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School Shootings

Is the rise of school shootings in America a case of too many guns or a simple failure to keep guns away from kids? Gun locks and gun safes exist.

That's not a rhetorical question. I actually wonder about the answer.

I assume 90% of the kids who become school shooters get their weapons from adults who left them unguarded. Correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

I know you're furiously trying to determine if I am pro-gun or anti-gun so you can decide how much extra to hate me. So let me state my position as clearly as possible:

I am pro-data.

And the data is incomplete.

Obviously there's a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. But how much of that is causation as opposed to correlation? One can never know if Americans own guns because we're violent people or we're violent because we own guns. Isn't it likely to be some of both?

Common sense says that having guns lying around the house makes gun violence more likely. But we don't know if the accessibility factor is 10% of the story or 90%. Maybe the rate of stabbings would skyrocket if guns disappeared and that would close some of the violence gap. My point is that it's hard to size the problem of gun risk, and that matters because the goal is low risk not zero risk. If we wanted zero risk in all things at the expense of personal freedom we would fill every swimming pool with bubble wrap.

We also can't know if gun ownership will ever protect future citizens from the tyranny of the government. One argument says that the army has the biggest guns and so citizens are effectively defenseless if the government becomes a dictatorship. Therefore, owning a gun doesn't protect you from the government.

The counterargument is that if an American becomes a dictator, every one of his friends and extended family members would be bullet-riddled by the end of the week courtesy of the gun owners. What would be the point of becoming a dictator in a country where you can't leave your enclave and you just killed most of the people you care about with your actions? I think gun ownership does add a thin layer of protection against a risk of a dictatorship by rational leaders, but that risk is of unknown size. How do you value the thing that might happen but doesn't?

We also don't know what would happen if we went hog-wild with gun control. Would we suddenly become Great Britain and prefer slapping each other with open palms instead of shooting? Or would it turn into another Prohibition fiasco? Nothing sells more guns than the threat of gun control in the future.

In the long run, all violent criminals will be caught every time. That's the payoff from our creeping lack of privacy. When that day comes, rational adults such as criminals will be doing less shooting because there is no hope of getting away with it. And if we keep guns away from kids, with mandatory gun locks for example, that helps with the school shooting problem.

Once the rational criminals and the kids are neutered, that leaves only the irrational adults with guns as our remaining problem. And probably the best defense against that bunch of nuts involves owning your own gun. But I can't back that assumption with data.

Anecdotally, I have one friend who gunned down a would-be rapist who broke into her house. And I have another friend who would have been raped by an intruder if her boyfriend hadn't coincidentally spent the night and taken out the intruder by hand. A gun would have worked if he hadn't been there. But those are anecdotes not data.

The only thing I know for sure is that the "It is in the constitution" argument is misplaced. No matter what the founders had in mind at the time, we have the option to change it. So the question is what makes sense today, not what a bunch of hemp-smoking slave-owners thought hundreds of years ago.

I'm curious if you think you have enough data to form an opinion on the topic of American gun control. Gun control qualifies as common sense, but in my experience common sense in the context of insufficient data is irrationality in disguise.

To be fair, both sides of the debate have insufficient data and so they must default to using what they feel is common sense but isn't. (If it were common, both sides would agree.). So I don't think irrationality is limited to one side of the debate.


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Jun 15, 2014

He was just supposed to be an example to clarify what I was talking about. If you don't like that example, look up Renisha McBride.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2014
"Is the rise of school shootings in America a case of too many guns or a simple failure to keep guns away from kids? Gun locks and gun safes exist."

Ok, given that we have now more or less setablished that the number of school shootings has been more or less constant over the last decades, still, even the level is grotesquely high when compared with the developed world.

If your questions are intended to help you come up with an idea about how to solve the gun problem, here's a suggestion:

Many pro-gun arguments sound totally ridiculous to us /outside the US/:
"More guns == less crime" would make afghanistan, mexico or somalia peaceful paradises. (much like lower taxes and weak central governments, btw.)
"Only criminals will have guns" when guns are illegal is only half of the truth. No burglar goes armed in germany because he'd end up in a much much worse trouble, prison-wise when caught. And the few mafia killings (where those few really existing illegal guns are used) typically involve no bystanders.

I think the main problem is with the gun /culture/ in the US, therefore the NRA and conservative politicians are, in my opinion, guilty of projecting a totally unrealistic image of the typical armed-combat situation:

Fighting the gov? Ha. Ha. Fighting the enemy that has managed to defeat the US army on its home ground, space forces, nukes and all? Hohoho. As for your concerns regarding the safety of the dictator's friends, don't worry. Most dicators have way more population backing that western media are willing to report. Typically they also have the full support of the army and therefore the manpower to clean up your gun-mess if they think it worth it.

