We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Mass killings, and serial killings, are in decline. Murder overall, in fact, is in decline except for in some (Blue) cities like Chicago and Detroit which nobody seems to get excited about very much.
Everybody is seeking scapegoats for mass killing, especially when it's white suburban kids instead of the slow mass murder of inner city black kids, and everybody hops onto the hobby horse they want to ride. Movies and video games, firearms, bomb ingredients, the mentally ill, etc.
The problem is that these mass events are so rare as to be utterly upredictable. We cannot put an armed guard at the door of every classroom. And trust me, you cannot lock up, indefinitely, every paranoid or angry person who has thoughts of killing people. You'd have to lock up half the commenters at Daily Kos. Thoughts about killing, like thoughts of suicide, are very common.
Furthermore, mass killers like Timothy McVeigh and serial killers like Ted Bundy were not even mentally ill in any usual sense. Evil, not ill. Not to mention Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood killer. A military Psychiatrist, no less (and a presumed Jihadist). Or the 9-11 killers.
Terrible events are black swans and probably not preventable. Dangerous people rarely seek help with their problems anyway, and criminals ignore laws. Nobody who is hell-bent on mass killing is likely to tell anyone.
But few people are willing to accept the fact that risk, however minimal, is a part of life. And one risk we all face is that we're going to die.
We'd prefer to die quietly in our sleep of old age. In order to improve our chances of doing this, we seek to reduce the chances of a violent event.
I'll add that the "we" I refer to is not necessarily me. I'm willing to accept the fact black swans exist and while I'll take steps to keep myself and my family 'safe', I also recognize that nothing is foolproof.
Sadly, not many people realize this, so they will take steps which are much more intrusive in people's lives to reduce risk by even the smallest of hair margins.
Biden, yesterday, mentioned that he didn't think the laws being proposed would alter the chances of violent events. But he's a politician - he has to appear to be doing something or people will think he's useless.
I think he's useless even when he's doing something, particularly when his gums are flapping.
Am I wrong to believe that the practice of Psychiatry is a struggle to understand a human being and what makes him tick and how that is different from what is maybe the norm? On the other hand, my understanding is that zealots from the ACLU made it almost impossible to hold someone against his will unless that person had committed a serious crime. Since Sandy Hook, I've seen letters from two mothers of disturbed children who are frightened by their disturbed children and cannot get help.
Yes, these things are Black Swan events and there is nothing, nothing, nothing that government can do about it. The experience of Britain and Australia should be enough to give pause to any anti-gun zealot. The people of Newtown just voted to arm guards at their schools.
The Elephant's Child
The mass shooting is very rare and the mass shooting of strangers, a la the Giffords case or Sandy Hook, is among the rarest of trageies.
The vast majority of gun homicides occur in a very limited band of society: the young, poor male. Many of these are urban and many of these are black and many lack a responsible male role model. If you look at homicide outside this group, it becomes quite rare.
Even in this demographic, homicides have generally gone down except in a few areas, mostly areas with "progressive" government and highly restrictive gun control laws.
I suspect that Sandy Hook events are sentinel events: we know they happen, we hope to have a plan to mitigate them, but we can't predict them with any reliability.
I quibble with the "myth" about armed citizens ending some of these attacks. Sometimes an armed citizen has indeed stopped the attacks and I'm not aware of any instances where an armed citizen started a shootout that injured bystanders. At the Giffords shooting, an armed citizen made a decision to leave the gun in the holster because of the danger of trying to use it.
I just did a few searches on the CDC website and had no trouble finding CDC funded research projects from within the last few years on injury from firearms. The first one that came up was a project of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) from 6 years ago.
It is true that the budget set by congress for the CDC specifies "none of the funds made available for injury control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control". The history behind this restriction is interesting, and actually fairly accurately described today on Wikipedia (although it may not be tomorrow...)[url] http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arthur_Kellermann&oldid=535279548 [/url]
This is not on its face a prohibition in law on researching the topic. But it has resulted in any research involving both health and guns getting exceptional scrutiny, because the CDC knows that their budget will suffer if they fund work that is so clearly agenda-driven as Kellerman's.
I also have a bit of a philosophical problem with the meme that "if government will not sponsor research in area X, then no-one can research in area x". At a minimum, the organizations devoted to the cause of gun-control, who had a combined income of about $18 million dollars in 2010, could easily swamp the funding from the CDC pre-'96 which averaged $2.5 million annually, in current dollars.
Serious fatal or life-threatening incidents such as lung cancer or ebola virus or HIV or mass murders by guns should be investigated by the CDC: it gives credibility to the research and it is funded by the US taxpayer. We learned that HIV, I believe, was born by a single flight attendant entering the US. This was a major epidemiological advance. We also learned of the link between tobacco and lung cancer via US-funded research.
As a physician, I trust the credibility of the CDC or NIH as carefully peer-reviewed studies. When it comes to deaths or life-threatening incidents, the CDC has an obligation to study the situation. If politics stop their work, this speaks poorly for politicians who are not working to protect the well-being of citizens, particularly children.
Then the CDC should keep their house in order and see to it their researchers do not become ideologues and seek to use the CDC name to give credence to poor, agenda research.
In addition, violence, not just gun violence, is not a disease. For the CDC to become the focus of such research is mission creep and damages their core expertise in disease.
But research is going on, Megan McCardle posted an interview with a researcher just yesterday. Short version, not much we can do to end these very random actions. The shooters are not spontaneous and plan for long periods, slowly acquiring the means, and the victims are not random but part of some group perceived to have wronged the killer at some point.
The CDC funding is a red herring. And plays into the hopeless desire to change human nature using external (state) forces when what little has ever been accomplished in that area has been through religion's efforts which are secured "only by changing the hearts of men, and never by setting to work, in the first instance, upon the conditions."
There is considerable emperical evidence that guns prevent violence and save lives. The "known" examples of this exceeds 2.5 million times a year that guns save lives or prevent serious violence to real people in towns and cities all over this country. Guns may well save more lives every year then firemen or ambulances do. But where are the studies? Who searches for the less obvious and unknown examples of guns saving lives. I have a friend who was cornered by half a dozen thugs and about to be beat up and robbed when he merely showed his gun; the bad guys beat a hasty retreat. No police report, not fight, no headlines but a life was saved simply because he had a gun. We live in such a safe world here in the U.S. it is easy to lose sight of the simple fact that violence or the threat of violence is what keeps us safe. Not the CDC, not the politicians and in many instances not 911 either.