The Guns In America Symposium : First Shot


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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44 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I think the timing for this is important and I am proud of us for being patient. I’m also looking forward to reading what everyone submits.Report

  2. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    It is interesting to note that White Males (like Adam Lanza) are 30% of the population and that White Males (like Adam Lanza) commit 70% of the mass shooting murders in the United States.


    It is even more interesting that this interesting fact is very rarely discussed and never addressed.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      White men succeed as a group and fail as individuals.
      People of color and women succeed as individuals and fail as a group.


      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        Whites as a group also commit suicides with much more frequency. The cynical answer is that African American communities have different outlets for frustrations/depression/setbacks.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          To be clear, Mike, my point is this:

          When people within dominant groups do something well, the positiveness of that action is attributed to the group as a whole. For instance, when elite educational institutions are dominated by whites, it is because whites are smarter and work harder.
          When people within dominant groups do something poorly, the negativeness of that action is attributed only to the individual. For instance, when white men go on shooting rampages, no one hems and haws over what is wrong with white people or white culture or rock music.
          When people from marginalized groups do something well, the positiveness of that action is attributed only to the individual. For instance, Barack Obama wins the Presidency but I doubt many folks view black people as a whole differently because of his success.
          When people from marginalized groups do something poorly, the negativeness of that action is attributed to the group as a whole. For instance, when Gilbert Arenas brings a handgun into the Wizards locker room, everyone wants to talk about gang culture, athletes, and rap music.

          Does that make sense?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Or to circle back to a pithy bumper sticker slogan…
            White perpetrators of mass violence are lone wolves. Muslim perpetrators of mass violence are terrorists.

            One group’s members are seen as acting as individuals in disharmony with the expectations of their group.
            The other is seen as being representative of their group, working in harmony with those expectations.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            I’m not disagreeing with your premise. I’m just saying that in an African American comunity, if you have a very angry, troubled youth, they often turn to gangs, drugs and crime. That’s the outlet. In white communites troubled kids are supposed to go to therapy or get over it.Report

            • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

              That’s some pretty offensive Microagression, Mr. Dwyer. In my opinion.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:


              I’d argue the opposite. Black youth get over their troubles far more often than white youth. Yes, some might turn to gangs or drugs or crime, but most are likely used to live not turning out as they hope and thus aren’t paralyzed when things go south. White youths, particularly wealthy white youths (suicide rates are likely equal parts race and class related), are often insulated from disappointment and are ill-equipped when they do eventually face it.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                And I’m also not sure why turning to suicide rates is relevant to JHG’s point.

                When we talk about gang violence, we talk a lot about African-American and African-American youth culture. So why aren’t we talking about white culture when discussing mass shootings?Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Kazy – I was actually agreeing with his point. I was simply pointing out that yes, whites don’t seem to have healthy outlets for their troubles.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I see that now. I think JHG took offense to the notion that all troubled black youth turn to gangs, crime, or drugs. Some sure do. A whole lot of others deal with their trouble and lead reasonably healthy, normal lives.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Sure – and some turn to crime, more often than whites. Both communities have flaws that lead to bad things. I think if you look at mass shootings and suicides as a part of the white population and gun crime as part of the black community, there’s probably an interesting similarity.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                are you sure we aren’t just excusing “white crime”?
                I know a lot of rascally kids out in the country regularly raid tourist second-homes when it’s not tourist season.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Desperate people do desperate things.

                For various reasons (some stated), whites and blacks, the rich and poor, do different “desperate” things.

                Where I tend to get feisty (and perhaps somewhat unfairly so) is when people want to hold up the desperation of rich white folks as equal to or somehow more understandable than the desperation of poor folks and people of color.

                White perpetrators of crime are troubled youth who slipped through the cracks and were at the end of their rope… notice how much absolution of responsibility we have?

                Black perpetrators of crime? Meh… they’re just rotten to the core, the products and proponents of an amoral culture rife with drugs and guns and rap music.

                Personally, I’m more sympathetic to the poor black kid growing up in a racist society turning to drugs (or even violence) than I am the angsty rich white kid who is dismayed about his plight in the world turning to drugs (or even violence).

                And, yes, I realize that is unfair to rich white kids who do legitimately struggle with mental illness or whathaveyou. But given how unfair the rest of the world is to poor black kids, it doesn’t seem a particularly useful starting point.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “..but most are likely used to live not turning out as they hope and thus aren’t paralyzed when things go south.”

