symposium on Violence in America. We already see people viscerally turned off of the idea with the topic as stated, and it would be surprising to me if people (indeed those particular people) in fact were so uninterested or even hostile to the suggestion about a broad conversation about what’s been happening (or just what happened Friday if you want to hold to the position that these type of events are statistically insignificant as overall part of violent crime). Now, I could just be wrong to be surprised at the disinterest in even a more broadly framed conversation, but it could also be the case that nominally framing the discussion around the most contentious aspect of that conversation even when you don’t actually want it to hue to that is repelling people from participating who otherwise would.

        I say, if you (not you: Tod, actually) want a gun conversation, and it’s fine if you do, then say that, but know you’ll have some folks shy away from it who might participate in a broader discussion. But if you don’t even particularly want a gun conversation (even if you want the conversation to be open to a gun discussion), then why say you do, since it will likely turn some people away to do so?Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          MD –

          The reason that we’re not calling it something like Violence in America is that guns play a far larger role in our society than tools of violence. They are also linked with tradition, history, hunting, rites of passage, family, self-identity, national identity and a thousand other things. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the archives of our own Mike Dwyer.

          There’s no doubt that the most recent atrocities have made us decide that now (or, to be more precise, in a few weeks when tempers are a bit cooler) is a time that our national gun culture should be discussed. FWIW, there actually was discussion about making this a Violence in America symposium instead and focusing only on shootings and such, but we ultimately decided to go this direction. Part of the reason for that decision is that I do not believe you can have an honest talk about guns in our society and limit the discussion to murder.

          Look, the typical timeline of any real discussion in the media about the role of guns in America goes like this:

          nothing … nothing … terrible tragedy … three or four days of highly emotional discussion … nothing …. nothing…. nothing …

          We want to buck that trend, because we thing it’s an important discussion to have.
          I get that some (maybe many) people don’t really want to talk about guns, and I really do understand all the reasons why. But I still believe it’s a discussion we as a society need to have. What’s more, I personally believe that the League *should* be a place where difficult discussions can held with an assumption of good faith on all sides.

          If it turns out you are correct and no one wants to contribute writings and no one is going to read them, then it will simply be a very short symposium and the problem will be self correcting.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Totally understood, Tod. I agree that the gin conversation has to happen and be sustained. I just also think that this event and this problem is so grave that the analytic response to it needs to not be limited to one aspect of the problem. I have no problem with the League choosing to focus on guns, but my ideal response would be a general conversation about what the problem factors here are, with guns inevitably having to be al large part of that conversation. And I noticed that immediate reaction to the proposal as given was negative, and that it focused on guns. I wondered whether we could broaden participation by broadening the conversation and taking some of the fine point off of the gun question, because (1) in my view that isn’t the whole problem, so from my perspective that would improve the framing of the conversation and thus the conversation, and (2) the gun issue would surely be addressed in the course of such a broadened conversation.

            In the event, it looks like it’s not the case that the framing is what led to these responses. I’m glad I asked. I have no problem with the discussion as you’ve framed it, as I say below; it’s just not my ideal framing. I’ve discussed this with James before, but basically in my view it’s just not the same thing to throw a topic out there but say that it’s not meant to be restrictive as it is to make decisions about what the right questions to ask are. But it’s also not the difference between a valuable and a worthless conversation ensuing. Every symposium has been hugely valuable as they transpired; that doesn’t mean they were the same as they would have been had the questions asked been just to my liking. My liking here would be to ask the braod question, “What are we doing wrong?,” but just as before, I expect this to be a valuable conversation under the heading you’ve given. And this time, because the discussion is so much more tied to real lives and real suffering, I asked not out of concern for the abstract value of the conversation, but only because the early indication was that the some of the most involved and thoughtful participants in past symposia were expressing immediate disinterest verging on opposition to the idea, and I wondered whether that could have something to do with the framing. It looks like not. I support going forward just as is.

            Thanks, Tod.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Read the (NSFW) Onion article I linked. It says exactly what I was trying to say with my “Is there as app for that?” comment. In other words, no.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Tod, I did my best here. I hope there are some good submissions. I tend not to contribute to these because I just find other usual contributors’ ability to apply systematic thought to these problems so impressive that it feels like time spent by me trying to construct something is just value-subtracting from my own perspective, and very possibly to the overall enterprise. I just tend not to know my own mind well enough to want to present what’s in it as a position per se – because that’s usually not what it is. That said, this is no kind of Hell No like we see above. I’m supportive of the endeavor, and if I find the right thoughts and the time and energy to craft a piece of writing I want seen in public, I’ll be happy to contribute it. Demands on my time are unpredictable, though, and certainly high over the next weeks, however, so I can’t give any guarantee.

    But again: I support the notion of a broad conversation about this problem taking place here at the League at the right time.Report

  5. Avatar DRS says:

    I kind of agree with Michael Drew in that a focus on guns (even if it’s just so this thread has a title) will narrow the conversation down to a rock-throwing contest between pro- and anti-gun control advocates. I guess I’m not sure what the point would be.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      Glyph had a great starting-point for one form of the discussion here. That ought to be rescued or made into some form of guest post for a symposium and I welcome that sort of a discussion.

      The problem you’re complaining about is the mythical “ban all guns” people (so innumerable I have yet to meet even one, and I’ve met a lot of people who are pro-gun-control!) and the all-too-numerous “MOAR GUNZ ARM DA TEACHERZ ARM DA PEOPLEZ” crowd.

      One side or the other of that will throw stones, though it seems the Moar Gunz crowd are busy throwing stones at strawmen who don’t generally speak back; we can’t have a reasonable discussion around them, because suggestions about reasonable regulation and measured ideas on how to keep guns out of the hands of crazies and those likely to emotionally asplode while simultaneously allowing (requiring?) responsible gun ownership to proceed are met by cries of “incrementalism, Obama wantz 2 terk ur gunz away” by the Moar Gunz kooks.Report

      • Avatar Dan says:

        The problem you’re complaining about is the mythical “ban all guns” people (so innumerable I have yet to meet even one, and I’ve met a lot of people who are pro-gun-control!)

        in a 2011 poll 26% of Americans favored a complete ban on guns. the number of New Yorkers who supported the big gulp ban was less than that and the ban is now law. there a complete gun ban is a very real threat.Report

      • Avatar Dan says:

        The problem you’re complaining about is the mythical “ban all guns” people (so innumerable I have yet to meet even one, and I’ve met a lot of people who are pro-gun-control!)

        in a 2011 poll 26% of Americans favored a complete ban on guns. the number of New Yorkers who supported the big gulp ban was less than that and the ban is now law. there a complete gun ban is a very real threat.Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          Unless Mayor Bloomburg was able to pass an amendment to the US Constitution to get big sodas banned in his city, this isn’t very apples to apples.Report

          • Avatar Dan says:

            Unless Mayor Bloomburg was able to pass an amendment to the US Constitution to get big sodas banned in his city, this isn’t very apples to apples.

            All of the gun control decisions have been 5-4 votes it’s not unrealistic that the balance of court.
            Do the people who think that gun control opponents are crazy for believing a total gun ban is possible also believe that abortions right supporters are crazy for believing that a total abortion ban is possible? In both cases there is a delicate 5-4 balance on Supreme Court, and the public support for a total abortion ban is less than the support for a total gun ban.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Crazy- no just paranoid and somewhat hysterical. I don’t see any even remote likelihood of a complete gun ban of any sort. There are to many guns, gun ownership is to ingrained in US society, the gun lobby is incredibly powerful, there is that damn Constitution thingee, the rulings have been moving towards increasing gun owner rights and gun regs at the state level have been getting laxer for years. Basically pro-gun rights people have had state and fed level rulings go there way and been enacting legislation they have pushed for yet are screaming that oppression is knocking at the back door. The paranoia does not at all match what the courts and legislators have been doing or the trend in public opinion. But except for all that , yeah i can see where the fears of pro-gun rights people are realistic.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                The level of public support for a total abortion ban is less than the public support for a total gun ban and SCOTUS has ruled that abortion rights are protected by the constitution. Do you think abortion rights supporters a paranoid for believing that a total abortion ban is possible? Or is believing it’s possible for less than 30% of population to set policy only paranoia when it’s gun control opponents who believe it?Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                see below.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          dan- the title of the poll you linked to was “Record-Low 26% in U.S. Favor Handgun Ban”
          A) They are only referring to a hand gun ban and B) support for even that is decreasing so shouldn’t that be a sign some sort of draconian ban is far less likely than ever. C) one quarter of the population is not enough to get anything passed.Report

          • Avatar Dan says:

            A) They are only referring to a hand gun ban and

            It had the support for banning assault rifles was listed below and was higher, I suppose there are some people who want to ban hand guns but not assault rifles but the number has to be small.

            C) one quarter of the population is not enough to get anything passed.

            1) Support for a total abortion ban is lower, do you think abortion right activists are wrong to believe it is a legitimate threat. 2)a minority of that size can often get their policies enacted if their motivated and organized.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              As i posted above the pro-gun rights people have been winning in the fed courts and in state houses. Public opinion is trending towards the pro-gun rights side. The pro-gun side is winning at every level yet seems more terrified than ever.

              Abortion restrictions have been increasing with hundreds in the last few years. Anti-abortion terrorism has forced many clinics to close and led to huge areas of the country not having any. The pro-choice side see themselves losing all around and being the victim of a decades long campaign of violence and intimidation. People have been murdered for performing abortions. How many people have been murdered for advocating gun rights? This is a bit apples and oranges.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                As i posted above the pro-gun rights people have been winning in the fed courts

                All that it will take for the courts to change is one justice leaving the bench that’s not much strength

                Public opinion is trending towards the pro-gun rights side.

                public opinion can change fast

                Abortion restrictions have been increasing with hundreds in the last few years.

                Restrictions are not the same as a total ban; the public supports restrictions but opposes a total ban.

                Anti-abortion terrorism has forced many clinics to close and led to huge areas of the country not having any.

                While these acts are disgusting they’re not an issue of government policy. No one is looking the other way; every act of violence has been investigated and prosecuted when possible.

                This is a bit apples and oranges.

                The original statement was the gun control opponent didn’t have anything to worry about because A) support for a total gun ban was low and B) the Supreme Court had ruled that a total ban was unconstitutional. I pointed out that both of those were also true for abortion rights if the two points that were mentioned to me were the only two reasons why gun control opponents have nothing to fear than abortion rights activists have nothing to fear either.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I still see pro-gun rights people winning with the Supremes, state houses and public opinion and reacting with terror that oppression is closer than ever. Things can change, well yeah. Maybe people will decide Jim Crow is a good idea or prohibition was swell. The level of fear you are displaying leaves open any and every possible horror as just around the corner. The gun rights folks are winning yet more scared than ever.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                Maybe people will decide Jim Crow is a good idea

                If 25% of the population wanted to bring back Jim Crow and there were originations as large as Brady Campion devoted to making it happen; would you claim that the blacks organizing against it were being paranoid are prudent?

                The level of fear you are displaying leaves open any and every possible horror as just around the corner. The gun rights folks are winning yet more scared than ever.

                The fight isn’t over until the other side has given up. You see it as fear I see it as prudence. I’ll stop believing that gun control is a threat when there are no major organizations fighting for it and no one in congress supports it. Until then I will not be complacent complacency leads to defeat.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                In the coming fight, it’s clear the reformers are going to win and your side is going to lose, big time. Your gun nut allies over at NRA have run away. But they were nothing but a collection of blowhards and bullies. One good bitch slap was all it took to shut their ignorant pieholes and make them take down their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

                Congress is scared shitless, not that those pantywaists ever really cared one way or the other: they took the NRA’s money and our money too. Sandy Hook is the last straw in a very long sequence of straws. There will be blood and this time it will not be ours. We are going to kick the NRA and blowhards like you into the middle of next week. We will take as many of your assault rifles and semi-automatics as we can and you can howl as loud as you like. We’ve heard enough howling from grieving parents all over this country. Their cries don’t trouble you. Well, Dan, your cries won’t trouble us.

                I’ve been as reasonable as I can, urging the Liberals and Progressives to consider the rights of law-abiding gun owners, making them part of the solution. But you, I don’t give a fuck about your opinion. You’re not part of solution. You’re part of the problem. You’re stinking up this joint. Complacency does lead to defeat, yes it does. Liberals have been complacent for far too long. Now we’re going to beat on your asinine argument like a cheap steak. Your little buddy Adam Lanza took his civil liberties a bit too far when he decided to kill all those kids and teachers. If I had anything to say about it, I’d petition the court to declare you insane and have the sheriff go through your trailer with a K-9 and a metal detector and take everything out sharper than a rubber ball. You can’t be trusted with a civil liberties argument, much less firearms.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                . Your little buddy Adam Lanza took his civil liberties a Your little buddy Adam Lanza took his civil liberties a bit too far when he decided to kill all those kids and teachers. If I had anything to say about it, I’d petition the court to declare you insane and have the sheriff go through your trailer with a K-9 and a metal detector and take everything out sharper than a rubber ball.

                I notice that not one gun control supporter has said anything about the way Blaise. Since the gun control side doesn’t have any problem with the way uncivil I’m not going to treat them civilly either. Respect is a two way street. I’m treating you guys the way you treat me.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                If I had anything to say about it, I’d petition the court to declare you insane and have the sheriff go through your trailer with a K-9 and a metal detector and take everything out sharper than a rubber ball. You can’t be trusted with a civil liberties argument, much less firearms.

                And there’s our firearms symposium, in a nutshell. January’s going to be an awesome month.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              C) one quarter of the population is not enough to get anything passed.

              1) Support for a total abortion ban is lower, do you think abortion right activists are wrong to believe it is a legitimate threat. 2)a minority of that size can often get their policies enacted if their motivated and organized.

              Dan, you’ve made the same argumentative move at least half a dozen times on this thread: comparing the claim that “a quarter of the population supports a ban on hand guns” with “a quarter of the population supports a total ban on abortion” as if a limited restriction is equal to a total restriction.

              I really have a hard time believing you don’t see the difference.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          And a quarter of the american public has an informed opinion on Panetta-Burns Deficit Reduction…
          Next, Please!Report

    • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

      I’m hoping that the “anti-gun control advocates”, such as Mike Dwyer and Jaybird, will give their thoughts on how to reduce gun violence. Without their buy-in, it is going to be a pretty useless symposium.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The homicide rate is the lowest it’s been since 1964. If I dug up stats on “gun violence” and found that that rate was going down as well, would that mean anything in particular to you? (Do you want me to dig for those numbers?)

        My initial inclination is to say that we’re on a good vector and a horrible thing happening is a lot more likely to result in overreaction than underreaction… much like if someone would start talking about the importance of re-institutionalization of crazy people, or perhaps treating them with testosterone suppression therapy, or lobotomies in the cases such as our shooter here, where we have reason to believe they might go on a rampage… would you see that as a good reaction? Would you say that “not doing anything” would be a better reaction than hormone therapies or mutilation?

        I would.

