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Save Yourself

My re-entry on Sunday from a (media-free) vacation included a check of the Commonweal blogs and website to see what Id missed during my week away. E.J. Dionne Jr.s column on standing up to the gun lobby was one of my first reads, and if you havent gotten to it yet, its still available here.Later in the day I found a sort of related story at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, detailing the availability of a survival plan from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that I had not been aware of. It includes booklets, posters, pocket cards, and other materials you might expect in a government-issued kit aimed at helping citizens contend with hurricane, fire, or flood. Only this particular guide offers what the reporter calls pointers for making it through a shooting spree alive.Active Shooter: How to Respond (.pdf) was actually released about four years ago, and its been a popular if depressingly necessary read among retailers, mall operators, and, increasingly, other companies throughout the private sector. More than 125,000 people have trained in the DHS Active Shooter Program since its inception, aided lately in part by the addition of online quizzes and other interactive components.The Bloomberg BusinessWeek article acknowledges that the program may remind some people of how schoolchildren were once told to hide under their desks in the event of nuclear attack. But it does better by quoting Colin Goddard, of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence: Its pretty messed up that the U.S. government treats these shootings like they would a natural disaster.Congress and President George W. Bush wasted little time in getting the DHS up and running in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and by 2010 the agency had more than 225,000 employees and an estimated budget of $55 billion. In about half that time, there have been enough mass shootings in the United States to fill out a Brady Campaign listing (.pdf) that runs to 62 pages; just since January 2011, there have been 60 massacres, to use the groups term.These are not acts of God, not, as Goddard puts it, something that cant be prevented. Yet there hasnt been even a remotely comparable degree of mobilization against such unrelieved violence. Only a guide to making it out alive, which might be about as good as the amount of luck you also get. Goddard speaks to that too: Despite being struck by four bullets, he survived the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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I think it's high time that the churches, all of them, unite to make the violence in this country a primary moral issue. No, I don't mean the clergy should get into politics and support individual political candidates. But in preaching they should make it clear that tolerance of and refusing to do anything about it is a very serious moral issue. Maybe it should be part of the evangelization project of the RCC. It used to be that violence in the U. S. was largely a matter of poverty. The correlation was high. But these days it seems it's more and more a problem with middle class people like John Hughes, so there must be something else afoot in this culture. The psychologists say that the amount of violence in our media (which is saturated with it) leads to tolerance of it in the real world, and in some people it forms templates for future violence. I think I myself am more sensitive to the problem because I have known two college professors, a non-professional college employee, a lawyer, a businessman, and a hairdresser who were murdered, so I happen to be well aware of the middle-class dimension of the problem. Further, some years New Orleans is the murder capital of the world, but all that proves is that the more violence there is, the more vioence there is. We must all, it seems to me, do something to combat it. But what? New York City was doing a good job at least for a while. What did they do? This whole matter brings up the issues of censorship and gun control, two constitutional issues, and very difficult ones. But it seems to me that we have to find solutions. Sure, we can do more about the poverty, but it isn't the whole story. There seems to be a violence addiction here. Other countries don't have nearly the problem we do. There must be some way out. But what?

Dionne says: "isn't the more direct solution to ban automatic weapons and oversized magazines so that when someone does go off the rails, it won't be possible for him to shoot off close to 100 rounds in 100 seconds" First, Holmes used a semi-automatic AR-15, not an automatic. There's a huge difference, and it's rather surprising that people who write about gun control can't be bothered to educate themselves on the most basic facts. Second, automatic weapons are already heavily restricted or illegal. Third, shooting 100 rounds in 100 seconds isn't very fast. An actual automatic could shoot 100 rounds in maybe 5-6 seconds. Anyway, it's kind of inspiring that people have such faith that if we just passed a law against having guns, then mass shootings would be reduced. Why don't we start out by passing a law against murder, though? Surely if such a law had been in place in Colorado, Holmes would have been stymied, as he was obviously such a stickler for obeying the law.

Jon Stewart did an effective segment on this, too. There seem to be a couple of intertwined questions here: whether more gun control would be effective in preventing these incidents; and whether there is any political appetite out there to work for stricter gun control.

Third, shooting 100 rounds in 100 seconds isnt very fast.Stuart,Fast is relative. I bet it seems fast if you're an audience in a movie theater being shot at.Why dont we start out by passing a law against murder, though? Surely if such a law had been in place in Colorado, Holmes would have been stymied, as he was obviously such a stickler for obeying the law.If murder laws don't prevent murders, why can't we do without murder laws?As many of the talking heads pointed out, even if you can't stop incidents like the one in Aurora, there are still thousands and thousands of gun crimes committed every year (and a very large number of suicides). Laws don't have to be 100% effective to be worth passing.Having said that, it strikes me as ridiculous to have this debate every time there's a mass shooting. Everybody knows our politicians are not going to pass more restrictive gun laws. They should, but everybody knows it's a hopeless cause to oppose the gun lobby. So why waste our breath even talking about it.

Here is a piece that tries to highlight the futility of legislating.

hopeless US fatalism as usual

This post by Ezra Klein is helpful:

Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive.

Murder laws enable us to punish murderers after the fact, but it's hard to see how they actually prevent psychopaths from doing anything. Why would gun control be any different? The point about the 100 rounds is that Dionne acts as if 100 rounds in 100 seconds is some heroic rate of speed that was made possible by having an automatic, when that's not even close to being true. Tap your finger on a desk once per second. Does that feel particularly fast?

Richard Florida isn't an economist.

Should it be easy for murderers to procure weapons whose sole purpose is to end life? Bullets? Assault weapons? Gun control is different because states with tighter gun-control law seem to suffer fewer gun-related deaths.

