Unleashed Guns: One More Massacre

Content note: the linked op-ed contains multiple usages of ableist language. I think it’s worth reading anyway.

The Aurora Movie Theatre Shooting and American Gun Culture

The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it. Those who fight for the right of every madman and every criminal to have as many people-killing weapons as they want share moral responsibility for what happened last night—as they will when it happens again. And it will happen again.

Categories: crisis, culture wars, ethics & philosophy, law & order, violence

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33 replies

  1. Apparently the guy’s also wired up his home with explosives, to the point where neighbouring buildings have been evacuated and it may take days to disarm them all. Shakesville has more.

    • Thanks for the link, Nick. He certainly seems to have used his research skills to find effective killing methods. It seems odd, actually, that he warned the police about the booby-traps.

  2. That was an excellent article, Tigtog, thanks for the link. I’ve seen a little of the frothing rage that some Americans express when it’s suggested there’s something wrong with everyone having guns on the pages of the Huffington Post. I daresay the same things will be trotted out again. “Guns don’t kill, people kill” – yeah, but guns let them kill a hell of a lot more people. “Cars kill, should we get rid of them?” Cars weren’t designed to kill; when they do, it’s through accident or incompetence, seldom murder. Guns were designed to do nothing but kill.

  3. Maybe this will put me out of step with the present mood so please at least accept that I agree with the sentiment that this sort of senseless act should not be visited upon any community.
    But the thing about this sort of atrocity is that if it directly leads to any sort of legislative reaction, then I think we – or more correctly the Americans – would be ‘reacting’ to what is basically an outlier’s solitary actions, and thereby affecting the whole population.
    Yes, it is a terrible event, but I’m not convinced that the entire population should, by that event, be subject to central regulation aimed at ‘protecting’ the population from further incidents.
    The US is already a country markedly changed by the actions of terrorists, and various solitary madmen. And as hard as it is to say it, the freedoms once enjoyed by the other 99.99998% of the population have been irrevocably constrained by those actions. There will unfortunately always be mad people, and terrorists, and there will always be opinion leaders (such as linked) ready to sieze the specific and apply it to the general, and always the opponents making false arguments about cars and guns. But the end result is a gradual assumption by ‘caring government’ to protect us from ourselves – and that is the ultimate false equivalence as far as I’m concerned.
    Anyway, at least think about it; maybe next time you queue at Sydney airport for an intrusive personal check.

  4. Are you sure you’ve got enough straw there, kvd?

  5. Kvd, are you australian?
    I ask ’cause you seem to be saying that a government regulating the availability of guns will have a similar disasterous effect on the personal lives of public citizens to the TSA, via some sort of slippery slope. However my experiance as an australian living in a country with pretty decent gun control laws and enforcement contradict this.
    please, explain to me how decent gun control will lead to this tyranny you seem concerned about.

  6. kvd, you might, possibly, with a bit of twisting, have an actual point there if what happened in Aurora was a one-off incident, akin to Port Arthur. The truth is, it’s not.
    ‘Solitary outliers’ taking a gun or four and murdering people is, sadly, a common occurrence in the US. ‘Solitary outliers’ killing and wounding so many in a single go is less common, but still common enough that your media and commentators are able to point to similar recent events.
    I suggest you go and look up the death and homicide due to gun statistics in the US, then compare this to the death and homicide statistics due to guns in other countries, such as Australia, the UK, France, Germany, etc. The difference is staggering.

  7. I fully support the gun laws we have in Australia and think they could even be tighter. However the situation is very different in the US and I’m pretty pessimistic that even if gun laws were tightened over there that it would work well (perhaps still worth trying though).
    For starters there’s so many otherwise law abiding people who would simply not conform to tighter gun laws (they wouldn’t for example participate in compulsory gun buyback schemes for semi automatic weapons as happened here). Also there is a huge number of existing illegal and legal guns that will take literally decades to get out of the system and their borders are lot more porous making it much harder to stop the illegal importation of guns (meaning the black market price will be much cheaper in the US compared to Australia).
    In short I suspect they’re pretty stuffed and the best Australia can do is learn from their experience and ensure we never end up in the same situation.

