Far too much media coverage of politics focuses on the horserace angle--who's ahead, who's behind, who's up or down. It relies on false equivalency: if Politician A says X, then the reporter goes to Politician B, who's sure to say Y. That's lazy journalism, and it doesn't actually inform the public about which position (if any) is actually true, or adheres to the facts as we know them. At TWiA, our mission is to discuss politics through the prism of policy--to look, in other words, at the real-world implications of the things that politicians say and do, to make connections others might miss, and to explain it all in language a lay person can understand. Also to offer suggestions of how you can help somebody in need, to report on what's awesome, and to keep tabs on bears. If you like TWiA, share or repost or tell a friend, and be sure to leave comments, even if they're arguments. Especially if they're arguments.
Happy Halloween, TWiA Readers!
This Week in School Shootings
Last Friday, after TWiA's deadline for the week, a Washingon state high school freshman named Jaylen Fryberg took a.40-caliber handgun, legally obtained by a family member, to school and shot five of his fellow students, killing two, then killed himself. He was, reports said, upset because a girl wouldn't go out with him; she was one of his targets. Later that afternoon, two deputies were killed and several other people wounded in a shooting spree in Sacramento, CA.
Mass murder and active shooter incidents have become a sad area of specialty these last few years, here at TWiA World Headquarters. We've done far more research than anyone should--in part because there's so much material to work with, since they keep happening. We're amateurs in the field, though. The professionals are the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit 2 (BAU2), which focuses on "threat assessment." These agents have prevented hundreds of incidents, through intervention before the fact, and that intervention virtually always comes from some concerned citizen reporting that they're worried about somebody.
Because nobody just "snaps" and becomes a mass murderer, or a would-be mass murderer. There are things the vast majority of these people have in common.
1) Most have had some contact with the mental health community. They've been assessed, they've seen a psychiatrist or psychologist or school counselor--somebody who knows they have emotional problems, but who didn't recognize the right signs or ask the right questions or know the right infrastructure to kick the problem up to.
2) Most have experienced some loss or perceived loss that threatened or destroyed their sense of self, their idea about who they are. When they've tried to figure that out--trying on new personalities, like suits of clothes, in some cases--those attempts have failed. The result is that they no longer know themselves or where they fit into the world--and when you don't fit into the world, it's not a big step to wanting to be out of it.
3) Most have a history of violence of some kind. They were beaten or abused, or they were raised in a household where guns--instruments of violence--were highly prized. They may or may not ever have committed a violent act themselves (although most killers--and mass murderers are by far the minority, among killers--have done so, and that violence proved somehow rewarding for them, so it escalated from there), but they have thought about it, dreamed about it, fantasized about it, sometimes acted it out in video games in or other ways. Whether or not they have been personally violent, they have lived for a long time with violence in their thoughts.
4) They have access to guns. Most of them obtain their guns legally, or simply use guns already in the house. As the would-be active shooter in this Esquire article says, "There is no way I would have bought an illegal firearm. I wouldn't have known how. I would have been too scared. When I was in jail, there were two kinds of inmates: There were criminals, and there were people who did crimes. The criminals are the people who'll get a gun no matter what. But I was a person who did a crime. There is no way I would have gone to the inner city and gotten a gun. If I was the kind of person who was able to do that, I never would have done the crime that I did." That's usually the case. Although some mass murderers and active shooters have had brushes with the law, most have never committed any significant crime before that day. They're not criminals going out to do another crime. They're hurting, frightened, desperate individuals who are about to commit their first crime. And it's usually going to be a big one.
We've had at least 87 school shootings since Newtown. We've had changes in gun laws since then; most have had the result of making guns more available, not less. And we've had plenty of active shooter situations outside of schools (despite these school shootings, kids are usually in far more danger in households where guns are present than they are at school).
Gun deaths are on pace to outnumber automobile deaths next year. For anyone to think that the country's gun fetish is not a public health problem is to live under a delusion (much the way that anyone is who thinks the NRA is concerned with individuals' Second Amendment rights and not with the profits of the arms manufacturers that are its primary interest and major source of funding). During this era of Ebola-freakout, the country doesn't have a surgeon general, because Dr. Vivek Murthy, the incredibly well-qualified individual nominated, understands that guns are a public health problem and has said so; therefore, the pro-gun death NRA announced that it would "score" votes on his nomination, and it was held up in the Senate. Since Senate "holds" are anonymous, we only know of one senator who has admitted to putting a hold on Murthy: Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY), who wrote, "In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence. As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home... Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans' right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign."
First of all, Dr. Murthy is a physician--Rand Paul is an opthalmalogist who has that title only because he formed his own imaginary organization to certify himself. Second, gun violence is unquestionably a public health issue. Third, yes, access to guns is a bigger part of the problem of gun violence than mental health issues, although those are a part of the overall puzzle and can't be ignored. Paul doesn't know what he's talking about, and/or he's putting ideology (and what he perceives as electability) ahead of fact--neither of which are remotely out of character for him.