|Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School 370.(Photo by: Michelle McLoughlin / Reuters)|
The roots of mass murder
By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
Every mass shooting has three elements: the killer, the weapon and the cultural climate.
WASHINGTON – Every mass shooting has three elements: the killer, the weapon and
the cultural climate. As soon as the shooting stops, partisans immediately pick
their preferred root cause with corresponding pet panacea.
hurled, scapegoats paraded, prejudices vented. The argument goes
Let’s be serious:
(1) The Weapon
Within hours of last week’s
Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, the focus was the weapon and the demand was for
new gun laws. Several prominent pro-gun Democrats remorsefully professed new
openness to gun control. Sen.
Dianne Feinstein is introducing a new
assault weapons ban. And the president emphasized guns and ammo above all else
in announcing the creation of a new task force.
I have no problem in
principle with gun control. Congress enacted (and I supported) an assault
weapons ban in 1994. The problem was: It didn’t work. (So concluded a
University of Pennsylvania study commissioned by the Justice Department.)
reason is simple. Unless you are prepared to confiscate all existing
firearms, disarm the citizenry and repeal the Second Amendment, it’s almost
impossible to craft a law that will be effective.
Feinstein’s law, for
example, would exempt 900 weapons. And that’s the least of the loopholes. Even
the guns that are banned can be made legal with simple, minor
Most fatal, however, is the grandfathering of existing
weapons and magazines.
That’s one of the reasons the ‘94 law failed. At
the time, there were 1.5 million assault weapons in circulation and 25 million
large-capacity (i.e., more than 10 bullets) magazines. A reservoir that immense
can take 100 years to draw down.
(2) The Killer
Monsters shall always be
with us, but in earlier days they did not roam free.
As a psychiatrist in
Massachusetts in the 1970s, I committed people – often right out of the
emergency room – as a danger to themselves or to others. I never did so lightly,
but I labored under none of the crushing bureaucratic and legal constraints that
make involuntary commitment infinitely more difficult today.
Why do you
think we have so many homeless? Destitution? Poverty has declined since the
1950s. The majority of those sleeping on grates are mentally ill.
name of civil liberties, we let them die with their rights on.
percentage of the mentally ill become mass killers.
Just about everyone
around Tucson shooter Jared Loughner sensed he was mentally ill and dangerous.
But in effect, he had to kill before he could be put away – and (forcibly)
Random mass killings were three times more common in the 2000s
than in the 1980s, when gun laws were actually weaker. Yet a 2011 University of
California at Berkeley study found that states with strong civil commitment laws
have about a one-third lower homicide rate.
(3) The Culture
We live in an
entertainment culture soaked in graphic, often sadistic, violence.
folks find themselves stunned by what a desensitized youth finds routine, often
amusing. It’s not just movies. Young men sit for hours pulling video-game
triggers, mowing down human beings en masse without pain or consequence. And we
profess shock when a small cadre of unstable, deeply deranged, dangerously
isolated young men go out and enact the over-learned narrative.
serious about curtailing future Columbines and Newtowns, everything – guns,
commitment, culture – must be on the table. It’s not hard for President Obama to
call out the NRA. But will he call out the ACLU? And will he call out his
The irony is that over the past 30 years, the US homicide
rate has declined by 50 percent. Gun murders as well. We’re living not through
an epidemic of gun violence but through a historic decline.
these unfathomable mass murders. But these are infinitely more difficult to
While law deters the rational, it has far less effect on the
psychotic. The best we can do is to try to detain them, disarm them and
discourage “entertainment” that can intensify already murderous
But there’s a cost. Gun control impinges upon the Second
Amendment; involuntary commitment impinges upon the liberty clause of the Fifth
Amendment; curbing “entertainment” violence impinges upon First Amendment free
That’s a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments. But there’s no
Increasing public safety almost always means restricting
We made that trade after 9/11. We make it every time the TSA
invades your body at an airport. How much are we prepared to trade away after
Charles Krauthammer’s email address is
firstname.lastname@example.org. (c) 2012, The Washington Post Writers