                I think you are right and I probably misspoke there about the ‘get over it’ part with white folks. I think more accurately what we do is when there is a setback we try to look at the positive, analyze the problem and propose some kind of solution. That’s often the wrong approach because it gives the person the impression that what they are dealing with is simply a problem in need of solving.

                In black communities there is a healthy dose of “get over it” with regards to life’s problems. You also see this in lower class white communities. I grew up in a place like that, very blue collar, very the-world-doesn’t-owe-you-anything. I think I am far more equipped to deal with setbacks than my friends who grew up in more affluent surroundings.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Which is why I think the issue is just as much a class one as a race one (and of course the whole intersect between class and race).

                But I still don’t see the relevance. Is your point that mass shootings by white males are bred from the same phenomenon? These white males have reached the same breaking point as their suicidal peers but they’ve chosen a different path? If so, it still seems to be like we are talking about issues within white and/or affluent culture that should be addressed. But because we tend not to view white and/or affluent culture as “things”, instead just seeing their presence as “the norm”, we look for other things to talk about… like guns or autism or everything but white and/or affluent culture.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


                You DO realize that many of these mass shootings end in suicide, right? To be accurate, they should probably be termed mass murder-suicides. So yes, I tend to lump them in the same phenomenon.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                That’s fair. So let’s have a conversation about why white, affluent males seem to lack proper coping mechanisms for facing opposition in life and what can be done about white, affluent male culture to address this problem so that we see fewer white, affluent males killing themselves and others.

                Ironically, I’d start with particular aspects of white, affluent liberal culture. The “everyone gets a trophy” mindset does not prepare kids for the inevitable day where they do *not* get a trophy.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I think you already sort of nailed it above, but it also relates to this:


              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                That was a great post (as evidenced by all my comments, under my former handle (BSK)).Report

              • Avatar Just Me says:

                Totally agree Kazzy. Maybe we need to discuss the mindset that mass shooters or mass suicide shooters have. Why are they unable to deal with alienation and self disappointment? Many successful people are successful after first failing miserably first. Why do we say that not being a winner is the worst thing in the world that can happen? That is what I think we are teaching children when we give them trophies when it is not for an accomplishment. More should be done to teach kids how to cope with failure, to use the disappointment as a spring board for future success. And to show that we don’t succeed at everything.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                When I was working at the drug rehab centre for teens many moons ago, it was instructive to talk to the counsellors who were assigned to the kids. They often had to go to court when their client’s were there and they watched the different attitudes the authorities took.

                With middle-class kids it was “This kid made a big mistake – don’t let a mistake ruin his life!” The idea was that respectable adults had made an investment in this kid (good schools, etc.) and therefore the kid represented at some level an accumulation of socially-approved capital with a net benefit to society somewhere along the line. The counsellors called it the “therapy argument”.

                With poorer kids it was “This kid made a big mistake – he needs a firm lesson so he doesn’t go completely wrong!” The idea being that if let off he’d only continue down a bad road and end up a total menace to society so a strong firm hand should be applied now to set him straight. The counsellors called it the “it’s for your own good argument.”

                In many cases the kids had done the same things – buying and selling drugs – but somehow it was different when it got to court. Context matters.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Thanks for sharing that, DRS. Lots of takeaway from that.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I have to say, I think there’s something fundamentally different between being depressed to the point of suicide and/or belonging to a gang and giving in to a tribal impulse, and being a serial killer and/or going on a shooting spree in a mall or a school. They do *not* seem to be two sides of the same coin, to my mind.

                And I’m open to the idea that race and not class plays a major part of the discrepancy in numbers for the latter.

                I once heard a speaker talk about how – despite how rare it is – those of us who are male and have European ancestry are, statistically speaking, far more likely have brains that operate with very faulty wiring. Sometimes this bad wiring results in something we might think of as benign – say, being a musical prodigy or being a savant with numbers (usually at the expense of other higher brain functions, such as complex social skills). But sometimes the faulty wiring results in monsters – serial killers, psychopaths, mall & school shooters, etc. However it plays out, though, males of European descent are simply far more likely to have their wires significantly crossed.

                I have no idea how true this is, but I find the idea an intriguing one.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Tod – IIRC the correlation with race, for serial and spree killers is not, when you look at the big picture (internationally, across cultures), very highly-correlated to “white/European” at all (there are many grisly and well-documented Asian and African examples of both as well), though it IS highly correlated to being male (again IIRC, males tend to have a wider distribution on the bell curve for mental function – males comprise both more savants, and more well-below-average individuals, than females do. So it stands to reason there’d probably be more males with “faulty wiring”; and this plus increased testosterone/aggressive tendencies in general in males would lead me to predict more male serial/spree killers).

