Mass Shootings

Mass Shootings                                                              DonC   122315


There have been lots of discussions lately about gun control, especially in light of San Bernadino, Colorado City and several other mass shootings of recent history. While I would argue that mass shootings and gun control are to a degree related, though maybe helpful to think about the two dilemmas from two different frames of reference.


If I were wishing to take a hard look at gun control, I would want to gather the empirical statistics about the value of having a loaded gun in your home or on your person.  I would want to know the odds helping in a violent situation vs. the odds of injury to myself or others by possessing such a weapon.  There are any number of ways to look at how and when help or harm takes place when guns are added to a given situation.  At this point, I choose to set aside these various issues, and focus only on things related to mass shootings.  (For the sake of argument, I will define mass shootings as a situation where a person kills or wounds at least four people whom he does not know directly.)


There is a tiny percentage of our population, almost entirely male, who are angry, hurt, vengeful, depressed, mentally ill or disenfranchised in one way or another who choose to consider such an act.  They may focus their angst on certain individuals or groups, or they may have some cause or crusade that they obsess over.  In decades past, some of these people simply went out and killed themselves.  Some processed or out-grew their obsession.  I’m guessing if you were to ask school counselors if they new of any that fit this description, all could name a handful that they might be concerned about. Out of this group of many, a tiny handful chooses go over the edge, gather large amounts of weapons and ammunition, and plan a blood bath.  While it is a sort of mental health issue, we have always had anger, depression, and other types of mental health problems.  Mass shootings are fairly recent phenomena.  Countries such as South Africa have lots of guns, lots of crime, but virtually no mass shootings of innocent people.


These shootings seem to involve three ingredients – some type of obsession or mental health issue, access to guns and ammunition and a hyperactive media environment.


As stated earlier, the various clusters of mental health issues have been with us through the ages and exist around the world.  Certainly we should do more to address mental health issues, but I have little faith that it might curtail the shootings.


Some argue that gun control could help.  I’m inclined to believe that any person who seriously desires weapons and lots of ammunition is going to get them, legally or illegally.  Gun control, in a practical sense, will slow them down slightly … at best.


There has been quite a bit of discussion about how the media goes crazy over every last microscope angle that can be pursued related to shooter and shooting.  While it is nice to think that media would see that their role is counter-productive, we all have inquiring minds.  We drive their ratings.  Blood sells.  It’s not hard to see how an angry, young man can be drawn to the fantasy of going out in a blaze of glory, inflicting the greatest possible pain on the objects of his anger.  His name and face will be noted countless millions of times.  In one perverse respect, he knows he will take on immortality. So the First Amendment, protecting freedom of the press, plays a role in this as well.  We can’t just tell the press what it will and won’t cover.


It would seem that, of these three ingredients, there is little that we can do about any one of them.  Several commentators have stated that if their strategy saves one shooting, it will be worthwhile.  This would seem to be trimming the problem around the edges.


Perhaps there is something that we can do.  We can develop a strong counter-message.  It would be a message that redefines the act.  Instead of an act that brings glory and/or revenge in some perverse sense, the message needs to be that it is an act that brings only disdain.  Instead of it being an act that brings immortality, the message needs to be that you will be forgotten. This would need to be both tangible and symbolic … and it would need to get strong media attention.


I put forward this idea with ample humility.  It is against my nature to see a human life solely with disdain … any human life.  It feels like committing this person’s soul to hell.  This is something quite beyond my power to do.  Yet perhaps this disdain is simply the inherent consequences of their own actions.


The plan would be to try to engrave an image in the minds of all people.  To achieve this, the government would find a desolate location and have a well driller place an extremely deep hole in the earth.  They would drill until the bit overheats, and can go no further. On top of this would be placed a large, black, stone monument with a hole through the middle of it, giving access to the deeper hole.


After any such shooting and the ensuing forensic work, the body will be confiscated and cremated.  100 days after the shooting, the ashes will be transported by the local sheriff or chief of police to the site of the monument.  With minimal ceremony, the ashes will be poured through the monument into the depths of the earth.  The media will give the fullest possible coverage of the event.  There will be one word engraved on the side of the monument:




Gun Control?

With the recent incident in Connecticut, there has sprung a renewed debate about gun control. There will be a cascade of statistics from both sides of the argument that will make positive proof for their position. I will agree with Pres. Obama – we should not seek simple solutions to a complex problem. I would suggest that one litmus test to every proposal would be to ask how much difference it would have made in past mass shootings.

