The mass shootings that have occurred in recent years are absolutely atrocious, regardless of whether they were committed as an act of terrorism (perpetrated by those both foreign and domestic) or as the public manifestation of deeply deranged individuals’ failure to fit into a civilized society. EVERYONE hurts when one of these atrocities occurs. EVERYONE processes his or her grief and frustration differently. EVERYONE questions how these acts happen. And EVERYONE seeks to assign blame. There is no doubt that some see tragedy as a way to further political agenda, but most just want to grieve and hope/pray that it never happens again.
Many people want to simplify this crisis by assigning blame to inanimate objects. I actually understand why they do this: it is an easy target. A firearm is a tangible symbol of evil in their eyes. It is something they can see and touch (not that they would choose to do so), thus it becomes their focus. They feel that ridding society of these “weapons of war” will make us all safer. However, they are assigning a simple “solution” to an incredibly complex equation. The problem is evil men will find a way to perpetrate evil, regardless of the tool they choose to employ, be it a knife, a vehicle, fertilizer and diesel fuel…or a box cutter. All of these items listed, including firearms, are neither good nor bad. It is how they are used by the people that choose to employ them that causes them to be anthropomorphized (if you are unfamiliar with this term, please look it up) by misinformed, if well-meaning, people. Real change is hard. Guns are seen as the low hanging fruit through which they can make an immediate impact. School shootings are an emotional issue that deserves something other than an emotional response.
Here is the problem with blaming firearms for all of society’s ills (although for the purpose of this discussion, I will stick to school shootings): the facts just don’t support it. Mass shootings, and in particular school shootings, simply didn’t occur with any regularity in our country for the longest time. If one did happen, it was a shocking and inexcusable anomaly. If you are of the mindset to blame the firearm or “assault rifle” (or the ability of individuals to possess such a firearm), the timeline just doesn’t prove out. Semi-automatic rifles have been around for over 100 years; high powered ammunition for even longer. “High-capacity” magazines for firearms have been around for over 100 years and what gun banners would call an “assault weapon,” well, those have been around for the same length of time. But let’s focus on everybody’s favorite whipping boy, the AR-15. It is true that this seems to be the tool of choice for our current generation of psychopaths. What you should bear in mind is that this rifle was developed in 1959, and has been available to the public since the early 1960s (there is even a photo out there of actor and gun collector Clint Eastwood at an early 1960s SHOT Show looking at the then new semi-auto Colt AR-15). And it was created with a “high-capacity” magazine. The round fired by the AR platform, the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge, was developed in 1957, and became readily available to the public soon after. This maligned firearm, and all of its associated accoutrement, had been readily available for decades before school shootings were a national embarrassment. And here is another little trinket of information for you to consider: Switzerland has the highest rate of true “assault rifle” (select-fire capable) ownership per capita in the entire free world. Yet, mass shootings are not a Swiss problem. Outside of war-torn, third-world nightmares, this is a problem that is almost uniquely American.
So, for just a moment, I will allow myself to get sucked into the argument of transferring a burden of liability to an inanimate object and entertain the idea that the tool deserves to shoulder a certain amount of blame in these shootings (although approximately 30 years of relatively undisturbed coexistence with AR-15s would seem to debunk the idea). According to FBI crime statistics for 2016, 2.48% of all homicides in the United States and its territories were committed with a rifle of some type (might have been an AR, might have been a single shot). Out of 15,070 murders, 374 were committed with a rifle. Where is the outrage and indignation for the objects used to commit the other almost 98% of murders in this country? While I absolutely admire your sincere desire to make a difference, if you really want to be impactful, where are your protest marches to ban knives, which accounted for 1,604 homicides in 2016?
Even The New York Times stated in a 2014 article titled “The Assault Weapon Myth,” that assault weapons (to include military-style rifles, shotguns and pistols) were used in less than 2% of all gun crimes (not just murders). Furthermore, the article acknowledged that the federal ban on assault weapons from 1994-2004, “made little difference.” The New York Freakin’ Times! That is certainly a publication that can’t be accused of being a puppet of the NRA. Are 374 murders too many? Yup. But I would be willing to bet that a certain percentage of those murders would still have happened if a rifle were not available. Focusing on “assault weapons” as a harbinger of doom is a misguided and myopic concept championed by politicians lacking knowledge and amplified tenfold by the media. I am emphatically stating that this tragedy is not the result of our access to firearms, the types of firearms available, or the number of firearms owned in the United States. So, what is the problem?
