Futile Remedies for Mass Shootings

The urge to find a cure is powerful. As a rule, though, those that emerge are sugar pills.

When someone is ill or anxious to avoid illness, he may be open to any possible treatments. That's why quack remedies, untested formulas and obvious placebos often find takers. When a mass shooting occurs, the urge to find a cure is powerful. As a rule, though, those that emerge are sugar pills.

A nation with very few guns, exceedingly tight firearms restrictions and little interest in such weaponry would not experience these atrocities as often as ours does. But in a society with hundreds of millions of guns and huge demand for them, as well as high rates of violent crime of all sorts, the challenge borders on the insurmountable.

The tactics of the alleged killer in this case serve gun control supporters as a roadmap to what should be done. He had an AR-15 "assault weapon," proving we should prohibit these guns. He had a magazine that can hold 100 cartridges, dramatizing the need to restrict magazine capacity. He bought some 6,000 rounds over the Internet, suggesting that the government should outlaw large purchases or monitor anyone who makes them.

All these conclusions sound perfectly plausible. And none of them offers any prospect of averting the next massacre.

Take the danger posed by "assault weapons." It turns out the one recovered in Aurora, Colo., might have been illegal under the federal ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calls for reviving that law on the ground that "these are weapons that you are only going to be using to kill a lot of people in close combat."

What she and many others don't realize is that "assault weapons" are functionally indistinguishable from ordinary semi-automatic hunting rifles. They don't fire more rapidly, they don't deliver more lethal rounds, and they don't "spray" bullets. They only look like military arms.

The features that disqualified a gun under the federal ban were ones that didn't affect destructiveness, such as pistol grips and bayonet mounts. If accused killer James Holmes had been prevented from buying this gun, he could have found plenty of others that would have served his purpose just as well.

Almost everyone who buys an AR-15 uses it to hunt small game or perforate targets. The number of customers who obtain guns like this only "to kill a lot of people in close combat" is just slightly above zero -- a market that would be far too small to induce a company to make them.

Holmes reportedly equipped his rifle with a 100-round magazine -- compared to the maximum of 10 allowed under the old federal law. But limiting magazine size would most likely be an exercise in futility.

In the first place, a halfway competent shooter can quickly replace an empty magazine with a fresh one, or else switch to another gun. (Holmes allegedly used three and had a fourth.)

The brief interruption a killer needs for reloading is helpful only if someone can seize the moment to subdue him -- something more common in movies than in real life. Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck says he knows of only one mass shooting in which that happened, in 1993. In the 2011 Tucson shooting, the suspect was overcome when his gun jammed after he reloaded.

Tracking anyone who makes large ammunition purchases? David Kopel, research director at the free-market Independence Institute in Denver, points out that more than a billion rounds are sold each year in the United States -- many of them in bulk by target shooters who burn through hundreds or thousands every month.

If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were to investigate each of these buyers, it would have little time to do anything else. And it would probably catch no criminals, since they would buy in smaller lots to avoid detection.

Besides, most of the rounds that Holmes allegedly bought lay idle. The quantity of ammunition he is said to have used could have been obtained in a few purchases that would set off no alarms. The rest of his fearsome stockpile had no bearing on the outcome.

Ideas like these are proposed anytime a mass shooting takes place but lately, at least, never go anywhere. Supporters take that as proof of the vast, unhealthy influence of the National Rifle Association. But it could be Americans just have no appetite for solutions that don't solve.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman.

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  • sarcasmic||

    These remedies, like the TSA, are not intended to actually prevent anything.

    The point is to make people feel better.

    If people feel like the government is doing something, then politicians get to keep their jobs.

    It's all about feeeeeeeeeeelings.

  • WTF||

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calls for reviving that law on the ground that "these are weapons that you are only going to be using to kill a lot of people in close combat."

    Really this stupid, or really dishonest?

  • sarcasmic||

    yes

  • Drake||

    I'm gonna say both.

  • Rich||

    How long until Feinstein or someone of her ilk calls for banning violent video games because "these are games that you are only going to be using to practice for killing a lot of people in close combat"?