        In the same way, violence is being reduced. There are outliers that pop up and these outliers are horrible. Violence, however, is going down. Failure to note that is, itself, dangerous.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Aren’t gun deaths — not necessarily homicides — not down nearly as much as other crime rates? I seem to recall reading somewhere that in absolute numbers (rather than percentages) gun-related deaths have been declining slower because suicides are up (accidental deaths occur in statistically trivial numbers, and are not trivial if they affect someone you love, of course). I could be wrong; this is a woolly sort of recollection.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I got my stats from the wiki:


            Two out of three murders are committed using a gun, which is an interesting stat insofar as I would have expected it to be something like 3 out of 4 or higher.

            I also think it’s interesting that Chicago’s murder rate is as high as it is (or New York’s, for that matter) despite the much stricter gun laws. If reducing Chicago’s murder rate is a goal, I think that we’d have to look at something other than gun laws to change.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            Burt, here’s a stunner — in some states, gun deaths are more common than auto deaths.

            It’s worth pointing out that while gun deaths have largely been on the rise in recent years, the climb has been a gradual one, as the chart shows. The national gun-death rate would not be approaching that of motor vehicles if it weren’t for the fact that the latter has dropped fairly drastically in the past half decade or so thanks to an increased effort to make the nation’s roads and vehicles safer. Gun-rights advocates will point to the relatively subtle rise of the gun-death’s purple line to argue that we don’t need to pass more gun restrictions. Gun-control advocates will point to the more severe drop of the yellow line to make the case for what might happen if we were to.

            Count me in on that last bit; our efforts to curb death-by-car, including better safety features in cars, seat-belt laws, cracking down on drunk-driving, and making it more difficult for teens to get a license, are paying off.

            But if you look at the first chart in the story, what’s up with Nevada?Report

        • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

          “If I dug up stats on “gun violence” and found that that rate was going down as well, would that mean anything in particular to you?”

          In light of Aurora and Littleton, not a damn thing.

          “the importance of re-institutionalization of crazy people”

          How about just going back to pre-Reagan priorities — getting the “crazies” off the streets and into well-run, clean and safe homes, with treatment where it’s known and safety for the individual and society when it’s not.

          I know a man who ABSOLUTELY FISHING NEEDS to be in a good group home. He’s a danger to himself and to his family (although not, I think, to any groups) but his family cannot get him the therapy he needs. So he goes through peaks and valleys, from minute to minute of happy and kind to violent and angry.

          “Not doing anything” is damn fishing stupid, thanks.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            What you seem to be describing is borderline personality disorder.
            We do a decent job of catching them already (they tend to wind up in jail or substance treatment facilities).

            How about the Paranoid Schizophrenic?

            The bipolar guy?

            The true psychopath who has “An Agenda”?

            The last is hard as hell to catch, the paranoid schizophrenic just sits at home quiverring all day… (don’t come in his door, though…)Report

  6. Avatar zic says:

    I often think of the armed protestor who showed up to one of the famously raucous town hall hearings on Obamacare in the summer of 2009. The media was very worked up over this man, who bore a sign that invoked a famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, accusing the president of tyranny. But no one engaged him at the protest; no one dared approach him even, for discussion or debate — though this was a town hall meeting, intended for just such purposes. Such is the effect of guns on speech — and assembly. Like it or not, they transform the bearer, and end the conversation in some fundamental way. They announce that the conversation is not completely unbounded, unfettered and free; there is or can be a limit to negotiation and debate — definitively.


    Gun advocates bring an element of abuse, of force, to such conversations. I suspect Blaise is right, it will attract people, like the man at the rally, who subconsciously understand their armed might gives them the right to shut the talk down.

    That willfully impinges on my freedoms of free speech and assembly.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      These guys didn’t want an honest debate.

      The message from them was clear: we get our way, or we come back and shoot anyone who disagrees with us.

      And I’m really tired of people saying the Tea Party had legitimate points. They didn’t, or they wouldn’t have felt the need to hold people at gunpoint and try to force agreement when they could have made persuasive arguments (but they knew they couldn’t make persuasive arguments, so… sigh. Threat of force).Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott says:

      An armed society is a “polite” society.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        I have trouble putting Adam Lanza’s mass murders into the category of ‘polite.’ Rather, an armed society gives those holding the arms the right to control under the guise of ‘polite.’ Like the dude who killed an unarmed kid at a gas station because the music was too loud. That’s really polite.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        An armed society is a dangerous society.

        An armed society is one in which citizens are routinely carrying or can access weapons designed solely to end the life of another human being. Very efficient weapons, these days.

        Just takes a few seconds, a little bit of pressure from a finger and *bam* — badly injured human being, if not outright dead. Not nearly as..visceral…as a knife, club, or fists. Not nearly the energy requirements.

        It’s more clinical. Easier. More distant. You’re not connected to the damage. It happens across a gulf of space, not as up close as hands and knives. Less blood splatter. Easier to deny or ignore, especially when upset.

        I suspect it’s far, far easier to pull a trigger than to stab a person. And bonus, you’re not in nearly as much danger.

        People are jerks, idiots, and impulsive to begin with. Having them carry around loaded weapons that turn flash of anger into bodies does not equate “polite”. Frightened, perhaps. Frightening for sure.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:


          Guns turn a moment of anger into a moment of death.

          Can someone flip off the handle and pummel one person to death? Sure.

          Are we nearly as likely to see someone flip off the handle, pummel another person to death, AND then be able to take down nearly 30 other people in the span of a few minutes? Not likely.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Combat is exhausting — anyone in the military, or anyone who has ever boxed or sparred or even toyed with martial arts could tell you that.

            I’d imagine a trained soldier, in the peak of physical fitness, could possibly knife 20 or 30 people. Equally likely they’d drag him down.

            But your average joe? Even a fairly fit average joe? God no. The second he has to chase one down, his spree is over. Guns? They’re ranged and energy efficient.

            Even then it can be exhausting, but there’s less running and stabbing and hitting. A lot less.

            First thing I was ever taught in self-defence was the benefit of running and stamina. Because running away from the guy with a knife or just his fists? That’s perfectly natural, instinctive response. He has to CATCH you before he can hurt you.

            The guy with the gun? Well, we took solace in the fact that even trained folks had a hard time hitting a moving target and were advised to hand over our wallet rather than run if we thought the guy wasn’t trigger happy.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              I’ll just say this, for the record.

              I spend a lot of time thinking about exception scenarios. I’m the sort of guy who notices where the security cameras are when I walk into a convenience store.

              I’m pretty sure I could kill a couple of hundred people, if offing a bunch of people for no particular reason was something I was into. I’m not going to use a knife, or a gun.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Most spree killers don’t plan very well. “Get lots and lots of guns. Kill people I’m mad at or located adjacent to people I’m mad at or just meet until I die”. End of spree story.

                Planners don’t go on sprees, because planners think things like “I don’t want to be caught” and “Why am I doing this again”.

                Fertlizer bomb in Oklahoma killed more kids, i believe, than this guy did. But that guy was a terrorist out after the federal government, and thought like a terrorist — or soldier, I suppose — and not a spree killer.

                It’s hard to go on a spree with a knife, because people outrun you and if you miss you miss and open yourself up to being grabbed (you do have to be close). It’s easy with a gun, you can open fire from range and keep firing over and over and over and over and anyone who wants to stop you has to walk through your fire to GET to you. And if they run, you can keep shooting them.

                I’m sure it’s easier yet to plant a bomb, or whip up some mustard gas. But spree killers don’t plan that far ahead. They plan their targets, but in terms of weapons they go with the most lethal they can get their hands on right away.

                Guns > knives when it comes to killing people. There’s a reason soldiers don’t fight with swords anymore.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                The Aurora killer assembled two bombs.

                While it’s true that spree killers aren’t generally inclined to do a lot of planning, that may very well be a function of accessibility of means, not a lack of ability to plan.

                It’s not hard to go on a spree with a knife, it happens in the Philippines and Malaysia all the time. Well, not “all the time”, but often enough that there’s a phrase for it.

                If you check this out, particularly this bit you’ll see that you can rack up an astonishingly high body count with a melee weapon.

                Soldiers don’t use swords any more because their opponents carry guns. Most civilians are unarmed, and they’re typically running away or cowering, not fighting back, so it’s actually pretty easy to kill a bunch of them with a knife or a sword.Report

              • Avatar Just Me says:

                I think school shooters differ from spree killers in that their ultimate goal is to kill themselves. They plan their suicide as well as the surrounding killing they do to facilitate that suicide. I sometimes wonder if they don’t kill innocents in some weird justification for them killing themselves. Like I want to kill myself but I can’t unless I become some horrible monster first.Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Two things…

    I think the fact that people think a conversation focused on guns absolutely must turn into a “rock fight” is very telling. One of the more powerful pieces I read here was Mike Dwyer’s essay on squirrel hunting. It captured and made accessible a culture foreign to me, one which guns were a crucial part of but which was about so much more than guns. I hope/imagine many of the pieces will be of that type and, while they might not foster discussion, should be enlightening to those who read it with an open mind.

    For my own part, presuming I have the time to re-read it between now and then, I’ll do a review of Penny Holland’s “We Don’t Play With Guns Here: War, Weapon, and Superhero Play in the Early Years”. It offers a really nuanced and complex perspective on the way this type of play manifests for young children and what it means and doesn’t mean.Report

  8. Avatar greginak says:

    Re: research on gun violence.

    There are reasons why the NRA is polarizing and , not to put it lightly, hated by many.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Why does this fail to surprise me?

      In the spirit of research, The Monkey Cage has a series of posts based on actual statistics. I’m so glad there are numbers geeks in this world.Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      What do the CDC or the NIH have to do with gun control? Because all that article did was show that gov’t agencies should not be playing politics on the taxpayer dime. Guns are not a disease, nor is the use of them a health concern. If you want to make the case that a gov’t agency should be talking about this, the only relevant group would be the DOJ.

      There are reasons why the Gov’t is polarizing and , not to put it lightly, hated by many.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Ya know, say you shoot your pinky toe off while out patrolling your yard with your rifle in hand, cocked and ready to go. Where do they take you? Jail?Report

        • Avatar aaron david says:

          They take you to the same place that the cook who just cut of a pinky goes. Yet I don’t see the CDC/NIH calling for knife control, no matter how many people are stabbed.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        NIH and the CDC study things that affect peoples health. They do it all the time. Studying something is not inherently polarizing. Research can find out answers and what is happening in the world. Researching something is only polarizing if you are afraid of the answers and want to try to prevent knowledge. Given the NRA and GOA’s belief that more guns make society better you would think they would want good data to prove it. Instead they are preventing knowledge. Under the standard you are suggesting the gov shouldn’t actually study almost anything since someone or some industry will not like it. If you don’t like what research might show then squashing it is intellectually dishonest and certainly makes it look like pro-gun groups don’t believe what they say.Report

        • Avatar aaron david says:

          I didn’t say that the gov’t shouldn’t research it, as I clearly state that the DOJ should be doing this.
          ” Guns are not a disease, nor is the use of them a health concern.”
          The consequences of them, sure. Not the use.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            Including suicide and accidents? Those are typically the CDC’s territory, so you’re going to have to make an argument for what makes guns special as the one mode of accidental death and suicide that is off limits.Report

            • Avatar aaron david says:

              So, having a gun makes a lite bulb go on in my head, saying “I must commit suicide?” If the NIH wants to do research into why people take their own lives, or even if they want to look who is most likely to do what with what, totally understandable. But I haven’t seen them talking about rope control, regardless of the number of hangings.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                The gun makes for a theoretically fast method.

                Moreover, people think (possibly erroneously, depending on whether or not they miss) that a gunshot to the head is a “painless way to go.”

                I’ve looked at the studies. I’m not going to link them here, because they are depressing to look at and the last thing I want to do right now is put out links to things that someone could theoretically be using to “choose a method.”Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

                But I haven’t seen them talking about rope control, regardless of the number of hangings.

                I may be wrong here, but I don’t think that the CDC is calling for “gun control” so much as gathering statistics on gun related deaths. Just like they do for every other major mode of death.

                So, having a gun makes a lite bulb go on in my head, saying “I must commit suicide?”

                I don’t know where this comes from. Suicide attempts are much more common than actual deaths from suicide attempts. Thanks to CDC statistics, we have good data on that. The CDC data just also happens to show that death is much more likely when a gun is used. If rope was a major pathway to the afterlife, the CDC would dutifully report it. And I’m sure that rope manufacturers would be up in arms about the politicization of the CDC.

                I’m not calling for any gun control measures myself. I just get annoyed when people basically accuse researchers who are just gathering and reporting data for being “in the tank” for the other side just because the data doesn’t go their way.Report

  9. Avatar Morat20 says:

    I do hope someone touches the divide between ‘gun owners’ of the old-school (hunters, sportsmen, the rare collector) and ‘gun owners’ of the new school (the last twenty or thirty years) which have been dominated by paranoia, conspiracy theories, and frankly not a little amount of sheer racism.

    I think it’s rather import to differentiate between, say, hunters like half my family and the guys with armories waiting for Obama to come take their guns for the UN or caressing their concealed automatic, licking their lips and hoping today is the day they’re finally attacked so they can start fighting back.

    Maybe it’s simply the the loudest, the most extreme, get the attention — why we hear of idiotic militias, people who think their collection of civilian knock-offs will keep actual soldiers at bay, “patriots” who talk about watering the tree of liberty and seem to believe their guns keep the gubmint away, and frankly paranoid individuals who see rapists, muggers, theives, and murderers all around them (and generally black ones, to boot).

    My father-in-law, with his collection of rifles and shotguns and his single pistol for target practice, doesn’t make good news copy, I admit. But if it was just sensationalist bias (or liberal bias, or anti-gun bias, or whatever) why would groups like the NRA embrace it?Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      The sensationalist bias sells.

      It certainly sells on right wing radio, where they salivate over the ability to say that “a black guy” or “a mexican guy” committed a rape or a murder, followed by running the ads for the local gun range and the licensing classes “learn to protect yourself! Classes starting beginning of each month! You need a gun to protect yourself (from the black guy you just heard the racist radio host ranting on about).”

      The classic gun owner owns a few guns. Knows how to take care of them, treats them with respect.

      The paranoid nut? They throw all their money into guns. More guns, more guns, gotta have more guns, still don’t have enough, still don’t have enough, don’t feel safe yet, gotta buy more guns… more guns myyyy precccioussss.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    We avoided the word “culture” in this title, while Jason made a nice point elsewhere about the important word in “gun culture” being the second one. I find it more interesting and I might be interested in writing about the role of emulation in these sorts of rampage killings- how they tend to have their own fashions and trends that peak and, thankfully, diminish. I’d also be interested in seeing someone smarter discuss why these killings are so much more often perpetuated by males than females. Finally, I have a dim interest in writing about The Killing of America, a pretty shocking documentary from 1982 (never released in America) written and produced by Leonard Schrader, brother of Paul- partly because I still haven’t worked through what I think of the film.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      I believe I’ve read that fewer American households own guns these days than in the past, but those households that DO own them own many, many more guns than the ‘average gunowner’ over the past.