The current idea that is leading the pack is to re-institute the ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammo clips. Knowing some about guns, I can assure you that this will make very little difference. Anyone with a few minutes of practice can switch smaller capacity clips in a matter of a couple of seconds to reload. Then defining an assault weapon is next to impossible. Is it a rifle that sorta, kinda looks like one the military uses? There is no clear line in function between the military ‘look alike’ guns and other semi-automatic sporting rifles. Does the government want to get into the business of taking away guns that are currently widely in usage? That ain’t going to work out so well.

I would first tend to agree with the quote that has been passed around coming from Morgan Freeman about putting some of the blame on the various news sources that hash and rehash every last detail of this tragedy from every possible angle, giving more than a little attention to the shooter, his means and his possible motives. Without putting forward any new legislation, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the media to put some limits on what and how much they report? Or is the teenage boy in Peoria pondering the next mass murder so he can go out in a blaze of glory, also going to garner the world’s attention? Maybe as a society we shouldn’t grant that kind of attention.

Certainly there must be more focus on mental health issues. This does seem to be a common thread. But if you were to ask every school counselor in the country if they knew some number of kids who might be capable of doing such a thing, I would bet every one of them could come up with 2 or 3 names. What would we do with the 30,000 identified kids around the country who might do such a thing? Yes, we can do more in providing services, but did we select the right 30,000?

Apparently, even among members of the NRA, there is a growing recognition that there should some tightening of gun regulation. Would better background checks help? … perhaps a little, but probably not in most of the incidences I’ve heard about. Would more gun safety training help? … yes, it would help with gun safety in the hands of law abiding citizens, but little more. More strict permitting? … maybe, but most people who want to get there hands on some sort of gun usually do. Stiffer sentences for gun related crimes? … really? … who gives a lot of thought to how long their sentence might be if they get caught?

I do have a proposal that I believe would make some difference in the long run. First, ponder that everything from butter knives to nuclear weapons have a capacity to be used for evil. Some of these things we clearly should not allow in the hands of the general public. But at the other end of the spectrum, it would be dumb for us to go out rounding up everyone’s butter knives. We do not allow the buying, selling or possessing of fully automatic rifles without a Federal Firearms Permit. Very few people have one of these. They are difficult and expensive to get. Fully automatic weapons (one pull of the trigger and multiple shots go off, often called machine guns) simply have too great a capacity for random destruction for even the police to carry. Semi-automatic weapons (one pull of the trigger, one shot goes off and the gun automatically reloads) have one step greater capacity for evil than lever action, bolt action, pump action or revolvers. They are quick to reload, and in some instances can carry a very large number of rounds. As a hunter, I must confess that I really don’t like them. (And I do own one, but rarely use it.) They often become an excuse to spray shots at game, without adequate thought about working for a responsible, lethal shot, sometimes only wounding animals. The sport of hunting could easily do without them. If no one had ever committed a crime with one, I would be in favor of getting rid of them.

So here is my proposal. Federal law should ban the IMPORT and MANUFACTURE of all semi-automatic or fully automatic weapons in the U.S, except for strictly military or police use. A person could still buy, sell, own, possess or use this kind of gun, but the supply of new guns of this type would end. The market place would make guns of this type generally more valuable, and they would be hoarded by people, most of whom are responsible collectors. Those out in circulation would eventually find there way into collections or museums, wear out, be lost and rust away in the woods, be destroyed or disposed of. While this would not put an end to school shootings, at least the capacity for rapid, wide-spread destruction of life would be diminished. If the capacity were diminished, perhaps going out in this kind of ‘blaze of glory’ would be as well.

Would this change in the gun laws make a big, immediate difference? … probably not. But if it made a small, long-term difference, it would be worth doing.

Just a thought … DonC

How Much Fear?

As I think back on all of the political and cultural phenomena that have come and gone during my lifetime, many have had a good bit of fear attached to them. It is, after all, a natural human response to a threatening situation. We have the impulse for ‘fight or flight’.

Going back to WWII, there was the threat of the Axis powers taking over the world. With the advent of nuclear weapons, we lived with that horrendous possibility. Then Vietnam, Watergate, rising crime levels, 9/11, the war on terror, the national debt and climate change have all given us cause to worry. We watch our children closely, lock our doors securely and fill our closets with guns. Goodness knows, if we believed all that we heard during campaign season, we would all be convinced that the world was going to heck in a hand basket. But is it?

