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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 13, 2014
The biggest 2 problems with school shootings:

1. They are outliers to begin with. If you consider all the violent homicides each year, only a minute number actually happen in schools. Also not all homicides happen with guns.

2. They put people on tilt. Basically children are evil little tilt machines, causing adults do to all sort of weird crap they believe are good "for the children" when they may or may not be the case. In that case, any emotional knee-jerk reaction will do for someone on tilt.

A good example is something like the !$%*!$% Pettelier case. Basically you've got a judge and a DCF who know jack-squat about a rare medical condition yank kids away from their family and then not treat them properly, because they know crap about what is really going on. So their attempts to help are making things worse. Remember, the rarer the disease, the less likely any particular doctor will know about it, much less anyone else. But that ignorance isn't going to try and stop them from "helping".

Then there's factual stuff you need to consider.
1. Most shooters are linked to psychiatric medication. Usually the shooting happens shortly after going on or off a medication (or switching meds I would imagine).



2. Then there's stuff saying there's no link between gun-control and violent crime


3. Sometimes gun death statistics include suicide. People wanting to kill themselves that badly will just find another way.

4. Gun-free zones are neon signs for messed up people telling them: murder others here


If you ask me, the biggest thing we can do is address mental health issues.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
Dear Phantom II,

when the robot overlords will try to attack us, please feed them with the following excerpt from your post. There's a good chance of a short circuit within at least some of them:

[Scott: "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."

No offense, but that's one of the least rational things you've ever said.

For a violent criminal to be caught, he or she first has to commit a violent crime. So they can't be caught until they have already done violence. Duh.]


[Would someone please explain this to Ina in humorously sarcastic language so I don't have to? -- Scott]
Jun 13, 2014
Data is good and all, but both sides can and do use real data to mislead in order to make their case.
Crime statistics are one metric either side can use to make a case for or against gun control, The less political statistic is that most victims of violent crimes (with or without guns) know their attackers.
Incidents like spree-killings, armed robberies gone bad, and other sensational crimes tend to get all the media attention, but violence between people who know each other, over mundane differences, make up the bulk of actual injuries and deaths. Even gang-style violence has fairly few casualties of non-participants.
I don't see any evidence that the presence of guns deters, or encourages, either interpersonal or random violence, because violence is such an irrational thing to begin with. I can see effective control of guns in reducing the lethality of both types of violence however. This is a logic-based conclusion though, not a data-based one.
Jun 13, 2014
I would like to see a study of the average number of bullets used by a gun owner defending themselves. I expect that in many cases it's zero - just showing a gun is probably sufficient if the bad guy doesn't have one. For those that shot and hit the perpetrator, did it take 1 bullet or 10?

Figure out what that number is, then cap the number of rounds that an automatic can shoot at a couple higher (Nationally). Then give heavy jail sentences to anyone even caught with an automatic weapon above that, after some buy-back program for those already owning them. As in the case with a recent school shooting, reloading at least gives the targets a chance.
Jun 13, 2014
"Is the rise of school shootings in America ..."

False premise. School shootings in America have not been on the rise.

See, for example, http://reason.com/blog/2014/06/11/are-school-homicides-becoming-the-norm

and http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/06/11/gun-violence-and-mass-shootings-myths-facts-and-solutions/
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
I remember how the emotional response to Newtown was to try and stop people from being able to acquire high-capacity guns, since those are the ones that can cause the most casualties, and for which there's the least valid argument about needing one for defensive protection. The federal government obviously failed to do that, but some states did it on their own. But I'm not sure how much it mattered. The data-driven argument says that while the cases where those guns are used may be horrific, they account for fewer murders than do, for instance, hammers. They're used in just the tiniest number of murders. The most dangerous type of gun is the small, easily-concealed handgun. But those have a fair number of anecdotal cases like the one Scott brought up where they've been used defensively to save someone from an attacker.

Personally, I don't see a compelling reason why individuals should be able to own assault weapons capable of delivering 30 or more rounds between reloads, so I do come down in favor of banning them for private use. But if they were eliminated, and the spree killers were forced to use different weapon types, the difference in the number of murders would be impossible to tease out of the background level of killings we'd still have each month in this country.