      I’m not 100% certain this fact is correct, since I can’t remember where I read it, but if so…that’s a very interesting aspect of gun culture right there.Report

      • Avatar Just Me says:

        I don’t think it is surprising that households that have guns today have more guns than the average household 20 years ago. Today I think most average households have more of everything. More toilets per house, more televisions per house, more phones per house…etc. The only thing I think is lower per house is the number of kids in them.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Not “households”…individuals.

          And why? I can understand why TVs and toilets. But why more guns? What’s that eight rifle bring you that the first seven didn’t? (Laying aside plain collectors).

          American gun owners are trending towards fewer, but their collections are becoming armories. Who do they plan to fight?Report

          • Avatar Just Me says:

            I know plenty of people who have multiple guns. Some only take them out to shoot on the range. The people I know who hunt all have more than one gun. They have their deer hunting rifle, a shotgun, and some have a handguns they use for hunting. I have never asked them why they had so many.

            I am single and until recently owned three vehicles, now just two. Isn’t it the American way that if you have one and you can afford it more must be better? I guess what I say is so what? I don’t care how many guns they have. If they are not using them forillegal activities and they obtained them lawfully then I am fine with them having as many guns as they can afford to own.

            I don’t find it interesting that as an American I own 20 pairs of shoes. I only wear one pair at a time, 90 percent of the time I am in the same pair of sneakers I always wear. The others just sit in the closet until that time when I wear the outfit that it is appropriate to wear with that pair of shoes. So if I did own guns I wouldn’t be surprised that I owned more than one of them. I probably would have the one I usually shoot with, but I might like to change it up and use a different gun sometime. Maybe I use a .22 to shoot squirrels and a .30-06 for deer hunting.

            Yes, I did just compare owning guns to owning shoes.Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              I don’t find it interesting that as an American I own 20 pairs of shoes.


              I’ve got my fuzzy slippers, a pair of deck sandals for going to the pool, a pair of ratty old sneakers for yard work, a pair of good sneakers for being less dressed up, and two pair of work shoes.

              If there are 20 pairs of shoes round my house, I want to know where they came from.Report

              • Avatar Just Me says:

                What can I say, most of my shoes are regret purchases anyways. That or trying to have brown shoes I actually like to go with the brown slacks I never wear because I don’t like any of the shoes that go with them.

                Mine range from flip flops to steel toes. I haven’t counted and I have tossed some due to a certain kitty of my acquaintance using them for kitty scratching posts, but I’m pretty sure 20 is pretty close to correct.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Yes overall gun ownership is down. But Americans on the whole own lots of guns. Far more then most every country.

    • Avatar Kim says:

      “I’d also be interested in seeing someone smarter discuss why these killings are so much more often perpetuated by males than females. ”

      Venture to say it’s part of the same reason why men are so much more uncomfortable with gays than women are with lesbians.
      Men hate the thought of being hunted, of being powerless.Report

      • Avatar Just Me says:

        Could some of it be because men are more prone to killing themselves by firearm than women are? Seems that most men who commit these crimes are doing it in conjunction with a suicide.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    We can do symposia, or not. If we do them we have to pick topics. If we pick topics someone is going to dislike the topic. And some people are going to get ideas about what is meant by the phrasing chosen to describe that topic that differ from ideas held by others.

    All of which is 100% OK with me.Report

  12. Avatar Kim says:

    On Why Gun Ownership causes an increase in non gun related homicides…

  13. Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

    Before we can have any meaningful discussion about a solution to gun violence we need to be honest about the bizarre psychosexual effect guns have on people, generally males. Or it may be more accurate to say, the bizarre psychosexual gun culture that we allow to fester and grow.

    Where does it come from, this notion that a gun is a penis? Why did the comapny that sold the Bushmaster rifle advertise it as a method of obtaining a “Man Card”?

    Why aren’t these sorts of people mocked and ridiculed, and shunned from society? Why can’t responsible gun owners purge their ranks of the gun nuts instead of giving them the microphone and podium?

    Broken loners crave public acceptance or at least fear; By showering guns with this magic dust of testosterone and patriotism we provide exactly the fuel that the Travis Bickles and Adam Lanzas of the world need.Report

    • Avatar Just Me says:

      I’m not sure that Adam Lanzas fits the craving public acceptance mold. I’m waiting to see what his exact diagnosis is before I would agree with that statement. His case right now from what has been reported has me totally confused. Though maybe he will end up being another one of those that wanted to live on in infamy.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Where does it come from, this notion that a gun is a penis?

      Honestly, my impression is that it comes from feminists, much more than it comes from men.Report

      • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

        Ever give a gun to a teenage boy?
        I was a Scoutmaster for many years and we taught a gun safety course and merit badge, by one of our assistant Scoutmasters who was an NRA instructor.
        The moment we laid out the rifles and shotguns in front of the boys, they went ballistic like the apes in 2001. They all do, every last one of them.

        Feminists were just the ones to point out the obvious freakishness of this. They didn’t create it.

        By the way, the other Scoutmasters and I were of like minds, and we made a specific point to mock and ridicule the Hollywood heroic mythology of guns, and severely punished any boy who demonstrated any sort of flippancy towards gun safety i.e., holding it sideways, posing with it, etc.
        It isn’t just Hollywood, either; Hollywood fans the flames but only with the help and cooperation of the general public. Hollywood gives us Dirty Harry and James bond but they also give us Alan Alda and Woody Allen.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Scouts with guns. (Sorry, that image popped into my head when you mentioned Scouts and guns.)Report

        • Avatar Johanna says:

          Psycho’s not the issue, the sexual part is. I’ve shot guns, and I could easily see getting a bit psycho with it. But psychi sexual? On what basis do we plug in that second part?

          I’ve noticed that academic feminists–who do provide some damn good insights to be sure–often have a tendency to sexualize everything, and seem to assume men are doing so, too. Every oblong object becomes a phallic symbol, and not just through coincidence of shape but because, according to the argument that’s really how men think (at least subconsciously) about them. I remember one talk by a colleague about depictions of “hillbillies,” and every illustration showed a guy with a rifle, as a trope to identify the character as a ‘billy. But according to the person giving the talk, every use of the rifle was as a phallus, meant to signify the ‘billy’s masculinity. I thought that was just cheap pop psychology.

          Feminists do a great job of revealing ways in which our language and institutions are gendered, but they miss the boat when they assume that everything for men is about our cocks. I know feminists who sincerely believe that most men think about their cocks a lot and frequently compare and boast about them. I’ve never really experienced that myself, although I know guys who do so completely unseriously, as a joke about what we supposedly do.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Aargh, that was me. On this topic I don’t presume to speak for Johanna.Report

          • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

            Guns=power and potency, domination and control.

            The proof is right there on every single rightwing blogger, from Flopping Aces to Eugene Volokh from Ace O Spades to RedState.

            Check out in the comments how masculinity and guns are nearly synonymous, and how intensely devoted they are to fantasies of warfare; Ace has, or did until recently “Friday Afternoon War Porn” where he showed gun camera clips of brown people getting killed. These guys don’t actually admit to fapping off while watching, but I think its understood.

            This is why its so ingrained and pernicious; we can’t have a reasonable discussion about licensing or registration; when you question gun ownership you are – almost literally- questioning their manhood and sexual identity.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              And penises = power and potency, domination and control.

              It’s easy to say, less easy to prove. And of course the word “potent” is a bit of a cheat since it assumes the same kind of potency. I have three kids, so I guess mine is potent, but every gun I’ve ever fired is potent in a different way. And I’ve never used. My penis to shatter a bottle or make holes in paper targets. It’s not even a sensible thought.

              And to the extent a gun makes a dude feel more masculine, it’s not necessarily got anything to do with his pecker (alert, this must have something to do with male sexual identity!), but perhaps everything to do with whether he has a sense of social efficacy.

              I stick to the pop psych claim. Just because you can spin a compelling interpretation about something diesn’t mean the interpretation’s true.

              And that’s all I’ll say, because I’m going to try to stay out of these gun threads. I anticipate thoughtful posts and shallow predictable comments, which is all I see here.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                I actually guns making men feel more manly is because there’s a provider/protector instinct invoked.

                I don’t expect a response, but I’m glad LWA provided the names here; because it’s not the feminists, its the marketers. They use sex to market just about everything, when they can figure how to tap those responses.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Oy, yes. For an interesting parallel, look at chocolate.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              LWA-Masculinity means far more than “penis.” Being a man ( or woman for that matter) involves self-efficacy and control and self-esteem and a few other things. People are more than their organs. It behooves us if we are to seriously understand people and go beyond pop pysch to look past simplistic blog bloviating. I agree far to many people get …..hmmm….get their nipples hard thinking about war. But that is more than just penises and jerking off. “Something porn” is a feature all over the internet. yeah its a funky use, but not uncommon. Do you read Baloon Juice? If so are you willing to go with the FP’s as actually engaging in beastiality.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          The moment we laid out the rifles and shotguns in front of the boys, they went ballistic like the apes in 2001. They all do, every last one of them.

          Boys are (generally, not universally) predisposed to like stuff that goes “boom”. Pull out a bunch of fireworks in front of a group of 20 boys, you’ll probably see a bunch of ballistic apes in the first group, too. Show youtube videos of volcanoes erupting or simulated meteor strikes, again.

          None of those other things have anything to do with your penis, or your desire to murder your fellow man. I’m pretty sure most of the gun enthusiasm doesn’t either.

          I think it mostly comes from the fact that they go “boom”.Report

        • Avatar Tel says:

          I have huge difficulty believing that any man would kill his own mother, just because it makes him feel more masculine. Shooting babies to feel macho? Highly implausible IMHO.

          Possibly machismo might be motivation for owning guns, or hunting bears in the woods, or even shooting away at targets, or paint ball. Yeah I could believe that. Exactly why Nancy Lanza felt the need to be more macho is anyone’s guess.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I find that I can’t imagine any reason to shoot up an elementary school. So that you can’t believe any particular reason doesn’t seem to say much of anything about that reason.Report

            • Avatar Tel says:

              I think you have to agree that we cling to the idea that the world does (mostly) make sense, possibly in a complex and hard to grasp kind of way. If you start thinking the world makes no sense at all, then what?

              In the Breivik shootings, he had a clear political motive, and went after the children of his adversaries because they made a soft and convenient target. We have a long history of political killings of family members documented all around the world (especially in Feudal type political structures), so although I don’t condone what he did, there’s a reasonably rational explanation of why he did it. I guess in the Breivik case he also wanted to publish his motive as much as possible, whereas Lanza felt the need to smash his own hard drive in order to hide his motives (that in itself is pretty weird).

              I don’t pretend to be able to rationally predict every person’s behaviour all the time. I do believe some basic principles apply — people usually act in their own self interest, as based on how they see the situation. People also act hastily out of emotion: hate, fear, love, etc. Sometimes someone will just get confused, be unable to handle things and freak out.

              There’s an alternative theory going around that Nancy Lanza was getting ready to put her son into a mental institution, and he acted out of fear, betrayal and revenge. That makes a lot more sense to me than some masculine identity issue.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Masculinity is a subtext, a context, in the description/explanation of gun culture. It’s not necessarily the primary cause of any outcome – tho it might be in certain situations – but rather a context which normalizes in the individual and culture generally a view that physical violence is a legitimate remedy to interpersonal problems.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                There’s an alternative theory going around that Nancy Lanza was getting ready to put her son into a mental institution, and he acted out of fear, betrayal and revenge.

                Even if that’s true, I’m not sure that’s a good response to Chris’s point that he “can’t imagine any reason to shoot up an elementary school.”

                I mean, I know you’re not providing that explanation as a justification, yes?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I think this is an overly simplistic view of human behavior and human motivation, particularly within the realm of mental illness. First, “self-interest” is a pretty broad construct that probably misses a big chunk of human behavior, unless it becomes a tautology. Second, human behavior often isn’t rational, particularly in cases of mental illness, but even without the presence of mental illness. I’m sure within Lanza’s mind there was some reason, some justification, for going to that elementary school and attacking the children, but I doubt we’ll ever know what it was, and our attempts to explain it will probably just obscure the matter. Maybe it was about masculinity, who knows? I don’t. You don’t. And what the two of us can conceive, together or independently, is pretty much irrelevant.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        And every movie ever made where the solution to all the hero’s problems is to grab a gun and start killing the bad guys.

        There we go: we’ll never be able to ban guns, so ban action movies. Force them to start creating characters and writing dialog instead of programming CGI explosions.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Hanley, tsk tsk tsk.

        Feminist only noticed that some men seem to think a big gun indicates a big dick; like there’s some correlation. But we’re just noticing what men do, how they act. Not that the bigger the gun, the bigger the manhood; quite the opposite. The feminist I know prefer men manly enough to go about unarmed.

        You’re first impression indicates a lack of careful observation and objectivity.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      LWA — why not flesh this idea out, find some more examples of guns-as-penis-proxies, vet the theme a bit with some friends who have psych backgrounds, and offer it in the symposium? I mean, sure, the idea is controversial. But we don’t do symposia so that people can sit around their computers agreeing with one another.Report

      • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

        Well lets be clear here-
        Is this idea- that guns are sexualized- really that controversial?

        Do we have one side saying “no sirree Bob, guns are not sexualized atall! That cigar is just a smoke! ”

        If thats really the case, I am sort of amazed, really.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Not controversial but easily way over stated. Look my degrees are in psychology and I have been a therapist. Its is very very very easy to make a connection between two things in a plausible manner. That does not make it true. Lots of things can be framed in a sexual manner, that doesn’t make it true even if the theory is plausible. I would agree guns have been sexualized to a degree. But the thing is lots of things in our culture have been sexualized. How are guns different in the way they are sexualized?

          Going back to James’ comment, one big problem is that men are actually more complex then the simplistic “guns are virtual penises” kind of argument. The overstated arguments are more then just about guns as sexualized objects but are simplistic, evidence free and derogatory descriptions of men in general.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          That guns frequently have long, tubular barrels which can be analogized to penises is not controversial. That guns are associated with control and power is also not controversial. That historically and aesthetically, control and power are associated with the phalus is also not controversial.

          That I (the hypothetical reader, not necessarily Burt Likko) might seek to purchase a gun to buttress a fear of personal sexual inadequacy, however, is controversial in part because it seems like an insult. The idea that I cannot truly be a man unless I have a gun is controversial because it conjures up for contfrontation very basic notions of masculinity and the role of both men and weapons in our culture. Notions that I think are usefully confronted. Notions that I think I would express only clumsily.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            This strikes me as exactly right. That some guns are phallically shaped seems obvious but somewhat uninteresting.

            To argue that guys who own guns have small penises (or that guys who don’t like guns have been “feminized”) seems lazy.

            Either way, it doesn’t feel like a particularly fruitful road to wander down for too long.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            Nice, Burt.

            I’m actually a bit more concerned about marketing campaigns like this:

            (Can someone with magical editing powers actually post that image?)Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              I saw this creepy, mutha fishing ad over at Sullivans. This kind of thing is a problem in that ads do affect how people see themselves and shape culture. I’m not suggesting anything can be done about it…freedom of creepy speech and all. But speaking to the theme of the thread this is about being a Man which is far more then just phallic symbols and penises.Report

            • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

              This is the point I was trying to make, perhaps inarctiulately.
              This is the ad campaign for the Bushmaster rifle. A rifle that has no legitimate use other than shooting at people.
              Who is this targeted at? Who is the intended customer?

