Sunday, October 4, 2015

Reflections on the mass rampage shooting in Oregon and what can be done.

Following the recent tragedy of a mass shooting on a college campus in Oregon, President Obama issued his strongest pubic statement yet following any of the mass shooting that have occurred since he has been president. He said, "We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months." He said these event occur too often and it is time to do something about it. He said that when we realize that seat belts saved lives we required seat belts. "When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer," he said. "So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense," he said.

While he did not immediately call for massive and absolute gun control or confiscation he said we need a change in our laws. "I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue."

Also without naming the NRA by name, he challenged NRA members to rethink their support of the organization saying, "And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners -- who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families -- to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you."

He also said gun laws work and can reduce violence, saying, "We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence." (To read the President's full message follow this link.)

How accurate is the President is saying what he said? Following the shooting in Charleston, S.C. he said something very similar, saying "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

While we are on the high end of this type of rampage killing we are not alone. If you look at the incidents per million people, we have a lower incident of fatal rampage shooting incidents than Norway, Finland, or Switzerland.

For source information and more data, follow this link.
Politfacts is the highly respected non-partisan site that judges the accuracy of political statements. Politfacts  found that statement to be "Mostly False"  "It clearly happens in other countries," concluded Politfacts, "and in at least three of them, there’s evidence that the rate of killings in mass-shooting events occurred at a higher per-capita rate than in the United States between 2000 and 2014. (To read the complete report, follow this link.)

What about the claim that states with the most gun laws restricting gun ownership tend to have the fewest gun deaths? CBS News studies this issue in 2003 and reported that,"A sweeping federal review of the nation's gun control laws — including mandatory waiting periods and bans on certain weapons — found no proof such measures reduce firearm violence." There source was a review conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Different studies and more recent studies show that states with stricter gun control law have fewer gun deaths, however many of these gun deaths are suicide or domestic violence, and while we want to prevent suicide and deaths from domestic violence, that is not related to the problem of rampage mass shootings. Also some of the states with higher gun death rates also have higher incidents of other violence, so the other variables may be more important than the gun laws.

It is worth noting that one of the mass murders occurred in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and Connecticut has some of the nations strictest gun laws and lowest rates of gun ownership. Also, Chicago has some of strictest gun laws in the country yet one of the highest murder rates. Also, Washington D.C. has strict gun laws and a high murder rate. There are other factors at play. I don't think one can conclude that stricter gun laws results in less gun violence and certainly one cannot conclude it results in less rampage mass shootings.

President Obama did not call for more gun-free zones, but many people seem to think that somehow having an area declared a gun-free zone reduces gun violence. It does not. The Oregon shooting occurred in a gun-free zone. One study found that 92% of mass killings since 2009 occurred in gun-free zones. Criminals and mentally deranged people simply do not honor the designation that an area has been declared gun-free. Declaring an area gun-free may cause those intent on committing mass killing to feel safer in carrying out their plan knowing they are the only one armed in the area.

It is clear from President Obama's remarks that he does not understand the purpose of the 2nd Amendment. The purpose of the 2nd Amendment is not so people can " hunt and protect their families."  It is to protect us from a tyrannical government. It is to protect our freedom. While I support the 2nd Amendment, I accept that we do not individually have the right to have rocket launchers or tanks or hand grenades or nuclear weapons. I accept that there may be some reasonable restrictions on that right and on the type of arms we may bear. The ban on fully automatic weapons and  sawed off shotguns has been determined legal and has been accepted by most people. The degree of restriction on the right to bear arms is up for discussion and reinterpretation from time to time but the basic right cannot just be stripped away without violating the Constitution.

When the President or others point out that other countries have successfully curtailed gun ownership and say we should do the same, those other countries did not have a constitution that guaranteed their right to bear arms. Gun ownership was permitted in other countries, it was not a right. There is a difference between government allowing you to do something and having a right to so something. In America, our rights do not flow from government. We are not permitted to do only what the government allows; the government only has the power we surrender to it. The government's power flows from the people; the people's rights do not flow from the government. Having a constitutional right to gun ownership means the public can not easily decide to surrender the right to bear arms and the government cannot take that right away from people without the people surrendering it.

We have 89 guns per 100 people in America. Even if we started an aggressive buy-back program and stopped the manufacture of new guns it would take a long time to significantly reduce the number of guns in circulation.  It is doubtful that stopping manufacturing or importation of legal firearms would stand a constitutional challenge, but even if it did, it would take a long time to have a significant impact.

What is to be done to prevent the next Sandy Hook, or Charleston South Carolina or Umpqua Community College in Roseburg Oregon?  I am really not sure anything can be done. Many use these incidents as a call for greater mental health services, but honestly I don't think we can detect that someone is likely to commit mass murder before they do it. We cannot lock up or treat everyone who may possibly turn out to be a mass murder. Mental health science is not that accurate or reliable and treatment does not always cure and we are not ready to violate the civil rights of someone that a health care provider says may be prone to violence.

President Obama and all others who say it is time to "do something" to prevent the next Rosenburg Oregon, should be bold and call for a repeal of the Second Amendment, passing  a law preventing gun ownership, and a door-to-door search of every home in America to confiscate weapons. If that is what they want, they should say it and see how far they get.

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