  8. AotQ queue the outrage? How absolutely predictable.
    Tam ,yes I’m Australian. Tyranny is a very emotive word;
    if that’s your start point then either I’m stating my opinion badly or you are already otherwise convinced. All I’m trying to say is that rushing to government to ‘protect you’ almost inevitably leads to a restriction of freedoms which were never really under general threat.
    Merrinan, yes I was browsing the stats that I could find only this morning. Seems (per 100,000 population) that the U.S. has maybe 7-8 more gun related deaths per 100,000 than Australia. What makes it horrendous is that that translates to maybe 80-90 a day whereas when we have a killing it headlines ABC news. And yes they have many more Port Arthurs; another complete outlier in my polite opinion. A side issue for you: our gun related deaths are more suicide related than criminal – now that’s something we should all be concerned about.
    Chris made sense when stating that you might change the laws but this would probably (for many reasons) not be a law respected by the vast majority of law abiding citizens. Which, really was my basic point.

  9. except there at least used to be a federal law where it was illegal to posses high capacity magazines, the ban expired. coupled with the possibility of banning military grade armaments the possibility of incidents like this would be much more restricted and americans could still have their pistols and hunting rifles so they cant argue that they’re being completely disarmed.

  10. Guns doesn’t kill people, people kill people. If only he’d chosen to kill people with Sudafed, then they could have stopped him.

  11. Aw drat. Commenter So_It_Goes is the one you are looking for. Rawstory’s commenting base is somewhat tribal to my way of thinking, that one though I strongly agree with.

  12. YetAnotherMatt – I think the word terrorism is getting rather overused these days. He doesn’t seem to have any political goals he’s trying to achieve. So far in terms of communicating that he wants any change at all in society he seems to have totally failed.

  13. I don’t think I called it terrorism. I can’t honestly say I think it a useful distinction between shooting people for fun or for ideological reasons, and I certainly wouldn’t respond to someone firing into a crowd with an enquiry as to their thoughts, I would probably be more concerned with other people’s right not to get shot.

    • YetAnotherMatt, since the article you linked to has ‘This guy is a terrorist’ as part of the title, you did rather introduce it into the situation.
      Terrorism vs other reasons is a useful distinction to make about massacres, not least because if there is a political/ideological goal at stake, then it is more likely that there could be associates who share the same goal who are willing to use the same methods. Law enforcement certainly does need to establish whether this is the case. Speculation by others is not so useful.

  14. YetAnotherMatt – yea my comment was in reference to the article you linked to which quoted the Governor calling it domestic terrorism. I think the main reason politicians and others do this is to attempt to leverage the outrage from terrorist attacks and justify further reductions in civil liberties (and I’m talking about privacy, spy laws etc here, not gun regulation).
    Of course its possible to be more concerned about the people’s right not to be shot than definitions of terrorism, but we can do more than one thing at once 🙂 I think it is useful to distinguish between terrorism and murder/mass shootings. The main aim of the former is generally not to kill but to achieve political aims through fear. For example bombs or even just bomb threats have often been used by terrorists in attempt to achieve political change with no intent to actually kill anyone.
    The distinction is useful because it helps decide how to address the core reasons of what is occurring.

  15. Yes, my link, my respinsibilty.
    It seems as though the mass murder distinction is not being used to decide how to prevent it from happening again, but to decide if it should be prevented from happening again.

  16. Given that it’s the state’s job to negotiate between the rights of the individual and the rights of others, I’ve never understood the justification for gun regulation. The state currently prohibits access to medications and drugs; it limits access to poisons and numerous chemicals; it restricts the importation of goods across borders (for quarantine reasons); it puts age limits on what age people can drive and use certain equipment, as well as drink alchohol; it limits and defines who can perform certain medical treatments; it even makes you register your dog and can ban you from ownership if you mistreat your pet. And all of those things can only hurt people if they are misused by yourself or others. So, why are guns sacrosanct, when their only purpose is to harm? Why are we up in arms about restrictions to that freedom, but not the numerous others that are taken from us in the name of protecting our freedoms?
    (And, yes, I know the historical symbolism of bearing arms, but this was a historical symbolism created in the UK and we have very tight gun regulations, so clearly it’s possible to move with the times. We also used to be able to buy arsenic at the chemist.)

  17. ..because taking someone’s pot away is not going to be prevented by them using their pot on you?

