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Open thread on US shootings

December 15th, 2012

I don’t have anything to say, other than to express my grief at the loss suffered by so many. Others may have more insights to offer

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  1. Hermit
    December 15th, 2012 at 09:53 | #1

    I think the US should take a hard look at itself. They pride themselves as a bastion of freedom with a unique way of doing things. However with every quirk they slip behind in their presumed moral leadership. Flakey people having easy access to guns is just one issue. Others include the bloated military, shunning the metric system, archaic bank notes, crippling medical costs, the electoral college system, calling petrol gas and incomprehension of irony.

  2. Jenny
    December 15th, 2012 at 10:06 | #2

    This is sick beyond belief. What is it with the obsession with guns and violence in the United States?

    We can’t understand this in terms of guns killing people but as people with guns killing people. However this needs to also be seen in cultural terms. I remember the Carole King song “Smackwater Jack” which in a somewhat offhand way expresses the US obsession with redemptive violence.

    The almost unlimited access to military style guns is part of the problem but the real core is the belief that violence, sometimes in the form of extreme violence in the form of random massacres using semi-automatic weapons, is a legitimate and frighteningly accessible way of dealing with personal issues, and that people regularly act on that belief. I know gun massacres have happened elsewhere such as in Port Arthur, Australia and more recently in Norway, but they don’t happen with the sickening regularity of the US that blurs them into a continuum and leaves us exclaiming in sadness and resignation “Oh shit!!! …. another one”.

  3. Ikonoclast
    December 15th, 2012 at 10:15 | #3

    “Others may have more insights to offer.” – JQ.

    Gun control.

  4. Jim Rose
    December 15th, 2012 at 10:57 | #4

    Ikonoclast, Lott’s point on guns and crime is basic economics: “criminals are deterred by the risk of attacking an armed victim. As more citizens arm themselves, the danger to criminals increases.” He also notes that “crimes committed with guns are more sensational than crimes prevented by guns.” You overlook the hunger for salaciousness in the media.

    When three college students at Appalachian Law School in Virginia subdued an intended spree killer who had already killed two, few of the 200+ media reports mentioned that the three students were armed. That type of contradictory news was not wanted by the marginal viewer and marginal reader of their news products.

    • strict gun controls failed to prevent multiple-victim public shootings in Europe.
    • Germany has extensive psychological screening and a one year wait for the gun but still had three of the six worst multiple-victim public school shootings.

    Lott and Landes found that while higher arrest and conviction rates and the death penalty can reduce normal murder rates, the only policy factor with a consistently influence on multiple victim public shootings is concealed handgun laws.

    Law-abiding good citizens obey gun laws, suicidal mass killers do not:
    1. A gunman entered Luby’s cafeteria and shot 23 people dead.
    2. Suzanna Hupp expressed great regret for obeying the Texas law that strictly prohibited the carrying of a concealed weapon.
    3. Hupp left her gun in her car parked outside Luby’s cafeteria.
    4. She had to watch the gunman murder her parents before her eyes. she had ample time and opportunity to shoot him.

    Was those deaths just the downside of strict handguns laws in Texas you might appaud?

  5. Paul Foord
    December 15th, 2012 at 11:22 | #5

    I am horrified. It seems to be a consequence of the dominant US attitude to guns, as a commenter at TBoggs blog said

    ‘You know what? The majority of people in this country [the US] are just fine with the occasional kindergarten slaughter, as long as their right to bear as many arms as they fucking feel like bearing is not infringed. So fuck all the sanctimony and handwringing. Deep down inside people are OK with this, because if they weren’t, something would have been done about it a long time ago. ‘http://tbogg.firedoglake.com/2012/12/14/tucker-carlson-is-going-to-earn-his-blood-money-today/#comment-116685

  6. Ikonoclast
    December 15th, 2012 at 11:33 | #6

    I’m done with pointing out the genuine and valid research to ideologues like Jim Rose. If others have more patience and willingness to do it that’s fine. But i have found that real empirical research of sound method has no impact on those whose minds are already completely closed by an ideology. They prefer skewed research, bias, cherry picking and distorted, unrepresentative anecdotes.

    This may now be one gun massacre too far for even the American people. Obama looks deeply upset but also grimly determined this time on gun control.

    As a final remark, if you have to own a gun to be “safe” in public in your society then you are already screwed. You better go back to square one and fix up all the things that lead to unemployment, social problems, inequality, exclusion, alienation, graft, corruption and criminality in your society. As well as implementing gun control.

  7. Shane H
    December 15th, 2012 at 12:31 | #7

    Yeah what its it with conservatives – the solution to the problem is more of the same – and so quick with their simple solutions.

    Some social analysis by Jeff Sparrow from August but obviously relevant in light of tragic event http://overland.org.au/blogs/new-words/2012/08/when-the-burning-moment-breaks-gun-control-and-rage-massacres/

  8. John Quiggin
    December 15th, 2012 at 12:32 | #8

    Lott has been repeatedly exposed as a fraud in every possible way. That’s why no one but Fox News will hire him, not even AEI.