  • Stick||

    "In politics stupidity is not a handicap." -- Napoleon Bonaparte

  • CE||

    and the Second Amendment was specifically written to protect the right of individuals to own combat-worthy weapons.

  • ||

    Indeed.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    As long as they can create more "jobs" that require people be taxed and molested in multiple ways, they will do it.

  • Drake||

    Given the fact that the shooter had produced a bunch of bombs, taking away his guns probably wouldn't have prevented anything.

    He probably could have killed more people with bombs or Molotov cocktails - but it would have had less theater to it, which seems to have been his objective.

  • Rhino||

    He would have blown himself up in the process. The fact that he just stood outside and waited for the cops to come get him, tells me that he didn't want a fight or he didn't want to die in the process. still, he could have sneaked out, brought in a bomb with a timer or remote detonator, then left through the emergency exit and injured just as many people.

  • lightning||

    Unfortunately, the only true solution to this is to either incarcerate people like this or execute them. If, (a big if) he suffered a psychotic break, then people obviously need to be taught to identify this and have the person committed before they kill a bunch of people. Psychotic breaks do not require a professional to identify (especially since professionals rely on family members as well as the person to diagnose). Gun control is moronic as it only affects people who will follow the law anyway - not the target audience.

  • $park¥||

    not the target audience

    I wonder if this phrase is going to become universally frowned upon now.

  • Rich||

    I wonder if using this phrase is going to become a misdemeanor.

  • $park¥||

    Maybe we should have lightning committed, just to be on the safe side.

  • Loki||

    "It's violent political rhetoric such as this that leads people to commit these crimes. We should ban the use of violent metaphors in political or other speech to ensure that people like Jim Holmes or Jared Laughner are not enfluenced by violent phrases and metaphors such as these." /facsist left-tard

  • Rhino||

    did you see that article yesterday about how he sent a package to a university of colorado psychiatrist filled with drawings of stick figures shooting each other and stuff like that? it sat in the university mail room since July 12. had it been delivered on time, this might have been avoided.

  • CE||

    Lots of people have psychotic breaks and don't go on to commit murder(s). Lock them up too?

  • sarcasmic||

    It's only a matter of time before people will be locked up on suspicion of committing future crimes.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    Well safety is more important than your silly rights. As long as we structure life around protecting the children, the only way to be sure no one will ever be hurt ever is to put everyone on the planet in a prison cell and even then it still would not be foll-proof. Procreation will done through in-vitro fertilization, though.

  • Rasilio||

    You mean like voting for a 3rd party, because that is obviously a sign of a mentally deficient individual.

  • Rich||

    Another obvious sign is reading _Fifty_Shades_of_Grey_.

  • sarcasmic||

    Third party?
    Don't you mean voting anything other than the Socialist Progressive Party, soon to be shortened to simply The Party?

  • Tagalog||

    Whatever else is true, when we had state and county mental hospitals that held mentally ill people for years when those mentally ill people were unable to provide care for themselves, we had many fewer incidents of mass murders by crazies. So one remedy for this shooting stuff is to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court Donaldson case, which says that mental hospitals can hold mentally ill persons who are unable to care for themselves, but which is interpreted as deinstitutionalizing every mental patient, whether they can take care of themselves or not. So the Donaldson case has to go. Reverse Donadlson!

  • Ron||

    However in this case "Holmes" had no history of mental instability. so it would be futile.

  • Cyto||

    Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck says he knows of only one mass shooting in which that happened, in 1993.

    Bill Leone took out a schizophrenic gunman in Chapel Hill in 1995 as he was attempting to reload. He was shot by the police for his trouble.

    The guy is a real-life Jack Ryan - except he was a bartender after his Marine career instead of a CIA consultant. Everyone should know his story - particularly a criminologist opining on the topic.

  • Ptero9||

    The need for understanding why has more to do with a desire for a quick fix and our sense of being violated, losing our sacred places such as schools, movie houses and churches.

    Who does it serve to make him a victim of whatever our cultural pet peeve happens to be?

