How to Stop the Next Uvalde

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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55 Responses

  1. Tim (@Gurdur) says:

    The proliferation of guns in the USA is both symptom and a driver of social alienation in general, and the epidemic of mass-shootings in particular. To say, “The gun is a problem, but it’s not the main problem”, is to defy belief, since it contradicts actual evidence from outside the USA. So the actual underlying question here is, “How can we all keep ALL our guns while also diminishing mass-shootings”, well, huh, good luck with that. Yes, you would ghet somewhere by rigorously enforcing red-flag laws **across the USA**, most especially on domestic-violence (rather than the nebulous “mental illness”), but I’m going to bet Americans aren’t willing to see such rigorous enforcement right across the USA either. So yet again, you’re asking how to cope better with a self-made problem, rather than how to eliminate the problem.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Tim (@Gurdur) says:

      A big part of the problem in the US is legal, in that the only real way we can intervene with a troubled individual is through the criminal justice system. This means that reporting a person making threats means at best they get arrested and go to jail, and get an arrest and/or criminal record.

      At worst, given law enforcements record of dealing with mentally ill people, they get dead.

      We’ve made it impossible to tackle the problem without destroying lives.Report

      • Doctor Jay in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        This is not accurate. We can order a 72-hour hold on a person who demonstrates suicidal tendencies or ideation. This does not require any crime to be committed.

        During those 72 hours — which are not spent in a jail – there are lots of other people there, including many with expertise in a variety of issues.

        I’m thinking we could expand on this.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          But who orders it? If I’m a teenager, and a classmate is making threats, who do I call? If I’m a guardian, and my teen/young adult is scaring me, who do I call such that they can get evaluated, but not dragged away by cops?Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            The student should complain to the school because this is primarily a discipline issue, but if it appears that mental health issues might be involved, the school can suspend the student until they’ve seen a therapist.

            In the Virginia Tech case, campus police met with the shooter tell him about the complaint about stalking from a student. (The final straw was the shooter left a quote from Romeo and Juliet on a whiteboard outside her room) The student was not pressing charges, but that he should no longer have any contact with her. After the police left, the shooter texted his roommates that he was going to kill himself, which brought the campus police back to take him for an evaluation. This is not a criminal matter, he was temporarily deprived of his liberty for a narrow purpose, not to punish him.Report

  2. Chip Daniels says:

    “Nobody, including myself, wants to live in a nation where 10-year olds are gunned down.”

    Why assume this to be true?

    For instance, I could write that “Nobody, including myself, wants to live in a nation where 10-year olds are killed in traffic accidents.”

    But that isn’t true at all. We have collectively decided that traffic safety is a concern, but only one of many.
    We could for instance, reduce traffic deaths by reducing the speed limit or stricter drivers training or a million other methods, but things like keeping travel distances short and not imposing onerous restrictions on people’s ability to drive, that is to say, easy access to driving, are considered important enough to accept the occasional 10 year old getting killed in traffic accidents.

    In this case, just look at this very essay. The overarching purpose of red flag laws is to remove guns only from a tiny select group of people (sociopathic spree shooters who signal their intentions beforehand) while allowing easy access to guns for everyone else. So disgruntled employees, vengeful divorced fathers, or just normal people thrust into a deep emotionally charged situation, still have easy access to a deadly weapon.

    This means, logically, that easy access to guns for all but a tiny sliver of the population is considered a high enough priority to be worth the occasional 10 year old being gunned down.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      “Nobody, including myself, wants to live in a nation where 10-year olds are gunned down” is one of those ritualistic sentences that people feel compelled to write. The sheer vehemence of the pro-gun crowd shows that even though they might not quite say it, many Americans do see mass shootings as just something we need to live with because of abstract values of freedom.Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    I’ve posted this before and it never seems to get traction but I’ll try again. Here is my proposal for gun control reform:
    1.) All guns are marked in such a way that makes them fully traceable. They are associated with their legal owner in a database.
    2.) If a gun is used in a crime, it is checked against this database. This is not limited to shootings but also if someone is found in possession of a gun illegally and any other gun-related crimes.
    3.) If the person who committed the initial crime is the registered owner of that gun, they lose their right to own or possess a gun… perhaps temporarily and perhaps permanently based on the nature of the crime.
    4.) If the person who committed the initial crime is NOT the registered owner of that gun, the registered owner is charged with illegal transfer of the gun. I won’t hash out the exact penalties but they’ll be meaningful and will include a temporary or permanent loss of gun rights.
    5.) The registered owner can avoid this penalty if they can prove that they were not involved in the transfer of the gun (e.g., it was stolen) and they can produce evidence (e.g., a police report documenting the theft). “I don’t know… it must have been stolen I guess…” or “It was stolen and I just forgot to file a police report…” are insufficient defenses.
    6.) If a person files repeated police reports for guns being stolen from them, they lose their gun rights.
    7.) These laws apply not just to individuals but to manufacturers, suppliers, etc… everyone in the potential chain of custody of a firearm.

