Stop mass shootings, keep your guns ?
Statistically speaking there will be a mass shooting ( or more ) in the next 24 hours in the United States of America, a school shooting within the next 2 to 3 months, how on earth do you stop this ?
The first solution that comes to mind would be to confiscate or buy back every gun in America, all 400 million of them, if we go the less authoritarian route of buying them back, we are looking at a price tag of around $120 Billion ( at $300/gun ) or about 1/5th the annual military budget, its possible, but not probable, also, that is a lot of guns, like really a lot of guns, more guns than living people, why ?
The right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the constitution and out of all the amendments it is the one Americans seem to be the most passionate about ( who cares about speedy trials or libraries ), I believe it has to do with the physicality of it, after all guns are tangible ( unlike justice or knowledge). Lest we forget and make this solely an American issue ,we as species are the apex predator on this planet, and we got here through a combination of reason and muscle, guns then speak to out evolutionary biology since they are a tool to kill, defend and exert dominance… if the galaxy had action figures, most humans would come with a gun, not a book.
We could endlessly debate how we got here, the merits of this arrangement, and how to change it ( gradually and through hard work ), but the reality and consensus is that there is an impasse between those that want guns to be freely available and those that don’t, social media exemplifies this after every shooting and it’s also exploited by politicians and the media: breaking news and the dreaded thoughts and prayers seem to be the de facto solution, and it solves nothing, it might be time to start looking elsewhere.
A big part of understanding mass shootings is understanding those that commit them, not an easy task given that they immediately cease to be humans and become odious, they have committed the ultimate betrayal and any attempt at understanding them comes with the risk of being guilty by association, as mentioned the media and politicians like to profit by labeling these acts as random, unjustified and monstrous, why would they do something like this ? look at me I am pointing this out, I am channeling your emotions… this solves nothing but the immediate comfort that your moral compass is right, we need and deserve better explanations.
We can start by stating that every mass shooting is different, yet all of them have some things in common: they all used tools to achieve their goals and there was a justification behind them that made sense, at lest in their mind, I propose that this justification is neither strange nor hard to explain, in fact most of us have experienced the emotions that eventually lead to these types of actions:
The inner statement “I want to kill the garbage man that is waking me up at 7am on my day off “, is equal in quality but different in grade to the one that states one wants to kill innocents due to a perceived injustice or other cause. Beyond grade, the difference is that most of us don’t act on these thoughts for a number of reasons, mainly we have inhibitory mechanisms in the form of options, distractions, emotional/social support and good/better/bigger reasons not to act on them to name a few.
A secondary but not less lethal train of thought can be “If I were king I’d hang such and such because they have wronged me”, in the complex and divided world we currently live, this can devolve into targeting by race, religion, age, socio economic status and on and on, the difference here is that there is an almost altruistic motive at the end ( I am doing this for the greater good ), and a radicalization that is often provoked or exacerbated by the media and sadly even politicians.
There might be other motives I am not accounting for, but these two exemplify that the core problem is a gradual decent into aggressive and purposeful action, purpose it bears repeating then seems to be the turning point.
⚠️ Important Note: You might be thinking that mass shooters have some disease or mental deficit that explains their actions, the evidence is still not fully there, but in part you are right and we can at least call it for what it is, a personality disorder that goes by Psychopathy, we can also state that it does present itself on the vast majority of mass shootings, this unfortunately is not very insightful due to how plastic the brain is and how graded personalities are. In other words, yes there is a difference in character amongst psychopaths ( no empathy, remorse and bold, disinhibited egotistical behavior ), but a psychopath might never kill anybody and be a successful and admired member of society, it is also not clear if this disorder is acquired or learnt and if it can progress from non existent or low grade to dangerous, and what the surrounding circumstances are.
Intervention at an early stage
But how does one spot purpose ? Since we have pointed out that a personality disorder is part of the problem and that we believe it is a gradual decent into psychopathy, it follows that a reasonable course of action would be to intervene at an early stage and reverse or impede a possible shooting by either apprehending, monitoring or counseling at risk individuals.
Once more what sounds reasonable on paper proves to be difficult to implement, in essence we as society would need to shoulder the legal, financial and authoritarian costs of such a system and as mentioned it is not always clear who is at risk and at what point we need to intervene, is it at the 6 month, 2,7 or 15 yr old mark ? How about those that don’t exhibit symptoms for years on end and suddenly snap in our eyes ?, then there’s the practicality of it, we simply can’t come to an agreement as to what is the right course of action, even discussing any type of intervention is considered political suicide…we must look elsewhere.
Improving circumstances and outcomes
If we can’t reach the individual, how about the circumstances, can we change the environment to a better one and will this generate better outcomes ?