              The point of the ad is crystal clear- buy a faux-M16 assault rifle, and become masculine and powerful. The undertones of eroticism are bound up in the definition of masculinity implied in the ad.

              If this was an ad for Axe body spray, or a Corvette, it would be harmless. But this sort of thing is on a very specific wavelength that resonates with the perpetual adolescents looking to prove themselves and the deranged both.

              When we- meaning all of society, and even us right here on this blog- accept the framing of the gun nuts, that a Bushmaster is nothing more harmful than a duck hunting shotgun, that it has a legitimate purpose which is worthy of 2nd Amendment protection, we are a bit like Adam Lanzas mother, turning a blind eye to the insanity right in front of our faces.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                If this was an ad for Axe body spray, or a Corvette, it would be harmless.

                Not really, since it preys on a vulnerability – not being sufficiently masculine – in the target audience, where sufficiently masculine is a pop-culture concept determined to a great extent by marketing.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Ads of all sorts sell power, control, ego boost, self-esteem, self-efficacy, increased masculinity/femininity and being attractive to whoever you want to have sex with. Eroticism is at most a spice sprinkled over all those things, sometimes more up front then other times. But sex is subsumed into those more general list of topics ads try to tickle. Seeing the sex as primary, even though its often present, misses the overarching themes.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            I’ve known folks who have used guns as “penis substitutes.”
            I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to hear that a lot of the paintball players are that way.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


      These spree killers are not individuals that are trying to prove their manhood with guns. What they are simply trying to do is hurt people and guns facilitate that goal.

      I will definitely concede that the guns = manhood dynamic is at play in gang violence and with shootings like the Trayvon Martin case. Personally I think that is a far greater problem.

      So I’m not discounting your broad premise but I do think it is misapplied to spree killings.Report

  14. Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

    I guess to clarify-
    Typically gun control debates center around studies and data, permised on the assumption that all gun owners are rational actors, responding to clearly understood stimuli of reward and punishment.
    For the majority of gun owners thats true. For some criminals, actually that holds true as well.
    But for the people we are discussing- the gun nuts- this isn’t true.

    No one needs a Bushmaster. It isn’t meant for hunting or target practice or self protection.

    It is modeled to look like a military M-16, and its entire reason for existance is to convey the psycho-sexual kicks of owning a weapon that looks very much like a real military automatic rifle. Its an adult version of Ralphie’s Red Ryder 200 shot Carbine Action BB Rifle, in that it becomes a totem that allows someone to feel the thrill of pretending to be in combat.

    For us to accept that someone “needs” a Bushmaster to um, plink cans and possibly squirrels is as much bullshit as accepting that someone needs a top fuel dragster on the freeway to um, get to work faster.Report

    • Avatar Just Me says:

      So the Bushmaster is the same as the Hummer.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      LWA, I think this is one issue where saying “these guns are bad” is not enough, you also have to argue how your proposed government policy is going to yield a desired outcome. Spree killings are incredibly rare, and yet any gun regulatory framework that you could propose will have to be sweeping. The onus is on you to show that we haven’t hit diminished returns before we’ve even started and also to account for all of the potential unintended consequences that such a prohibition can create (see: assault weapons ban loopholes). With such a low number of incidents to learn from and so much variation in their annual occurrence, getting that kind of evidence is really difficult. This cause makes the least sense from a progressive point of view: spend the same amount of political and regulatory capitol on reform for public health-care, child-care, food-health standards, or any other entitlement and you’d be impacting vastly more lives with a much higher guarantee of success (simply because the training set is so much larger).

      I realize that gun-safety is a formal plank of the progressive agenda, but tying it to spree-killings is like using lottery winners to guide your policy on income inequality. I see all of these excited Democratic gun-law proposals and I can’t help but think it’s just cheap opportunism to appear in charge on an issue that’s good with our base. Even better that our critics have to bite their tongues so as not to appear callous. Hijacking a rare emotional event to push through base-friendly policy that will do little to prevent it is not the kind of thing I want my party engaging in.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        you also have to argue how your proposed government policy is going to yield a desired outcome. Spree killings are incredibly rare, and yet any gun regulatory framework that you could propose will have to be sweeping. The onus is on you to show that we haven’t hit diminished returns before we’ve even started and also to account for all of the potential unintended consequences that such a prohibition can create (see: assault weapons ban loopholes).

        Why? Why isn’t the onus on the people who manufacture and sell the products, and the people who buy them?Report

        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          Because the American DNA is thick with behavior that has the potential to hurt innocent people: heavy drinking, fast cars, fast-food, fireworks, etc. And thankfully we don’t live in a society where the government gets a right of refusal to these things because some people don’t like them. If you think the government should move to spend money and resources on new regulation, it’s up to you to justify it.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            The outcome of the gun lobby’s proposals are wrenchingly evident right now. Sadly, those same proposals are not well understood from a scientific perspective, the gun lobby shut that research down.

            Because laws are in place, or interpreted a certain way, does not mean those same laws can be changed, their interpretations changed.

            So no, it’s not on me to prove the access to guns and the gun culture public dangers. They are public dangers when we’re looking at turning our schools into armed fortresses, when families will celebrate the holidays without six year olds in the house; six year olds who’s bodies were so ripped apart that they showed the parents photographs instead of the bodies when they went to collect their children’s bodies at the morgue.

            No. The calculas changed. Onus has been placed where it belongs; on the folk who want to walk about bearing lethal force, force that can rip apart a kindergarten class in seconds, and the high bar of responsibility that force engenders.

            I’m not particularly interested in any discussion of gun bans, gun confiscations, etc. etc. I think you’re right; we lack data points on mass shootings.

            But we haven’t studied the new gun culture that’s emerged, the culture of fear that leads to someone cowering in their homes with there personal armory of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo. Maybe that’s mental illness, too. Those of us who live unarmed, we have the right to self defense. And researching that sub-culture is my #1 goal; because it’s the growing menace; however unwitting. It’s the culture that gave us Nancy Lanza; and any one of its members may be the next Nancy Lanza.

            If you want to bear lethal force, you bear the responsibility. That culture is what you’re responsible for. Time to damned well get around to understanding what you’ve created.Report

      • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

        I’m actually not proposing a governmental solution. I am honestly unsure of what specific gun control regulation would be effective, although I suspect there are several that may be helpful.

        No, what I am proposing is a change in the culture we all create.

        Gun nuts- the people who buy Bushmaster rifles, the ones who fetishize their weapons, the ones who speak like Ralphie describing his BB gun; These people need to be shunned and ostracized in Ameerican society.

        Mentioning at a party that you own a military-style assault rifle should mark you as That Weirdo Who Does Not Get Invited Again.

        When someone ventures that they need a semi-automatic pistol to defend their home against hordes of criminals they should be met with stares of horror or amusement or both.

        When someone describes a world in which we all walk around with weapons strapped to our hips in anticipation of a shootout, they should get whispers behind them, and people should step away slowly.

        Culture is what is driving all this. Right now we have accepted the framework, the worldview put forward by the gun nuts. They describe a world in which there are roving hordes of criminals, and only brave men with guns stand between the wimminfolk and Them.

        In this world, proposals to arm teachers, proposals to carry pistols into church, proposals to have 5 year old children form a suicide rush against spree shooters are all met, not with incredulous revulsion, but thoughtful beard-stroking, as if this was not utter insanity.

        Sane people have to reclaim the ground, and drive this madness from the public square and define the limits of acceptable ideas.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


          I disagree with a lot of what you are saying BUT I think it’s all a valid criticism. I would also encourage you to consider writing a post for the symposium. This comment provides a pretty solid outline for a great essay.Report

  15. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    So, who were the big Megan McArdle fans around here again? Because she just made the crazy person that was on here the other talking about libertarians being in league with Satan look like a genius.

    “I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.”Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I’m going to assume that by “bodies,” she didn’t mean dead bodies, but people tackling her. And then I’m going to assume that this is really just a stupid idea, and not an evil one.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Satan is a libertarian, right? I mean, you know this.

        And I can’t agree that with you that it’s stupid. It’s mindnumbingly idiotic. As are so, so many of her posts.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I don’t read her. Most of what I know of her comes from liberals posting about something stupid she’s said.

          Also, I’m pretty sure Satan votes Constitution Party.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            Wasn’t the argument not that Satan was a libertarian, but that his preferred political practices were libertarian?

            Personally, I think Satan votes the NRA slate, not a party.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              I dunno. The sentence “Satan is a libertarian” is pretty unambiguous. I’m not sure it really requires an argument, either….

              And while Satan might be a member of the Constitution Party, that’s just pretense. That guy’d drop his principles for pragmatics at the drop of a hat.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              The argument, I believe, was that Satanism (as in the Church of Satan, which doesn’t actually worship Satan, but the person making the argument was apparently unaware of this) was based on Objectivism and libertarianism, therefore Objectivism and libertarianism are satanic. He had some quotes from a commentary on the Satanic Bible (though he called them quotes from the Satanic Bible) to back up his point.

              As I said, though, Satan votes Constitution Party.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

      ” if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun”

      I think we should train -using harsh, negative reinforcement conditioning- anyone who has a nonessential job, like a blogger for instance, to run at the shooter. Those with essential jobs, like a farmer or teacher, will be trained to run the other way or use bloggers as shields.

      Or maybe we should train the decadent childless, like McCardle?, to run at the shooter while parents and the young can run away. Douthat might like that.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      SWARM AND CHARGE…now just set that to the tune of Duck and Cover. Then we are set. Lets all go get a beer.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Duck and cover. I’ve been thinking lockdown drills are the new duck and cover for a few days, now. But the swarm and charge? That’s a bit much for kindergarteners and first graders; 3rd grade, maybe. . .

        But duck and cover might still work if we had required desks be made out of bullet-proof material. Each desk its own little child-protection unit.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          It would make those ADHD kids a bit more useful. Those suckers are hard to catch and bounce all over the place. The hyper kids can be like the old viking Berserkers while the the rest mass up behind.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        *whistles Gone Guru*Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I don’t agree much with Megan McArdle. And I agree that that particular suggestion is a little, well, unlikely to be heeded.

      But I am quite in agreement with the fundamental thrust of that piece:

      Since we can’t understand it, we can’t change it. And since we can’t change it, our best hope is to box it in. Gun control opponents are angry that liberals immediately started talking about gun control, but this seems like a natural instinct to me. It’s not the best way to get good policy, mind you; hard cases make bad laws, and rules passed in the wake of tragedies tend to be over-specific, and under-careful about unintended consequences. But it’s not somehow indelicate to want to talk about this now; if thirty children had been killed in a landslide, I hope that we’d be talking about whether there might be some way to keep that from happening in the future.

      On the other hand, I also hope that we’d be willing to accept the answer that maybe, there isn’t anything. Not every problem has a policy solution.

      Quite. We should seriously think about what we are doing wrong. And we should be open to every available measure to reduce the number of these events. But ultimately we need to accept that we can’t stop them outright, and may not be able to significantly decrease their frequency (though I suspect we could likely do things to decrease their individual lethality). I worry about Obama’s statements in the wake of the tragedy because I think they come quite close to saying we need to figure out how to do the impossible. I don’t know that I feel that he should not be doing that during these wounded moments, but I know that over the long term, we should not be suggesting to people that these tragedies are entirely avoidable if only we had the political will. I think that’s simply false, and that the government should not be promising things to citizens that it simply cannot deliver.

      That being said, I do note the subhead to McArdle’s piece, which has the tone of her writing in my opinion:

      The things that would work are impractical and unconstitutional. The things we can do won’t work.

      This is a false restriction of our options. Neither an assertion of impracticality nor (actual) unconstitutionality are actual bars to the exercising of available options. An assertion of impracticality not a real, but is merely an argumentative, restriction. Asserting that a course of action is impractical necessarily makes assumptions about the amount of resources we are willing to pour into implementing it, and a judgement about whether solving the problem that way (the sentence itself posits that it could be a solution…) is worth the expenditure. But those are just the questions that we will now be discussing in an open conversation about what can be done to reduce the risk of these incidents; an assertion of the impracticality of any option that it is conceded will “work” to effect the desired end prejudges the outcome of just the conversation it enters.

      And constitutionality is similarly within the scope of an open conversation about solving pressing problems. The constitution derives its legal legitimacy from the idea that the sovereign people of the nation agree that what it says should remain in force, with agreement or nonagreement being judged by an express process laid out within the document. Alongside the process for initial agreement to the document are processes for its amendment. Any down-to-the-tacks discussion undertaken by the people about a problem perceived as grave (enough) necessarily has within its potential domain exploration of the option of making changes to the constitution according to the processes for doing so laid out within. Present unconstitutionality of a measure is an obstacle to its implementation, and a reason to consider it very carefully indeed before deeming it necessary, but it is no final bar. If all that stood between continuing to live with the frequency of these events we now see and their eradication forever using measures whose cost seemed otherwise acceptable, I wonder whether Megan herself would say that those measures should be taken off the table merely because to implement them legally would require making changes to the constitution. Even if she did feel that way herself, I wonder whether she would actually feel that that preference should govern the full societal conversation about what measures to consider to address this problem.

      The practicality (which is ultimately a cost-benefit) consideration seems ultimately the one that should govern this conversation. If we agree that a measure is impractical, tha should take it off the table. If we agree, however, that a measure would both work and be practical (have acceptable costs), then its (un)constitutionality should be a matter for deliberation, not a bar to consideration.

      I think ultimately, however, with “work” defined as it is in the top head to the piece “Prevent (Near-Absolutely) Another Massacre,” the bar is simply efficacy, not cost or legality. We can’t stop these. If we could, I think the policy toolbox and legal regime should be thrown wide open, at least as a matter of discussion, in pursuit of doing so. But we can’t – simply cannot. What we can do, I believe, is decrease their frequency and legality – by how much we don’t know at present. With that ceiling on efficacy, there is reason to make certain presumptions about cost and changes to longstanding legal regimes. At this early time, in my view those presumptions would be: on cost, we’re not going to treat this like a true existential threat, where any and all national resources will be made available. And on legality: we’re probably not going to change the actual words of the constitution. Probably not. But at this early time, I wouldn’t take it entirely off the table, either. Megan’s tagline presupposes the conclusions that will be drawn from the very discussion in which it is a very, very early entry.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Before we instinctively call this stupid, can we pause and think about 9/11 for a moment? For years people had been taught to sit tight. Since 9/11 passengers know to rush everyone that acts threatening on an airplane.

      Is engaging in collective self-defense really such a stupid idea?

      Granted that we can’t expect elementary school kids to rush the shooter, but when we’re talking about high school kids and adults, isn’t it at least possible that doing so might result in fewer deaths and injuries by taking down the shooter sooner?Report

      • Avatar M.A. says:

        For years people had been taught to sit tight.

