Preventing (or not) the next shooting (if possible)

David Harsanyi:

Unlike the vast majority of pundits, politicians, and late-night celebrity talk show hosts who vaguely implore Republicans to “do something,” Nick Kristof of The New York Times has taken the time to offer eight ideas he believes would help alleviate mass shootings. In fact, the headline of the article reads “Preventing Mass Shootings Like the Vegas Strip Attack.” Alas, the column doesn’t fulfill its promise, though it is useful in illustrating the problem Democrats face in the gun-control debate.

The column gets off to an inauspicious start when Kristof points to Australia’s confiscation of guns as a model for policy — which is, of course, a non-starter in a nation with more than 300 million firearms and an individual right to own them. Every time a pundit mentions Australian gun policy he is, in essence, conceding that confiscation is the ideal we should be working towards. The success of the Australian program is highly debatable, and anyone who fails to mention that the United States saw similar drops in gun crimes and homicides during the same timeframe — despite a big spike in gun ownership — is already suspect.

In any event, Kristof has eight additional ideas for us.

“1 – Impose universal background checks for anyone buying a gun. Four out of five Americans support this measure, to prevent criminals or terrorists from obtaining guns.”

This is tantamount to pleading for the existing ban on “machine guns” or “automatic weapons.” In 1993, Bill Clinton created the National Instant Background Check System. Since then, although there are some exemptions, the vast majority of gun owners go through a background check. There were 27,538,673 of them in 2016 alone (pdf). The reason Kristof throws in the word “universal,” I assume, is that he believes there are “loopholes” in this policy at gun shows and interstate purchases.

Yet, as my colleague Sean Davis has explained:

If you purchase a firearm from a federal firearms licensee (FFL) regardless of the location of the transaction — a gun store, a gun show, a gun dealer’s car trunk, etc. — that FFL must confirm that you are legally allowed to purchase that gun. That means the FFL must either run a background check on you via the federal NICS database, or confirm that you have passed a background check by examining your state-issued concealed carry permit or your government-issued purchase permit. There are zero exceptions to this federal requirement.

What’s more, Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock did not, as far as we know (and these things can change as reporting is ongoing), have a criminal record. According to numerous reports, he obtained all his firearms legally and without raising any red flags while passing numerous background checks. In fact, most of the mass shooters who have terrorized Americans in recent years didn’t have any criminal records. Most could pass background checks, and did. Some were radicalized and known to the FBI. Most were mentally anguished rather than criminally inclined, which is an exceptionally difficult thing to define, predict, or control.

It is true that occasionally the system failed. This happened in the case of Dylann Roof, who should have been stopped by a background check, but a breakdown in “paperwork and communication between a federal background check worker and state law enforcement” allowed him to purchase a handgun. Make the system we have better.

“2. Impose a minimum age limit of 21 on gun purchases. This is already the law for handgun purchases in many states, and it mirrors the law on buying alcohol.”

Well, some of us believe it’s absurd that 18-year-olds can support themselves, have families, and join the military, but are prohibited from buying a beer. But that’s another debate. Many states already have age 21 limits on purchasing guns. Not that it really matters. The vast majority of the mass shooters over the past decade were over 21. Most of them were well over 21.

The ones that weren’t, like Adam Lanza, illegally obtained their guns from legal owners. Lanza stole his guns from his mother, who had legally registered every one of them. I couldn’t find a single major mass shooting (this is typically defined as four or more people killed or injured by gunfire, which includes many criminal events that most people would not associate with what happened in Las Vegas, but that’s another story) who had legally purchased weapons as an 18- to 20-year-old. It seems dubious to suggest that passing such a law would do anything to “prevent” mass shootings.

“3. Enforce a ban on possession of guns by anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order. This is a moment when people are upset and prone to violence against their exes.”

Taking someone’s rights away because he or she is “upset” or potentially violent might work in the “Minority Report” but it is likely unconstitutional here in the real world. In fact, in some ways, a case about just this topic sparked the idea that grew into the Hellercase and ended up properly codifying the Second Amendment as an individual right.

It came in 1998, when a doctor named Timothy Joe Emerson was in the midst of an acrimonious divorce and his wife requested a restraining order against him from a Texas court. At the time, Emerson had been collecting guns for years and legally owned around 30 firearms. What Emerson didn’t know was that federal law at the time forbade anyone under a domestic restraining order from possessing firearms. He was arrested. Emerson’s court-appointed lawyer argued that without any judicial finding that his client posed a danger to his wife, Emerson still had a constitutional right to own a gun. And he won. It was the Emerson decision that sparked a number of libertarian think tank legal scholars to challenge DC gun laws.

“4. Limit gun purchases by any one person to no more than, say, two a month, and tighten rules on straw purchasers who buy for criminals. Make serial numbers harder to remove.”

This is like limiting soda sizes. The idea that shooters will be stopped because they can only purchase two guns per month seems dubious considering many of these shootings have been meticulously planned, none more, it seems, than Paddock’s mass murder in Vegas. There is also the problem of arbitrarily limiting citizens from practicing their constitutional rights. This would be like arguing that we should limit columnists to practicing their freedom of speech to only two columns a week because words are mightier than the sword.

“5. Adopt microstamping of cartridges so that they can be traced to the gun that fired them, useful for solving gun crimes.”

To my understanding, every mass shooting incident has been solved. How this regulation would prevent more is unclear. The rest of Kristof’s suggestions focus on gun safety measures that have nothing to do with mass shootings.