  9. rog
    December 15th, 2012 at 14:29 | #9

    The argument for self defence falls flat if not completely implodes when you ask, what level of armament must a 9 or less year old child carry to maintain self defence?

    Libertarians should feel free to step forward on this issue.

  10. December 15th, 2012 at 14:31 | #10

    Genuine reform for institutions, as for individuals, has to come from within the tent.

    The only way that the US can control gun massacres is for a senior figure on the US Right wing to do a “cross-wired” campaign against automatic weapons, as per Howard after Port Arthur Massacre. When Left-wing political authorities campaign against automatic weapons it simply provokes knee-jerk tribal partisan opposition from the Right.

    The AUS Left will never know how lucky it was to have Howard and Costello running things through a tricky phase of history, fraught with cultural, martial and financial pitfalls.

  11. James
    December 15th, 2012 at 14:32 | #11

    The tragedy is that the innocent, in this case children, were denied their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by the capricious and illegal act of a single person. This is always possible in any society.

    What continues to occur in the US is a pattern of this form of abuse, and the reasonable response would be to realign personal freedom to coincide with (a perhaps disjunctive) collective freedom to gain a better outcome for society.

    In his monograph on Marx (A very short introduction) (1980, Oxford University Press) Peter Singer concludes that the fatal flaw by Marx of assuming individual freedom would translate to a collective freedom gave rise to some of the most despotic regimes in history.

    The issue for the US is to maintain a reading of the 2nd Amendment congruous with collective freedom. While cases like Heller (2008, US Supreme Court) appear to close the door on using the militia clause to rein in the right to bear arms, there are enough dissenting views within the history of litigation on this matter for the full court to revisit the matter.

    Unfortunately the US appears to be constrained by a particularly narrow Overton window on the matter so the possibility of substantive change is low. For starters, the court’s conclusion that a well- regulated militia means a state or federally controlled militia would have to be overturned before mandatory membership of a militia would be acceptable as a prerequisite to bearing arms. However, Overton windows have a history of realigning on the persistent effort of grass roots campaigns as Graeber points out in ‘The Shock of Victory’ (2007, Infoshop News)

    On a side note, I have a small but significant circle of friends here in Australia who still rail against John Howard’s de-arming of the nation after Port Arthur. Their demographic is of interest, nearly all them falling into the low education high net wealth quadrant. Fortunately this group in Australia do not carry overweight political influence, and on this matter we are collectively the better for it.

  12. Jordan
    December 15th, 2012 at 14:51 | #12

    @Jim Rose
    Yes, if only those kids were armed, they would not be killed.

  13. TerjeP
    December 15th, 2012 at 15:27 | #13

    Well this thread is pretty predictable so far.

    A few questions with no particular agenda but genuine interest:-

    1. There is a school of thought that claims a strong causal correlation between the rise of use in SSRI anti-depressant drugs and the rise of massacre style civilian shootings. Are such claims easy to refute? Annecdotes in favour of this theory seem to be readily available and the scientific literature seems to have some supportive articles but I don’t know enough about the science or enough about the specifics of the recent incident. However the idea that mind altering drugs could make people dangerous isn’t completely silly. I know people who have quit mere due to “dark thoughts”. I’ll be interested to know if antidepressants drugs were being used by this perpetrator.

    2. US murder rates seem to have declined in recent years even as these massacre style events have seemingly increased. What’s going on? If guns cause massacres why don’t they cause murders in the same way? To be up front though I have not looked in detail at the stats so maybe massacres do correlate with the murder rate rather better than I imagine.

    3. Why are we horrified by this but relatively immune to routine drone killings in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

  14. Fran Barlow
    December 15th, 2012 at 16:24 | #14

    Delete prior …


    If guns cause massacres why don’t they cause murders in the same way?

    This is imprecise. Guns don’t cause massacres. They enable massacres. The desire to hold and wield them in the way Americans so often do is a consequence of elements with the culture.

    Americans (well the right wing ones anyway) speak of guns as if they are a redolent of freedom — an imaginary flight back to a past “heroic” period of their history, in which pioneers made their own rules, because there was no state. It’s worth recalling that these guns were wielded not merely against bandits of European descent, but as part of the dispossession of the indigenous people of the Americas. To recall this is to note that at its very inception, one can’t speak of the iconography of guns in the US, without speaking of g#n#cide. Guns were then wielded against “tyranny” i.e British rule, and then as part of the mechanisms of coercion sitting atop the trade in the humans kidnapped from Africa and then in the Civil War.

    Why are we horrified by this but relatively immune to routine drone killings in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

    Different victims. Judith Butler would say that they are less ‘grievable’. Westerners commonly fear “the other”, seeing them as dangerous and erratic. It’s impolitic to say out loud that their deaths count for less, but I believe that the “freakonomics” crowd effectively say that the lives of poor people count for less. Put these two things together, and it’s easy to see why they can be killed in their thousands with impunity by westerners.

