The Language Around Mass Events. Race and Gun Safety

Nov 7, 2017 (San Diego) The mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas is a tragedy. 26 people were killed and 20 were injured. This is a very small rural community, therefore the survivors know each other. It is worst, the losses affect a large percentage of the community. We know that one family lost six members spanning three generations.

Las Vegas left a casualty figure at 58 people killed, and 546 injured. In that case most victims did not have close ties to the community. They came to a music show from other parts of Las Vegas, Nevada, California and Arizona. For example, some attended from San Diego, and some of San Diego’s law enforcement acted to help in the midst of the shooting. Training, if you will, took over. 

In New York 8 people died. They were run over by a driver using a rental truck, while a dozen others were injured. All of these incidents are what is known in emergency services as a mass casualty incident. All saw people with personal issues use tools to carry out an attack that is perceived by most Americans outside the legalities of the term, as a terrorist attack. 

We have no idea what made Stephen Paddock carry out a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The motive behind Devin Patrick Kelley’s attack in Texas is emerging, it involves domestic disputes. There was a political goal for Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov. Technically, under American law, his allegiance to the Islamic State is the only one that is terrorism. He has been charged already under that legislation.

However, how the political class talks about this is very telling. In New York the perpetrator survived, never mind he used fake guns to try to commit suicide by cop. He is an immigrant that came into the United States using a program that was signed into law by George Bush Senior. He was radicalized after he arrived to the United States, but this question of when is never asked. Why was he radicalized and took comfort in a radical form of Islam is also never asked. These questions are essential, however, we seem incapable of asking them. In particular, politicians are running away from them as fast as they can. Nor will they voice them. 

The other two perpetrators were white. The conversation of whether they committed terrorism, even if not the legal kind as far as we know, was never asked by the political class either. Don Lemon did on CNN, which is telling. He framed this not in a legalistic way, but how people feel after any of these attacks. This conversation is starting to happen, and that is a good thing. Paddock terrorized thousands who had to run and take cover. Telling us that this deep fear should be ignored, or that this is the cost of a free society, is a common talking point. 

Kelley started by terrorizing his friends and neighbors on Facebook. (Speaking of if you see something say something, but likely there was not enough there to trigger a police investigation.) We also know that we had two things happen in this event. One is not as rare as people would like to think, the other is. The first is that he was able to buy his guns, even though he should have been entered into the Federal database. This happens far more often than we would like to think. The second is that he was stopped by a good guy with a gun shot him and may very well have saved more lives. This is extremely rare, and to the man who did it, he deserves the term hero. 

There is a pattern that we quickly enter into after every one of these events when it involves a white person. Instead of talking of the safety concerns surrounding how wide spread spread guns are, or who has access to them, we see politicians immediately go to one talking point. This was an evil act and this is an issue of mental health. These guys were crazy, in other words. The other common theme is that it is too early to talk about sensible gun laws, and predictably, if you even want to have this conversation, you want to take my freedom away and get rid of the second amendment. 

Let’s make this very clear. All the prayers in the world will not stop the next mass shooter. Nor does mental health illness mean you are going to be violent This is a wrong headed talking point that avoids the discussion. It also demonizes a population that in general will not resort to violence of any form. 
Go ahead and send healing energy if you believe in this. By all means, go pray, but do not expect that to be the solution. We need to start the painful conversation of gun safety, and who should have access to guns. This is not a partisan issue. The fact that most people, even gun owners, are in favor of sensible gun laws, but politicians are not willing to have that discussion. Why? Special interests, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), do not want it. The interest group has become a radical organization that puts the interests of gun manufacturers above those of citizens. Any talk surrounding gun safety is anathema to them. Given how much money they donate to members of the House and Senate, and state legislatures, they have captured the issue. 

There is a real crisis involving gun safety in the United States. The data is well known as well. And it is one that we have to face up to as a country. Vox ran a far more extensive list with graphs. 

  • The United States has six times the homicide rate by firearm than Canada, 16 times as Germany. The data also points to this fact. We have more guns per person than other developed nation in the world. 

Remember Sandy Hook? We were all horrified, There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, including one in San Diego, 

A mass shooting is defined as that which involves 4 or more people injured or killed, not including the shooter. 

  • We have more than one mass shooting per day on average every year. 
  • Most who die in gun related deaths do not do so in mass shootings. The US is on track to lose 13,000 people this year alone. 
  • States with more liberal gun laws see more gun deaths. This should surprise no one. 
  • This also tracks to nation states. The more guns in civilian hands in a given country, the more gun deaths.
  • One of the talking points is that people need to defend themselves in a very violent society. However, crime rates in general, and gun deaths in particular, peaked in 1992 and have crashed ever since. 
  • We know this, if you own a gun, you have a higher risk of committing suicide. 
  • Higher access to guns and more liberal gun laws lead to both police officers killing suspects more often, and being killed in the line of duty more often as well. 
  • While society in general is less violent with less violence of all types, support for gun ownership to protect one self has spiked since the 1990s. The talking point is “protecting the rights of all Americans to own guns.”

 Gun safety is not more popular after a mass shooting and in fact gun sales spike, specific gun safety policies are popular. Among them are preventing the mentally ill from owning guns. This was rolled back by President Donald Trump. We are including the table from Pew, that has specific policies. 

Even concealed, a policy that the NRA pushes for often, has about 30 percent of Republicans in favor. Hardly a majority,

If you think this is a contradiction, it is. Gun safety should become a priority, But most importantly, the NRA and its allies in Congress, will continue to send their thoughts and prayers, but it is obvious that they do not want to deal with the safety issue in any effective way. How do we know? After Las Vegas there was talk of bump stock regulations, even a ban. That conversation, as usual, has died. What is a constant is that it is never the right time to talk about policies that will make all of us more free, free from fear of a mass shooter, and safer.

So if you want safety when it comes to gun policies, thoughts and prayers are hardly enough. However, we also must be conscious that the way we talk about these events prevent us from talking about how the population can and is terrorized by these events. Many of these mass shootings involve white people. If we want to be thought, fine, be tough on all and making excuses and claiming this is a mental health issue is not going to help either. White shooters are not mentally ill, and immigrants are not all terrorists. This is exactly how events become political with predictable talking points. 

And speaking of a truck being used as a weapon. Yes, yes it was. We should require gun owners to carry insurance, like you and I do with ours car. 


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