• Another gun tragedy

    Four years ago, I and a graduate student visited a repository of records in the Illinois Violent Death Reporting System. We perused case narratives from 200 consecutive homicides occurring in 2005 where the victims were Chicago adolescents or young adults. 188 out of the victims were listed as African-American or Latino. More than ninety percent were male. We followed this up with media searches in the major Chicago media outlets. Few cases received more than a few paragraphs. We found few cases that elicited more than a mention or two of media follow-up after the initial incident.

    None of the cases were mass homicides of the sort that happened yesterday in Colorado. Preventing these atrocities poses quite different challenges from preventing youth homicide, gang- or drug-related violence.

    In almost all the cases I read, the murder weapon was a run-of-the-mill handgun. Even without the pictures, I was pretty shocked by the antiseptic accounts of how slugs from a .380 semi-automatic can lacerate the human body. A typical report might describe four sufficiently-lethal wounds caused by two high-velocity bullets that shattered bones, organ, and tissue, leaving gaping exit wounds on the way out.

    The Chicago police certainly seize some frightening weapons. Yet gang-bangers don’t generally kill with semi-automatic rifles. You don’t need an AR-15 to kill someone in a rival crew. You don’t need a high-capacity, rapid-reloading clip, either. Criminals generally have little need for military-style weapons. They are ruthless, but they don’t generally seek mass atrocities.

    Handgun control raises a host of complicated political, constitutional, and practical concerns. With so many in circulation, we’ll have a serious problem there for years to come under any feasible policy. Fortunately, there’s much we can do to deter the acquisition, possession, and use of these weapons and to disrupt illegal gun markets.  So many murders are committed by rather unsophisticated young offenders whose access to weapons could be reduced.

    Semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips strike me as a simpler issue. I don’t understand why someone should have an AR-15, or why we can’t do a better job of clamping down on weapons which randomly but regularly end or alter so many beautiful lives.

    Two more points worth mentioning.

    First, as I wrote before, let’s not reward the killer by putting his name in lights. I believe publicity provides a powerful motive for apocalyptic crimes.  Let’s keep this guy’s photo off of the magazine covers this time.

    Second, this is a good time to note the incredible value and challenge of rehabilitative medicine. Dozens of people survived this shooting but face difficult recoveries in many ways. Let’s support them. Let’s support the men and women who are helping them at this difficult time. Let’s do the same after the spotlight fades, too.

    Austin and my colleague Keith Humphreys both work at the VA, where some of the best work in this area is done. Let’s hear more about this good work –and less about the depraved perpetrator—in the weeks to come.

    • Thanks for this insightful view of the recent tragedy. As you point out, the steady drone of daily deaths from gun violence rarely makes the news in spite of being a much larger problem than these 12 deaths. Gun deaths average 81 per day in the US. Much could be done to reduce these deaths if we had the political leadership to take these steps. Unfortunately, our political system is (as usual) incapable of addressing this problem.

      • And 115 people die in auto accidents every day in the US.
        Does that mean we should outlaw cars and semis?
        Over 50% of the gun related deaths are between people who know each other.
        And before there were guns, people used knives and swords.

        It’s a tragedy of the highest kind, but’s lets not be naive and think we can end violence just by stricter gun control laws.

        And by the way, I do not own a gun and I never will. I detest the things.

        • US traffic fatalities have decreased from about 6 (per 100 million miles) 1954 to about 1 in 2010. No one talked about banning cars. This was done through government action… better roads and regulation to require safer cars (seat belts, air bags, crash testing, etc.). The automobile industry and others fiercely opposed many of these measures but they have been effective.
          Until we have high quality effective mental health screening and care, you will always have crazies. However, someone should have had a clue that a person buying large quantities of weapons and massive amounts of ammunition (plus other ?kind explosives) should have been investigated.

        • Fundamental difference between cars/semis, and weapons. The purpose of vehicles it to transport people and/or goods from point A to point B.

          The purpose of weapons is to kill.

          That’s why we do not need to consider banning vehicles.

          • Then why stop with guns? Why not ban knives, swords, gunpowder, acids?

            It won’t work.

            There may be a few things that could be done, but there will always be ways around the restrictions.

            • Ron has a good question though it has been asked innumerable times in the debate over gun legislation. It has been answered briefly, but convincingly in this conversation by Mark Spohr and Jordan.