    My thinking behind this is it will help stem the flow of guns into the hands of folks who could not procure them legally. It puts the onus on responsible gun owners to actually be responsible. If you care for your gun properly, the odds of it disappearing from your possession are vanishingly small. If that does happen, the responsible gun owners takes the necessary steps and follows a police report. If you have guns “stolen” from you on a weekly basis, either they’re not actually being stolen OR you’re incredibly irresponsible. It also might make folks think twice before “loaning” out a gun… since they will face criminal charges if that gun is used by someone else is a crime.

    It won’t stop an Uvalde and it won’t stop all gun violence. But I think it could make a reasonable dent in gun violence and gun crime and the costs to responsible gun owners are essentially nil. I understand the concern about a central database with every gun and every owner… but compromises must be made. Isn’t that worth it if it makes a meaningful impact on the number of guns that are in the hands of people they shouldn’t be?Report

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think (1) is a good idea for all future sales (hell, make them all smart guns, so that only the person who purchases them, or a designated set of people in the purchaser’s household, can fire them). It would certainly help down the line, to the extent that the source for illegal firearms is legally purchased firearms. I dunno how much it will help in the immediate or even medium-term future, since the market for illegal firearms is already huge, and international (though most of them originated here). I also think mandatory reporting of stolen firearms or some level of legal responsibility for crimes committed with them is a good idea, though somewhat obviated by a smart gun requirement. Perhaps even some legal liability for stolen firearms if the legal owner cannot prove that they were stored securely.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

      Make the database accessible only with a warrant (no trolling the database for who owns what).

      One thing we kinda do, but I would lean into, is age restrict who can own what. You have to be 21 to own or purchase a handgun. How about you have to be 25 to own or purchase a semi-auto firearm (rifle or handgun). So at 18, you can buy a single action rifle or shotgun, at 21 you can buy a revolver, and if you make it to 25 without managing to prove yourself unfit, you can get a semi-auto handgun or rifle.

      Won’t stop them all (theft can still happen, or straw purchases), but why would should we let an 18 year old legally have semi-auto weapons before we’ve had a chance to see how they are going to behave as adults?

      I mean, there is a reason car insurance drops at 25.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Kazzy says:

      Is this still grieving? Are people allowed to disagree with it?Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to Kazzy says:

      This has nothing to do with our current shooter.

      1) He planned this for at least 8 months.
      2) He had no criminal record and got his guns legally.
      3) His first victim was his grandmother (who was raising him?).

      We might be one step away from Sandyhook territory (i.e. the shooter killed a relative for her guns).

      It’s not even clear red flag laws would have worked because his so called girl friend apparently lived in Germany, so it’s possible everyone he told was while he was anonymously on line.

      This proposal is an effort to keep guns out of criminal hands. That’s fine, but the bad actors you are targeting have a lot of economic incentive to not follow the law just like they do now.

      For perspective, we currently have about 380k guns stolen from private individuals every year. We also have straw purposes, identity theft, and corrupt suppliers.

      Interviews with the recently arrested say more than half of the arrestees say it is easy to obtain guns illegally.

      In terms of having reasonable expectations of outcomes: The actual impact of these proposals would presumably be that illegal guns become a little more expensive and the number of mass shootings continues at the current rate.Report

  4. Doctor Jay says:

    Dennis, once again I find myself on the same page as you.

    We are stuck in a very binary choice. Ban all guns, or don’t ban them. We need to think about this differently.

    I think the US as a culture is running a bit of an empathy deficit. I think our collective response to Covid, which gave us average results when compared with the rest of the world, showed this. Masks are there to protect other people, but well, they are a bit uncomfortable, so who cares about other people getting sick!