How often do you think about the good things we enjoy, things that have made our world better and safer. Crime rates over the past 20 years have dropped dramatically in every category. Tax rates for all classes of wage earners and investors are way down from their historic highs. The number of nuclear weapons is a fraction of what it used be. Technology has generally made life easier. The threat of cancer or heart disease is lower. Death and injury rates on the highways are much lower than they used to be. We have much less exposure to mercury, PCBs, ozone, smog, DDT, CFCs, acid rain and a host of other environmental pollutants. Every occupation has seen improved job site safety. There is an economic safety net for virtually everyone. The elderly have at least a fair quality of life. And yet we persist in being afraid.


Fear is a motivator. It causes us to buy certain products and vote in certain ways. Lots of voices are telling us that we really should be afraid. We are the ones who choose to accept that fear is part of our way of life. But we can choose not to be afraid. Caution is often a good thing. But fear … how often is it really helpful?

Just a thought … DonC

Election Winners and Losers

You may have noticed that it has been a while since I’ve posted on my blog. With politics being my main subject matter, I got as sick as everyone else at the campaign rhetoric flying this way and that. Sadly, no matter where any candidate fell on the political spectrum, there were tragically few ads that provided the unvarnished truth. It was a cascade of partial truths, innuendos and outright lies. While I am not a huge fan of Mr. Obama’s record, I had no idea where Mr. Romney really stood on any issue. He had been a centrist governor. Then he swung hard to the right for the primaries and perhaps slightly left of center by the time the election rolled around. Will the real ‘Mitt Romney’ please stand up?

It was a little nutty how Michelle Bachmann tried to paint herself as a moderate in the election. While she is a fine Christian woman, she has managed to say some of the strangest things over time. She didn’t spend much time bragging about how she was the head of the Tea Party caucus. Would liked to have seen her pack her bags.

In another race in Massachusetts, Eliz.Warren did have an admirable record in dealing with the financial industry, but Scott Brown had established himself as a moderate, truly independent thinker. There are so very few of that sort left in Congress. I hope he has a future somewhere in politics.

Women won. I don’t mean particular candidates. I mean that women are showing that they will not bow to perceived ‘good ol’ boy’ candidates or parties. Women are voting more regularly than men, and if the Republican party can’t figure out how to address contemporary women’s issues, they are going to be loosing elections a lot more often in the future.

Hispanics won. Again, not that any one candidate was overly noteworthy, but they showed decisively that they are now a legitimate and substantial voting block. If you want to win their vote in the future, you better do more than give lip service.

In Minnesota, the Republicans got spanked. Between the two proposed amendments, the government shutdown, their wacky means of borrowing school district’s money and a scandal or two, voters showed up at the polls and were none too pleased. I do worry that Democrats will let this victory go to their heads, and launch a major tax and spending spree.

The key question remains: Did any of them get the message that we want them all to work together to find solutions, imperfect as they may be?

Arrogance rules when I think I have all of the right answers and my opponent is corrupt, frightening, misguided or always wrong. Perhaps the lessons most valuable for me come from my political opposite. If I fail to learn anything from him or her, then I am the loser.

Might ‘Citizens United’ be Killing Mr. Romney’s Hopes?

It would indeed be a strange quirk of fate, in that conservatives have so strongly backed Citizens United, if it might just lead to Mr. Romney’s downfall. For those of you who don’t follow politics so closely, ‘Citizens United’ was a Supreme Court ruling which concluded that corporations and unions have the same rights to free speech as individuals do under the law. This means that no limitations can be put on them as to how much money they spend on political activities. Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to candidates from various special interests. Conservatives have generally enjoyed better friendships in the business world, so naturally, they would benefit the most … right?

Well … maybe not. The way campaigns have worked for a long, long time, a given candidate had to work hard during the primaries to curry the favor of the more active elements of their party. Especially in recent years, this has meant pushing to energize the more extreme partisans. Then as the primary season ends with a given candidate and the regular campaign season begins, a candidate will work to soften their messages to appeal more to the moderate and independent voters. But this election seems to be different.

Historically, it has been the Democratic Party that has tried to pull together wide, diverse interest groups under one banner to gather the number of votes necessary to win elections. This year the Republican Party is suffering from this far more than they had been. With their far right-wing being so vocal, Mr. Romney really had to stretch to the right to get the nomination. It has made it even harder for him to pick up votes in the center. But what has really changed is the MONEY. Citizens United opened up the flood gate for the money to flow. Money almost always flows from the extremes. People, and now corporations and unions, give to the causes that they feel most passionately about.