  15. Julie Thomas
    December 15th, 2012 at 16:50 | #15

    I can’t take the idea that drugs are to blame seriously, especially SSRI’s. From my perspective, they work well, if used correctly, as a support for other types of behaviour change therapies.

    For sure, there are a few people who do react badly, because not only are there a range of normal responses in the way people respond to drugs, there also seems to be people who are ‘outliers’. It is perhaps a way that ‘nature’ provides the random variability that allows for evolutionary or adaptive changes.

    Furthermore, the evidence for the SSRI drugs being a problem is not strong and comes from anecdotal sources.

    The evidence seems clear for marijuana that there is a gene that relates to the development of psychosis but if the individual with this gene reaches 30 – or so – wihtout smoking marijuana, they are no longer vulnerable to the negative side effects.

    It is interesting if, as Terje says the murder rate has declined because it seems that massacres are increasing in the US; “between 1960 and 2010 the average number of rampages has increased more than 10-fold”, according to Prof Peter Turchin.


    Peter Turchin is an evopsych nerd and says about himself and his blog “The Social Evolution Forum is a platform for discussing ideas rather than for pushing any political or ideological agendas. The question is what evolutionary science can tell us about how societies function, and also how they could function even better. And it turns out that some of the specific answers may be unpalatable to liberals, others to conservatives.”

    He also has a ‘violence’ database and an article that he links to in the above blog, “Dynamics of political instability in the United States, 1780–2010”. In this article, published in the Journal of Peace Studies, he finds links between political instability and the level of violence in a society.

    I am interested in some of the other ideas he has, but all he seems to be saying about this, is that the massacres are increasing and they indicate that there is something drastically wrong with the way the US is doing ‘culture’.

    But I don’t think we can expect that there will be ‘one’ thing in society or the culture, that ’causes’ violence or an increase in violence. There are simple relationships between events in the environment and human responses, but the ones that we want to understand are not going to be simple.

    It probably won’t be a linear relationship between the social/cultural conditions and human behaviour, but eventually, if we continue to exist and to be able to tell just-so-stories, psychologise and do science, we will develop some sort of algorithm that will ‘explain’ human behaviour, in a way that is similar to the laws of physics but with each individual being an interacting universe, perhaps.

    There are laws of life; that is my delusion anyway.

  16. Katz
    December 15th, 2012 at 17:23 | #16

    The Newtown event will change no minds.

    JQ should cache this thread and simply change the name of the location of the massacre the next time it happens.

    The thread will be usable with increasing frequency and it will save commenters much effort.

  17. Jordan
    December 15th, 2012 at 17:29 | #17

    I would like to get your attention to another US shooting that was not in US by way of a propaganda movie Zero Dark Thirty. The movie itself is an excellent production but with falsely glorifing torture as its purpose of making.
    Couple senators Diane Feinstein and John McCain members of an overseeing intelligence commity claim that torture is bad at getting intelligence and it acctually is making it harder to get actionable inteligence.
    This movie is a must see but with a view that it is a propaganda movie and will contribute to more US shootings.


    follow the links to get more info on it.

  18. Sheila Newman
    December 15th, 2012 at 18:03 | #18

    Durkheim’s first work was on suicide and he showed that, in 19th and 20th century France, people in cities were far more likely to suicide than people in rural society. The reason was probably that people in rural society were born into a relatively unchanging situation within extended families and clans on land on which they could subsist in the case of peasants – so they had relative security and were not required to justify being alive nor to continually strive to please an employer. In the cities people were not so connected or secure; they survived in a state of flux; they had to defend their right to exist and manage alone without a clan in situ. This city situation was called anomie. (In Australia today the suicide risks have reversed for city and country because, even though anomie persists in the cities, it has reached the country now, disorganising and destroying clans and the support network they once provided. In the city there are artificial support networks, not as good as the natural ones of clan and land, but better than nothing.)

    In traditional societies where people are born into a clan with static territory, as long as they are legitimate, they have a right to live and are not required to justify their existence. In very competitive societies like the United States, the UK, Australia… employment, money, position, friends, family and connections are more or less required for a person to have self-esteem. Continual self-justification is needed. If you fall behind or never ‘make it’, this can be devastating. School can be devastating, ditto employment. You feel an outsider, alienated by groups you imagine to feel worthwhile and to perceive you as worthless, whom you may never join. They become your enemy. A 20 year old male needs to establish some kind of rank. If he is also mad, he may act on the impulse to wipe out his ‘enemies’ and be feared by their families.

    I read years ago in a book by an anthropologist, which I think was called, “They have a way with women too,” that mass murder is generally about alienation from society and where a person feels they have absolutely no way out, whereas, say, serial killing of women is about insulting a possession of someone you imagine ranks higher in the pecking order/social class.