    We need to do something different.Report

  5. DavidTC says:

    Kinda weird to have a post about how to stop the next Uvalde but nothing suggested in the post would have stopped him.

    To repeat the facts of this shooting:

    Shooter had interactions with the mental health system, but at the level of depression and social anxiety, literally the most common mental health issues and shared by a huge chunk of the population.

    Proposed way of detecting shooter here: Bar guns from a _huge_ amount of US population, maybe around 10%?!

    Shooter’s mental health supposedly deteriorated, but that deterioration was unnoticed because they stopped visiting any sort of mental health professions.

    Proposed way of detecting shooter here: Require people to visit mental health professionals who are required to submit judgments of their mental health?!

    Shooter did not interact with police in any meaningful way anyone has ever found.

    Proposed way of detecting shooter here: None.

    Shooter did not post threats or anything that would seem obvious.

    Proposed way of detecting shooter here: None.

    School had police officers at school and rather stringent security due to another threat back in 2018. There is really no school security to increase.

    Proposed way of stopping shooter here: None.

    Shooter purchased two dangerous guns the day he turned 18.

    Proposed way of stopping shooter here: None. CONSTITUTION!!!!!!!

    Please, Dennis, you wrote a post about how to stop this from happening again, and forgot to propose any method of stopping exactly this shooting from happening again. There’s the list I thought of, and why each thing cannot work, but maybe you have more options.

    See, I actually have a solution, but it involved that last thing (People able to randomly purchase dangerous weapons) which apparently you dismissed out-of-hand. So…what’s your solution?Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC says:

      Prevent him from becoming a celerity by outlawing his identity going viral.

      Not sure if this is constitutional. Maybe classify it as a “secret”?

      And add to your list of problems his first victim was his grandmother. Unclear if she had guns but if she did then preventing him from getting guns wouldn’t have worked.Report

  6. PD Shaw says:

    Hopefully without repeating myself too much; I don’t believe French accurately and fully describes the Virginia Tech situation.

    In middle school, the shooter was diagnosed with “selective mutism” and “major depression: single episode.” The first means that he was painfully shy, its a social anxiety issue which is situational. He was prescribed an anti-depressant for the other until his mood improved. Are we really going to red flag mental health records of minors for what are fairly common, usually transitory issues?

    In response to stalking complaints, a judge magistrate issued a temporary detention order for an evaluation of whether he was a danger to himself or others. The independent psychiatrist did not find him to be dangerous, but thought he should see a therapist. The attending psychiatrist shared that opinion. Neither diagnosed him with a specific mental illness, though he was taking an anti-anxiety drug on as-needed basis already. He was released with an order (request? suggestion?) that he see an outpatient therapist, which he did. French seems to bungle/ misunderstand the roles of the judge and the therapist, only one of whom is qualified to make a diagnosis. From a legal perspective, he was found not dangerous.

    My main issue here is that if we are going to red flag people who a therapist notes are suffering depression or anxiety, there are going to be a lot fewer people seeing a therapist.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to PD Shaw says:

      The Virginia Tech shooter was flagged as mentally ill and a problem in 2005. Similarly the problems with him stalking two female students (they didn’t press charges) happened in 2005. The shooting was in 2007.

      He seems to have been mentally ill but stable (if that’s the word) for a long period of time. Then he transitioned to “raving lunatic” and started shooting people.Report

    • Pinky in reply to PD Shaw says:

      We locked away all our teenagers for two years based on a virus that posed a miniscule risk to them. So far, only two of them have gone crazy and killed a lot of people.Report

  7. Jesse says:

    Again – I’m sure people are disconnected, lonely, and angry in Italy, Canada, Japan, Poland, the UK. But weirdly, they have nowhere near the amount of attacks like this. It’s almost like there’s something different about the US that makes it easier.

    We could have perfect mental health care + guns, and we’d still have vastly more attacks if tomorrow, if Europe banned mental health treatment, but kept their gun laws.