With so very much money in the game this year, it has presented Mr. Romney with a dilemma. Should he now send out a more moderate view, with the hope of gaining more votes from the centrists and independents? Or should he send out the messages that will keep the money flowing, appeasing the forces at extremes. For a long time, it seems that he had sided with the source of money, keeping the message more on the right. After his gaffe about the “irresponsible 47%” and his tax returns, among other things, he is finding himself trying to undo the damage by strengthening his message to the center. But will it be too little, too late? At the same time, it sounds like his fund raising efforts have fallen off. Perhaps he can’t both have his cake, and eat it too.

Just a thought … DonC

Forgiveness Happens

A number of years ago, I was driving school bus for some event, and a kid was sitting directly behind me, lamenting that his teacher had been hard on him for misbehaving. After his whining had gone on for a while, I asked him this question:

“Danny … would you like it if your teacher fell over and died?”

He responded, “Whaaaaat?”

“Yaa … how would you like to be able to do something that would stop your teacher’s heart, and no one will pin the blame on you?”

He looked at me like I was daft … which might have been true.

I said to Danny, “All you have to do is look your teacher in the eye, and say ‘I’m sorry … I was wrong … and it won’t happen again.’ If you say that to her … and mean it, chances are quite good that she will fall over and die.”

We live in a culture where sincerely apologizing is all too rare. I don’t remember witnessing it all that many times in my life. In recent years, I’ve been trying to regain my ability to do this. The anatomy of a good apology is simple:

“I’m sorry”. Demonstrate a heartfelt acknowledgement of my empathy for the damage I have done.

“I was wrong”. I recognized the insult or injury that I have caused by my wrongful word or deed, not minimizing the problem.

“It won’t happen again”. I am stating with my best intention to live such that I will not repeat my behavior.

I read a story a couple of years ago about a hospital in Michigan that, when there was an error made by a doctor or nurse, rather than doing everything they could to cover up the mistake, they brought the family and all medical staff involved together, acknowledged every detail of what had happened, apologized for their mistake and reviewed options about how they might move forward in providing care for the patient. The result was a 75% drop in malpractice suits.

Now for the other side of this experience … forgiveness. Just as we aren’t very good at apologizing, we likewise aren’t very good at forgiving. There is a whole lot of power in maintaining a grudge. There seem to be instances of people maintaining a grudge for generations. (Hatfields and McCoys?)

Forgiveness involves trust. One dilemma is the risk of re-offense. How can you forgive when there is every possibility that the villain will be reckless or mean again in the future? I’m pretty sure that as long as it’s humans that we are talking about, there will be opportunity for re-offense. But the other question is as to whether or not the person who insists on holding the grudge suffers more than anyone.

There is that old expression – ‘forgive and forget’. It may be that when we forgive, our head will remember, but our heart will forget.

Just a thought … DonC

Pole Vaulting

I never get tired of watching pole vaulters. Some writer at Sports Illustrated ranked it as the second most difficult athletic endeavor … behind hitting off a major league pitcher. My son did the event all of the way through high school, and it took me much of that time to understand the details involved. I will not bore you with these details. What I do ask you to consider is the interesting parallel this sport provides for life lessons.

In case you haven’t watched the sport, a vaulter can begin the event at any height they might choose. If they make three attempts and fail to get over the bar, they are done for the day. If they succeed on one of those attempts, the bar gets moved up and they get three more attempts. You don’t want to start competing when the bar is too low or you will get worn out from vaulting a lot. You will have a lot of successes, but no one will care, because you will be shot by the time you get to the serious heights. The competitors who make the highest jumps successfully, win the event or place according to their height ranking.

The interesting part has to do with the role of failure. The bar gets knocked off quite easily. Even the event’s best vaulter has at least three failures at the final height. If you were to ask a vaulter which they would prefer – winning their event by clearing a bar several inches lower than their personal best, or placing tenth at a meet by improving by an inch on their personal best, most all vaulters would say the later. The bar is the real challenge, not the other competitors.

Harvey McKay once said that if you want to triple your successes, you need to triple your failures as well. It seems like we live in a world where people who fail are considered the ‘losers’. It is a shameful thing. We avoid it ourselves, and we don’t like our children put in that position. It will hurt their self-esteem … right? I would argue that avoiding failure does little or nothing to bolster self-esteem. Overcoming failure is what will really give a person’s self-esteem a boost.

Life’s a tough sport … set the bar high.

Just a thought … DonC