Not to forget all those movies where the director buys a month's worth of produce rom the blanks factory, lonely hero shoots villain and everything is fine from the closing titles to the end of time.

So how to combat the current US gun culture? Here's my idea:
Send people abroad. Young people, at school or while studying, millions of them, say at least half of each generation. Let them experience the plurality of societies on the planet and all their different ways of solving problems. When they get home, watch what happens. Personally I think it's much more worthy than your canal network.
Jun 14, 2014
@dilbertSpawn: They are my biased questions, feel free to ask your own biased questions, I'm still interested in unbiased answers even to questions biased the other direction.
Jun 14, 2014

Your data is either bad or you are not remembering correctly. As I already posted, in 2011 the US had 31,940 death by firearms. Simple math (31940 deaths / 365 days * 24 hours * 60 minutes) says there is one death by firearm at most every 16 minutes.


Jun 14, 2014
I read one interesting piece of data and if I remember it correctly it was that Britain with it's strong gun control has around 12 deaths per month by shooting. The US, including accidents with guns, has 12 per minute. With escalating levels of road rage and the culture of self before everything, it's too easy to pull a gun in the heat of the moment when anger takes over.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2014
@dilbertSpawn speaking of the results of sensationalist media...

Trayvon Martin was not shot because somebody wrongly thought that he was a criminal. He was shot because he was sitting on top of a man and pounding his head into the ground. There is no possible justification for that, no matter what came before.
Jun 14, 2014
There are many different types of murders by different people for different reasons.

Murders with a specific goal of killing a person you know is probably not all that gun dependent. If a person wants their spouse dead they can poison them or find another means.

Random murders and killing sprees are much, much harder without guns. Knives are not nearly as fatal as guns. Bombs are much harder to come by.

When it comes to school kids going on a spree it is almost entirely gun dependent. A kid with a knife just is not as big a threat - teachers are vulnerable to a kid with a gun in a way they are not to a kid with a knife.

Now nationally the murder rate is going down. But the incidents of school shootings seems to be increasing. But the incidents of school shootings is within the margin of error of total murders. So I would assume that school shootings have their own reason for being and increasing. I would assume copycat killers who see other school shooters on the news.

But you cannot tie school shootings and the overall murder rate to gun availability when they are going in opposite directions.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2014
I would like Scott to conduct a poll on this site.

Without looking it up, how many federal "gun laws" are currently active? how many locally?

I am willing to bet that most of the people on this board either need to look it up or get it wrong by more than a factor of 10.
Jun 14, 2014

More interesting, in terms of your bias, than the answers to your questions are the questions themselves. Humans are pretty good at writing a laws to apply to a specific situation without figuring out how it effects a situation they didn't consider. For example:

How many times has someone been shot because another person wrongly thought the first person was a criminal (e.g. what happened to Trayvon Martin)?

How many more shots have shooters gotten off before someone could stop them because they had a bigger clip?

Not a complete list, but you need to realize the answers answering the questions you think to ask probably isn't every going to be sufficient for determining policy.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2014
I think you're focusing too much on the guns. The more interesting question is why this has gotten so common now when nothing in the gun situation has really changed in decades. The rise in school shootings seems to correspond much more closely to the rise in the 24-hour news cycle and the internet then anything having to do with guns. When there are a kazillion news outlets that need to be constantly posting newer and more eye-grabbing things to get those precious few advertising dollars, anything outrageous tends to get a lot of airtime. Every time there's a school shooting, we get a massive media circus about it, which does 2 very bad things: Advertise to the whole country that this is something that you can do if you're pissed off at the world or in need of attention or whatever, and show everybody thinking of doing it that you will get a massive nation-wide level of attention for it. That sounds like a recipe for a lot of copy-cats to me. At this point, even if all of the guns magically disappeared, the real factors behind the phenomenon are still present, so the killers would just switch to using other tools.

I think the way that the modern news media works is a big part of the problem here. I also think there's a deeper part yet, and that's our obsessive quest for safety, especially for kids. We've already made the most safe world that has ever existed for kids, but nothing is ever good enough for these types of people. Their mentality is that any risk of anything bad happening, no matter how minor the risk or how trivial the bad thing, must always be eliminated, no matter how much it costs. I think that's the root cause behind the media obsession over school shootings - people with that mindset can't help but be fascinated by something that is so dangerous and so hard to stop. That fascination and our current media structure assure wall-to-wall coverage, and the coverage assures copy-cats, thus generating further outrage and eventually eyeballs for the media in a vicious cycle.

What if the real solution is something very different from the draconian social changes often proposed? Stop obsessing over safety, and stop watching media sources that promote this obsession. If you're going to get outraged at anybody, get outraged at the media for paving the way for copycat killers in return for advertising dollars. Maybe we can go back to how it was 30 years ago, when gun availability was pretty much the same, but mass shootings were unheard of.
Jun 14, 2014
I'd love someone generally rational and biased towards data to do (or sponsor) studies, I'm pretty sure my side would win.

