Patch blogs are opinion pieces by local authors. Blog here.
I was shocked when I first saw the online news Friday about yet another mass shooting. There had been a mass shooting a few days previously at a mall in Portland that didn’t gather a whole lot of news, but then – and in the midst of the Holiday Season – a young man guns down 20 kids and six adults at a school in Newtown, CT.
I listened to President Obama speak to the bereaved parents and townspeople in Newtown. I agree with him: Something concrete must be done to begin stopping these serial killings. There are too many and it’s almost become too easy to live with them.
Mass shootings in this style – where typically a young man with mental problems goes in with guns, with the intent of killing a bunch of people he doesn’t know (or in some cases, does know), and then often kills himself – seem to be primarily an American phenomena (although there was another mass shooting not long ago in Norway).
I’m getting sick and tired of the usual cycle that Americans go through after these incidents, aided and abetted by the media. First of all, there’s shock when we learn how many were killed (and for no good reason). Secondly, we hunger for all the details, and the media willingly begins digging for them. Details about the victims begin to emerge, and we empathize with the parents and spouses and children related to the victims. But most of all, we hunger to learn all we can about the shooter or shooters. Was he outwardly normal or did he show signs of being anti-social or crazy? We wonder, how did he obtain his guns? Shouldn’t someone have seen that this person would be a danger to society? Was he acting out of anger or was he schizophrenic or what?
Then, after a good deal of detail has been delivered by TV and the newspapers, we slowly let go of the story, and pretty soon the media realizes that people are tired of hearing about the event and are off to cover other stories.
Part of the shooter phenomena is crime-copying. I worked in the PR department of the Postal Service back when there was a series of post-office shootings by postal employees. The term “going postal” is still used. People thought that the working conditions in post offices must’ve been awful to create the atmosphere of hatred that generated shootings. I’m not sure what circumstances engendered the first several shootings, but I’m convinced that after that, these first shootings entered the imaginations of a bunch of unhappy workers and made them want that public exposure and made them want to go out in a blaze of glory – to “even the score” with a society or fellow employees that seemed against them at every turn.
Then, of course, there’s the subject of guns. Americans have around 88 guns per 100 people, much more than the closest next country (Yemen), which has around 54 guns per 100. But we don’t have the highest murder rate due to shootings. In fact, we’re number 28 down the list of nations in that regard. But guess what – if there were suddenly no guns, there wouldn’t be any mass shootings. People would have to resort to knives or poison gas or running people down with a vehicle.
But guns are here to stay. Just like tobacco – we know cigarettes are highly addictive, we know they’re a big health risk, and so on, but tobacco is just too entrenched to outlaw.
I grew up in a hunting family. We used to go hunting pheasants, partridge and ducks. The dogs we kept (Labradors) were chosen because they helped with hunting. Hunting was one of those father/son bonding experiences. I liked to oil up my single-barrel, single-shot 12-gauge shotgun and clean out the barrel. But I wasn’t a good hunter. I only shot one pheasant in my short hunting career and that was because it practically flew down my barrel as I was pulling the trigger (I was standing just inside a corn field). There wasn’t much left to take home.
But here’s what has to be done – keeping guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people. But how far does that push take us? In the case of the Newtown mass shooting, the shooter used his mother’s guns. A shooter can use a friend’s guns. He can steal guns.
I wrote a Patch comment the other day about the rights of drivers when faced with DUI checkpoints. I said drivers who should not have to be subjected to random stops when they’ve exhibited no signs of drunken driving. I called it unreasonable search.
So I will stand up for the right to own guns for hunting, self-protection, target-shooting and collecting purposes (as long as some of those collected guns that would pose an unreasonable danger were rendered unable to fire). I do have a real problem with assault-type rifles and rapid-fire pistols being made generally available.
The rifle mostly used by the young male shooter in Newtown was a Bushmaster. I went on the Bushmaster Web site to check out their weapons, which look much like the M-16 rifles I saw being used by the Army during the Viet Nam war (they could be used either in a semi-automatic or in a “machine gun” automatic mode). I can see these Bushmaster rifles being used in the military or by police departments but I can see no reason to be selling them to the public, even if some people would like the excitement of firing them just for the experience. They are simply guns designed to kill people.
I looked in some Big 5 Sporting Goods store advertising inserts in the local newspapers. So here’s an ad for a Colt semi-automatic rifle (the M-4 Carbine) for $500, with a 10-round magazine. It looks much like the Bushmaster rifles or the Army’s M-16 – short barrel, pistol grip, carry-handle. It’s only good use, in my opinion, is as an assault weapon designed to kill people. They’re also selling similar ATI and an HK rimfire rifles with 10-round magazines (maybe that’s all the law allows – but I’ll bet that larger magazines are available for purchase later – also I suspect that some of these rifles may be modified to fire on automatic after purchase).
Why are these assault-type weapons being sold to the general public at local sporting stores? Maybe some gun experts reading this will have ready answers.
Getting back to the shooters, being young (in one’s late teens or twenties) and male can mean some wide mood swings. Their parents divorce or tell them they’re no good. The young men are unhappy, they feel disliked by their classmates, they get dumped by a girlfriend, they develop schizophrenia and become detached from reality, they feel they have no future, they fail at something (or are fired) and blame others, and on and on. They are emotionally crippled, but brain-smart, meaning that they will find a way to obtain weapons and learn how to use them to deadly effect. Meanwhile there’s the lure and sexy power of a shiny metal gun. It’s “the great equalizer” that will allow them to squash the humanity that seems so oppressive. A gun will give them the power to be somebody. There has to be a heavy hate thing going on to calmly and coldly kill 20 children. A great desire to get even.
Many of these mass killers might’ve moved out of that violent-tending phase of their lives and moved on to become safe citizens if they’d hadn’t originally had access to guns. Or, if better mental health screening and care had been available, they might have made it past that point of desperation.
I’m reminded of the movie Taxi Driver, in which a self-righteous former Marine driving a cab in New York City attempts to make the world right with a pistol hidden in his sleeve. The Marine, Travis Bickle, is a scary cross between Batman and the guy who killed John Lennon.
In Oakland so far this year there are 122 homicides, mostly by shootings. There have to be a lot of guns floating around Oakland, held by the wrong kind of people. Cheap handguns could be banned because it’s simply too easy for criminals to obtain and use them.
Another thing I have a problem with is people who hoard usable guns, beyond their need for several for hunting and self-protection. Some will be people who imagine that they’re going to have to protect themselves from government attack as in the Waco incident. Some might figure that they’ll need them when the Chinese take over the U.S. (I’m not kidding). Some are in the illegal drug business. If the guns are burglarized, they’ll flow into the criminal element.
I also think that the amount of violence that young people experience on TV and in video games has desensitized them to the real killing and maiming of people. A combat tour back in the jungles in Viet Nam would’ve brought home to them the real horrors of killing.
I’m sure I’ve angered some gun aficionados here. Some of what I’ve talked about has been re-hashed many times before.
But the real fact is that action needs to be taken, whether in the area of better gun control, or in the area of keeping mental cases away from weapons, or both.
Imagine being schoolchild six years old and seeing an adult with a rifle calmly walk from frightened classmate to frightened classmate and shoot them multiple times, and see them slump into death, and calmly shoot your principal dead, who’s trying to come to your assistance. This experience will scar these kids for a long time to come. This isn’t the America I signed up for.