“6. Invest in ‘smart gun’ purchases by police departments or the U.S. military, to promote their use. Such guns require a PIN or can only be fired when near a particular bracelet or other device, so that children cannot misuse them and they are less vulnerable to theft. The gun industry made a childproof gun in the 1800’s but now resists smart guns.”

This suggesting is irrelevant on a number of levels. For one, smart guns would do little or nothing to “prevent” most mass shootings. Second, no major Second Amendment advocacy group or politician I know of opposes the production or promotion of “smart guns” — they oppose the state compelling people to use them. There are a few other problems: They don’t work yet. They are impractical. They are intrusive to law-abiding gun owners.

“7. Require safe storage, to reduce theft, suicide and accidents by children.”

It’s unclear how these requirements would “prevent” mass shootings, but often the proposed safe storage legislation makes it virtually impossible for gun owners to protect themselves or their family. Regardless, many states already have such laws and every state already has laws covering negligent behavior regarding children.

There is no correlation between gun ownership and suicide rates.

“8. Invest in research to see what interventions will be more effective in reducing gun deaths. We know, for example, that alcohol and guns don’t mix, but we don’t know precisely what laws would be most effective in reducing the resulting toll. Similar investments in reducing other kinds of accidental deaths have been very effective.”

Again, there is no evidence that mass shootings are fueled by alcohol or substance abuse, but rather that they are fueled by mental illness and radicalism. There are already numerous studies regarding gun use and abuse, and one hopes others study the data, as well. But if Kristof is suggesting that the centers for Disease Control participate, the answer is that there is no reason to further politicize the agency. Because no matter how well-intentioned people try to be in this debate, that’s almost always the case. That includes Kristof’s column, which fails to offer a single idea short of confiscation that would stop mass shootings in the future.

Jim Geraghty has a suggestion:

When you express skepticism about the value, legality, or effectiveness about gun control proposals after a mass shooting, you’re often asked, “okay, smart guy, how would you prevent the next one?”

When you look at the more infamous mass shootings in recent years, you see a disturbing pattern.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, Lucinda Roy, co-director of the university’s creative writing program, described her meeting with police, attempting to describe her concerns about the shooter:

“The threats seemed to be underneath the surface. They were not explicit,” she recalled. “And that was the difficulty that the police had. I would go to the police and to the counselors and to student affairs and everywhere else, and they would say, ‘There’s nothing explicit here. He’s not actually saying he’s going to kill someone.’ And my argument was he seemed so disturbed anyway that we needed to do something about this.”

In Aurora, Colorado: “When [the Aurora shooter’s] psychiatrist warned campus police at the University of Colorado how dangerous he was, they deactivated his college ID to prevent him passing through any locked doors.”

In Tuscon, Arizona:

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told ABC News that campus police had to get involved at the college where [the shooter] once attended after a number of complaints.

“All I can tell you is that teachers and fellow students were concerned about his bizarre behavior in class to the point where some of him were physically afraid of him,” Dupnik said. “He was acting in very weird fashion to the point where they had several incidents with him to the point where law enforcement at Pima College got involved and they decided to expel him. And they did.”

In Isla Vista, California: “Last month, the 22-year-old wrote, his mother was so concerned about his well-being after seeing some of his videos on YouTube that she contacted mental-health officials, who dispatched sheriff’s deputies to check on him at his apartment in Isla Vista, an enclave near the University of California at Santa Barbara.”

The Sandy Hook shooter made unbelievably bloody and disturbing drawings. In case after case, we see fairly clear signals that the shooter is deeply troubled and in many cases is growing obsessed with violence.

A stunning number of school shooters since Columbine indicated an obsessive interest in that shooting. Fascinating and disturbing research by Mother Jones found that the shooting inspired “at least 74 plots or attacks across 30 states” and “in at least 14 cases, the Columbine copycats aimed to attack on the anniversary of the original massacre. Individuals in 13 cases indicated that their goal was to outdo the Columbine body count. In at least 10 cases, the suspects and attackers referred to the pair.”

We have all heard the slogan, “If you see something, say something.” Lots of people do say something; quite a few of the infamous mass shooters of recent years had already been reported to police for strange, threatening, or troubling behavior. Unfortunately, the police did not see sufficient reason to press charges or have the person placed in a mental institution.

What will stop the next mass shooting? The family, loved ones, peers and psychologists of the next shooter taking their disturbing or threatening behavior seriously, reporting it to the police, and the police taking it seriously.

Were there warning signs or strange behavior in the case of the Las Vegas shooter? Maybe.

Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock encouraged his girlfriend Marilou Danley to leave the country before his attack that left 58 people dead, her sisters told CNN affiliate in Australia 7 News.

The sisters, who spoke to 7 News exclusively, did not want to be identified by name and requested their faces be blurred.

“I know that she don’t know anything as well like us. She was sent away. She was away so that she will be not there to interfere with what he’s planning,” one of Danley’s sisters told 7 News from their home in Australia’s Gold Coast region.

“In that sense, I thank him for sparing my sister’s life,” she said, adding her sister was “really in love with Steve.”

The other sister said Danley, who arrived back in the US from the Philippines on Tuesday, “didn’t even know that she was going to the Philippines, until Steve said, ‘Marilou, I found you a cheap ticket to the Philippines.’”

Do people often urge their significant others to leave the country suddenly and out of the blue?


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