    Of course other delusional reasons can cause a person under the influence of drugs and alcohol or experiencing persecutory delusions due to a disease or injury or poisoning to attack a group or individual.

    We do not know much about the person who did this to these children do we?

  19. MG42
    December 15th, 2012 at 18:29 | #19

    Another senseless tragedy, but truth be told it’s getting harder and harder to show emotion about the whole situation in the US. Every month or two there is a new shooting in the US, there is a lot of bluster and garbage, again mostly coming from the right side of the spectrum, then it goes dormant, until the inevitable next time. You know there is something wrong when people defend, with a straight face, these atrocities as “just being the price of liberty”.

    @ TerjeP

    1) No idea, have not done a literature review, do not have a med degree so cannot comment.

    2) It is both extraordinarily common and extraordinarily disingenuous for gun advocates to ignore negative externalities with gun ownership. Higher rates of gun ownership could very well allow more people to “defend themselves”, or prevent a couple of mass shootings per year. But balanced up against that is increased murder rate from escalation of routine arguments, more accidents, more theft which allows more guns in the hands of crims, etc etc. It is extremely plausible for the rate of mass shootings to decline, but the overall murder rate to increase.

    3) Note that I am, and always was, against the misadventures in the Middle East:

    The US is currently in a war in that region. The president before Obama but after Clinton (name escapes me sorry) embarked on a range of legal absurdities to legitimise the use of force according to the wishes of his party. Then the opposition got into power. Obama simply has precedent on his side. This addresses a very common criticism of the “left” by the “right”, ie, “they hated the use of power by He Who Shall Not Be Named, and now they are silent! LOL hypocrites!!!1!” It’s established in the legal system now. There is a lesson in that somewhere on trying to see consequences of one’s actions beyond one’s face. I assume that addresses the gist of your question.

    Practically drones are cheap, effective, and don’t put personnel in harm’s way – all increasingly important considerations. It’s stretching it to attack Obama for this – he is using the best tools for the job based on battlefield experience. Practically the only way to stop civilian casualties is not to be there, but again, are you going to blame the guy who inherited the mess or the guy who caused it?

  20. Sheila Newman
    December 15th, 2012 at 18:51 | #20

    Sheila Newman :
    Durkheim’s first work was on suicide and he showed that, in 19th and 20th century France, …

    Correction. Durkheim’s book was only published near the end of the 19th century so he could not have been writing about the 20th century.

  21. TerjeP
    December 15th, 2012 at 19:01 | #21

    MG42 – why can’t we blame both Bush and Obama? Why does the badness of one require us to conclude that the other is good?

  22. TerjeP
    December 15th, 2012 at 19:06 | #22

    It is extremely plausible for the rate of mass shootings to decline, but the overall murder rate to increase.

    Homicide in the USA is now about half of what it was 20 years ago. That is a sizeable decline. If massacres have increased, as Julie suggests above, then this is an strange disconnect. One that we ought to ponder.

  23. John Quiggin
    December 15th, 2012 at 19:21 | #23

    Katz wins the thread, sadly.

  24. MG42
    December 15th, 2012 at 19:49 | #24

    TerjeP :

    It is extremely plausible for the rate of mass shootings to decline, but the overall murder rate to increase.

    Homicide in the USA is now about half of what it was 20 years ago. That is a sizeable decline. If massacres have increased, as Julie suggests above, then this is an strange disconnect. One that we ought to ponder.

    Please let me be clear, I do try to look at everything as neutrally as possible and assess everything on it’s own merits.

    First point, I do not think that Obama is “good”. He is good as in “better than Bush” but that is a very low hurdle. Ratings of Bush II’s overall performance are very poor, and he goes down in history as one of the worst Presidents the US has ever had and easily the worst since WWII. Notice the sharp drop off in ratings between ’05 and ’08 on the table about 1/3rd down the page:

    My view of Obama right now is that he is a weak centrist and he will have to do something special to rise above “average” category. Not good, but objectively better than his predecessor. You might bring up the debt. The right are fixated on the debt and deficit, but that’s literally a meaningless metric when it’s the worst crisis for 80 years. All other economic measures are moving in the right direction. Pulling out from overseas, enhancing the US reputation abroad, enabling half-assed healthcare reform are all good moves. Bad moves off top of head are continuation of bloated US military, kowtowing to most Rep demands, taking very feeble action wrt banking and finance sector. Not good, not bad, but average. Nothing too radical, very centrist actions.

    Point 2: the decline in the violent crime rates have been recorded in all developed nations as a long-term trend. The US homicide rate is 2 – 3x the equivalent country rate (please. no comparisons with Mexico or Russia). I don’t claim to know the detailed stats on mass shootings sorry. They could be declining or increasing, no idea. Bear in mind that most measures should be per capita, so mass shootings could be increasing, but as a smaller percentage of the population as a whole. The two are not inconsistent.