As stated, this is a complex problem, and the “answers” are correspondingly complex. Up until this point, my prose has been based on facts. At this point, I will jump on the band wagon of offering up “answers” purely based on opinion, bearing in mind that answers and solutions are two entirely different things. Solutions are a whole different breed of animal: exotic, rarely seen and hard to tame. My list of answers as to why this keeps happening to us is by no means inclusive. I just wanted to hit on several that I felt were exceptionally important and somewhat overlooked. In my opinion, the overwhelming proliferation of school shootings has its basis in the following:
- Video games. Whoa, whoa, whoa, please hold your righteous indignation for a second. Yes, I know popular media (movies, TV, internet, video games, music, etc.) has taken a beating recently. Blaming media has become as popular on the Right as blaming guns has become on the Left. But, hear me out. Today’s first-person shooter video games are incredibly realistic. How realistic? I have trained on a number of simulated training systems in both the military and law-enforcement communities, and what our kids are playing on their Xboxes and Play Stations are every bit as good, if not better, than what our professionals use to train for real-world, life and death scenarios (i.e., shooting people). However, there is one big difference between kids’ “games” and professional combat simulators: On a simulator, professionals are taught to value good decision making above all else. It is often better to not shoot than it is to shoot. Good decisions are rewarded and poor decisions are penalized. Simulators emphasize and hone judgement. In video games, players are often encouraged to shoot indiscriminately, and very little distinction is made between combatants and non-combatants. Sometimes, the shooting of innocents is encouraged. I absolutely feel that an over exposure to this kind of virtual environment desensitizes our youth to the value of human life and dignity. It is essentially training them to be killers. It hones their reflexes and teaches them not to hesitate when pulling the trigger. Our law-enforcement and military professionals certainly believe that this type of training makes them better with a real weapon, so why would it not be the same for our kids?
- Fame. It seems like nothing in our society is more desirable than fame. Many of our kids chase it like a junkie chases his next fix. Just look at social media feeds or YouTube channels. Everyone wants to be the next Kardashian. Unfortunately, becoming a monster is a sure way to become famous. Our ridiculous, out-of-control 24-hour news cycle (and to be clear, I am referring to both FOX News and CNN) is only too willing make the next shooter famous (or infamous, as there is now little distinction between the two) in a quest for better ratings and to further their own twisted pseudo-political agendas. It used to be that you had to have some marginally discernable talent to become famous. Now, you just need to have a broken moral compass, a complete lack of humanity, and a willingness to take the lives of your classmates.
- Medication. Or more specifically, the unnecessary medication of our children. Due to a number of reasons (poor/lazy parenting, a lack of family structure, failing school systems, greedy pharmaceutical companies, doctors who act more like corner drug dealers than healers, just to name a few), normal children are prescribed a vast cocktail of prescription drugs for non-existent maladies. This happens disproportionately to our boys, who also comprise the vast majority of our mass shooters. As a result of being over-medicated at an early age, our boys grow into emotionally stunted young men. Said unnecessary over-medication leads to a number of troubling outcomes to include a lack of empathy, a failure to accurately recognize consequences, and most importantly, an inability to effectively deal with the standard difficulties that are part of the human condition. These medically castrated, emotional zombies were never given the opportunity to develop the skillsets necessary to navigate life. This, in my opinion, is the biggest contributor to our growing national tragedy.
To those of you who want gun control, I say to you that it would not make any difference, due, just in part, to the three factors I have just referenced. To badly paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, “Evil will find a way.” It will only hurt those who are already law-abiding citizens. I am a staunch believer in the Second Amendment (please do not mistake this for an overwhelming love of the NRA, with whom I do not always agree). I am a gun owner and someone whose professional life depends on the ownership of firearms. I believe that the possession of firearms is a right bestowed on all mentally competent, non-criminal citizens of our republic. But contrary to popular opinion, I do not believe that the Second Amendment is complex, theoretical, outdated, or malleable. It was not crafted with the intent of allowing us to own guns for the purpose of hunting, sport, competition, collecting or even self-defense. Its purpose, and the intent of the founding fathers, was quite singular. It was meant to guard us against a tyrannical, despotic government. Additionally, the types of arms referred to by the amendment are irrelevant, be they flintlock or AR. The Second Amendment is a hedge against tyranny, plain and simple. The Second Amendment is an unassailable assurance to me, and those like me, that we will be able to defend our besieged liberty, should that unfortunate day ever come to pass. If you think this is a concept that is no longer relevant in our enlightened age, I could cite examples of other modern societies who had similar thoughts and found out the hard way that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Additional restrictions on gun ownership by law-abiding citizens will not only fail to stop additional violence, it could potentially hasten a crisis of a much greater magnitude. While there are a multitude of “answers” (in addition to the three I stated, there is also failure to prosecute those who abuse firearms laws; lack of accountability by gun owners; straw purchases; and systematic failures by agencies to react to legitimate threats) regarding our current crisis, additional gun control should not be one of them.
Scot Loveland was a Russian linguist in the US Army; worked for the FBI; and conducted undercover narcotics investigations before moving to the private sector. He is currently Chief of Operations and a lead instructor at ATG Worldwide (www.myatgworldwide.com) in Lisbon, OH. He is also an avid, if incredibly average, competitive shooter and ultra-marathon runner.