              Unlike Ron, I own and use guns and have gotten a lot of pleasure out of hunting. I don’t feel threatened by the possibility of common sense gun laws and regulations. I think our legislators should start working on them. Despite Ron’s assertion, there’s no good reason to believe that common sense gun laws won’t work.

        • Ron,

          I’d submit that we’ve already done ban-related regulation on motor vehicles. While no federal standards exists there are a loose set of standards established by the states as to what constitutes a “street worthy” vehicle. Speaking generally, these rules include requirements like having a working horn, turn signals, headlights, and regulations for ATVs, dirt bikes, and motorcycles.

          As Jordan noted, vehicles on public roadways are designed to transport from point A to B (including any stops along the way). The state regulations deem what is necessary and safe to do so. In effect, states are determining what end use a vehicle is for given it’s specifications.

          I see no reason why we cannot apply the same logic to gun regulation.

          I respect the right of hunters to own a gun so they can participate in the sport of their choice. I also respect the right of individuals to own a handgun for self defense. Rifles are used hunting and pistols are self protection (from animals in the wild when hunting and as added “security”). However, semi-automatic assault class weaponry doesn’t fit either of the above scenarios. As far as I know, at no point is hunting with a semi-automatic assault class weapon legal. Assault weaponry is designed for war – ostensibly killing other humans.

          I see no reason why banning assault weapons would lead to a slippery slope. Indeed, I think it’s the only logical thing to do given that the US is one of the most dangerous developed countries in the world.


      • OK, some stats and a link.
        I don’t have time to look up each countries laws and create a comparison to strictness of gun control laws and murders.
        My point is there are a heck of a lot of other places worse off than we are.
        Does that justify the killing? By no means.
        But I think it is just as terrible to see all the alcohol related motor vehicle deaths, but alchohol isn’t banned. Why not?

        • I don’t understand your frame of thought. Alcohol is banned as it pertains to a vehicle. There are open container laws. There are DUI penalties that can go all the way to banning an individual from operating a vehicle.

          Furthermore, your link is very weak from an argument standpoint. Guns are not used only for intentional homicides. They cause accidental damage as well.

          Also, shouldn’t we be more concerned about violence in developed countries? Yes, it’s a tragedy that Africa is so violent yet that doesn’t explain or free us from the obvious fact that we are among the most violence countries in the world.

          Simply saying, well – we could be Africa, just doesn’t cut it for me.

          • I know I won’t change minds that are made up.
            And so is mine.
            We can nick pick, but I don’t think strict gun control laws will really make much difference in overall gun death statistics.

    • Unlimited access to efficient weapons only suitable for mass killings is a sick manifestation of an indefensible aspect of our paranoid culture.

      It’s freedom to kill, hardly something that should be encouraged.

    • I was not recommending banning anything, just addressing Ron’s question about outlawing cars and semis.

      “Then why stop with guns? Why not ban knives, swords, gunpowder, acids?” Again, I am not talking about banning anything. The Colorado shooter would have had vastly different results had he employed knives, swords, gunpowder, or acids. One does not have to have extensive knowledge of firepower to understand that automatic weapons wreak much greater havoc than the tools you mention – all of which, by the way, are regulated in various ways.

      Certainly, as you say, “there will always be ways around the restrictions;” however, the fact that gun control might be imperfect should not impede our efforts to restrict mayhem by instituting some means of regulation. While I am willing to be shown otherwise, it is difficult for me to understand why an ordinary citizen should have unhindered right to possession of tear gas canisters, so-called assault rifles, and “AR-15 rifle drum magazines capable of carrying 100 rounds,” as the Colorado shooter reportedly carried. These are the sorts of things that could, it seems to me, be regulated without doing damage to the Second Amendment.

      Many of our freedoms come with restrictions. We must have insurance for our autos, and must have licenses both to purchase that insurance and to drive. In Oregon, the common allergy medicine sudafed now requires a prescription because one of its main ingredients is used to produce methamphetamine. The meth problem in Oregon has reportedly been significantly reduced, but at a price for innocent residents, many of whom drive to Washington state to purchase sudafed without prescription. We could all add to a long list of such restrictions to our freedoms. As you suggest, we will never end violence, but that should not deter our efforts to mitigate its frequency or its effects, and regulation of guns would be a start.