  25. Sancho
    December 15th, 2012 at 21:58 | #25

    It’s simply bizarre to see Australians defending American gun culture. It’s like lamenting that we don’t enjoy the same opportunited for malnutrition and disease that other nations take for granted.

    Note that gun proliferation advocates were very keen to compare the Newtown shooting with a stabbing spree that happened in China around the same time, but stopped as soon as they realised that it demonstrates how comparitively rare mass killings are outside the US, and that despite their claims that a killer will simply choose another weapon if guns aren’t available, the attacker with a knife managed to hurt twenty-two children but kill no one.

  26. Sam
    December 15th, 2012 at 22:06 | #26

    The thread is pretty predictable because the advice is pretty obvious. If there’s an infection, the doctor’s advice is boring and predictable; antibiotics. If a roof is leaky and lets rain in, the builder’s advice is always the same; fix the roof. If there’s a country with lots of gun massacres, the solution is clear; less guns. It’s silly to try to uncover clever, less obvious problems when the main one is staring us in the face.

  27. Fran Barlow
    December 15th, 2012 at 22:15 | #27

    And this snippet is also interesting:

    The weapons were legally purchased by Lanza’s mother, said the official, who was not authorized to release details of the case to the media.

    After killing his mother, investigators believe Lanza took her guns and made his way to the elementary school. There, dressed in black fatigues and a military vest, according to a law enforcement official, Lanza reportedly targeted two classrooms of kindergartners and first-graders.

    So there you go. The mother, who had three legal weapons — two pistols (Glock and a Sig Sauer) and a Bushmaster .223 caliber assault rifle, presumably to “protect her family” and oppose putative tyranny from the government, was overcome by one of her family, while the government she thought might hurt her never even knew that she was in danger, until it was too late. The weapons with which she meant to resist harm, became vehicles of harm directed at other families, and ultimately, the family member who dispossessed her of them.

    Could one have more compelling proof of the nonsense of having guns to defend yourself in a place with a functional government? It’s hard to imagine.

    Long before I feel nervous enough to consider buying a gun to protect myself from harm in my neighbourhood, or coming from my government, I’m finding either a better neighbourhood or fighting harder for a better country. If it really is the case in the United States that despite their wealth, they are so unsafe that everyone must pay the overheads of bearing arms, then this would seem to be clear proof that the United States is yet another failed state. It claims that national security is its top priority, yet if one is to believe the gun advocates, nobody is safe, including, it seems, from people who are armed and believe this to be so.

    That’s simply too mad to dwell on, but perhaps we should.

  28. December 15th, 2012 at 23:13 | #28

    Conspiracy theory stuff deleted – JQ

    Sheila Newman at #18,

    It seems to me that mass killing is only a more extreme facet of the anti-social behaviour that I witness in the streets almost every day. Would society be this dysfunctional if we had not endured decades of economic ‘reform’ imposed upon us by neoliberal ideologues?

  29. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2012 at 06:25 | #29

    Question for Prof. John Quiggin who I believe is a statistics expert among his other qualifications.

    First, note I am a strict gun control advocate.

    I did a basic scatter plot by nation of gun ownership vs. homicide rates (all homicides bar acts of war I think the data is). The result is a random scatter with no obvious correlation by eye. It is clear there is much “noise” in the data from all sorts of other factors. In your opinion what are the statistically valid ways to check for possible correlations between gun ownership and homicides murder rates?

  30. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2012 at 06:30 | #30

    Question for Prof. John Quiggin who I believe is a statistics expert among his other qualifications.

    First, note I am a strict gun control advocate.

    I did a basic scatter plot by nation of gun ownership vs. homicide rates (all homicides bar acts of war I think the data is). The result is a random scatter with no obvious correlation by eye. It is clear there is much “noise” in the data from all sorts of other factors. I other words I am comparing apples with oranges. In your opinion what are the statistically valid ways to check for possible correlations between gun ownership and homicides?

  31. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2012 at 06:32 | #31

    Oops, Ozblogistan was broken then not broken causing the above double post.

  32. TerjeP
    December 16th, 2012 at 07:04 | #32

    The result is a random scatter with no obvious correlation by eye.

    The data shows you homicide is not correlated with guns and yet you remain commited to controlling the gun variable. Interesting.

  33. December 16th, 2012 at 08:13 | #33

    Stephen King at core economics has an excellent thread on the two events in the USA and China. One used guns and the other a knife. where guns were used v people were murdered!

  34. Julie Thomas
    December 16th, 2012 at 10:26 | #34

    From the misrepresentation blog in which the question is, why is it mainly men who do these massacres?

    One answer is hyper-masculinity.

    “In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine shootings, Jackson Katz, one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists, educators, authors, and cultural theorists wrote, “accessibility of guns, the lack of parental supervision, the culture of peer-group exclusion, or the prevalence of media violence, all of these factors are of course relevant, but if they were the primary answers, then why are girls, who live in the same environment, not responding in the same way?”