It seems* that unfortunately wealth, equality and a working welfare system do not equal the lack of targeted violence, but a good community and environment while difficult to achieve at scale does decrease the number of certain types of incidents.
* You might have noticed I am tiptoeing around naming names and hard statistics, I like to think that this makes for a better discussion since we can focus on bigger things, it's an easier read and we also don't have a comprehensive database of mass shootings that includes motives and socio-economic backgrounds, a good interim source I can recommend is the Gun Violence Archive
It is also not unreasonable to expect the environment to contribute , two factors stand out to me ( experienced first hand ):
While not unique to the US, the American socio-economic system is quite an unforgiving and hard place to be, with a small social security net and weak familiar ties… health, employment, housing these are all not guaranteed and one slip or emergency can result in crippling debt or prolonged hardship.
The supporting cast is also suspect, the media glorifies the lifestyles of the rich and famous; politicians, celebrities and influencers exalt American virtues that does not always materialize ( the American dream, from rags to riches, the hustle, get rich quick, live a fabulous life, etc, etc) , it’s not hard to imagine that coupled with a pressure cooker society, this constant bombardment contributes to indoctrinating, alienation, disenfranchising and pushes certain individuals closer to action by giving them purpose…rage against the system.
Video Games and Violent Media : A side note worth exploring is the all too common case of blaming certain types of media like video games, tv and books, especially if their nature is violent, the connection is hard to prove since there are different levels of exposure amongst existing cases, cognitive speaking, there is the possibility of transfer, that is that something done or watched on a screen is repeated in real life, reinforcement is also possible, but here we are now talking about indoctrination which most of these mediums do not explicitly promote, so we can think of them as probable contributing factors and not direct causes.
Summary Diagnostic: A capitalist system paired with the right to bear arms gives us 400 million guns, a pressure cooker society with few escape valves gives us plenty of motives, what's left are individuals that gradually decent into psychopathy and acquire purpose, a host of surrounding elements (media, politicians & personal factors), can then provoke action.
Constraints and limits.
So we are looking at a solution to mass shootings that doesn’t involve taking guns away, we also can’t reach the individual, and have to work within a socio-political and economical system that contributes to the problem, we can’t ask politicians or the media for help (or rather we can ask, but unless you have a big wallet or numbers they probably won’t act ), so an almost impossible task especially if we want fast results and remember, the clock is ticking for the next mass shooting….
⬅︎ Hey, sorry to interrupt, I normally write about tech and software, this is my first opinion piece, if you think I should write more of them or you find this content valuable, you can clap 👏 or share this ,thanks !
Now that we have a better grasp on the issue at hand, we are ready to start exploring what solutions there might be, I should preface by noting that these are only unproven ideas and this is only a conversation, endorsing them will need experimenting and reviewing the implementation.
I also think this is a uniquely American problem, the conversation has been stuck in part because what works in other countries might not here, due to the specific circumstances already mentioned.
The time frame for these solutions is short to medium term, longer term changes are of course possible and desirable but require a concerted effort, for the average Jane/Joe this simply means voting for a candidate that at least wants to take an honest look at the issue.
What’s left then are tentative solutions that can be implemented at the very local ( think neighborhood / city / county ), family and personal level with varied degrees of effort, popular but probably inadequate solutions are also mentioned here.
Reinforce security: One of the most infuriating elements of mass shootings is the nature of targets and locations which invariably are not secured against these types of threats, while some could probably not have been secured by any means, there is still a big gap between the security of say a federal building and that of the average place of work, any public space or venue, bars, coffeeshops, schools, libraries and on and on, a tough pill to swallow for sure, but having metal detectors, security personnel and other security measures can help ameliorate the problem, something as simple as having keycards and controlled, monitored access to a building ( any building ) is a huge step up from the norm, technology here can also help but we quickly get into conflict with other liberties, which is the recurring theme…
Picture for instance a city wide network of cameras that can recognize someone taking a gun out of the trunk of a car ( this is doable with todays Ais but of course would need to be tested and refined ), further rules can narrow down intent and then notify nearby people and authorities, while a reasonable, cost effective solution, Ai assisted camera surveillance is currently being debated and in some places banned due to privacy concerns.
More Guns ? Another popular solution offered is that of more guns, the reasoning being that if we were all armed to the teeth, then it would be easier to defend innocents and prevent shootings in the first place. There is little evidence that this is the case since shootings happen in places where open carry ( carrying a gun in public ) is permitted and civilians are not trained to handle these types of emergencies, still there is something in this idea that I believe has some merit…
Imagine if every household was required to have a gun, but not any type of gun, a specific type of gun designed for home defense, a shotgun with a 2 round limit could be enough, a handgun with limitsgun riflesto caliber could be a second one and no high capacity or long range gun rifles would be allowed (with some exceptions). While this might sound counterintuitive, it could relieve the pressure from the arms lobby and other pro gun groups, more guns to sell and a guaranteed access to guns to shoot recreationally, but in order for this to work, limits on the amount of guns per person would need to be implemented along with shooting/gun safety lessons.