So I don't think either banning guns or promoting responsible gun ownership are going to help our problem of violence. I think that what we need more than anything is a better willingness to go out and meet our neighbors, form communities that all know each other, do activities together, and look out for one another. It's fear and isolation that makes it so easy for someone to develop the psyche necessary for murder, and for the people around them not to notice as it's happening.

If there was a rigorous study done to figure out which communities report knowing a large percentage of their own neighbors and which ones know very few, I'd put down money that the amount of crime in the communities where people know each other is far less than in communities where people isolate themselves from one another. But that's just a guess. I'd like to see the actual data.
Jun 13, 2014
You should attempt to review the data before saying it doesn't exist. For one thing, data does exist, both on guns used illegally and guns used for self-defense. Ten minutes work on the web would give you all the data you need.

So rather than go over data that can easily be obtained, let me address a couple of the other areas with which I disagree. Which is a nice way of saying you're full of hot air.

Scott: "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."

You, not surprisingly, are missing the point. Take away guns from the citizenry, and the military under a dictatorship simply becomes a shepherd herding sheeple. But with an armed citizenry, the military has to face the fact that they are going to have to kill their country's own citizens, and face being killed themselves, to make the dictator happy. That's a world of difference.

Scott: "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."

No offense, but that's one of the least rational things you've ever said.

For a violent criminal to be caught, he or she first has to commit a violent crime. So they can't be caught until they have already done violence. Duh.

Most criminals don't believe they'll be caught; or sometimes they just don't care. So you'll still have violent crime; take away citizens' weapons and you just won't have people with the ability to defend themselves. It is a false syllogism to imply that irrational criminals will suddenly become rational. It's also irrational to think that violent criminals will not be able to figure a way to keep off the grid.

Scott: "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."

You recently said that physics isn't your area of expertise. Obviously, history isn't, either. You don't understand the Constitution (please note: when discussing our Constitution, the 'C' is capitalized). I'm not going to go into it here, because it would take too long. But I would strongly suggest that you at least try to get a basic understanding of what that document is, and how it works, before making statements like the one above.

There are some very good educational venues available on the Constitution for free. Arguably the best of these is Hillsdale College's free online courses on the Constitution. If you are one of the people who don't see anything wrong with Scott's statement, then you need to go there without delay and sign up for their free Constitution 101 courses. It's the responsibility of every free citizen to understand this document.

An excellent book (not free, but you can get it at the library) if you really want to get into the details of the document itself is "The Heritage Guide to the Constitution." But take the Hillsdale course first.

Sure, we have the option to amend the Constitution. But the only way to do that, in this case, is to propose an amendment that would give the federal government the power to declare gun ownership illegal. Can you imagine 2/3 of the Congress and 3/4 of the states ratifying THAT amendment? It would never, ever happen. So any person positing that such a thing is even remotely possible must have been smoking even more hemp than Scott accuses the founders of smoking.

There are roughly 300,000,000 firearms in the United States. But guns aren't the problem, at least in the hands of non-criminals. Better identification of mental problems, actions to disband and disarm gangs, etc. will do much more to reduce gun violence (and other kinds as well, such as knife and blunt weapon violence) than laws restricting gun ownership. If you don't believe that, just take a look at Chicago and D.C.

It all comes down to freedom. One of the hallmarks of a truly free society is the ability of citizens to defend themselves. Our country is huge; many of our citizens live in isolated areas. Regardless of how you feel about firearms in general, you have no right to force your opinion on the rest of us.

I know that Scott just loves to stir the pot like this, and get everyone riled up over controversial topics. But at least his topics usually have some basis in fact. This one falls short, IMHO.

One final note: a few weeks ago, a wacko student with mental problemskill Santa Barbara decided to go berserk and kill women because he couldn't get laid, and other guys because they could, at least in his mind. He used knives, guns and his car to kill and injure people.

Does anyone out there believe that we should outlaw knives and cars?
Jun 13, 2014
The website you link is very interesting, though it shows a clear bias, and also makes the mistake of jumping to conclusions with incomplete data.