    The film series we are currently producing is called The Mask You Live In. It explores “what it means to be a man in our society and the extremes of masculinity imposed on our boys and men. It further uncovers how American culture reinforces a rigid code of conduct on boys that inhibits their capacity for empathy, stifles their emotional intelligence, limits their definition of success, and in some cases, leads to extreme acts of violence. The film series will expose the social, economic, and political ramifications of a society that exists with this underlying cultural and historical phenomenon. And, most importantly, the film will offer solutions and hope.”


  35. TerjeP
    December 16th, 2012 at 10:33 | #35

    It is not just predominantly men it is predominantly young men. Age seems to be significant. It usually isn’t sixty year old men.

  36. Sheila Newman
    December 16th, 2012 at 11:05 | #36

    Surely the motive and the psychology and sociology are more important than the means (guns)?

    Why a young man?

    A 20 year old male needs to establish some kind of rank. If he is also mad, he may act on the impulse to wipe out his ‘enemies’ and be feared by their families.

    Why the US particularly?

    In very competitive societies like the United States, the UK, Australia… employment, money, position, friends, family and connections are more or less required for a person to have self-esteem and identity. This is exacerbated by an unreal culture that encourages self-comparison with celebrities.

    In a competitive society, if a person falls behind or never ‘makes it’, this can be devastating. School can be devastating, ditto employment. The person can feel an outsider, alienated by groups whose members he imagines feel worthwhile but perceive him as worthless, whom he may never join. They become the enemy.

    Mass murder is generally about alienation from society and where a person feels they have absolutely no way out. Serial killing of women, say, is about insulting a possession of someone you imagine ranks higher in the pecking order/social class.

    You might contrast Switzerland, where everyone has a gun for military defense and they also have a far more representative kind of government. If you are Swiss and alive, you are already someone. If you are a US citizen and alive, you still have to be Someone.

    I think the first reported mass murder in Switzerland was in 2001 when 57-year-old Friedrich Leibacher, who was mentally unstable and had never done military service [=an outsider] shot dead 14 people and wounded more in a Cantonal parliament in Zug.

    Is the point guns, or is it belonging? Especially when you go after children.

    (I’ve just reposted more simply in opposite order what I earlier posted with classic sociological theory.) This is an experiment to see if anyone is actually interested in motivation or if the topic is going to remain gun control.)
    yrs experimentally –

  37. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2012 at 11:08 | #37


    1. TerjeP, you will note I did not hide a crude data result that ostensibly looks very bad for my case. I put it up front. I am an honest debater.

    2. The data does not necessarily show “homicide is not correlated with guns”. That is a simplistic reading of the data made without understanding statistical theory, cause and effect, valid corrections for other factors and so on.

    3. The phenomena of correlation are no doubt complex in this case and that is why I appeal to some person or persons with high level statistical knowledge to make some comments.

    4. Statistical theory is very complex and untrained people (like me) and biased, simplistic cherry-pickers (not naming people) can make egregious mistakes with attempts at proofs of cause and effect (or lack thereof) by statistical correlation.

    Note: In most arenas of knowledge like physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, economics, the arts and humanities (except painting), philosophy, history and logic, I can muddle through OK for a B.A. in film and literature and a layperson in the rest. My humanities and science subjects were all strong so far as I progressed them. I did some science subjects at Uni level. However my maths is not great (Maths A got a 5, Maths B got a 4 in grade 12 many years ago) and I have not studied maths since. I am lazy. I could have done a bit better at maths. And statistics is my weakest area of all. So I am usually careful not to make simplistic claims in that area. How good is your maths and statistics?

  38. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2012 at 11:49 | #38

    @Sheila Newman

    Both motive and means are important. If I was making a checklist of things to change to prevent this sort of thing in the US I would suggest;

    1. Implement a genuine full employment policy nationwide via a nation rebuilding program.
    2. Give welfare assistance above the poverty line and make it open ended (where needed).
    3. Reduce inequality and ensure everyone has income and a residence (owned, rented or govt).
    4. Decrease spending on the military and prisons.
    5. Increase spending on education, health and welfare.
    6. Implement strict Gun Control.
    7. Consider stricter controls on the access to violent media by minors.
    8. Put the drinking age back to 21.
    9. Apply a medical treatment model not a criminalising model to drugs.

  39. David J H
  40. David J H
    December 16th, 2012 at 12:14 | #40

    Perhaps this might help

  41. Jim Rose
    December 16th, 2012 at 14:15 | #41

    Ikonoclast, when a new result emerges on a controversial issue, some people say the data was tortured until it confessed. Others will retorture the data until it recants. Some attack the researcher personally, say he has an agenda and look for personal eccentricities.

    The full template that you are working off is at http://www.yes-minister.com/polterms.htm and go to Government Procedure for Deciding Not to Publish a Report.