    • That is one major difference, yes.
      As a general principle, guns and ammunition and shooting permits should surely be regulated at least as tightly as we regulate motor vehicle registrations and drivers’ licenses. Certain types of ammunition loads/clips should be treated with the same level of scrutiny as licenses for driving heavy vehicles.
      Vehicles which don’t meet the standards for registration to use the roads, or vehicles which belong to drivers who can’t meet the standard to obtain a license, become hobbyist curiosities when used legally on private property and liable to confiscation when used illegally on public roads. Something analagous can surely be worked out for guns/ammo – the current system in Australia runs roughly along these lines, and my dad the target shooter only sold off his guns (to persons with the appropriate permits, and notifying the local police of the change in ownership) in the last few years when he grew too frail to get out to the shooting range.
      I’m rambling here, and obviously the gun-culture in America regarding handguns absolutely everywhere is very different from the gun-culture in Australia regarding rural use of shotguns and rifles. which offers very different challenges than the Federal buy-back scheme did here after the Port Arthur massacre. Still, the advantages of having tightly regulated gun ownership now in Australia are huge – of course it doesn’t stop the criminals, but it marginalises them further (and often firearms ownership offences alone can at least get gang members of the street for a while). The logistics in the USA would be much more complicated and involve a much longer period of implementation, but I can’t believe that it couldn’t be made to work if the political will was there.
      For one thing, think about the job creation possibilities of getting it done.

  18. it doesn’t stop the criminals, but it marginalises them further (and often firearms ownership offences alone can at least get gang members of the street for a while).

    This is a great answer to the “if we criminalize guns, only criminals will have guns” line: Good. Now we have something we can charge them with that might stick.

  19. So, why are guns sacrosanct, when their only purpose is to harm? Why are we up in arms about restrictions to that freedom, but not the numerous others that are taken from us in the name of protecting our freedoms?

    Because they are enshrined in the constitution? Unlike the other ones you mention.
    Its a lesson we take from the US when working on changes to our own constitution. We should be very careful and conservative about what rights we add to our constitution. What makes perfect sense now (and the gun one probably did make a lot of sense just after a civil war) may not in a few hundred years. And its very hard to change the constitution again in the future.
    Perhaps the situation would have been much better in the US if individual states had been much freer to legislate for gun control laws without the threat of constitutional challenges.

    • One of the great successes of the American Right over the last few decades has been making the Constitution an alleged monument to genius of the Founding Fathers rather than the living and responsive document laying the foundation for an agile and vigorous democratic process which the Founding Fathers actually thought that they were writing.
      The most recent modern amendment to be ratified was all the way back in 1971. Only 27 amendments in all since 1789 have been ratified, only 33 have ever received enough votes in Congress to be presented to the States. (In Australia, by contrast, since 1901 we’ve had 44 referendums on constitutional amendments put to the electorate, of which only 8 have been carried.)
      Maybe in Australia our process throws up a few too many referendums per decade, but I’m pretty certain that the American process doesn’t throw them up nearly often enough for adequately coping with social change, especially since the conservative side of American politics decided to throw a spanner in the works after the successes of the civil rights movement.
      The manner in which the constitution is interpreted by the Supreme Court has thus become the place where the political battles over the constitution get the chance to be fought, and in the end it all comes down to who gets to appoint the Justices (with sufficient support in Congress to have their choice approved). The oligarchic Right has poured so much money into this particular election because the next President gets to appoint new justices to the Supreme Court when several elderly current members retire. The Right wants “originalists” who will be sticklers for the most rigid interpretation according to the original language of the Constitution, while the non-Right (the USA doesn’t really have a Left) would prefer to appoint non-originalists who are willing to apply the standards of evolving precedents and traditions.
      The way in which the Supreme Court is balanced after this year’s election is what will govern the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment for the next several decades.

  20. tigtog – the bar for proposing changes in the US is much higher than in Australia (they need 2/3rds in each house whereas we just need an absolute majority). But I suspect that even if that bar was lowered that if they couldn’t pass the 2/3rds in each house they wouldn’t pass the 3/4 of states approving anyway. So the higher bar just might save money in the end.
    The appointments to the supreme court in the US seem to be a lot more political than those to high court in Australia. Though once appointed they do also seem to be reasonably honestly independent, much to the frustration of some.
    In Australia I wonder if it would be better if we had parliament approve the nominee with say a 2/3rd requirement in each house. That would avoid the temptation of political parties to attempt to gain partisan advantage.

  21. That’s an excellent analysis by tigtog@26. I would only add, as a layman, that I assume the Australian drafters benefitted greatly in their work by the experience of the U.S. over the preceding 100-odd years.
    Anyway, I think tigtog’s very first sentence well describes the ‘base divide’ between the Right and the not-Right – and feeds into Chris’ observation of the greater political significance attaching to SC appointments.