    Sure, make mental health better, but it’s all a plaster over the gaping hole that’s the actual problem here.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Jesse says:

      The problem is that so many people have sentiments but steadfastly refuse to recognize how their sentiments (“Nobody, including myself, wants to live in a nation where 10-year olds are gunned down.”) do not match up with policy. They also refuse to believe or accept that a committed minority might just see the gunned down ten-year olds as a necessary price to pay for their preferred gun rights. Everything you write here is correct but we have seen over the past few days that people will argue against it until they are blue in the face because they don’t want it to be true but they also refuse to believe that their preferred policy on guns might come with a price that they don’t like or want.Report

      • Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Every law kills someone. Ban loosies and you’re creating potential conflict between the cops and whom ever.

        This is also true for every policy choice.

        If you’re going to talk about how great Poland is since they’re gun free, my wife’s Polish hometown had a bad week in the 40’s where 85% of the town was rounded up and murdered by a tiny number of armed Germans.

        If the Polish had a different relationship with guns then that would have played out very differently. The deaths in that one town was maybe a century worth of our mass shootings.Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:

    I also have to agree that the sentence on no one wants to live in a nation where spree shooters kill ten year olds feels more like a feel fact than anything else.

    Chip’s traffic death accident example is telling. There are a large number of things that we can do to lower traffic deaths of children including more public transport, towns and cities designed for pedestrians and not cars, lower driving speeds, stricter requirements on how to get a license. We don’t do any of this stuff though

    Except that we make ritualistic sounds and gestures when a kid dies in a traffic accident and refuse to confront the idea that maybe we are okay with kuds dying in preventable traffic accidents because that makes us feel bad and possibly implies not good things about ourselves. So cognitive dissonance steps in.Report

  9. Saul Degraw says:

    Remember, we just had an administration that separated children from parents, kept the kids in bad conditions, and was too lazy and/or uncaring to keep good records on which kid belonged to which parent. Why should I believe that “Nobody, including myself, wants to live in a nation where 10-year olds are gunned down.”?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Yeah, I’m glad we don’t have an administration like that anymore/a>.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I know we all have our little inconsistencies, but it seems like your core belief is that fascism is on the rise in liberal democracies, and you’re also adamant that governments can be trusted to take away our guns. You just can’t square those. You and I both have gaps in our family trees where people would be if their governments hadn’t taken away their guns. If I thought the way you think I’d have an armory in my basement.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Pinky says:

        This is the mentality that I mentioned to Jaybird, the complete and utter rejection of a civil society based on trust and cooperation, where rights and the boundaries of our behavior are negotiated.

        Like, the actual working existence of these sorts of societies, where guns are highly regulated and yet the citizens are free and happy is just ignored or denied. They contradict the ideology so they are memory-holed out of existence.

        But in truth, this assertion itself is yet another lie of convenience. They don’t actually believe this to be true because they are the most eager champions of unfettered government power, when its something they want to do. Its only when the government proposes something they find inconvenient they play the libertarian card.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          You’re not responding to the comment I just made; you’re responding to what you thought it would be or something.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          It’s not a complete and utter rejection.

          It’s noticing that I have less reason to trust today than I did yesterday but I still have enough to point that sort of thing out.

          And the response of “how dare you?” isn’t really one that inspires more trust.

          Your moral authority isn’t legible. Seriously. Figure that stuff out.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

            The lack of trust is a fiction of your own imagination.

            Like, you can easily walk down the streets of your city for years, unarmed and defenseless, without ever needing the application of violence. As almost anyone can in almost any city anywhere.

            Yet you keep giving us dark ominous warnings of a lack of trust, as if we all lived in the Walking Dead.

            This isn’t “noticing”. This is a creation of fiction, out of whole cloth.Report

            • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              Chip, how many thousands of posts have you made about the decrease in trust? Have you ever posted about anything else?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Pinky says:

                How many thousands of posts have I made about my walking down the streets of Los Angeles without fear or a gun?

                The loss of trust is a fictional creation of people who want it to exist. Like the gun nuts who insist vehemently that a heard of 30-50 feral hogs are about to attack, anytime now, just you wait and see which is why they need an arsenal.

                Its part of that dark worldview that chooses to believe that teachers are doing awful things in secret , or that Bill Gates is doing something awful to the vaccine, or that hordes of malevolent immigrants are flooding across the border with the intent of replacing good white people.