        For years it had worked. The terrorists took the plane, landed it somewhere, held people hostage, and in a hostage situation the smartest thing to do was to keep your head down.

        The problem was that on 9/11, it wasn’t a hostage situation. The previous mode no longer applied, but people were still operating in the old mode.

        People work off of the theories developed by previous instances. Sometimes, those theories turn out to be wrong. The local right-wing radio moron was screaming about how every classroom needed to have an easily opened door and kick-out windows, that we should redesign our schools to not have inner rooms at all or else doors between each classroom to create a dozen paths out of the school in case of something like this.

        The local right-wing radio moron, in his fit of self-righteousness (also wanting to spend a ton of money rebuilding our schools all of a sudden, where did the right wing spendthriftiness go?) is forgetting that in my area, our schools are built to be emergency shelters. They have to be able to bundle all the kids up in the central areas if there’s a tornado warning.

        Different purposes. Tornadoes (tornado warnings, a tornado happening in the area) happen far more frequently than anything like this, a few times a year at least. But people are fishing stupid when it comes to assessing real risks honestly.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          The problem was that on 9/11, it wasn’t a hostage situation.

          Neither is a school or shopping mall shooting.

          right-wing radio moron

          people are fishing stupid

          Megan McArdle… just made the crazy person that was on here the other talking about libertarians being in league with Satan look like a genius.

          I’m going to assume that this is really just a stupid idea, and not an evil one.

          And this, folks, is evidence for why the gun symposium is going to be unproductive. We haven’t even gotten to it yet and a sizable chunk of our comments are just about morons, stupidity, and craziness. And that’s just our liberals–we haven’t even really drawn in the conservatives yet. But the liberals sure have drawn their lines in the sand as quickly as possible.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Thanks James.

        It seems very likely to me that if I want to shoot all ten people in a room, it will be far easier for me to do so if they are standing still or retreating rather than running towards me en masse.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Glyph, it may be easier to shoot people who aren’t running at you, but that doesn’t make rushing at a shooter an effective method for stopping that shooter. Like I said, it’s what the principal did, and she was shot and killed, because when you run at someone pointing a gun at you, you’re going to get shot and killed. If 20 people do it, and the person has a rifle that can fire rapidly, several of them are going to be shot before anyone gets to the shooter.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Yes, let’s take it as given that several of them are going to get shot. Let’s even assume that each of those that is shot is going to die.

            What are we comparing that to? Your argument seems to implicitly compare that to zero–they’ll get shot, but they wouldn’t if they didn’t rush the shooter.

            But zero is not the correct comparison is it?

            And you’re also ignoring the expectations that will be created, and how that will effect future potential shooters.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              James, I’m not comparing it to zero. I’m suggesting that a.) there’s no good solution, and b.) in most cases, if there are ways to reduce the casualties, they’re not going to involve a bunch of people rushing the shooter, because that’s never going to work (again, except when the shooter reloads, in which case you’re probably only going to need a couple people).Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            Again, no one is saying that any one unarmed person rushing a shooter will be effective in stopping them (though, they certainly have better odds of stopping them than the person who does not rush at all). But if people do this en masse, even though some number of them will almost certainly be shot, I would expect on average lower total fatalities per incident.

            For any non-expert marksman (probably with military or police training), I would be surprised if they could hit more than 2 or 3 rapidly-approaching targets in quick succession. It’s not just a matter of actual accuracy and fast reaction time, but also cool-headedness and order of target selection.

            If even 1 or 2 people get through, now the shooter is in trouble. And that is what we want. Hell, slowing down the shooter’s rate of fire for 30 seconds while he struggles hand-to-hand could allow more people to either join in the melee, or escape.

            Look, I’d want professionals to weigh in on the concept. But I don’t see it as inherently ludicrous.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Rushing someone en masse requires coordination. Where’s that going to come from? Are they going to be able to disguise that coordination from the shooter? How will they know when to start? How will they signal the start without getting the shooter’s attention and therefore making themselves the primary targets?

              It’s just not an even remotely plausible solution.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Rushing someone en masse requires coordination.

                Not as much as you think. Any person moving is the start signal; the angles of attack can readily be seen and people can adjust on the fly much like birds in a flock adjusting their position. Any average shooter (bets are off with trained military/ex-military personnel) is going to be unlikely to respond effectively whether the group of attackers is coming at him in a body or coming at him from different directions.

                But the idea that the attack against a single non-military trained shooter needs some kind of careful pre-planning and military precision is, I think, unrealistic.

                This is easily tested in laboratory conditions, of course, and should be if it hasn’t already.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Problem isn’t the kinesthetics.

                It’s the psychology.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, at close range, with a high-powered, automatic or sem-automatic rifle, target selection just isn’t an issue. When people are rushing you from one direction, you basically have to just point and shoot. Now, if we coordinated by rushing from several directions, maybe, but if you don’t think that requires coordination, I don’t know what to tell you.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                You won’t get through. Hanley has Rambo mentality, he thinks he’s the one guy out of 10 who would get through without being killed in the bullet spray even as he got closer and closer in on the cone of death.

                Below he says: Again, we’re talking about schools, shopping malls, theaters. A person cannot move through such a place looking for victims without exposing themselves to potential attack from multiple sides. These shooters are not in a fixed defensive position.

                A doorway is a fixed defensive position. In a school, hallways are not that wide, making it damn lousy to try to flank anyone. Chokepoints abound in the areas we are talking about, and someone afflicted in the ways these gunmen are is going to use them.

                All the gunman has to do is step 2 feet back from the doorway and shoot anyone stupid enough to try to step through. Meanwhile, those “rushing him” have to manage not to trip on dead bodies AND not trip each other up or get in each other’s way as they charge.

                You’re engaging in the equivalent of three-legged hopscotch against a fast-repeating firearm’s cone of death. If that doesn’t say dumbass rambo mentality, I don’t know what does.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                M.A., you have this habit of insulting pretty much everyone who disagrees with you. It’s no wonder you can’t have a productive conversation with James, or pretty much anyone.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                I’m really tired of people whining about the speaking of uncomfortable truths and using it as a dodge to address them.

                Rambo mentality is rambo mentality is dumbass rambo mentality. The armchair rambos of the world are producing nothing of value for this conversation.

                The salient points are:

                – Chokepoints abound in any building. The gunmen will use them. A bum’s rush attack is suicide for most, if not all, of the participants and will only raise the body count.

                – Even “trained concealed carry holders” are not trained in the art of a mental state required to actually pull a gun and kill another human being. Their hesitation is death.

                – The gunman always, always has the element of surprise. He has his gun drawn and he does not give a shit who he shoots, everyone to him is a valid target. You, on the other hand, have to worry about coming round the corner and shooting an innocent bystander rather than the gunman. Your moment to process, react, and choose correctly whether you’ve got (A)the gunman, (B) another responder with a gun, or (c) an unarmed innocent is still happening while he’s already pulled the trigger. By the time you have finished deciding whether to squeeze, the bullet’s gone through your body and out the other side and is embedded in (or gone through) the wall(s) behind you.

                That’s the reality, not any of this rambo bullshit that keeps getting thrown around.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                M.A., uncomfortable truths tell themselves.

                If folks do not heed your tidbits of wisdom, don’t take it personally.

                You tried to give the lessons the easy way. If people ignore you, The Gods Themselves will teach these lessons the hard way.

                If, of course, you fear that people won’t do what you want them to do and go in an entirely different direction? Then you’re not telling hard truths but making value statements using moral language.


              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Okay, last try.

                I’m really tired of people whining about the speaking of uncomfortable truths and using it as a dodge to address them.

                Don’t misconfuse dodging vs. disengaging. See, the first is their problem. The second is probably yours.

                When you’re an asshole, people don’t want to engage with you because you’re an asshole. Not because you’re right, or wrong, or you’re speaking uncomfortable truths.

                Your choices are: clamp down on being an asshole so that people will get past the first sentence of your post, or continue to be an asshole and people will continue to disengage with you, and you’re never going to get anywhere convincing anybody of anything. Or be a lot funnier. I mean, a whole hell of a lot funnier. George Carlin you ain’t.

                That’s on you. It’s not the rest of the world’s fault that they can’t see how brilliant you are. It’s your fault for wrapping your ideas in a shit sandwich and asking people to dig through it.

                Seriously, dude, almost everybody here has a problem with somebody. James and Blaise can’t talk to each other. Mike and Elias have a hard time. It’s okay to be irritated by one or two or even three people’s writing styles and not be able to engage with them constructively. Just don’t engage those people and you can contribute and they can contribute and everything’s okay. Nobody says you need to be nice to everybody all the time. Not even Tod can do that. Well, North can. But he’s a freak of nature.

                When you can’t go a day without pissing off 3 different people on all sides of the aisle, you’re very likely the source of the problem. You. Not your ideas.


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                James and I manage to extricate ourselves from our fights. I suppose it’s a simpler strategy, saves on bad feelings all round, if we fight one battle at a time. We really are getting better about it, I hope you’ve noticed.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You are.

                And both of you contribute plenty around here to make the occasional squabble worthwhile. I mean, sheesh, people are going to get up on each other from time to time (unless they’re North… again… something is wrong with that dude). It’s aiight.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Hanley has Rambo mentality, he thinks he’s the one guy out of 10 who would get through without being killed in the bullet spray even as he got closer and closer in on the cone of death.

                Heh, I don’t have the training. God only knows what I would do. On the one hand, I’ve had occasion to surprise myself with my ability to remain calm when facing death. On the other hand, I’ve never done particularly well in fights. So, no, I don’t think I’m Rambo. I’d like to think I’d be willing to trade my life to save a kid, but I’d also like to think I’ll never be in a position where we find out what I’d actually do.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Yeah, Blaise and I have come to understand each other. Sometimes disengaging is not only the smart strategy but the considerate one.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Again, I would want a tactical expert to weigh in on degree of plausibility and effectiveness; I doubt either of us qualify as expert in this field. I’m a lover, not a fighter.

                I will simply note that people are capable of self-organizing, even under pressure; and if there are enough of them, it does not matter what the shooter knows or when he knows it, because in most cases (barring expert marksmanship/training, or a protected firing position) he simply cannot hit enough people quickly enough to stop them all.

                This is why a bunch of small wussy people can bum-rush the big bouncer at the gate (I know; I’ve done it). This is why we fear zombies even though they are slow and so stupid as to not even be able to use long-division or guns – because one person, no matter how able or well-armed, usually cannot handle multiple assailants indefinitely. Sooner or later one gets through.

                If they all attack at once, it’s usually sooner, or FPS video games have taught me nothing.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              cool-headedness and order of target selection.

              Both of which are particularly unlikely in the type of shooter we’re talking about.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Except cool-headedness and target selection do appear to be features of these types of shooters. Have you ever seen the Columbine video? These people seem to be calm, calculating, and when they have some experience with guns, effective.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                It’s easy to look clam and calculating when nobody’s charging you.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                No, it’s easy to look calm and calculating when you’re in the grip of homicidal psychosis.

                I think you’re off-base here, James.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                But is the person in the grip of homicidal psychosis really capable of calm calculation in the face of a multi-person attack? That’s the critical question.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t think you can get an experimental study of that sort of thing past an IRB.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Patrick, if a single untrained shooter with a gun is always inerrant and invincible against any number of unpredictable attackers acting either in sequence or in concert, what the heck have I been wasting all this money on FPS games for? Sure gets dull completing and winning the game on the first run-through all the time.

                More seriously, it could possibly be modeled, using video-game-like AI’s. I’d be surprised if it hasn’t already.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Oh, I’m sure there’s a group somewhere that is modeling exactly that sort of thing. Hell, there’s probably a DARPA grant involved.

                But those models are going to produce wildly different results, depending upon how you change your inputs.

                I don’t think we can establish enough of a baseline for how people are going to respond in this sort of event to have any idea what a best outcome is. Because 3 guys all thinking at once, “Tackle that guy!” might work, in one instance, but if one thinks it a split second faster than the other two, all three are probably toast. Even the most wired up guy just back from serving at a forward base in Afghanistan is going to act one way on one day and another on another day. Civilian life does not lead itself to encouraging people to optimize for combat.

                That old saw about extreme cases making bad law applies generally to systems: extreme cases make bad guidelines for coordinated behavior.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Laser or paint-ball, not live ammo!

                It wouldn’t be perfect, since we couldn’t put the “attackers” in a position where they really were caught off guard–no IRB would go for that. But we could brief subjects on what’s going to happen, prevent them from communicating with each other, and see how well they can coordinate spontaneously.

                Likewise, we can take some average firearms owners, people who know how to shoot, even folks who hunt regularly, even paintball players who are used to shooting at people, but who haven’t had military training, and see how well they can respond to being rushed.

                If no IRB will approve it, let Discovery Channel make it a reality show.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Patrick – I linked elsewhere to a person collating incidents and trying to suss out when it works, when it doesn’t, and why, but I’d like to speculate a bit on something else.

                Let’s say we could reasonably model it, and we ran zillions of simulations with varying scenarios and inputs, and we came up with the result that 60% of the time, this sort of “bum-rush” behavior resulted in 10% fewer fatalities (all numbers pulled from rear-end at random for hypo purposes).

                I somehow STILL doubt people would be comfortable with learning or teaching the tactic, even if we could somehow prove it provided a slight statistical advantage.

                Because while a very, very few people maybe DO see themselves as “Rambo” and think it would be them that got through, I suspect many more of us realistically realize, “it’ll be ME that gets shot, and why should *I* die, just to, at best, slightly increase the odds of saving some other guy?”

                And as the men’s freestyle fleeing champion for two years, I understand this train of thought.

                Doesn’t mean that taking the action that on average gives a slight statistical (and maybe even moral) edge is not the proper one to take, though.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Oh, and Glyph’s target selection comment was not about choosing which classroom to go to next, or which student to shoot next in a room where all of them are cowering and non-aggressive. He’s talking about rapid target selection in the context of a group of people rushing at you. Those are two radically different scenarios.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                The great thing about an automatic or semi-automatic rifle is that, at close enough range, target selection becomes somewhat superfluous.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Have you ever shot one of those things? I had the opportunity to at Quantico a couple years ago (on semi–they didn’t allow us to go full auto), and they’re not that easy to control. It takes not just practice, but training. It’s really easy to start spraying bullets all over the damn place, but be shooting up the ceilings and light fixtures rather than pointing them toward anyone. If you hit someone in the arm you aren’t necessarily stopping them or even slowing them down much. If you hit someone in the stomach or should or thigh they might still have the momentum to reach you and at least impinge on your ability to take the next shot effectively.

                There’s also a tendency to fixate, so that it’s more likely one attacker gets shot to pieces rather than the shooter effectively sweeping all of them.

                If you think it’s easy to mow down a group, particularly if they’re coming from different directions, just because your gun fires lots of bullets quickly, I think maybe you misunderstand what firing a gun like that is like. It does increase the ability to do harm, no doubt, but it also makes it really easy to waste a shitload of bullets. I struggled to hit the target with it at Quantico, but when I picked up the pistol hitting the target was easy.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                “rapid target selection in the context of a group of people rushing at you”

                Yes, this is what I meant.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, it takes more than just training. That’s why the army (and maybe the Marines?) don’t use their assault rifles on fully automatic anymore: it’s not an effective way to shoot at anything… except one thing: human waves at close range, at which point, you don’t have to aim.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Heh. It was called a banzai attack when the Japanese did it. The Marines mowed them down like grass. Dumbest thing I ever heard of, trying to rush a shooter armed with a semi-automatic weapon.