Some interesting questions along those lines:

How many spree shooters in the US (other than assassination attempts) did it where guns were allowed? (best I can tell, pretty close to zero)

How many spree shooters in the US continued after someone shot anything at them? (Again, pretty close to zero) Did a mismatch in firepower make any difference?

How many civilians defending against a spree shooter made the situation worse? (Zero)

Is there a correlation between the laws gun control groups want and a reduction of violent crime? (I'd suggest the Brady Campaign state gun law scores vs FBI crime data--I got below statistical significance...in layment's terms, zero)

In the US, gun ownership rates vs crime rates.

How exaggerated or misleading are each side's claims? (I think I know the answer here, but I know I'm biased...I would love to see what someone less biased than me thinks)

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2014
"<i>The only thing I know for sure is that the "It is in the constitution" argument is misplaced. No matter what the founders had in mind at the time, we have the option to change it. </i>"

Are you sure that's the case? Could we repeal the 1st amendment? I'd say no, the amendments in the Bill of Rights are different; they are merely an explicit acknowledgement of certain natural rights (as the Declaration said, "inalienable"). You can repeal the amendments all you want, but I see no reason why that would alter the fundamental rights those amendments were written to protect.

That's not to say that the government would continue to protect the rights in the absence of amendments prohibiting their violation, we have enough trouble restraining it as it is, but those government actions would be violations of the law nonetheless.
Jun 14, 2014

Except the fact that your basing your decision on is false. Despite mandatory possession of guns in every home in Switzerland, they have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, across the board. Here is there rankings by homicide:


You can see Switzerland is tenth from the bottom.
Jun 14, 2014
As usual, I think you and may other commenters are asking the wrong question(s). I think there is plenty of data to form an opinion on America. Full stop. You don't need to go down to the next level of granularity: American gun control, American health care system, American education system, American political reforms, etc. They all roll-up to having an opinion on America, and mine is that it is no longer a safe or pleasant place for decent people to live, work, or raise a family. It doesn't matter what the answers to any of those problems are if Americans aren't going to do anything about it, and the evidence is clear that they aren't.

I was born in America and I suspect I'll always have a fondness for it, but I'm not afraid to say that I don't LOVE this country anymore and there's no evidence that it's trying to do anything to win me back.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2014
Violence isn't always evil. What's evil is the infatuation with violence .
~ Jim Morrison

It our media culture.

We make entertainment our of violence and hate and then pump it into our culture like cars, watches and so one.

If it isn't fear, it's sex and if not that food; our lizard brain are off the leash !
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2014
Gun control laws can't work if there's already 100 million guns out there (or whatever the number is).

The problem won't go away by making new laws.

Jun 14, 2014
Despite not being culturally inclined to violence, Switzerland has the highest rate of domestic murder between spouses. It also has 100% gun access, thanks to a 'home guard' rule that following their compulsory military service every male must keep a gun in the house.

That data says to me it's access to guns that results in violent inclinations (even if momentary or uncharacteristically) ending badly.

Humans have poor self-control. Put it down to our alien designers mucking up our spec.
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 14, 2014
"No matter what the founders had in mind at the time, we have the option to change it. So the question is what makes sense today, not what a bunch of hemp-smoking slave-owners thought hundreds of years ago."

What a lovely ad hominem statement. Well done sir! A previous poster recommended the Hillsdale College online course to you. I second the motion.
Jun 13, 2014
Scott, here's some articles with the references you requested, but they all boil down to the same thing. FBI stats say that mass shootings (on campus or otherwise) average 20 per decade nationwide,and has not varied to any statisticly significant degree in many decades. I would reference that stat directly from the FBI website, but I can't find it.



Jun 13, 2014
Biff, while your false positive argument might be a viable argument with regard to risks to society at large (I disagree, for reasons that are too complex to address at this time) it's still not a pragmatic argument for prevention of any particular, otherwise law abiding individual from owning or carrying a firearm. You're making a macro argument, but the reasons in favor of any one person carrying a weapon (of any kind) in their own defense are always micro. Perhaps they live in a particularly rough part of town, or particularly violent age (London during the early Industrial Revolution, for example; or Chicago of any era). Or perhaps they are a professional of a risky nature, such as a banker in California during the 'free banking' era of the late 1800's, or perhaps a petite female of any urban area (or particularly in Atlanta today) in fear of being the target of a rapist. In short, the pragmatic argument, even when accurate (I'll let yours go for the time being), is not a valid argument. The idea that defense of self is a basic human right isn't even in dispute, is it? Do you own yourself? Do you then have a right to defend yourself from attack? Of course you do, whether from a natural predator of the animal kingdom; or a predator of the human species. The only way that this couldn't be so is if you don't own yourself, and if that's not so, then who owns you?
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