Mass Killings Don’t Make Good Gun Control Examples

July 20, 2012 in Health Policy, Misc by RangelMD

Mass shootings like the one that occurred early this morning in Aurora Colorado at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises are so incredibly rare that there is very little to be learned that can be effectively applied to the gun control policy debate.

But it’s interesting to see both sides try.

Liberals and advocates for stricter gun control laws will try to link rare mass murder incidents with the 8-10 thousand homicides committed each year in the US via firearms. But the two don’t appear to be even loosely connected. While the firearm homicide rate has been decreasing over the last several years, the rate of multiple casualty murders has remained about even.  And while mass murder events are frequently random with no known relationship between the murderer and the victims, up to 78% of firearm homicides in the US involve some type of existing relationship between the assailant and the victim (24.2 percent of victims were slain by family members; 53.8 percent were killed by someone they knew such as an acquaintance, neighbor, friend, or boyfriend).

It is my non-expert opinion that stricter gun control laws would have a significant effect on the overall homicide rate, there is no reason to suspect that strict gun laws would impact the rate of mass murder. Part of the problem is that these rare events do not provide enough data points to prove that gun control works to decrease mass murder rates. Even assault gun bans (most mass murders use at least one or more assault style weapons) may not work since it will likely force mass murders to change tactics and use other firearms and methods to achieve a high body count.

The pathological psychology that drives mass murders to commit such atrocities is not very likely to be amendable with simple weapons bans and restrictions. As Senior Atlantic Editor Richard Florida pointed out, a 1993 study by social psychologist Richard Nisbett found that the higher rates of gun violence in the southern US states correlates much better with a culture of “honor” than with any other variable like the availability and ease of assess to guns, the rates of gun ownership, a hotter climate, poverty, or regional history.

A deep “culture of honor” in which residents place an extraordinary value on personal reputation, family, and property. Threats to these things provoke aggressive reactions, leading to higher rates of murder and domestic violence.

This aggressive and overwhelmingly male culture rather then poverty may help explain why an astonishing 47% of murder victims in 2009 were black (African-Americans make up only 12% of the total US population) and it may help explain why mass murder happens and why gun control might not have much effect on it.  Despite his attempt to emulate the Joker from the second Batman movie, the Aurora mass murderer along with other mass murders don’t want to watch the world burn. They want revenge for slights both real and perceived. Their targets can be coworkers, employers, family members or frequently complete strangers who may represent greater society or even reality itself that the murderer abstractly blames for their poor life circumstances. It is highly unlikely that strict gun laws will significantly effect these isolated and rare events or the psychology that drives them.

Conservatives and gun control opponents, on the other hand, frequently and astonishingly try and use these mass murder events to call for the relaxation of firearm restrictions and right-to-carry laws.  Their arguments often include the obvious (gun laws don’t prevent mass murders) combined with what can be only described as firearm and revenge pornography. I.e., If I had been at that theater and had been allowed to bring in my legally concealed weapon then the following would have happened.

I want to get down on my knees. You know the curvature between the two seats? That’s where my muzzle is going to be. I find the V, the gap between the seats, and I move down into the row where I have a clear shot. Now, I could stand up over everyone else, and engage him. If I stand up, I can see him, he can see me. If I’m down low shooting between two seats, I have a tactical advantage. I can crawl between them, pop up, take a shot.

Yea,  sure, and if I were calling the plays for the NY Jets, they’d be Super Bowel champions by now. Sadly, every idiot is a Monday morning quarterback when it comes to acts of mass violence. But there is no rational reason to believe  that had patrons been allowed to bring their concealed weapons into the theater, this massacre would have been ended prematurely.  Even those with prior military or law enforcement training seem to conveniently forget that this murderer had significant tactical advantages such as darkness, induced confusion, and surprise. This was not a hostage or delayed situation where a person with a concealed weapon would have the opportunity to carefully assess the tactical environment and use surprise to their own advantage. By all reports, the Aurora murderer appeared to be prepared for the extremely unlikely scenario that one of the theater patrons would be armed by using a smoke grenade and wearing black body armor.

But even if we assume that every theater goer with a concealed weapon license has expert military-grade training to such a degree that any surprise advantage from an assailant is astonishingly nullified it would still make no sense to relax firearm laws in order to deter future mass attacks.  The vast majority of any US populace do not carry their weapons outside of their house or residence.  At any given time it is massively unlikely that any given theater would have even one armed citizen in it to help stop an extraordinarily rare event. And even if theaters were regularly filled with ninja trained super soldiers, there is nothing to suggest that future psychopaths wouldn’t simply change or enhance their tactics so as to be able to inflict maximum carnage.

In short, mass violence and murder may be a regular part of our greater culture independent of how strict or loose our gun laws are.  These are horrific events that transcend national policy. They have more to do with culture than with how few or many guns we allow people to bring into a theater or other public gathering place.

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