Tag Archives: shooting

A simple math problem? Stopping school shootings

Dan Patrick

Dan Patrick: Lt. Gov. from Texas (R) GETTY IMAGES

The manner in which our represented officials approach school shootings can be absolutely mind boggling.

Speaking about the recent shooting at a Santa Fe High School, Dan Patrick, a Lieutenant Governor from TX, commented that “four or five guns to one” was the best way to stop a gunman. The logic behind such thinking should immediately disqualify him from representing the public.

This idea of increased numbers suggests that some kind of arms race is necessary to keep ahead of these evil people who come out of the woodwork from time to time. Is there an ideal ratio? How about ten guns to one? For what is undoubtedly a complex social problem, are we really willing to rely on a ‘more is better’ approach? Is that the best that our elected officials can manage?

There is also something deeply unsettling in that a ‘more is better’ would clearly drive profit margins for the very tools that were used to commit the atrocity. When tragedy becomes lucrative it should make any rational person ask for greater transparency, especially between the industry and our elected officials. What would we make of an increased sale of crowbars, related to how well Ted Bundy used them?

I don’t necessarily think that officials like Patrick are ill-intentioned, but there is clearly something about the gun that appears to be “morally cleaner” than a crowbar. The NRA has often touted that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” but would we feel the same if the adage was, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a crowbar is a good guy with a crowbar”? You can substitute “gun” with any other noun to realize that there is clearly something very special about the “gun” in American society.

The showdown, at High Noon, where the good guy finally triumphs over evil, perhaps?

Is this romantic idea what is polluting the minds of our aging white male public representatives? The gun clearly provides the luxury of being impersonal, which provides the illusion that shooting someone is morally cleaner than swinging a crowbar into their head.

Substitute gun for crowbar and morally speaking you start to realize there isn’t really a good guy with a crowbar. It can start to seem acceptable in the context of self-defense, perhaps, but even if it can be shown to have been necessary for a person to smash an unconscionable aggressor in the face with a crowbar to stop them doing something terrible, nobody is ever going to feel normal again afterwards, even with the solace that the tragic event was interrupted or prevented. This is the kind of stuff that has driven our veterans and police to the edge of their sanity, and they were trained to deal with situations such as this.

The ‘more is better’ approach also misses one crucial point about spree and school shootings: The perpetrators do not care if they lose their own life, and they have already accepted this. It is common that the shooter will shot by police, or they will shoot themselves at a key moment not long after they began the shooting.

This psychology makes them just as dangerous as suicide bombers, and also undermines the argument that ‘more is better’ is somehow a deterrent to these shooters.

It is highly unlikely that even a “trained” civilian cares if they themselves die in the exchange; they may be willing to sacrifice themselves for others, but that is not the same thing. By wanting more guns in school, you’re not just requesting more gun carriers, you are requesting people who are openly willing to kill another person.

How rigorous does the training have to be to prepare somebody for this event scenario? There is a reason psychological testing is crucial for the police and our military. When you ask a person to be prepared to kill another, you are asking them to be prepared to circumvent their own conscience and live out the rest of their lives knowing what they have done. There is a personal cost to killing another person, and the only people who do not pay this cost, are those without a conscience – and I think we can agree that we do not want these people in our schools.

I think what has changed, with the increased level of awe-inspiring activism, is that people are beginning to realize that these events are much more than the shooting – a young loner, walking into a school, and shooting others. Political inaction is simply not good enough, anymore, and simple responses are offensive. It is high time we stop romanticizing over easy and poorly thought out solutions. Polarizing the world into good and bad is not productive and it does not result in a pragmatic approach to solving this problem.

Anyone who would have you believe otherwise, does not represent you.

No rhyme or reason: The shootings in Kalamazoo, MI

A booking photo of Jason Dalton in Kalamazoo. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

A booking photo of Jason Dalton in Kalamazoo. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

Jason Dalton was recently arrested for the killing of six people, and the wounding of two. The first incident seems to have taken place at about 6pm on Saturday 20th, Feb, near Meadows Townhomes in north-east Kalamazoo, where a woman who was babysitting was shot many times in a parking lot; she is currently in critical condition, but the children were all unharmed. The second incident, also in a parking lot, took place four hours later, where a father and son were gunned down. Fifteen minutes later, there was another shooting at a nearby Cracker Barrel restaurant, where four women were killed in cold blood.

Paul Matyas, Kalamazoo County undersheriff,  told WWMT, “There’s usually a rhyme or reason to it. In this particular case, we’re not finding that. Hopefully when we interview the individual he’ll disclose that to us.”

Even though there doesn’t appear to be a motive – an absence of a link between victims and no known criminal history or affiliation of Dalton, the reason could point to a brain abnormality or mal-development, such as a tumor pressing on the hypothalamus, as was the case with Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower Sniper. This case also reflects, although not to the extent of the meticulous planning involved, the activity of the Washington Sniper, John Allen Muhammed. While there was perhaps an ideological, or radicalized bent to Muhammed’s shootings, they also appeared random at first.