                It isn’t the result of a reasoned view of facts, its a dark anger looking for an excuse.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Every time you post, I think to myself, “this isn’t the result of a reasoned view of facts, it’s a dark anger looking for an excuse”.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              And it looks like tomorrow is going to be a lot like today.Report

      • Slade the Leveller in reply to Pinky says:

        No guns (and the overwhelming support of civil society).Report

        • Pinky in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

          I don’t know what your comment is supposed to mean.Report

          • Slade the Leveller in reply to Pinky says:

            Do you think the lack of guns is what condemned Jews to the gas chambers?Report

            • Pinky in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

              I will say that the 1940’s were the result of the 1920’s and 1930’s, which would have played out differently if the Treaty of Versailles hadn’t so thoroughly disarmed the Germans.Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to Pinky says:

                I won’t disagree with that. The seeds of Nazi Germany were waiting to germinate long before Hitler was even born. He was just the light they needed.Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to Pinky says:

                I will respectfully disagree. Civil protest of the treatment of Jews hardly existed, and I don’t think it was because the state was better armed.Report

            • InMD in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

              I think evaluating x right based on whether it in itself would have prevented y historical atrocity isn’t the best way to think about these things. I mean, as much as I hate to go Godwin, since we’re already there, does anyone think just having a 1st Amendment would have stopped you know who in you know which central European country or anything they did? I don’t and it’s hard for me to imagine a convincing argument based on the historical facts that it would have.

              IMO by the time people are being put in the proverbial cattle carts to gas chambers or whatever you can conclude that the entire liberal order has collapsed. At that point it doesn’t matter what any given law or constitution says. What our rights can maybe do though is make it harder, and less likely to end up on that path in the first place. I think that’s the better way to think of the Bill of Rights. The ‘a republic, if you can keep it’ sort of thing, but not a guarantee.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Judges would also have accepted “an administration that shrugged its shoulders in depraved indifference at a pandemic that killed a million Americans,”.

      “an administration whose standard bearer delights in cruelty and humiliation of the powerless including (but not limited to) disabled people, grieving parents of fallen soldiers, and POWs and who celebrates his own sexual harassments of women.”

      So yeah, shrugging off the occasional slaughter of children just doesn’t seem out of character.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Yet we are apparently the deeply wrong ones for going against Dennis’ sentence. So uncivil we are.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          The rising tide of fascism always relies on people pretending it doesn’t exist.

          That some large number of Americans will accept or even applaud the brutal mistreatment or even slaughter of their fellows is a historically documented fact.

          Yet it remains too terrifying and unsettling for many people to accept. So even when a radical faction announces their intent a lot of people feel the need to act like parents in It, or some sort of reverse Anger Translator to water it down, neuter it, launder it under a rinse of euphemisms and handwaving.

          So the Republicans regularly “joke” about killing liberals and destroying democracy, and soft liberals respond like they are having a debate in multipurpose room at 3rd period.

          Or worse, they act like the church people in the Southern Baptist/ Catholic Church scandals, where they attack the whistleblowers for exposing something they can’t bear to face.Report

  10. DensityDuck says:

    The guy at Virginia Tech was actually in therapy, and his therapist was terrified of him, and he just about said flat-out “tomorrow I’m gonna kill a bunch of people just because I can”, and she didn’t report it because she was worried that she’d be accused of racism and lose her job.

    So. Like the OP says, the problem is maybe less the legal grounding for doing this and more people who feel like if they try to do anything they’ll be the ones who get in trouble for it.Report

  11. Greg In Ak says:

    Welp, its 336 pm Ak time and there are three current shootings being discussed on twitter. One is just gonna be one kid at a school so that’s going no where. Just move along. A hospital in OK has been shot up with mult causalities so that may make the big time news.Report

  12. Philip H says:

    When you start hearing retired police chiefs calling for both more gun control legislation and police reform, you know something might just be changing:

    Collectively, we in law enforcement hurt because in Uvalde, we failed. We failed the children. We failed the teachers. We failed the families.

    • Dark Matter in reply to Philip H says:

      The police are always in favor of gun control, excluding themselves of course.

      This guy’s day job is “CNN law enforcement analyst”.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Dark Matter says:

        He also live in Texas and his former day jobs were police chief in Austin, Houston and Miami – only one of which might be construed as a flaming liberal cesspit. And you will note that he spends as much, if not slightly more text slamming his own profession then he does focusing on guns.Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Philip H says:

          He’s a professional talking head working for Team Blue who has a background in law enforcement. He is to law enforcement what Paul Krugman is to economics.Report