Monday, December 17, 2012

More Thoughts on Sandy Hook

John Fund has a column at NRO that answers a couple of the questions I asked in my previous post. It turns out that mass killings are not more common today than they've been historically. Fund tells us this:
Mass shootings are no more common than they have been in past decades, despite the impression given by the media.

In fact, the high point for mass killings in the U.S. was 1929, according to criminologist Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century.

The chances of being killed in a mass shooting are about what they are for being struck by lightning.

Until the Newtown horror, the three worst K–12 school shootings ever had taken place in either Britain or Germany.
Fund believes that rather than discussing gun control, a measure that would almost certainly fail to stem the tide of guns in the hands of criminals, we should be discussing the laws that make it difficult to control mentally ill people prone to violence and the wisdom of gun-free zones:
First, the mental-health issue. A lengthy study by Mother Jones magazine found that at least 38 of the 61 mass shooters in the past three decades “displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.” New York Times columnist David Brooks and Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson have both suggested that the ACLU-inspired laws that make it so difficult to intervene and identify potentially dangerous people should be loosened. “Will we address mental-health and educational-privacy laws, which instill fear of legal liability for reporting potentially violent mentally ill people to law enforcement?” asks Professor Jacobson. “I doubt it.”
Civil libertarians won passage of laws in the 1970s that essentially emptied our mental health hospitals and dumped thousands of potentially violent people onto the streets. Ever since it's been difficult, as the mother in the previous post attests, to get such people committed to a long term facility to protect the rest of us from their rages.

But what about gun-free zones? Fund makes a strong case that such restrictions are counterproductive:
Gun-free zones have been the most popular response to previous mass killings. But many law-enforcement officials say they are actually counterproductive. “Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone,’” says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., Batman-movie shooting.

Indeed, there have been many instances — from the high-school shooting by Luke Woodham in Mississippi, to the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. — where a killer has been stopped after someone got a gun from a parked car or elsewhere and confronted the shooter.

Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools.

I spoke with Lott after the Newtown shooting, and he confirmed that nothing has changed to alter his findings. He noted that the Aurora shooter, who killed twelve people earlier this year, had a choice of seven movie theaters that were showing the Batman movie he was obsessed with. All were within a 20-minute drive of his home.

The Cinemark Theater the killer ultimately chose wasn’t the closest, but it was the only one that posted signs saying it banned concealed handguns carried by law-abiding individuals. All of the other theaters allowed the approximately 4 percent of Colorado adults who have a concealed-handgun permit to enter with their weapons.

“Disarming law-abiding citizens leaves them as sitting ducks,” Lott told me. “A couple hundred people were in the Cinemark Theater when the killer arrived. There is an extremely high probability that one or more of them would have had a legal concealed handgun with him if they had not been banned.”

Lott offers a final damning statistic: “With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”
Fund notes that the fear that armed citizens would be a danger to society is misplaced. Statistics show that the rate of improper use of a weapon by a holder of a license to carry a concealed weapon is about the same as the rate of improper use of weapons by police officers.

Fund closes with this:
In all of the fevered commentary over the Newtown killings, you will hear little discussion of the fact that we may be making our families and neighbors less safe by expanding the places where guns aren’t allowed. But that is precisely what we may be doing. Both criminals and the criminally insane have shown time and time again that those laws are the least of the problems they face as they carry out their evil deeds.
I argued in this space several years ago that I thought one way to end school shootings would be to have a weapon available to school administrators in case of emergency and require them to take annual training in its use. Nothing that has happened since has caused me to change my opinion. Surely, if the principal of the Sandy Hook school had been armed when she courageously rushed at the man slaughtering her children she might have been able to save many of their lives. As it was she became one of his victims.

Time to Talk About Mental Illness

A woman named Liza Long who blogs under the name Anarchist Soccer Mom writes a post in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy that's apparently gone viral. It's her story, but it's the story of perhaps tens of thousands of mothers like her. She writes:
In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”

“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
There's much more to her post which you can find here.

One question her story raises is why there seems to be so many more deeply disturbed children today than formerly. Was it always like this or is there something especially tragic afflicting people to an unprecedented extent in our modern society?

Another question that the Connecticut mass murder raises is whether there are commonalities between the perpetrators of these horrific acts. Specifically, I would like to know the following:
1. What is the nature of the perpetrators' relationship with their father?
2. To what degree are they immersed in our contemporary culture of violence and death (video games, music, movies, etc.)?
3. What is the family's attitude toward religious belief and practice?
4. How often do they use non-medicinal drugs?
I've never seen any studies that address these questions, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say what I think such a study would find. I suspect that in many cases of mass murderers in the last decade or so the answers would be:
1. Poor to none
2. Deeply
3. Indifference
4. Often
If someone knows where such data can be found, and if that data contradicts my suspicion, I'd appreciate hearing from you. Meanwhile, read the rest of Ms Long's post. The pain she and so many other contemporary parents are experiencing is heartbreaking.