For example, today's post compares two completely different metrics, and calls them equal. In comparing violent non-lethal crimes between Canada and the U.S. they use the number for the number of injuries caused by non-lethal assaults in the U.S., with the total number of non-lethal assaults in Canada. Since assaults in Canada are counted even if there is no injury, this will obviously inflate Canada's numbers.

Also note that Stats Canada estimates that only about 35-40% of assaults are reported to the authorities in Canada. Judging by the distrust for police that many Americans seem to have, I cannot see this number being higher in the U.S.
Jun 13, 2014
Scott, you asked about where kids get guns when they go on a shooting rampage at school. There isn't any hard data, because what qualifies as a school shooting is rather vague. (Do colleges count? What about a parent going on a rampage at his or her child's school?) The Columbine shooters actually bought their weapons on the black market, one of which was already banned at the time. The shooter at Virginia Tech also owned the firearms he used. I know Adam Lanza stole his from his mother. This obviously isn't a comprehensive list, but I am unaware of any studies done, so perhaps we should do our best here. Other people can help fill in the list.

Next, you mention there is obviously a correlation between gun ownership and gun violence. Can I ask, have you considered the difference between legal gun ownership and illegal? Do you think gun control actually affects illegal gun ownership, and if so, how? (This are real questions, for anyone.)

It seems to me that rationally gun control only affects legal gun ownership. If those who support gun control disagree, I would like to hear why, as no one I've spoken to addresses that. So when you say that gun ownership obviously correlates to gun violence, are you referring to legal, illegal, or both?

Looking at the statistics, gun ownership actually doesn't correlate to gun violence, even without that distinction. There are places with lots of gun violence and high gun ownership, and places with low gun violence and high gun ownership. You can see some of the statistics here:


I think I have enough data that says gun control is not worth the effort to implement it. What is the goal here? I assume it is to save lives. In that case, let's look at the leading causes of death in the US:


Guns are pretty low on the list to start with. If you check the notes, you'll see that suicides make up over 50% of those deaths, meaning even if you banned firearms, some portion of those deaths would still occur. Rationally, I would say that any effort we spend to save those lives needs to be in relation to how many we can save. It is a costly proposition to ban guns, and to do it effectively is more costly, and so if someone wants to justify it, they need to study that cost and let us know what that tradeoff is.
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
Let's face it. Nothing is working in all the attempts to stop gun violence. More and more laws is not working. The same old arguments are not working. Comparison after comparison is not working. It's time for something new. I say let's quit making the killers into celebrities. Voluntarily or by law, let's stop them from getting all the publicity. Why not try that for a while?
Jun 13, 2014
I'm wondering whether it's a local custom in your place to break into other people's homes to rape the women, or whether it's a handy thing to tell the police when you've beat up or killed a burglar.
+14 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
In the case of the recent shooting in Oregon and in Newton the guns were secured and locked up. In Oregon the teenager defeated the locks (not that hard as most gun locks can be defeated with an electric drill and a 30.00 cobalt drill set) and in Newton he killed his mom and took the guns. I'm assuming he knew the combo to the safe or where the key was hidden.

Anecdotally I have had a gun unlocked in my closet since I was 12 and my dad kept a .357 revolver unlocked under his bed and left it that way even when he left on business. I am an engineer so it's safe to say I wasn't the most popular kid in high school. Somehow I made it through without causing trouble.
Jun 13, 2014
Since your are pro-data, I'd like to point you to one of my favorite data-intensive blogs. They actually site their sources.

First, since many people have mentioned comparisons to Canada which has more restrictive guns laws, here is one link:

Basically, the gist of the data is that yes, if you make appropriate comparisons, Canada has slightly lower homicide rates.
There are other things you can infer from the data, but I won't mention them here.

The second post making comparisons to Canada takes a look at what are the side effects of those more restrictive guns laws. It may have slightly lowered the homicide rate, but it may have raised the rates of getting killed or injured in other ways:

Not sure this helps address the issue of school shootings, but it may at least help put some perspective on the debate of more restrictive vs. less restrictive gun control.
Jun 13, 2014
I'm not sure if is something you can easily measure, as there are a number of variables to keep track of.