    I have collected 49 reasons we think this tragedy happened here: http://wp.me/Z0y1

  • Jon Hansen||

    Since last Friday's tragedy, we have had a series of very interesting discussion streams. Specifically the comments by many suggesting that had they been their with their guns they would have brought down the killer.

    Interestingly enough, the following article which seems to support those against the knee-jerk reaction to implementing tougher gun laws, may actually have revealed why the current right to bear arms is futile in combating mass shootings.

    Specifically the reference to the fact that "The brief interruption a killer needs for reloading is helpful only if someone can seize the moment to subdue him -- something more common in movies than in real life. Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck says he knows of only one mass shooting in which that happened, in 1993. In the 2011 Tucson shooting, the suspect was overcome when his gun jammed after he reloaded."

    Thoughts?

  • Rhino||

    People who are looking to shoot up a bunch of people do not want a fire fight. That's why they never shoot up places where you are allowed to bear arms. The argument goes, "if the theater wasn't a 'no guns allowed' establishment, the killer would not have chosen that as his place of attack." You don't become infamous is you take a couple shots and then get gunned down. That makes the hero the winner and the one who gets the attention. Allowing people the freedom to defend themselves would have a detterant effect on these kinds of attacks.

  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    As many US Americans died from gunshots the same day, scattered across your hyper-violent land, as died in Aurora. And as many will die again today.
    But just in case King George II decides he wants to levy another 1c tax on teabags, you'd rather cling to your misread Second Amendment rights.
    Solid thinking, there.
    And if killing yourselves wasn't enough, now you're exporting your murderous culture and its gun elsewhere, from domestic shootings in Canada to killing brown women and children in some soulless sand dune halfway across the globe.
    We'd all be better off if y'all invested in a $12 box of Extenz to make yourselves feel better for your miniscule penises.

  • Torontonian||

    How exactly is the Second Amendment being "misread"? What part of "shall not be infringed" don't you understand?

    How exactly is "murderous culture" being exported to Canada? Are such exports covered under NAFTA?

    How exactly do you know so much about the pricing and efficacy of penile enhacement treatments?

  • Rhino||

    nice half truth. Yes, a lot of people die in gun violence across the country. The rest of the fact goes that, in places where gun control laws are more strict, gun violence is far higher than in places with more freedom to carry guns.

  • LauraB||

    The problem with so many anti-gunners is that they don't know enough to be wrong; they're just incoherent.
    The number of guns in private hands has gone up. The number of permits to carry a firearm has gone up. During the same period, violent crime is down. If the easy gun access caused crime it would be going up.
    And as a 54-yr old woman planning to get a permit to carry in the next couple of months, I assure you, the last thing I'm worried about is the size of my penis. I am so damn tired of this back-of-the-cereal-box pop-psych slander from the smugly ignorant.

  • CE||

    So, there are even more dangerous people out there, and your solution is to disarm us?

  • Public Citizzen||

    Well Emperor, the first thing you need to do is put some clothes on as you are obviously suffering from a loss of blood flow to the brain.
    We don't have a problem with how we read the American Version of English. You seem to be unable to parse the dialect correctly, judging from the sarcastic tone of your statements.
    Could you be a little more specific where the brown women and children located on some soulless sand are located? Possibly using terms of reference that translate into an identifiable location on my World Atlas?
    Would you also be so kind as to explain the methodology used for measurement and the demographics of the sample size used to determine the relative penis size as compared to a worldwide demographic?
    Thanking You in advance.
    P.C.

  • Ed Zeppelin||

    But I already have an unusually large penis. What say you now?

  • ||

    The American public is the answer to stopping mass shootings.The public is always at these gatherings but there has been no intelligent coordination of this trustworthy human resource. Distrust is the only policy. Official attention is focused on the danger of guns and the terrorists. I would like to suggest a way to use less than lethal approach that will stop attacks such as have happened. This is not a simple one paragraph approach but I will send it if allowed. In the past US air raid wardens worked perfectly well. We should use such means now because there is no cure that addresses lethal force possible. bullets pass through bodies and ricochet so they cannot be used in a crowd where a shooter is mixed in.with the civilians. If all guns vanished forever now we would have simple but lethal chemical bombs from the hardware store and cellar machine shops would be easily making simple guns without serial numbers in short order. Do you want me to send you my plan? Where to? Best wishes---Warren Thomas.