              When Saddam Hussein was invading Iran, a totally unprovoked war, Iran used to arm young boys with sticks and tie slogan ribbons around their heads, saying they would be protected by their faith. They’d charge the Iraqis, get shot to pieces. Got so bad the Iraqis were literally vomiting in horror. They couldn’t believe it.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Blaise, I know you have more experience than I; but it strikes me that 10 boys rushing 10 (or even two) armed men is indeed stupid. Isn’t every additional shooter a significant force multiplier?

                It does not strike me that 10 men, simultaneously rushing a single armed man, is the same stupid scenario, for reasons I have stated elsewhere in the thread. These scenarios aren’t combat, exactly; this is something else. (And again, all bets are off if the shooter has sufficient training or is safely ensconced in say a clock tower, rather than exposed and walking through open spaces firing at everyone he sees.)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                To rush a shooter in an enclosed space, you need to form a stack, everyone who’s going to enter the room needs to get pressed up against the guy in front of him. You might, if you had shields, get enough guys in the room to subdue him. You’d need a diversion like a flash-bang.

                But we’re talking about school kids here. Close quarters work in an enclosed space requires hours and hours of drilling. Trying to rush a shooter without a shield and a weapon is just madness. This guy had been to rifle ranges. He was double tapping everyone he shot, some as many as eleven times. His Bushmaster rifle is capable of putting out 800 rounds a minute in full auto, which translates to chambering a round faster than you can pull the trigger in semiauto.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Fair enough. I googled ‘Tackling Shooters’ and found this thread:


                The poster lists incidents where it seems to have “worked” and reasons as to why; he also notes that in many cases, it was indeed suicidally ineffective, at least when rushing from the front while the firing is occurring.

                It seems like a balanced perspective; I don’t think it says “always a good idea” or “always inherently ludicrous” – as usual, the answer appears to be, “it depends on many factors and luck and timing.” Which is hardly surprising.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Every person is a force multiplier. But Blaise is right, you only get up to about four people before coordinated attack breaks down (talk to the martial arts folks) — and that’s in a free environment — no walls.

                Flashbangs. The ability to kill the lights. Security Doors. there are plenty of decent defensive weapons here. (if nothing else, security doors mean you can keep the guy locked in the hallways, which are relatively depopulated)Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Or hell, create a few distractions. Loud noises, bombs, things that make someone a bit trigger happy use the trigger.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        It’s one thing to attack a guy with a knife or a shoe bomb. It’s another to rush a guy who’s pointing an assault rifle at you. It sounds like this is exactly what the Sandy Hook principal did, in fact.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Nobody’s arguing it would be easy, or that everyone would actually have the courage to do it. All that’s being argued is the effectiveness of a large number of people–not just the principal, but the principal and a bunch of teachers–doing it, if they have the courage to do so.

          It seems clear to me that at the least that argument deserves more than the appellation of “crazy” and “stupid,” which signify an unwillingness to even consider another person’s arguments, which suggests the upcoming symposium is going to be long on epithet and short on actual debate.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I genuinely think it’s stupid, because it means a bunch of people getting shot who might not otherwise have been shot (if they had run in the other direction, or hidden, say). I don’t think it deserves to be considered because there’s plenty of evidence it won’t work, and what’s more, that people won’t do it. I think it’s particularly stupid when we’re talking about young children.

            If we wanted to advance a serious argument about what to do during a mass shooting, we’d have to actually consider both human nature and things that might potentially be effective. Or we might just have to decide that there is nothing we can really do, in general. Sometimes it might work to sneak up on the attacker (much better than rushing him or her). Sometimes it might work to hide. Sometimes it might work to run in the opposite direction. It’s never going to work to rush the attacker from the front. Well, except when the shooter is reloading (which, I believe, is what happened in the Gifford shooting).Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              it means a bunch of people getting shot …instead of some other bunch of people getting shot? Again, whether someone gets shot is not the issue, since in these cases there is always someone getting shot. What matters is how many get shot–if this approach increases that number, it’s likely a bad idea (unless it deters future shooters); if it decreases that number, it’s likely not a bad idea.

              there’s plenty of evidence it won’t work,

              people won’t do it.
              Most won’t. I don’t think there’s doubt about that. Will some? Enough? When that’s the expectation?

              I think it’s particularly stupid when we’re talking about young children.
              I hope you’re not being so ungenerous to McArdle that you think she was actually proposing that young children rush the shooter? Because you’re generally better than that.

              And when young children are at stake is precisely when adults ought to most seriously consider following this strategy.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, cite.

                Also, this shooting (it appears the principal wasn’t the only person who rushed him).

                Also, she’s talking about mass shootings in response to the shooting of a bunch of children. So no, I don’t think she meant children, but that’s what we’re talking about in this case, right? The adults, it appears, rushed him. The children didn’t. Both died.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Come one, Chris, that’s about attacking a large armed force in a defensive position, not a single shooter in a shopping mall or school hallway. We’re not talking about Gallipoli here.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, the principle is the same: when you throw a lot of people at rapid-firing weapons, they get mowed down. You probably know that the Germans defense strategy was essentially small salients with machine guns spaced every X yards (say 50). One machine gun could mow down countless armed, charging Brits or Frenchmen. There’s just no way to do it effectively without heavy casualties.

                The only way it works is if you surprise the shooter, and that means coming from behind or the flanks, coordinating, etc., or when he/she is reloading.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Again, we’re talking about schools, shopping malls, theaters. A person cannot move through such a place looking for victims without exposing themselves to potential attack from multiple sides. These shooters are not in a fixed defensive position.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, if she had said, “People should sneak up on the attacker and rush him from behind or the flanks,” I wouldn’t have said it was stupid. But that does require coordination.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Not sure sneaking requires much coordination… Knowing where sneaky spots are, sure…Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                James, they might have taken you out to the shooting range at Quantico. Did they take you down to TFTC?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                No, no tactical training for the likes of us academics. Just a taste of firepower. And of course not as long as a lot of us would have liked (I’m not a gun owner, but I find target practice a great physical and mental activity).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I can’t even touch a weapon any more. I’m so sick of shooting and the glorification of weapons and all this hooey about Self-Defence. There’s no such thing. Let’s call it what it is: bone-deep autonomic reflex action in which you realise some asshole is trying to kill you and you have to kill him first.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                My dad was in WWII. I knew he hunted as a kid, and I asked him once why he never taught us to hunt. He said after the war he just didn’t have any interest in guns. Makes sense to me.

                I haven’t had that experience, and except for shooting a few bottles in the crick as a kid, my gun experience is all on the range. For me it’s like shooting free throws, a mental and physical discipline with no external meaning. But I don’t claim I’d think that way had I your or my dad’s experience.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                But James,

                if you train people, publically, for years to rush the shooter (as McCardle puts it), the shooter will know this, too.

                The shooter will then start shooting, and a few seconds later move to a wall and just kill victims as they rush towards him. It’s a recipe for making these disasters much worse in most instances, even if a few stupid shooters were stopped by a rush.

                Moreover, a lot of these guys aren’t going to be that great a shot. So if you can get a few yards away and keep moving, your chances of getting shot will go down greatly. If you and your friends approach the shooter, you will be the easiest targets for even the worst marksmen. (And try rushing they guy when two or 5 people are dead in front of him after a failed rush).

                No, I’d train people to do a couple of different simple things depending on the situation. First, look for cover or drop to the ground when you hear a shot as instantly as you can. Then quickly, in 2 to 3 seconds, plan an escape. If there is no cover or the shooter is very close take off running and do a zig zag a bit if you can. If you are within 5 yards, are fairly big, and the shooter isn’t aiming at you, then tackle if you can.

                McCardle’s claim is stupid. We should be charitable, but there are limits.

                But she gets one thing right. If we aren’t going to ban most guns (a la my Japan proposal or Robert Wright’s “6 bullet proposal”) then we need to begin training children how to survive these events with drills about escape plans, staying calm under fire, maybe teaching older children to field dress wounds and a bit of jiu jitsu for the possible scenario that they are close to the shooter and can take them down. I would train small children with the sound of live fire so they don’t panick too much.

                IMO, extreme gun control is better and less radical than combat/escape training for our children (which is an awful fear to put in them), but the gun lovers don’t want the U.S. to become like the near gunless nightmarish dystopias in Japan and Parts of Europe. So we better start training our kids to learn with the danger they live in.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I hope you’re not being so ungenerous to McArdle that you think she was actually proposing that young children rush the shooter?

                From the McArdicle: I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun…Report

              • Avatar clawback says:

                Yeah, I wonder how this “drilling it into young people” would go. Would we teach our kids to bum rush mass murderers when we teach them “look both ways before you cross the street” and so on? And we thought duck-and-cover was insanity.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I can see why James thinks its “ungenerous” to attribute the view to Mcardle: because it’s fucking crazy. I don’t know how to read in any way other than advocatingteaching 6 and 7 year old kids to reject their instincts to flee and charge – en masse! – a full grown adult carrying potentially multiple extended mag weapons.

                It’s fucking ludicrous. But, of course, liberals are deliberately mischaracterizing libertarianism….Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sure, the only young people are 6 and 7 year olds.

                But this is what I expect from the gun symposium; everyone striving to ensure that they are reading their debate opponents in the worst possible way (other than Mike Dwyer, who I think is the only person who’s really conducted himself well so far).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                And yourself, of course. It’s always other people who fuck things up, innit, James?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                No, Stillwater, I didn’t include myself. “The only person” means just one, and that one wasn’t me.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Still, I think it’s quite easy to read it another way; and I think, as usual, people who really hate MM to begin with, are not going to do so.

                But I’ll try anyway.

                I think of 6 or 7 year olds as “kids”; were I writing about them, I would not use the term “young people” (sorry, Kaz) – because young people are taught CPR; young people are taught to drive; and young people are taught self-defense (particularly if your daughter has reached dating age). And these are all reasonable behaviors to teach in our society to “young people” – but not to “kids”.

                Should MM have realized that some would read it this way? Maybe, and that is bad writing.

                But I seriously, seriously doubt she was envisioning a wave of 6 year-olds overwhelming a shooter when she made the statement.

                I think, rather, she was alluding to how you create a society of people who can overcome their natural instincts to run away (or panic when someone is choking, or steer away from the skid , etc.); and you do this in part by training – you guessed it – your young people.

                Note that this is all separate from the question of the proposed tactic’s efficacy. This is strictly speaking to the (IMO) clearly unintended idea of toddlers swarming shooters, defeating them through sheer sticky-handed cuddles.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Glyph, here’s the title of the article: “There’s little we can do to prevent another Massacre”. Here’s what she thinks we can do: “I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun…”.

                It follows from this that the only thing we can do to prevent kids from being massacred is teach them to gang rush shooters.

                On the other hand, if she’s saying that even that option isn’t on the table, then there was no point in including that small measure in the essay, or in titling the post as she did. It ought to have read instead “There is nothing we can do to prevent another massacre of first and second graders”.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Megan McArdle, is, simply put, a Wanda Mitty. You know what’s so disturbing about this shit? Some jamoke is going to take her seriously and start teaching his 43 pound child how to rush a threatening person and that child is going to have his liver kicked out of him.

                What a stupid thing for McMegan to say! AFAIK, I’m the only person here who’s actually been in a stack and learned how this is done. It’s terrifying for a grown man in full battle gear, wearing a whole lot of body armour, in the company of a squad of men he knows well enough to distinguish their farts in the dark. This isn’t a fucking video game. There might be bad guys behind that wall, just waiting for you and there might not. It’s brutal stuff, people get killed, it’s a room by room by room thing, trying to clear a building.

                And this jamokette, with the wisdom and experience of a long stint in battle with the 101 Keyboard Division (airmobile), armed with a degree in English Lit and an MBA from U of C is going to tell her loyal right wing readers, a bunch of fucking mouth breathers who are all too inclined to take this kind of thing seriously, to teach a fifty pound child how to clear a room. It’s breathtakingly stupid. Furthermore, it’s dangerous as hell. She should be taken by the scruff of the neck and have someone push her in the doorway at TFTC, with a shooter armed with a Bushmaster, with live rounds, behind a doorway in that dreadful establishment. See how she does. See how well that rushing the shooter shit goes down when the muzzle velocity is 900 meters per second. See if she can do a Neo Twist on that.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                A.) It’s my understanding the writers don’t always choose titles. Even if she did,

                B.) …not all massacres involve children; in fact, they are rare enough that this one really stands out. Presumably, she (and we) would prefer to see all massacres prevented, or at least reduced in lethality. To do that,

                C.) …it does not follow that she is advocating we teach “kids” to do anything; as I have pointed out, “young people” carries for many people, including myself, a different connotation than does “kids”. Rather, one of the few harm-reduction measures she sees as possibly helpful (and again, I do not want to get into whether that is correct or not) is the bum-rush. And she is advocating teaching that tactic to, again, “young people”, not “kids”. Young people who will grow into adults having internalized sufficient training to overcome their instincts.

                Look, we can reasonably disagree on the efficacy of the tactic – we all have, up and down these threads.

                But seriously believing that MM is advocating training some toddler army is just about as improbable as actually training a toddler army would be.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Glyph, unless things have seriously changed at her new digs, McArdle writes the headlines.

                It’s her blog, they just provide the hosting site and pay her for the content she ads.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                zic – fair enough. Title still doesn’t say anything about “young people”, let alone “kids”.

                Look, in a piece largely about how any sort of meaningful changes are unlikely or impossible (a thesis about which you are free to disagree) she threw in a line about something that might help reduce overall bodycount (again, feel free to disagree with it).

                But to jump to the conclusion that she is therefore advocating that small children run towards gunmen is unwarranted.Report

              • Avatar zic says:



                McArdle and I have some history. We argued a lot about ACA before it passed. I take great relief that most of her prognostications don’t come true.

                But I did get her to actually research some of the topics she’s written about, particularly how investment in drug discovery goes down. So not all battles on the internets are without merit or reward.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                1st grade will now be known as 1st wave
                2nd grade will be 2nd wave and so on. that will make it easier for the little kids to remember when they should be charging.

                McArdle isn’t always laughable or dumb. She can make a good point. But when she is off, she is really off.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                She can make a good point.

                Sure. The same way a broken clock tells time.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I forgot about the young people part. Well, there ya go. Case closed.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yes. there are plenty of shooters/”people armed and dangerous” in schools. Most of them aren’t looking to kill everyone.Report

          • Avatar Ramblin' Rod says:

            It’s not that it’s stupid, or that it couldn’t work, James. It’s just that from the little detail that’s emerged so far, it appears that many, if not most or all, of the teachers were willing to do–and did!–the Secret Service thing and shield their charges from the onslaught as well as charge the shooter.

