Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sad But True

James Alan Fox is a criminology professor at Northeastern, so we assume he has data to back up the statements in his brief article, "Top Ten Myths About mass Shootings," posted at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  It's well worth reading, and depressing as hell.

We've been hearing, post-Sandy Hook, a fair amount of panicky talk about how to keep things like this from happening.  At its worst,* this boils down to partisan boilerplate, in which one side blames guns and the other blames crazy people.  (Ironically, the side that blames crazy people has also been deeply engaged in slashing government mental-health expenditures, but that's another story).

Fox points out that a lot of what we've been hearing is nonsense.  Mass shooters are typically turned so completely inward on themselves that they would never seek psychiatric care, for example; they are so mentally prepared and emotionally committed to their mission that panicky and underprepared armed guards are likely to harm innocents without stopping the guilty; a new assault weapons ban is unlikely to affect automatic pistols, which are the preferred weapon used in these killings.

And on and on, because he packs a lot of bad news into a few paragraphs.

The most depressing thing is that Fox offers no prescription.  He does not seem to think that there is much we can do, really -- at best, we might shave a few degrees of lethality off the top.  Stronger gun laws and better mental-health services may save a few lives, but ... don't get your hopes up.

*Actually, partisan bickering is not the very worst level of public debate.  The very worst is the despicable "Sandy Hook Truther" movement, which claims the shootings are a hoax.  We expect these people are also Holocaust deniers and child molesters.


Francie said...

You're right... the article was thoroughly disheartening. I fear there's no effective answers or courses of action to the questions being asked. Only time, and lots of it, along with a truckload of attitude revisions will bring about the serious changes we think we want. And there's the rub... do people really want those changes? Scares me to think about it. And those terrible Truthers... vile, reprehensible, nefarious, shameful... it gives me a headache just thinking of words contemptible enough to describe them...

Father Anonymous said...

I've sensed for a long time that the problem is that,because of some peculiarities of American society, we can only hope for legal measures so small and so incremental that they cannot hope to address a condition of this scope.

I'm not sure where to go with this fact. Do we just say, "Well, even a small start is good enough," and work toward that, or do we set out a utopian plan, even if it's wildly unrealistic?

As for the "Sandy Hook Truthers," of whom I only just heard yesterday -- yes, they seem like a horrid bunch. Charitably, though, I imagine that they are reacting to the horror of the crime by denying that it *could* have heppened.

James of the Tonsure said...

What has been so neglected as to say lost in the conversation is that mass shootings or other forms of violence can never be eliminated because they are essentially random acts. They are too infrequent and varied to construct an effective defense against them, per se.
That does not mean we shouldn't take the opportunity that has arisen to critically examine the ill founded faith people have that weapons in themselves are a trustworthy and reliable solution to the dangers that exist in the world.

Father Anonymous said...

True, and it should be said loud and clear: Nothing is going to make violence go away. People will get depressed; they will get angry; they will turn violent. The problem, in the end, is not guns or mental health or the constitution; the problem is human nature.

But. What we can do, if we are willing to make the effort, is blunt the spear a little. When a madman attacked Chinese schoolchildren with a knife, he traumatized a lot of people; but nobody died, because he didn't have a gun.

I've said before and I'll say again: I don't believe that American politics will actually permit us to take the necessary steps. I don't think we can keep guns out of the hands of criminals, lunatics, drunks, or people too stupid to secure their weapons and handle them safely. But I'd really like to see us try.

James of the Tonsure said...

Do you think we could even manage to find a way for the church to speak to the danger of living out of fear without being denounced as too political? Or more to the point is can the fear, love and trust people are willing to put in firearm be overcome?

Father Anonymous said...

I think it is almost impossible for us to talk about real idolatry without being denounced. The idols are so precious that people can't bear to hear them criticized.

That's why most of us have to fall back on substitutes -- we can talk about Dagon and Atargatis, or even get people to acknowledge in a general way that Money is an idol. But to really dig in and talk about what life without the idols looks like is Quixotic at best, suicidal at worst.