There are biological anomalies that can occur that can make people antisocial; this can happen with frontal lobe dementia and other conditions that result from tissue deterioration in the prefrontal cortex – an area known for controlling impulses and annealing the powerful desires promulgated from the limbic areas. The fact that Dalton was caught driving erratically beforehand as a driver for Uber, also points towards an abnormality in the frontal lobe.

It may turn out that these events were planned and were to justify an ideological end point, or we may find through a brain scan that Dalton has a condition.

The trouble is, we need our killers to have motives, because then we can know we are different from them, and our sense of self can escape unscathed. A lack of motive is unsettling, and diminishes the distance between us and them. This need is probably how ‘evil’ slipped into the world.


For more information please see:

The Guardian: Suspect in Kalamazoo shootings that killed six was Uber driver, firm says



Guns, Civilians, and Reactive Aggression

Curtis Reeves. Photo by Brendan Fitterer/AP

Curtis Reeves. Photo by Brendan Fitterer/AP

The recent shooting of Chad Oulson (43) by retired police officer Curtis Reeves (71) has helped me to solidify my view of civilians having guns. After what seems like a few heated exchanges that may have involved expletives over texting in a movie theater in Florida, Reeves shot and killed Oulson.

This incident highlights something very unique about gun possession. During times of reactive aggression, it is ridiculously easy to shoot and kill somebody if a gun is present. Reactive aggression is the result of somebody becoming so stressed and agitated that their mind turns to the flight or fight response. This brief moment is a moment of little to no reason, even a moment of temporary insanity. Somebody such as Reeves, in the age of retirement and with his spouse, is not going to entertain the ‘flight’ part of the fight or flight response, especially if he has the ultimate weapon of attack at his disposal.

The other type of aggression is instrumental aggression, where somebody deliberately plans out and executes the use of violence for power, entertainment, or perhaps respect (personal goals). During times of instrumental aggression, the type of weapon loses significance, because it’s a planned act of violence. During moments of reactive aggression, it is all too easy to shoot and kill, as opposed to wheeling a baseball bat or a hammer, or chasing somebody down with a meat cleaver. By the time the aggressor has thought about or attempted to injure a person with a bat, the moment of reaction has passed, and clarity has returned.

Reactive aggression is by far the most common type of aggression in society. Those flare ups we all have and quickly get over.

I am also convinced that many gun owners do not want or plan to injure or kill anyone. Clearly, it’s the gaining ‘control’ that appeals to gun owners. The only trouble is while they’re holding the gun they are losing mental control as their emotions start to tug on primitive survival instincts, and the presence of a gun is going to ignite the flight or fight response of those the gun is being aimed at. In fact, unless you have been trained to use a gun in these circumstances, the control you think you have is illusory.

One last thing that I think proponents of gun possession never fail to overlook, is the impact of what killing somebody would do to them for the rest of their lives. Even if killing is not the intent, it is still a very real possibility while a gun is present. Reeves now has to rationalize to himself, for the rest of his life, that killing Oulson was a necessity. He is going to fail at this, time and time again. He is going to lose sleep over it. He is going to struggle to see the world the same way again. In fact, one could argue that the impact this event has had on his mind and conscience is already his sentence for the crime.



The Guardian: Florida judge denies bail for retired cop accused in fatal cinema shooting

Breivik: The would-be revolutionary

Breivik received a sentence on Friday August 24th, 2012, that will see him put behind bars for a minimum of 21 years, but this is likely to be extended if he is still considered a threat. It seems like the judge spared no expense of reading out an account of the mass carnage and killings before sentencing Breivik, although, I am sure that Breivik listened to it with pleasure as a list of achievements.

Perhaps this is obvious, but I have recently blogged that some people who go on a killing spree do so with what seems like a terminal and immediate end point in mind (What makes a person snap and go on a killing spree?). For example, James Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, CO, did not fight the police after the shooting and seemed to go quietly; personally, I think it was a desperate cry for help and a need to be taken seriously that had turned malign. Wade Page, who went on a rampage at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, WI, had to have known that he would be shot and killed by police. Neither of these men, therefore, could be involved in any repeats of these attacks; it was a one time deal for both.

Breivik is different.

Breivik seems to consider himself some kind of soldier, and while Holmes and Wade seemed to act out of anger and desperation, Breivik seems incredibly comfortable with what he did, and would no doubt do it again and again and again. Holmes and Wade wanted an immediate and violent end to their world, but Breivik was trying to bring in a new era, and it is why he must never be released.

I am also sure that while he is in prison, he will be penning his own Mein Kampf. Breivik has been scribbling and writing a lot throughout the duration of the trial, and these thoughts will no doubt appear in another manifesto. It is very telling that Breivik has been very concerned about the legal status of his sanity, because if he is sane his “intellectual” property will have greater currency and his ideas can potentially have a greater impact.