            See… you’re imagining a situation where there’s a group of adults facing down this gunman. But the reality is that they inevitable confronted them one at a time because they were all individually in their own classrooms or offices. They tried but they were no match for high-velocity lead projectiles.

            This is the problem with all these macho, superman, gotta-have-my-gun-for-self-defense theories. The attacker always, with no exceptions, has the advantage of the element of surprise. It’s simply impossible to live your life, day in and day out, no matter how naturally vigilant or well-trained you may be, at the kind of hair-trigger level of alertness it would require to respond usefully.

            You’re going to spend the first ten to twenty seconds, at least, by first, shitting your pants, and then, second, figuring out what’s going on. By that time you’re likely well about the business of dying from a gunshot wound.Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              It’s simply impossible to live your life, day in and day out, no matter how naturally vigilant or well-trained you may be, at the kind of hair-trigger level of alertness it would require to respond usefully.

              Well, it is theoretically possible, but generally causes severe mental imbalance.

              The people who do so are the trigger happy, PTSD types of people who shouldn’t be given access to guns because they’re more likely to shoot and kill a family member than a burglar.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              No, even then. I’ve had people duck-and-cover from cannonfire. Even if you don’t spend the first 10 seconds being paralyzed. Spend it getting to a point where you CAN plan.

              If you want to give people DEFENSIVE weapons, make sure they don’t need to see the attacker, to know where he is, to set ’em off. One whistle– Unauthorized intruder. Step 1: shut the safety doors to the classrooms. Step 2: cut the lights.
              Voila, you’ve sigificantly impeded the guy.

              Even if he busts in through a window (painful, potentially causes bleeding), at least you have a metal shield for the folks outside the classrom.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              “You’re going to spend the first ten to twenty seconds, at least, by first, shitting your pants, and then, second, figuring out what’s going on. By that time you’re likely well about the business of dying from a gunshot wound.”

              I don’t want to wade into the entirety of this thread, but this isn’t entirely true.

              I’ve been trained regularly on CPR, the Heimlich, and other basics of first aid. Every time, I remember thinking, “This is stupid. I’m going to shit my pants and panic if I ever encountered a situation where this was required.”

              Well, guess what? Twice in the past two years I had children begin to choke right in front of me. And you know what? I didn’t miss a beat. I sprung into action and the training kicked in like second-nature. Now, there are probably elements of my personality that aided me in doing so. I tend not to panic… I am frustratingly (to some, including my wife) calm and even-keeled. I am pretty quick-thinking and prescribe to a life approach summed up in a simple acronym: TCB… Takin’ Care of Business (another thing my wife hates). But, still, I didn’t instinctively know what to do when a choking child potentially on the verge of death presented to me. My training kicked it.

              So, a particular subset of the population can likely be trained to react a particular way in a particular situation, no matter how rare the situation is. Not everyone, but some folks.

              Now, I’m not saying that we SHOULD train people to act a particular way when faced with an armed assailant. Only that we CAN.

              Along those same lines, I read an account from one of the teachers in the building, who sheltered her children in a corner of the class and read to them while the rampage went on. As soon as she heard the pops, she lowered the blinds and locked the door. She went into auto pilot. You know who else did? The kids. They knew what it meant when the teacher did and they all went to the safe corner. Why? Because they practiced such behaviors.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yeah. That’s some people.
                I hope and pray that doesn’t become a criteria for being a kindergarten teacher… (actually, you just cited a couple times when it would have helped… what’s your mileage).Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Teachers should be able to remain calm in times of panic. Children are astutely aware of the emotional tenor of the adults aware of them, if only subconsciously so. If I panic, they panic. If I project calm, it goes a long way towards keeping them calm.

                Whether this should be co-opted into training me to attack attackers… I dunno. But being able to act when a child is choking? Yea. Good move, whoever decided to make such training mandatory. I know two very, very happy sets of parents.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:


              I like your response a lot better than the others’.Report

            • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

              Also, consider Aurora. The gunman there was pretty static, as I recall. He may have moved down the row, but rushing him would have been almost certainly out of the question.Report

      • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

        “Before we instinctively call this stupid…”

        NO. Lets call it what it is, stupid. Asinine. Unbelievably idotic contrarianism.

        She suggested that Nothing Can Be Done.
        Worse, we teach children to rush a spree killer.

        This subthread is an example of what I mentioned upthread. Instead of having discussions about how to prevent this horror from happening, we are now having a chin-stroking session about how to surrender and accept it and find ways to deal with it, as if it were a natural occurrance like a tornado.

        We need to reject the entire premise.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Thank you, LWA, for announcing that there will be no discussion.

          And with conservatives like Dan having already made their position clear, it’s obvious that weeks before the symposium even starts, both liberals and conservatives have made up their mid that reasoned debate is their mutual enemy.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            both liberals and conservatives have made up their mid that reasoned debate is their mutual enemy.

            Is the implication here that libertarians, and *ONLY* libertarians, are open to reasoned discussion? That’s a fun conclusion to draw from this thread.Report

          • Avatar Dan says:

            And with conservatives like Dan having already made their position clear, it’s obvious that weeks before the symposium even starts,

            Exuseme1) I’m not a conservative and 2) if the control advocates treat me civilly and call out the members on their side who don’t; I’ll treat them civilly. 3) in the past few day serious people have said that everyone who opposes gun control is terrorist and has blood on their hands so long as people talk like I’m going to be a little on edge, these people are treating gun owners the way conservative treated Muslims after 9/11.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              *hugs* Calm down, have a beer (or tea. I like tea!).
              Are you a liberal? Be glad to find more pro-gun liberal folks around here.
              Would make for better conversations, I suspect.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Here’s the thing, James. I think you’re probably right that gun control, like abortion or the band Rush, is a topic on which reasonable discussion is incredibly difficult. But if you’re going to judge the League on its ability to discuss difficult topics by how they respond to a person saying that young people should be trained to rush shooters, then as when using M.A. as a prototype, you’re going to conclude that no reasonable discussion is possible on this blog.

            Hell, despite the fact that I said at the start, and still believe that what McCardles said was stupid, we’ve had a fairly reasonable discussion about it. We still disagree, but at least the reasons were laid out, right?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              And I’d add that James is accusing people of constructing a strawMcArdle even after a direct quotation from her leaves no doubt that she said the very thing he’s trying to reduce to ideologically-driven misrepresentation.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                “Young” is a broad enough term that there is indeed doubt about whether she meant 6 or 7 year olds.

                Sometimes people write badly, no? At least that’s what you have accuse me of, and not without some justification. So why not pause and ask “Is it really possible to believe that McArdle wants us to teach kindergartners to gang rush men armed with AR 15?”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                “Is it really possible to believe that McArdle wants us to teach kindergartners to gang rush men armed with AR 15?”

                James, I don’t think you’ve read McArdle’s piece, have you?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Yes, I have. But I’m going back to the resolve of my very first comment on this post. The floor is yours if you wish, and I say that with no malice or spite.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t understand this, really. First, we’re not talking about gun control here, we’re talking about something that, in essence, we’re all pulling out of our ass: what to do when someone with a lot of fire power starts shooting people in a public place. Some of us felt that McCardle’s suggestion was extremely unreasonable, and we’ve provided reasons for that, without insulting you or anyone who disagreed with us (again, M.A. is an exception, but M.A. is what M.A. is). We’ve had a discussion, and it looks to me like a fairly polite one. I don’t think anyone has changed their mind, but I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve seen internet discussions result in a participant changing his or her mind. If that were the reason people participated in them, we’d all be wasting our time every time we got involved in one.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I didn’t say anyone was being insulting, only that I see people announcing their closure to argument up front.

                But I am exiting this thread. This comment was only to tie up loose ends (get it?).Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, as one of the people who called it stupid in this thread, I’m not sure how my subsequently engaging in a discussion about it fits with your view that people are “announcing their closure to argument up front.” I think “stupid” is a position, much like “not stupid, even reasonable” is a position. They can both be discussed.

                I’m not going to press you to participate in a discussion you’re not enjoying. I’m just a bit confused about why you see it the way you do. Maybe if someone else sees this too, they could explain it to me.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                “Stupid” and “crazy” are pejoratives, words most often used as conversation stoppers.

                Out of respect to you, I am responding, but I ask that you leave it at that. If you disagree, think about what language you’d find conducive to discussion in a classroom. If you still disagree, then we disagree, and I can live with that.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                So why not pause and ask “Is it really possible to believe that McArdle wants us to teach kindergartners to gang rush men armed with AR 15?”

                As someone who used to read her column at The Atlantic site, I’d have to answer “yes”. She did, for instance, accuse people who supported PPACA of doing it specifically to spite her.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I have to say, having read the piece I think that regardless of her intended message it’s hard not to see some kind of offensive subtext that might have been taken care of by some kind of a “what I mean to say is…” had she been so inclined.

                For example, when I first read it I didn’t read it as using kids as a human shield as others did (which I still confess seems like *looking* for an uncharitable reading). But reading it the way (I think) she *did* intend – coming in the wake of Newton – it was hard not to come away with the message that the kids shot were cowardly, or that they somehow to blame for their own sloppy thinking, or some other completely terrible and inappropriate subtext.

                Buthe the biggest (and perhaps the most uncharitable) thing that came to my mind as I read it was the distinct feeling I could hear her thinking, “What controversial and inflammatory thing can I say that will ensure a whole lot of page hits on a topic everyone’s talking about?”Report

          • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

            Lets just be clear about what we are talking about in this “reasoned discussion”:

            We are talking about a serious proposal to teach our children that when a madman comes to their classroom and begins slaughtering people, they should rush him in a suicide advance.

            Reasoned? Reason teaches us that this is stupid. That tiny children cannot possibly have this capability, that no two mass killings are every alike.

            Moral reasoning teaches us that this is an outrageous assault on the value of a civil society, in that it presumes that we accept a world in which our children are cannon fodder, that we value the right to arm deranged men above the right of children to live in a peaceful world. That we abdicate our responsibility as parents and surrender to madness because the other options make us uncomfortable- more uncomfortable than allowing our children to live in ever present fear of being murdered.

            Stupid is the only appropriate word, the most civil way of describing this theory.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          It is a natural occurrence like a tornado, LWA.

          A very, very small percentage of human beings are cross-wired in a confluence of ways that produces this outcome. It’s not about being Aspie, or ADHD, or autistic, or a product of a broken childhood, or a victim of sustained abuse, or unbalanced lithium levels, or a brain tumor pressing on your amygdala, any one of a dozen other things that thousands of people deal with, individually, every day… without flipping out.

          It’s a toxic combination of multiples of those things.

          Human beings occasionally break this way. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this predates (and is at best only very loosely correlated with) violence in video games, violence in movies, violence on the tee vee, access to guns, access to explosives, technology in general, and modern society.

          No matter what we do today, tomorrow, and next week… no matter what laws we pass, or security we add to our schools, or training we give to members of our society… sometime in the next 365 days this is going to happen again. Somewhere in the world, probably here.

          That’s not to say that nothing can be done. Plenty of things can be done to mitigate or reduce the impact of these sorts of things. But many, many of those things come at logarithmically increasingly high costs, and logarithmically decreasingly returns.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            “Somewhere in the world, probably here.”

            “Probably here” implies there is something beyond human physiology at play, no?Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              That was unclear, let me clarify it…

              It’s likely to happen anywhere where there are sufficient numbers of peoples to support the statistically unlikely event of a spree killer reaching majority.

              It’s likely to happen here. It’s likely to happen in China, India, anywhere were you have enough people that the .0[..n..]1% of the population is cracked.

              It’ll probably happen in multiple places. We’re just not as likely to hear about the other ones, and in lots of places (anywhere with ongoing, low-to-mid-grade military conflict), it’s probably not going to go reported at all, for obvious reasons.

              I really don’t think there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the U.S. is uniquely violent. We sure like to think we are, but that’s probably observer bias.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                Uniquely violent? Probably not. Uniquely violent when compared to other countries that are most like us among commonly used statistical measures? It appears that way. Which is meaningful, though does not necessarily go so far as to support LWA’s point that such things can be eradicated.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Our murder rate is far higher then just about every other country that isn’t involved in an active civil war. There is evidence we are uniquely violent. That doesn’t mean just because we have spree killers since they are rare events, but taken as a whole, the amount of violence we have here is noteworthy.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Yes, but I think most of that has enough strong correlation with other factors that they’re more likely explanations than, “Americans are violent yahoos”.

                We have a war on drugs, and we have a rather pernicious intergenerational poverty problem with fairly large, but under-represented groups.

                When you look at subpopulations of violent crime (say, the incidence of spousal homicide) and you correct for socioeconomic factors and military PTSD, I think you’ll find that your average suburban middle-class couple is no more likely to be engaged in spousal violence than an average suburban middle-class couple in any other first world nation. Similarly, cutting out the drug war, our rates of other types of violence are really highly correlated with people being poor and minority.

                Poor and minority people in other countries are also more likely to be exposed to that sort of thing, as well. Other countries have differing demographic issues, though.

                Other cultures have more violence in various sorts of media, and less violence in their overall society. I don’t think a credible case can be made that it’s our “media culture” or television or video games.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Tom & Jerry was a bad thing to show to small children. Probably someoen lost a hand/eye/other appendage because of it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


                But, uh, you know… every goddamn child of my generation watched Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes and GI Joe, and there’s a remarkable dearth of missing hands and eyes among my peer group, if there’s any sort of significant relationship between the two.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yes. GI Joe wasn’t a problem. Three Stooges isn’t a problem. Most kids get exposed to more than one TV show in their life.

                And yes, there is a damn significant relationship between the two.
                Just like I posted yesterday about the relationship between aggressive behavior and handling a handgun.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                And yes, there is a damn significant relationship between the two.

                My reading of the extant literature (standard disclaimer: not a professional psychologist) is that there is a correlation between consumption of violent media or access to objects typically modeled in violent scenarios, and violent behavior.

                However, the difference (while measurable and significant) is a difference in degree, not kind, and the effects rapidly tail off after time.

                So kids who naturally roughhouse will naturally roughhouse somewhat more violently after watching a violent cartoon, but they won’t escalate to throwing punches or stabbing each other or any other major escalation, and pretty shortly after consuming said violent content, they’re back to their normal selves.

                If someone more familiar with the literature can disabuse me of this incorrect understanding (assuming it’s incorrect)… as always, it’s a welcome correction.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                I agree on your sense of “priming”.
                However, there’s been enough studies about punching (and punching seems to be a reasonable form of “conflict resolution”), that I wouldn’t rule out blunt trauma for young kids.

                We ought to recall that these studies were done on very young children.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I confess I wonder about this topic.

                Take graphic, violent video games that reward you for (or at least allow you to) killing unarmed people.

                The thought that playing these games turns the people who play them into amoral killing machines seems silly, and flies in the face of readily observable evidence.

                But can their glorification of killing people or shooting up the place pull just enough switches in the right kind of person to make them more willing to put themselves in a situation where they get to kill someone – or (less likely) help push them toward the decision that it would be cool to take a gun to a movie theatre or mall and light ’em up?