  22. One of the benefits for Australians of having at least one and sometimes a few more referendums/plebiscites per decade is that the basic concept that the citizen body can change the constitution to reflect changing social attitudes is just part of our background noise. There simply isn’t the same nonsense about originalist interpretations (although there’s certainly a few polemicists who try to crank that position out every now and then, to a general reaction of chirping crickets).

  23. Chris @27: regarding the Australian High Court appointment process, I actually think that requiring Parliament to approve appointments in that way would politicise the process more (see: the USA). The process as it stands, while it is in a technical sense a political process, is generally fairly apolitical in practice, and is definitely highly consultative. The current federal AG is making it more openly consultative.
    Comments are sometimes made about judicial activism vs judicial conservatism, but those terms are (1) highly contentious in application and (2) in any event, not especially consistent with political left/right leanings.
    We also don’t have the same kind of big ticket politico-legal issues as exist in the USA – eg pro vs anti choice and guns. (I think this is a significant part of why our appointments are not particularly politicised.) Industrial relations is probably as close as we come, and even then, the biggest industrial relations case in the past several decade – WorkChoices – was much more about the approach to be taken to the Constitution than the approach to the left/right issues in politics (and the current government has taken as much advantage of the expansion of federal powers for which the WorkChoices case stands as its predecessor.)
    Also, referendum trivia: while TT is correct that there have been 44 proposed Constitutional amendments on which the Australian people have voted, only 8 of which have been successful, there have actually been only 19 times when we have gone to the polls to vote on changing the Constitution. It is common for there to be two to four questions on the ballot (sometimes directly related, sometimes indirectly, sometimes not at all), and there have been ballots with more.
    Ok, /derail.
    Slightly OT for the specific focus of the post (and the direction comments have taken), but worth a read: this AlterNet article about cultural factors leading to incidents like this. It includes a discussion about why putting it all down to mental illness is just wrong.

  24. Jo @ 30 – the current Australian process is reliant on the goodwill and intent of the government at the time though. And it has at least the problem of appearance of bias. Howard came under some criticism for his appointments and people would refer to “Howard” appointees etc as if they would have a world view consistent with his.
    Making the process go through parliament could be more political but would be a lot more transparent and a 2/3rds requirement of both houses would mean that governments would be forced to nominate only very widely acceptable candidates. I’m not suggesting an interview type parliamentary process, perhaps just a straight vote, with little to no debate in parliament to remove the opportunity for any political grandstanding.

  25. Chris, I get that it appears political, and I understand that perception carries its own problems.
    I’ve also heard criticisms of “Howard” appointees. I argue with such criticism even more than I am currently arguing with you 😉
    Howard actually appointed some stunningly good judges.
    I, personally, would prefer a system which has some appearance of politicisation, but which actually is not particularly politicised, to one which may or may not appear politicised and which actually is. I think the risk that the process would become politicised in fact by a requirement that appointments be confirmed by 2/3 of both Houses is much more significant than the risk inherent in some people perceiving the process as politicised at present, especially as the latter risk can be addressed by education about the appointment process (including the fact that consultation with the States is required pursuant to section 6 of the High Court of Australia Act 1979 (Cth)) and actual High Court decisions (and indeed, actual decisions by individual appointees).
    I’m not saying that reform is out. I’m not saying let’s not fix what ain’t broke. I’m not saying there are no problems at all. But actual politicisation is a problem we do NOT have at the moment, it is a bad problem to have (worse than the problems we do have), and, in all the circumstances, it is my strongly held view that any reform that carries that risk is a bad idea.

  26. I’m not saying that reform is out. I’m not saying let’s not fix what ain’t broke. I’m not saying there are no problems at all. But actual politicisation is a problem we do NOT have at the moment, it is a bad problem to have (worse than the problems we do have), and, in all the circumstances, it is my strongly held view that any reform that carries that risk is a bad idea.

    I agree that actual politicisation is not a big problem at the moment (perception is a bit). But we also need to consider how well the system will hold up if we do end up with governments who don’t care about conventions in the future. It will be a lot harder to introduce new procedures that remove extreme cases politicisation once its become the norm because the party in power will never want to give up “their turn” for stacking the system.
    Its like oppositions always wanting to reform the parliamentary processes (like question time) but as soon as they get into government change their mind because its now to their advantage.

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