No, it should be impossible [or difficult] for murderers to procure such weapons. However, merely wishing that it be impossible [or difficult] doesn't mean that it is actually possible to make it impossible [or difficult].

Better not try then, right?

Well, no, but one would have to come up with some idea that is more relevant than banning automatics, and then one would have to have actual evidence that this would have deterred someone who was both crazy and determined (like Holmes).

Stuart --Automatic guns were invented for the single purpose of killing people, were they not? What else could they possibly be used for? Sometimes what a thing is for is what the thing is. There is no excuse for them outside of war, if there is an excuse for that.I haven't heard anyone in years saying that ordinary hand guns or hunting guns should be prohibited. (And I agree they shouldn't be.) But the automatic kind is so obviously barbaric it amazes me that some people can see it. And it is even more amazing that Americans won't ban them. Why the indiference? That same old cry of 'freedom'? That's just freedom to murder and freedom to die. Madness. So our immediate problem is a psychological one -- how to get people to vote them out.

Antonin Scalia seems to be showing signs of an appetite for legislation; even Fox says so. for relative rates of discharge (1 per second or 1 per minute doesn't matter if it's the one that hits its mark) and "the futility of legislation," these distract from the real issue, which to me is the application of an acceptable-loss metric when it comes to gun violence; the mere existence of a survival guide acknowledges it. We tend not to speak in terms of "allowable levels" when it comes to the unborn or victims of pedophelia; we use rhetoric like "zero tolerance" and "protecting the innocent" and "the sanctity of life" (or "the culture of death"). Why not in these instances? We can say the frequency of mass shootings has inured us to them, but I think (as Ann touched on earlier) there's something about the nature or psychology of violence to consider, and thus the possibility that it's the violence itself there's an appetite for.

People with guns are able to kill lots of people as we have seen.People without guns have to do it up close and personal.What is so hard to understand about that?And how does the current situation fit anyone's understanding of a "well-regulated militia?"

"So our immediate problem is a psychological one how to get people to vote them out."So long as the NRA has terrified our state and national legislators, politicians and (yes) POTUS candidates, there will never even be a chance to "vote them out."The Catholic church would fall down and thank God if it had even 1/10th of the clout and influence as does the NRA.

When the basement has already flooded, turning off the water won't fix the flood damage or make the water go away - but it will prevent even more damage from occurring. Btw, a pretty straight analogy applies to the problem of illegal immigration.

Dominic --Yes, we seem to have an appetite for violence. But I suspect that most people want violence-at-a-distance (as in the Roman games), or imaginary violence (as in our media), while the really sick few enjoy participating in actual violence (the masochists and sadists and mass murderers). At least I hope most of us aren't sadists and masochists beneath our personas, as Freud seemed to think.

On the political scene, I think a main problem is that opposition to the NRA is too fractured. Imagine if the NRA had 40 different lobbying groups instead of one big one. The politicians would ignore them all. If the anti-volence people organized into one big group that actually supported or ran ads against individual politicians we might get somewhere. I"m not sure about the morality or even the wisdom of boycotting businesses that contribute to the violence problem. Also, you shouldn't boycott the TV channels because they also do some good. Maybe selective boycotts and demonstrations against certain super-violent movies would help. Hollywood hates bad publicity, though it's said that bad publicity is better than none. At any rate I do think we have a right to shame what we are convinced is shameful. Yes, the cuper-conservatives agree. But I agree with them about this. And we do have the good example of the civil rights and women's movements who used shaming very effectively.Hmm. I wonder if booing is covered under free speech. People hate to be booed.

Automatic guns were invented for the single purpose of killing people, were they not?

Read Jim's article:

People without guns have to do it up close and personal.

Bombs have been popular for quite a long time, Jim. Very effective. Poison gas? Contrived computer malfunctions? Can you imagine the mess of laws we'll get after someone decides to hack the New York subway system and cause a rush-hour train derailment?

My understanding is that, while there is some debate over whether strong gun control significantly reduces overall homicides, there is substantial evidence that it reduces domestic homicide against women. That having a gun in the house increases the likelihood of a household member dying by gun violence.

I just found out this morning that a kid who is a member of my gym was killed by a stray bullet last week while playing tennis in the park.

Can it be that the inmates of institutions cannot see what outsiders see and, thusly, think that all is as it should be?Some thoughts from those not inmates of this well-regulated militia we currently have in the US:If you live in America, you are four times more likely to be murdered than if you live in Britain, almost six times more likely than in Germany, and 13 times more likely than in Japan. These are simple facts on which all can agree; just as it is a simple fact that two-thirds of all murders in America involve guns, whereas in Britain the figure is under 10%. Beyond that, though, there is not a flicker of consensus in America about what to do about the grisly harvest that last year gathered in 9,000 lives. Mr Obama dispensed a dollop of rhetoric, condoled with the victims families, and proposed to do precisely nothing about the easy availability of guns in America. At the other end of the country his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, proposed precisely nothing either, even though as governor of Massachusetts he once presided over one of the tightest gun-control regimes in the union. Both have their reasons, none of them creditable. ..No licensing system can screen out all unsuitable people. That is why restrictions are also needed on the types of weapons available, and why the most deadly firearms should be banned. No hunter, and nobody interested purely in self-defence, needs a semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round magazine. Between 1994 and 2004 the sale of assault weapons (including the AR-15 that the Batman killer reportedly used) and magazines holding more than ten bullets was banned. Had those restrictions still been in force, fewer might have died in Denver. Mr Obama and Mr Romney should have had the courage to point that out., if you are not familiar with The Economist, its editorial policies and politics closely resemble those found in The Wall Street Journal.

This guy has an idea, and he even seems to know what different types of guns are:

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