                If I have time later I’ll try to grab some supporting links.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                That might well be true. As I said, I have no idea.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              … my mind boggles. Seriously, it literally boggles.

              Drugs and crime are as much a problem, if not moreso, in poor white communities than black communities. Black communities at least organize to stop the problem — they’ve got a lot more experience, and the drugs they’re passing around aren’t quite as toxic/longlasting.Report

          • Avatar Citizen says:

            There was no issue with calling McVeigh a terrorist.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Is that true? I remember differently. I remember him being called a nut, a survivalist, an Aryan national, etc., but I don’t remember the word “terrorist” being used in connection with him until after 9/11.

              In fact, I don’t remember there being a lot of debate about the word “terrorist” with anyone from the US or an allied country prior to 9/11. I”m sure law enforcement used the term, but I can’t recall it being part of the public vocabulary in such instances.

              (This isn’t to say that McVeight *wasn’t* a terrorist; it’s just that that’s not how we identified such people back then.)Report

              • Avatar Citizen says:

                It was the many children lost as collateral damage that placed him deep in terrorist labels at that time. It was an awful site.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              Our use of that term changed dramatically back in September of 2001, if I recall correctly.

              He still gets the qualifier “domestic”, something not afforded to Hasan despite him having also been born and raised in America.

              Joe Stack doesn’t get that term.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Or that a lot of depressed black people wind up in jail, where suicide is significantly harder…Report

    • Avatar Fnord says:

      To say that White Males commit 30% of the mass shootings when they’re 70% of the population is a bit of a sleight of hand. Because mass shootings are overwhelming committed by men (it might be worth talking about THAT). As the source you yourself cite admits, whites are only slightly over-represented in the mass shooting statistics.

      I’m all for discussion about how race (and class) are treated in regards to group versus individual assumptions. But let’s be honest going in: men of all backgrounds commit mass shootings, and apparently and more or less the same rate.Report

    • Avatar Just Me says:

      Firearms were used in 19,392 suicides in the U.S. in 2010, constituting almost 62% of all gun deaths.10
      Over 50% of all suicides are committed with a firearm.11
      On average, 49 gun suicides were committed each day for the years 2005-2010.12
      White males, about 40% of the U.S. population, accounted for over 80% of firearm suicides in 2010.13
      A study of California handgun purchasers found that in the first year after the purchase of a handgun, suicide was the leading cause of death among the purchasers.14
      Firearms were used in nearly 44% of suicide deaths among persons under age 25 in 2010.15
      More than 75% of guns used in suicide attempts and unintentional injuries of 0-19 year-olds were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative, or a friend.16
      The risk of suicide increases in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked.17

      Think we should see why so many commit suicide. Most of the mass murders seem to fall in the suicide range. So maybe if we could figure out how to help those who would commit suicide better we could lower the instance of mass killings. I know others have said the same, I wanted to link to the page I saw, the stats were eye opening for me.Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    Slate, in cooperation with a tweeter feed, @gundeaths, has been keeping a toll since Sandyhook.

    It’s here.

    As if this a.m., it lists 387 people died. Twenty dead children helps focus our attention; but the the mass shootings are a small part of the problem.

    Three days ago in my state, a handgun was used to murder two teenagers, a boy and his girlfriend, and the boys’ mother was also shot with the intent to kill, by the family’s landlord over parking and snow removal. Over snow removal. Weeping.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Good point. From a cost-benefit standpoint, mass shootings don’t kill enough people to be worth throwing a lot of effort at (you just can’t save very many lives by preventing mass shootings, even if you can figure out how). It’s the regular day-to-day shootings that have the biggest aggregate impact.Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Those ads are one of the reasons I try to avoid mainstream multiplexes as much as possible. Luckily living in San Francisco, there is a theatre that sells tickets for mainstream movies at a higher rate but the benefit is no ads like that. There are only tasteful still ads for local restaurants and real estate agents and the pricing is not that much higher.

    I think your sum up of the add is accurate. This is going to be controversial but I think there are a lot of people out there for whom “American fuck yeah!” is a real and living attitude. That is largely why the South Park slogan works. It is funny (and tragic) because it is true.

    This opens up a whole socio-economic can of worms of course and is largely connected to the huge culture wars of America that never seem to end.Report

  5. Avatar GordonHide says:

    As an outsider looking in I would only note that US society seems more stressful than European society generally, especially North European society. Where you have more stress you will get more people who can’t cope with it. The failure to cope will sometimes produce violence.

    I suppose I’m saying that one way to reduce random violence is to make society less stressful.Report