                I don’t actually know the answer to that, but all of my RM training wants to say “yes.”Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                But can their glorification of killing people or shooting up the place pull just enough switches in the right kind of person to make them more willing to put themselves in a situation where they get to kill someone – or (less likely) help push them toward the decision that it would be cool to take a gun to a movie theatre or mall and light ‘em up?

                This is a legitimate question, but… Bayesian reasoning again.

                The right proper question isn’t just “does consuming this violence-as-media lead to this sort of behavior”.

                It’s, “if we remove this violence-as-media from the environment, will the right kind of person find or stumble across some other set of switches that will produce the same result?” and maybe even, “Hey, if we remove this stimulus with this effect, is it likely that the substitute stimulus will produce worse outcomes?”

                I think it’s staggeringly likely that the answer to that question is, “yes, and uh, shoot… signs point, ‘there’s no freakin’ way to tell’.”

                Ticking time bombs… you can possibly grab a hold of the timer and turn it this way or that, but you can’t do it indefinitely and you probably can’t even do it long enough to prevent the thing from going off. Monkeying with it is just as likely to make it go off somewhere worse than somewhere better.

                Think about it this way, Tod: in all the sexual harassment cases you’ve been exposed to, did you think to yourself, “Dang, if this workplace had better rules, that guy would never have done this, ever…” or did you think to yourself, “Dang, if this workplace had better rules, that guy would have quit and gone somewhere else to harass somebody”?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The first time I played Grand Theft Auto III and found myself waiting at a red light… I said “what in the hell am I doing?” and I just drove through it.

                There were no consequences.

                God was dead. I was free to do whatever I wanted.

                It was exhilarating.

                Granted, it’s significantly *LESS* awesome in the real world. But in GTA III? Wow.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                “Think about it this way, Tod: in all the sexual harassment cases you’ve been exposed to, did you think to yourself, “Dang, if this workplace had better rules, that guy would never have done this, ever…” or did you think to yourself, “Dang, if this workplace had better rules, that guy would have quit and gone somewhere else to harass somebody”?”

                Man, that is one excellent point.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Patrick & Tod,

                That is an excellent point. And much bigger then just employment.

                My husband teaches at a private school. They get to toss out the undesirable students. When you enroll, you surrender your rights to due process at the door; right or wrong, if you remain a student, it’s totally at the school’s discretion.

                Public schools? They’re required by law to take all comers, and there’s significant due process before a child’s deemed troublesome-enough to be shown the door. And some really poor alternatives await that child at that point.

                We do have people who don’t fit it. Adam Lanza’s mother, so it seems from preliminary reporting, opted to remove him from the system, to go it alone, and we can only imagine what she went through and why.

                But it bears considering: when someone causes illegal strife for others; what then? Simply pass them along to the next employer, the next school, where the powers-that-be might tolerate it?

                I don’t have an answer, short of mandatory brain-reprogramming. And that’s sci-fi and worse, a violation of civil rights. By the very act of granting those rights, we’re saying we accept the burden that some of us might fail. And when they do, short of the prison system, we don’t have much in the way of answers.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I don’t think media culture is to blame for violence in the US. If there is any connection, which i’m not sure there is, it is in the other direction. People who are violent want to consume violent entertainment. Of course peaceful people also like to watch people beating the stuffing out of each other also.

                Tom and Jerry was a terrible cartoon. Just grating. Not saying it caused any problems, i’m just making an aesthetic, albeit correct, judgment.Report

              • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

                We should also note that mass gun murders tend to be carried out by a remarkably narrow demographic segment of society.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I resemble that remark.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                “Somewhere in the world”… Probably China The Wiki article only talks about the /known/ cases in China, there are far more that don’t make it into their state-controlled press. Yes, they could be worse, so far and fortunately the attackers have used knives. Were they to use hatchets ala the Tong, the death tolls would be severely higher. Mental illness is by no means constrained to geopolitical borders. I believe the serial killer with the most deaths to his name was a resident of the highly regulated Soviet Union and yet he still managed to murder hundreds.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I talked about China in the post back about spree killing after Aurora. All of their reported mass killing events took place in the very near history, which leads me to believe that the disparity between China (and India, and Indonesia) and the West is likely an issue of reporting bias, not an actual difference.

                But yeah, China is a very likely candidate. They have a persistent underclass there, too, now.Report

          • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

            Where on the logarithmic scale do 20 slaughtered 1st graders fall?

            Are they more acceptable or less acceptable than socially shunning gun nuts?

            More acceptable or less acceptable than publicly hooting down and mocking people who suggest those children should have rushed and tackled the shooter?

            Is it acceptable to suggest that we can curb mass slaughters by reinstating DOMA and DADT, banning gay marriage and abortion, and finding favor with God, who obviously is punishing us for our wickedness?

            Is it an unnacceptably high price for us to suggest that gun owners be licensed and registered?

            Yes, changing society has a price tag; whenever society moves from one position to another, it causes pain for someone, as we decide that certain things are socially unacceptable (like marching in a Klan rally) and other things are acceptable (like gay men getting married).

            Right now we- meaning American society, and the readers on this blog- are deciding what the terms of debate are. Certain people are trying to set the terms as “Status Quo” on one end, and “Guns everywhere, guns always” as the other pole. I don’t accept those premises.

            Others are suggesting that we accept mass killings as an acceptable price we pay for this peculiar institution of ours, this fixation with guns-as-manhood. I don’t accept that.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              I really don’t think that mass killings and gun ownership are linked the way you think they are.

              I really don’t think people play “Call of Duty” and go decide to kill people, either. Or paintball, or football, or go to the movies and watch “Die Hard XXVII”.

              I’m pretty sure I’m okay with “guns everywhere, guns always” being off the table because that’s a stupid argument… I already think cars are already demonstrably more dangerous than the average idiot should be tasked with being able to use responsibly, so distributing firearms everywhere is contraindicated on the “there are too many stupid people” measure.

              I’m pretty sure that the status quo can change just fine without devolving into tyranny or a sheeple population, too.

              I eagerly await your bullet point list of propositions; what you want to do, and why you think it will result – in particular – in a change in the status quo.

              I imagine that I will not care particularly negatively about what you want you want to do, but will think that your proposed solutions will have a much lower efficacy in actually changing the status quo than you think they will.

              I constantly feel exasperated in these conversations, because I usually find the arguments on both sides to be underwhelming and uncompelling.Report

              • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

                I don’t think they are linked in that way either.
                I do think that weapons like the Bushmaster are deliberately designed to appeal to young men who feel insecure in their manhood. This set of young men also includes a large number of mentally unstable young men, most of whom also feel the need for power and control. The gun is designed to feed this notion that brandishing a military-style assault rifle will provide all that a young man needs to establish his “man card.

                I think we also have cultivated over the years a bizarre fetishism of guns and gun violence. We tolerate it, turn a blind eye to it, and refuse to discuss it.

                At the risk of repeating what I have said elsewhere on this thread, see my comment at 11:02 for the bullet points.

                In short, I don’t think the government can be the sole solution to this; As long as we have a culture that tells insecure young men that their rite of passage into Manhood is to buy a Bushmaster, no laws can possibly counteract that.

                Shaming, shunning, and ostracizing the gun nuts are the first step towards having a morally sane culture.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t have a problem with any of that. Social opprobrium is a tool anybody can use on anybody.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I think we also have cultivated over the years a bizarre fetishism of guns […]
                see my comment at 11:02 for the bullet points.

                It’s even worse than you thought!Report

      • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

        Just how, pray, do you rush someone in a movie theater?

        “The stupid, it burns!”Report

  16. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Rather than a fruitless discussion on guns with many of the better interlocutors staying absent, why not have a fruitful discussion on the <a href=""<very real problem of mental illness in this country?Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      munged the stinkn linkn. I am Adam Lanzas’ motherReport

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Thanks for the link Ward. That’s a good piece.

        I’m a bit confused tho. The mother says here son is dangerous, that medical professionals haven’t determined what’s causing his psychological problems so they have no remedy, and that her son shouldn’t be in incarcerated. Then she says we need a national dialogue on mental health issues.

        Now, I don’t mean to be dismissive of her concerns or her care, but … in what way would a national dialogue on mental health issues help her son? In what way would they help society at large?

        I don’t mean this flippantly. I really don’t know what she thinks would result from this. I hope, maybe?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Thinking about this some more, maybe the purpose a national dialogue would serve is to help her. And that’s no small thing, given the situation.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            The advice she got, when she sought help controlling her child, was create a criminal record. Without that, they couldn’t help her.

            So for severe mental illness, families have to access the criminal justice system, because the health care system cannot help.

            That’s crazy.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I believe the intention is to have a discussion on mental health care to follow this one.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        There isn’t a good reason to separate them at this time imo. Guns is a very important topic, and mental illness is a very important topic, but the topic of the moment, it seems to me, is guns-and-mental-illness.Report

        • Avatar aaron david says:

          I agree, this is the conversation we should be having. One of the problems with this situation (and seemingly others like it) is where the two issues converge. Many of us believe very strongly in the rights of the mentally ill, and many of us believe strongly in the rights of law abiding gun owners. Both of these things are constitutionally protected.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:


      I don’t see any reason not to have both – or a conversation that includes each. For on e thing, I think that the conversation that has already occurred here around guns has been far from fruitless. And in any case, why is contentiousness a reason not to have a conversation. We just don’t do things here that are hard? This seems like a convenient way to simply ensure that the issue stays off the table, which is in itself a position on the issue. If we have a broader conversation (meaning posts about guns, posts about mental illness, posts about mental illness and guns, and so forth), then people can pick and choose the discussions they want to engage in and the ones they want to decline to engage.

      I’ll also note that my questioning above seems to indicate that the resistance that has been voiced has been resistance to engaging this whole incident in a concentrated way (perhaps just at this time?), not so much resistance to the idea of discussion guns. Or so folks have said.Report

    • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

      “why not have a fruitful discussion on very real problem of mental illness in this country?”

      Sure, lets.
      First question: Why do we tolerate gun manufacturers designing weapons intended to appeal to mentally unstable people?Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

        I don’t think conservatives really want to have the mental health debate either. Here are the relevant mental health questions:

        Why don’t all mentally ill people have free access to universal healthcare, including in patient rehab for substance abuse, long inpatient stays, and long term outpatient work. Medicaid needs to be beefed up (especially to make it profitable for outpatient psychiatrists too take medicaid) and we need more mental health parity in all insurance plans (all psych services should be free, actually.)

        Also, why do we use jails as psych wards regularly?

        Mental health problems are ignored in our society because we don’t want to pay the very expensive sums to help the people who need it. So we put many of the severely mentally ill on the street, or in the parents basements, or in jails (which is actually even more expensive, but Aemricans are always willing to pay for jails).Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Mental health problems are ignored in our society because we don’t want to pay the very expensive sums to help the people who need it.


        • Avatar greginak says:

          I disagree a bit Shaz allthough i will do so being a mean old partisan meanie. In 96 the commie Clinton oppressed hard working american business people by signing the Mental Health Parity Act which said MH benefits couldn’t be lower then benefits for other medical problems. Paul Wellstone added some more to that Act before his death. One party has pushed for uni care and more money for MH care. It is not that nobody cares or wants to do anything.

          Jail…well yeah people are far to willing to hosue the mentally ill in jail and to not provide care for them.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            One severe problem with “outpatient” treatment of the mentally ill, especially those who simply will not function without medicine is that they regularly refuse to follow the regimented treatment on their own. While incarcerated they can be compelled to take their meds, while free they can’t. Unfortunately. It may well require something along the lines of a sci fi solution.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

              “While incarcerated they can be compelled to take their meds”

              That’s complicated and should be complicated:


              Severely mentally ill people need expensive support mechanisms to help them take their meds while living a good life in society, not jails or long-term locked in-patient units where they are forced to take their meds and live apart from society.

              If conservatives are willing to tax the rich to pay for that level of mental health and social services benefits, count me in. Unfortunately, these services are constantly targeted by conservatives as wasteful spending, especially during these times of austerity madness.


              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Shazbot, I’m more a fan of graduated care.

                If people are really dangerous to themselves and others when unmedicated and are even somewhat dangerous when medicated, they might need to be in some form of long-term patient unit as you described where contact with those they might harm (who are not trained in dealing with it) is limited.

                If people are dangerous to themselves and others when unmedicated, but the risk is low enough on medication, then I could see a form of “Halfway House” type care for them. They might need a curfew or reporting mechanism, but some of them just might need the attendant on duty to make sure they’ve taken their meds each morning/night.

                As for conservatives targeting these sorts of services as “wasteful spending”, that’s conservatives sticking their heads in the sand. They do a lot of things like that, not wanting to spend $10 on prevention and winding up spending $1000 or worse on major repairs later.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 says:


                By the way. Cuts to social services (which R’s seem to love as much as cutting Big Bird) are -almost by definition, IMO- cuts to the network of people and services that are supposed to help keep people mental healthy and part of society, with a job, an apartment, with people around them to interact with, etc.

                If we’re getting serious about mental health, we will need more social service spending, not less. A lot more. IMO.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                To quote a friend of mine who’s a heavy duty Tea Party Libertarian:

                “But why should I have to pay for any of it? Let their friends and family pay for it, it’s their responsibility, or let charities do it.”

                Great. Except that those with mental disorders drive their family away. Drive away friends, or have trouble forming friendships to start with. And charities in the USA have proven, meaning no insult to those well-meaning individuals, to be insufficient to the task.

                If you aren’t willing to have government step in for prevention, then you’re going to have Adam Lanzas on the other end of the equation.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

              BTW, once upon a time, psych inpatients really were one of the most abused groups in society, especially in terms of their basic rights.

              Granted, we over corrected for this problem by not using forced inpatient treatment enough in some rare cases, but we really should still be frightened of the ethical implications of greater use of forced long term inpatient treatment.

              The bad old days in psychiatry of forced long term inpatient stays (and forced treatment) led to monstrous human rights violations. There is nothing wrong with some forced inpatient treatment, but it is something we need to be very, very, careful with to make sure that we respect basic human rights of the mentally ill (who need our care and support and their autonomy respected as much as possible, not imprisonment).Report

              • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

                A major part of the problem was that the psych wards got defunded out of existence. Just as a balance between forced stays and inadequate stays were being found, there was no place to stay.

                We need a LOT more places to stay, and ones that still exist to be well-monitored. The world we live in is a dangerous place for a bi-polar schizophrenic.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              One advantage for some seriously mentally ill clients, including some i used to work with, was that when they were in jail they could get their meds. When in the community they couldn’t afford them. If we want the mentally ill to get their meds then that is actually simple to a great extent: make sure they can afford them. Most seriously mentally ill people are not dangerous at all. the biggest scariest looking guy i worked with was plagued by terrible delusions and hallucinations. He scared of the world and retreated from it. He never hurt anybody or was a threat although he looked big and imposing.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

            I mean more by mental health parity than recent parity laws do. I would institute a universal healthcare for mental illness for all immediately. All psych services, including outpatient expenses, including some psychotherapy for those with GAD and clinical depression, and personality disorders, would be FULLY covered.Report