  • Yhoshua||

    I wrote a research paper years ago for school on gun control. Anyone who does any amount of serious research into the matter will come to the conclusion that gun control is COMPLETELY ineffective.

    But that won't keep all the emotionally driven, fact deprived people who have zero experience with guns to scream bloody murder and demand the rights of all be violated so that they can sleep better at night on false pretenses.

  • Glen Flowers||

    Maybe we should go with Switzerland's strategy? Every citizen owns a gun--and knows how to aim it, shoot it, clean it, take it apart, and put it back together. There is vitually no violent crime in that country.

  • Public Citizzen||

    The argument for additional gun control in this case is easily defeated by the gunman's demonstrated ability to make potentially lethal grenades, which, had he used those instead of bullets would probably have inflicted even more casualties with much more damaging injuries - leading to an even higher death toll.
    The Aurora, Co. Sheriff was nearly to the point of soiling himself during the press conference where it was disclosed that the killers apartment had been turned into a death trap with home-made grenades.
    Cinemark Theatre needs to be held accountable for having emergency exits that provided a point of ingress for an armed lunatic, in spite of their nationwide "no guns" policy.
    Because of the Cinemark policy there was no one in the auditorium in a position to disable the assailant, in spite of the Colorado "shall issue" policy for concealed carry.
    No report has stated how many licensed conceal carry permit holders were present but unarmed out of respect for the private business policy.
    Additional gun controls is a non-starter for dealing with the demonstrably criminally insane, it only restricts the options sane people have to respond.

  • Public Citizzen||

    As far as restricting ammunition sales, what about the recent well publicized order for massive quantities of HOLLOW POINT ammunition placed by Homeland Security? There are only two uses for H.P. rounds, hunting of big game or killing people.
    This type of ammunition is banned in war by international treaty, what does a government agency that is supposed to engage in defensive security measures need with this sort of ammunition?

  • Ed Zeppelin||

    After 9/11 we began to see the phenomenon of airline passengers subduing and sometimes beating the shit out of unruly individuals onboard their flight. Maybe this sort of thing will happen in other public spaces when crazed individuals try something.

  • Live Free or Die||

    In response to institutionalization, people are still locked in mental hospitals, losing their rights to serve on a jury, and all gun rights for the rest of their life in a system that doesn't provide the same rights we afford accused criminals. The burden is on the patient to prove they're not crazy, most states don't allow for a jury, and judges tend to err on the side of the doctors and social workers. It's not only schizophrenics that get locked up- it's poor people with depression, alcoholics, or those with eating disorders that can't afford to stay in a hospital. Drugs are shoved down their throats, even though many drugs have a lot of side effects and are only marginally better than a placebo. Hospitals may be necessary for some but more rights need to be in place. Liberty isn't always easy- there's an intense pull to put "those people" away "for there own good" but that doesn't make it right. An obese person can eat themselves to death but a suicidal person can lose their rights?

  • ||

    "What she and many others don't realize is that 'assault weapons' are functionally indistinguishable from ordinary semi-automatic hunting rifles. They don't fire more rapidly, they don't deliver more lethal rounds, and they don't "spray" bullets."

    I've been rolling my eyes daily at the connotation most seem to take from the term "assault weapons". It's very refreshing to FINALLY hear someone else address this. So thank you for that.

    I feel it should also be noted that the text of the 2nd Amendment is not nearly as ambiguous as people make it out to be (regardless of the answer to the smudge v. comma debate) and that two simple truths can be easily gleaned upon close reading: 1) It certainly IS protecting the individual's right to bear arms and 2) it is not protecting this right for the sake of hunters and guarding against home invaders.

  • Suellington||

    What is Ronnie Woods doing hanging with Pelosi in that photo? And what is so damn funny?

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