Less Guns ? While guns are a personal right at the national level, there’s a varied level of access depending on state and local laws, ironically ( and tragically ), by restricting access to guns, some communities might be left unprotected against attackers that simply crossed a state or county line where access to guns is easier. Not to say that restricting gun access, specifically high caliber, automatic and high capacity is not a good thing, additionally gun shows and unregistered purchases can also be better targeted at a local and community level.
Registration: Gun registration is another popular solution that is offered whenever a mass shooting occurs, it usually comes along with limiting access to people at risk or with mental health issues, for reasons we already mentioned this is not an effective strategy, ( identifying at risk owners ), and it usually comes with some mechanism for taking away guns when some unspecified event happens, the whole issue of registration seems overcomplicated, but it doesn't need to be, especially since a good model already exists, that of cars and driving licenses…
Imagine getting a gun license at your local DMV, this license would need you to show proficiency in using a handgun or shotgun and before buying a gun you'd simply need to show it, this license would also need to be renewed at a certain period.
These have all been slightly different takes on popular proposals, it is up to the individual communities to experiment and implement them in a way that fits them and of course there is the possibility to err, this also needs to be accounted for.
And you ?
What can you do against mass shootings ? What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones ?
The answer is not at all clear, increasing your personal protection by wearing a bulletproof vest everywhere is probably not a practical solution, you could also relocate to another state or country with less gun violence, perhaps the only effective short term solution, but of course not trivial.
Should you buy a gun ? Having a gun is a great way to defend yourself, a look at home defense statistics is enough to convince me, you do you, but at the same time it also increases the odds of being shot at your own house or having someone with access to your gun commit a mass or accidental shooting. The odds were zero (0), now they are something probable; what gun you buy, where/how do you store it and other specifics will also affect the outcome.
Should you sell or destroy your guns ? If you have more than a gun, are a gun collector or recreational shooter, you are currently well within your legal rights to buy and have all the guns you want, the odds of you contributing to the problem are also greater and so is the moral responsibility of not letting these guns fall in the wrong hands, once more it is a personal choice.
Comparing Gun Violence.
As a digital nomad of sorts, I’ve lived in places where guns and gun violence are rare and places where they are everywhere, I currently live in Mexico City where gun violence is a common occurrence, mass shootings on the other hand are quite rare, or rather there are mass shootings, but they are mostly related to organized crime, the surplus of guns in the north is also a contributing factor here since access to guns to the population is very restricted but there is a black market fueled by a porous border and corruption, still, there is the common perception that as long as you don’t go looking for trouble and you don’t act as a target you will be fine since gun violence is mostly crime related.
Up north in the US, my experience has been one of being in constant awareness if not fear of gun violence, mass shootings have touched communities I’ve been part of periodically, the almost military police response to everything is also worrisome, and personally I’ve been held at gun point in a mugging.
I bring up my experience to help illustrate the running theme so far and an important point in this discussion, there are different types of gun violence and different circumstances that contribute to them, the comparison between countries is only helpful if you take into consideration what the specific conditions are and which variables are at play in each one.
Unsurprisingly the problem of mass shootings in America is a complex one, like most complex problems and systems, it usually requires the simplest of solutions to change radically, in this case the removal of all guns, or at a personal level moving somewhere else, this complex system additionally comes with a self sustaining and reinforcing clause in the form of the second amendment, which effectively nulls the simple solution and so it has devolved into something seemingly impossible to solve.
Additionally we’ve seen that while the number of guns is a contributing factor, it is not the only one, it is also well defended and it might not even be that important in the end.
What’s left, the root cause of mass shootings are deep problems related to social, political and economical factors which can affect disenfranchised individuals, the side effect of systems that overall work but not for everyone, it’s difficult problems all the way down…
Not wanting to end on such a hopeless note, I think that you are far from helpless and at the very least you can exercise your right to vote, both at the ballot and with your wallet, demand more information from candidates and officials, you can also raise your voice and do your own analysis and propose your own solutions, anything is better that sitting by the sidelines and watching another mass shooting happen, the clock is unfortunately still ticking…
Thanks for reading,
About the Author: Born Eugenio Noyola Leon (Keno) I am a Designer, Software Developer & Artist currently living in Mexico City, you can find me at www.k3no.com