    David Card suffered such over the new minimum wage literature he helped found.
    • One reason Card stopped working in the area was he said it had cost him a lot of friends. People he had known for years since his first job. Card also did want not to spend the rest of his career defending some papers he wrote in the early 1990s.

    • Critics combed over Card’s minimum wage data, resurveyed his respondents and sampled more widely in New England. They made issue about what hypotheses Card actually tested, what hypotheses should have been tested and how he interpreted his results.

    On Lott, there was a special issue of the journal of law and economics on his book. Many others work in the same area as is listed in the Wiki More guns, less crime.

    Robustness is the better test of a hypothesis:
    • Milton Friedman preferred to look at the data from a variety of perspectives and take the weight of the evidence as a whole.

    • The only true test, in Friedman’s view, was replication using a different body of data. He looked for a consistency of results from different studies and from a wide range of evidence rather than examining intensively a few studies.

  42. Katz
    December 16th, 2012 at 14:25 | #42

    Per capita, the US is no giant in the ranking of homicide rates, though it is higher than all rich countries.

    Per capita, among rich countries it is prominent but no giant as a site of spree killings. This list of school massacres gives some idea of the prominence, but not dominance, of the US:


    Yet it is true that we usually remember those American examples better. This is a consequence of the dominance of the US-centric mass media.

    We never get a thread about Bogota, Colombia or Winnenden, Germany. Many expect the US to be both better and worse than the rest of the world. But the truth is that the US isn’t significantly either better or worse.

    Today’s Sunday Age is wall-to-wall Newtown to page 4. Most of it is cheap wire service copy. Nick Davies calls this “churnalism”. C’mon, the Ashby Affair surely merits a little real estate before page 5.

    Why get hot and bothered about a small place, far away, simply because it is located a couple of hours drive away from New York City, one of the media centres of the world?

    I just wish our MSM were much less lazy.

  43. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2012 at 15:16 | #43

    What actual GOOD is a high gun ownership rate? What is it good or useful for in civil society? Australia manages lower crime, homicide and incarceration rates than the USA with a much lower gun ownership rate. This indicates civilian gun ownership achieves nothing for civil safety and other factors do work. It pointless for all those guns to be in civilian hands.

    As for hunting, most native species in most countries need relief from hunting rates. Feral species (when shooting them out is the best option) are best hunted by expert profressional shooters not week-end hunting warriors.

    So I ask again, why do civilians need a lot of guns? I believe about 10% to 20% of US adults own about 90% of the legal civilian guns in the US.

  44. December 16th, 2012 at 15:45 | #44

    An interesting twitter exchange yesterday twixt Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Turnbull:

    Rupert Murdoch @rupertmurdoch
    Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy.

    Malcolm Turnbull @TurnbullMalcolm
    @rupertmurdoch I suspect they will find the courage when Fox News enthusiastically campaigns for it.

    Rupert did not reply, however an economic context this yesterday from Rupert was also interesting:

    Rupert Murdoch @rupertmurdoch
    Cheaper and cheaper US$ causing world inflation and currency wars as many industries become uncompetitive & layoff workers.

    If only we could get Paul Krugman to make a response on that one!

  45. TerjeP
    December 16th, 2012 at 15:50 | #45

    Ikonoclast – I applaud looking at the data. It was what finally shifted my view on this topic a decade ago.

    Speaking of data somebody on another discussion said to me that the US can choose to continue to have higher and higher rates of homicide and head towards the situation in Somalia or it can adopt gun control and be more like Australia with low rates of homicide. So I checked out the homicide figures for Somalia and it seems they are lower than the US. And I checked out the trend for the US and homicide is declining not increasing. It seems people assert all manner of things without looking at the data first. So please folks look at the data.

  46. Fran Barlow
    December 16th, 2012 at 16:41 | #46

    This article, by Jeff Sparrow, is long but an excellent read. Written in August, just after the Colorado massacre, it considers the reasons why gun violence, and in particular ‘rage killings’ (‘autogenic massacres’) have grown so sharply in the last 50 years in the US, while reminding us all that there the histroty of the relationship between gun ownership and politics is not as simple as one might be tempted to imagine.


  47. TerjeP
    December 16th, 2012 at 18:40 | #47

    Fran – if we are going to blame it on Reagan and his neoliberal legacy it would be nice if some evidence was on offer.

  48. Fran Barlow
    December 16th, 2012 at 18:52 | #48


    It’s an intriguing hypothesis. Obviously it’s not something that can be proved or disproved. It’s not as if we can wind back the time machine and see how matters would have gone without the Reagan era, or the legacy of war.

  49. TerjeP
    December 16th, 2012 at 19:49 | #49

    Or the war on drugs or the welfare state or any number of other negative developments.

  50. iain
    December 16th, 2012 at 20:12 | #50

    Where there are more guns there is more homicide.


    Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide.
    In the US, across states, more guns = more homicide.
    In the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

  51. alfred venison
    December 16th, 2012 at 20:44 | #51

    the largest number of fatalities in a school massacre, in the usa, was by way of a car bomb, in michigan, in 1927. apparently the perpetrator’s farm was foreclosed, making him mad about taxes, which had been raised to build the new school: the first in the state to put all grades in the same building. don’t know if this affects anyone’s calculus.


    this recent massacre has occurred the day before the anniversary of the signing of the bill of rights on 15 december 1791. -a.v.

  52. John Quiggin
    December 16th, 2012 at 21:00 | #52


    Even for you, Terje, this is amazingly silly. The war in Somalia has claimed at least half a million lives over 20 years, and it’s safe to assume guns were involved in most of them. Somalia has a population of about 10 million, so that’s around 5 per cent of the population before we even look at “ordinary” homicides and suicides

    Gun deaths in the US (suicide and homicide) are around 30 000 a year. That’s terrible, but it’s only 0.01 per cent of the US population every year.

    Did you get Alan Jones to do your sums for you again?

  53. TerjeP
    December 17th, 2012 at 06:12 | #53

    I got the figure from here:-


    Which cites the following as a source: UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s International Homicide Statistics database.

    The figure is for 2008.

  54. TerjeP
    December 17th, 2012 at 06:18 | #54

    p.s. According to the table in the following article Somalia has less guns per capita than Australia.


  55. Julie Thomas
    December 17th, 2012 at 06:23 | #55

    Terje Welfare is not a negative. My continued state of being alive and the successful children I have raised while on welfare are proof of this contention. My children, not on welfare, are happy to pay taxes – one even at the highest rate – because they see that it is the only way we have at present of ensuring that some of us get a chance to participate in this dog eat dog society that neo-liberality has encouraged.

    You come up with a way of ensuring that life is a level playing field and we won’t need welfare.

  56. TerjeP
    December 17th, 2012 at 06:32 | #56

    We will always need welfare Julie. Perhaps you misunderstood what I wrote.

  57. Julie Thomas
    December 17th, 2012 at 07:07 | #57

    Terje, Quite probable that I misunderstood your meaning, I am aware of my ‘tendency to negatively react to libertarian ideas; it’s called motivated cognition and we all do it.

  58. TerjeP
    December 17th, 2012 at 07:31 | #58

    Yes we do. It’s a human foible.

  59. Sancho
    December 17th, 2012 at 08:54 | #59

    Somalia is the libertarian state libertarians don’t like to talk about: weak central government and free citizen access to firearms and drugs.

    For some strange reason it’s resulted in heavily armed, cocaine-fuelled fundamentalist militias waging constant war against the government and preventing any meaningful progress, but I’m sure the economic success and social freedom predicted by libertarians will emerge any day now.

  60. TerjeP
    December 17th, 2012 at 16:44 | #60

    Sancho – Can you name some libertarians that you have encountered who are unhappy talking about Somalia. Just a couple of names would be nice. I mean if you are going to generalise to libertarians in general then this should be an easy question for you to answer.

  61. John Quiggin
    December 17th, 2012 at 19:27 | #61

    To save Sancho the trouble, here’s the US Libertarian Party


    On the other hand, the lunar right (anti-democracy, pro-slavery) Mises group thinks Somalia is the bees’ knees.


  62. Sancho
    December 17th, 2012 at 20:08 | #62


    I’m not going to Google-trawl the Internet for examples. I’d pop over to Catallaxy to make one for you, but I’m banned because free speech and all that.

    But since Australian “libertarians” are mostly monarchist Catholics who only resent government for having more authority than the queen and pope, I’m happy to talk about Somalia here, where you could do the libertarian cause a service by having something to say about Somalia that isn’t “shut up statist mumble mumble Hong Kong!”.

  63. TerjeP
    December 17th, 2012 at 20:46 | #63

    They seem to be examples of libertarians happy to talk about Somalia.

  64. Sancho
    December 18th, 2012 at 08:34 | #64


    The Libertarian Party throws up the no-true-Scotsman fallacy and runs away, while the Mises mob finds Somalia to be a fine example of a libertarian state and, as a poster at the link comments, “that mass starvation shouldn’t be stopped because telecommunications companies are thriving”.

    Keep in mind that this isn’t argument for argument’s sake, Terje. If you believe that Somalia is a national model for western libertarians to aspire to, you can just say so and the case is closed.

    But if you want to claim that Somalia doesn’t meet the criteria set out by libertarians for a libertarian state, then you’ll have to make some compelling arguments to back that up or become the example you asked for above.

  65. December 18th, 2012 at 21:51 | #65

    Such a good blog post and certainly helped clear my mind a little

  66. Graeme Bird
    December 19th, 2012 at 15:43 | #66

    The libertarian pro-gun arguments are going nowhere unless they come clean with the reality that the US is a banana republic, and one that routinely carries out false flag operations.

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