It is established that in most countries, fewer guns usually relates to fewer gun deaths. But it also often relates to a larger proportion of homicides by other means (stabbing and beating). This makes a good deal of sense, as violence will tend to find a way.

Of course this does have an implication in that guns tend to be more lethal than other weapons. So take away guns and you are likely to get a lot more 'attempted murders' I would think. I'm not sure the data is complete on this, as many non-lethal assaults are never reported or investigated.

With advances in forensic and criminology sciences, it is conceivable that we might approach a world where getting away with violent crimes becomes functionally impossible. But many criminology experts today argue that violent crimes are often acts of desperation, which means the certainty of getting caught can't be counted on as a deterrent.

it is not unreasonable to consider violence as an act of insanity. But the thing to realise is that everyone you know, including yourself, has the potential for a psychotic break. You may feel comfortable with your well-adjusted neighbor carrying a side-arm at all times. But what if you notice he's been under a lot of stress lately. How much out-of-character behavior do you have to witness before you start worrying about that gun? Even if you have a gun yourself, how confident are you that you will be able to draw it faster than him if he snaps one day?

Things to ponder.
Jun 13, 2014
eapopka: [ US civilians have approx. 180 Million guns, the military and police together have about 15 Million. We've got them outgunned ]

"We" do NOT have "them" outgunned. Civilian guns -- even those badly defined "assault rifles" -- are not even in the same class as military weaponry; nor are civilians trained as well in their use. Try shooting a handgun at a F-16, then come tell me this again. Or use your shotgun against an M1 Abrams tank, and let me know how that works for you. And get back to me on how that assault on a destroyer firing missiles at you from 20 miles offshore goes.

When civilians had essentially the same weapons as the military, this idea might have held water. But since WWI, the gap has been so great that the idea of military resistance to the government is just plain silly.
Jun 13, 2014
People always like to paint the NRA as the bad guys in things like this, but nobody's more for responsible and safe gun ownership than the NRA. Meanwhile kids in inner city gangs are buying guns on street corners.
Jun 13, 2014
[ Obviously there's a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. ]

No, there isn't. I mean, in the sense that zero guns would mean zero deaths, then yes. But different rates of gun ownership (above zero) have surprisingly little effects. Some places with with strict gun control (Chicago) have high rates of gun violence; others (New Hampshire... I think) have low ones. Some places with lax gun control (Texas) have high rates of violence; some with lax gun control (Arizona) have low. (Sorry, doing all these from memory, so I may have misplaced some. But the examples are there.)

The only rational conclusion is that gun control laws, and the presence of guns in general, doesn't effect the crime rate -- or, as you say, other factors are much larger. Given that, I am generally opposed to gun control legislation, on the theory that whatever laws we have should actually do something.

This is an emotionally charged subject, and both sides make silly arguments. Those opposing gun control (also known as "redneck mouth breathers with p*nis issues") talk about defending themselves against the government, which is about as wishful an idea as it gets. That MIGHT have been possible 200 years ago, but our current government has things like tanks, planes, RPGs, infrared, drones -- and an essentially infinite budget to buy more.

On the other hand, those favoring gun control (also known as "liberal urban hippie communists"), say stupid things like "Chicago has gun crime because Indiana is close by, and they can get guns there," ignoring the fact that guns from Indiana are even easier to get IN INDIANA, yet gun crime there is low.

So, not looking for a rational discussion on this issue any time soon.
Jun 13, 2014

I believe the correlation holds both ways (of course we know correlation =/= causation) but may be stronger for homicide rates rather than total crime or violent crime.

I hate to just blast links, but this article does a pretty good job of tackling the subject linking to a number of scientific studies. Of course it's just one blogger's analysis and it could be cherry picked.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
I like your idea but there are already millions of guns in the USA.
Jun 13, 2014
If guns are insurance against corrupt dictators, the Philippines are on track to becoming a model democracy. They've shot about 1200 politicians in the last 10 years. Once they mop-up they'll be indistinguishable from Canada.

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