Newtown: The Moral Panic That Wasn't

A year later, Newtown's legislative legacy is far less dramatic than it might have been.

One year ago, in the wake of the horrific school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the Obama White House released its agenda for “protect[ing] our children and communities by reducing gun violence.” It was a report marked by a tone of grim urgency from its title onward: “Now Is the Time” to tighten background checks for guns, ban “military-style assault weapons,” and fortify our schools.

Yet the president appeared comparatively restrained next to the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, who breathlessly demanded “an active national database of the mentally ill” and federally funded “armed police officers in every school” or Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who proposed legislation encouraging governors to call out the National Guard for school shootings. At the time I worried that this legislative panic attack would leave us no safer, and considerably less free.

That’s probably for the best, given that the massacre encouraged a flurry of policy proposals whose “prospects for reducing the risks of mass murder are limited.” But a year later, Newtown's legislative legacy is far less dramatic than it might have been. At the state level, nearly two-thirds of post-Newtown firearms laws actually loosened restrictions on gun owners. On the federal level, nothing much has happened.

That’s the sober, and sobering, conclusion of a new article in the journal Homicide Studies, co-authored by James Alan Fox, the nation’s leading criminologist studying mass killing.

In “Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown,” Fox and co-author Monica J. DeLateur offer a comprehensive review of the literature, aimed at refuting “myths” surrounding the problem of spree shootings.

It’s a myth, for example, that a federal ban on so-called assault weapons will impede shooting sprees: “The overwhelming majority of mass murderers use firearms that would not be restricted by an assault weapons ban,” mostly semiautomatic handguns. Those that used weapons covered by a renewed ban “easily could have identified an alternate means of mass casualty.”

Enhanced background checks are no more promising, the authors write: “Most mass murderers do not have criminal records or a history of psychiatric hospitalization,” and wouldn’t be disqualified from purchase. They cite a recent study prepared for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which found that in only 10 of 93 cases had “concerns about the mental health of the shooter been brought to the attention of” health professionals or legal authorities prior to the shooting.

Attempts to identify would-be mass killers through “telltale warning signs” and improved access to mental health care are also likely to fail: “Profiles and checklists designed to predict rare events — such as mass shootings — tend to over-predict, producing a large number of ‘false positives,' " which will potentially do “more harm than good.”

Fox, whose focus on mass killing has earned him the moniker “the dean of death,” isn’t likely to cheer anyone up with this counsel of legislative futility. But the good news, as the authors point out, is that mass shootings are not on the rise — and on an individual basis, the risk remains vanishingly small.

Perhaps the public, in its occasional wisdom, recognizes this. A year after Newtown, it looks like the massive public support for gun restrictions never materialized; a recent Reason-Rupe poll showed 63 percent of Americans doubting that tighter gun laws would keep guns out of the hands of wrongdoers.

Sociologists define “a moral panic” as “an episode, often triggered by alarming media stories and reinforced by reactive laws and public policy, of exaggerated or misdirected public concern, anxiety, fear, or anger over a perceived threat to social order.” Thankfully, Newtown turns out to be the moral panic that wasn't.

This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner. 

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  • Tim||

    What of the dangers of retired policemen shooting you for texting in the theater?

  • Tommy_Grand||

    no such thing as a 'retired policemen'

  • PaulW||

    Don't be an asshole and you're much less likely to get shot. Simple statistics, I'm sure.

  • ||

    I really hope you're being sarcastic, but I get the feeling you're not.

  • Floridian||

    National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, who breathlessly demanded “an active national database of the mentally ill” and federally funded “armed police officers in every school”


    This is why I am ashamed to tell people I'm an endowment member of the NRA.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yeah, the NRA is absolutely shit on any non-2A rights. I could donate to Gura at the SAF, but not the NRA.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    I crossed SAF off the the list when Alan Gottlieb gave cover to gun grabbers in Washington state and then at the federal level. Fuck his compromiising rotundness.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Crap. I either missed or forgot that.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    http://youtu.be/E9UMox1WoTw

    Gottlieb supporting Machin-Toomey background check expansion.

  • Cdr Lytton||

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Because we only care about the rights that we care about.

  • Vincent Milburn||

    I think they feared the angry mob and were desperate to have those fingers pointed at anything but gun control.

  • Floridian||

    I think they also went after the Vidiah gamez too. Sigh. Just stick to the second amendment and I'll stick with you.

  • ||

    This is why I am ashamed to tell people I'm an endowment member of the NRA.

    Isn't Indiana's one faculty member must have training and access the only real outcome (which was kinda redundant in much of the state anyway) of LaPierre's initiatives? I didn't/don't agree with LaPierre's assessment but, it bore the amount of fruit I thought it would and considering the number of brainless n-round bans that did go through I don't consider his rhetoric to have been entirely misplaced.

    More relevantly, I think his points along the lines of 'You arm the cars that move your money but not the buses that move your children.' that actually required some thought were underplayed relative to the more mindless attention-grabbing sound bytes like 'armed officers in every school'.

    Plenty of things to be ashamed of in my life, being a member of the NRA is pretty low on that list, especially if the modestly misplaced comments and actions or LaPierre are the only judgement.

    Far better to have given money to the NRA, protected the 2nd, and shat on the other rights than to have voted for B.O. or G.W. and have shat on all of them. Let alone vote for B.O. and G.W.

  • Floridian||

    Obviously I supported the NRA. I gave them lots of money. But when they advocate for stepping on the 1A or ramping of theft from my pay check I have to reevaluate giving my hard earned dollars to them instead of another 2A advocacy group.

  • PaulW||

    So tell them about it. I'm sure they listen to their donors if enough of them speak up.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Sorry. I'm about as big a gun rights person as you can get, but turning schools into armed prisons isn't the answer. Nor is fucking with people based on what they might do in the future because .x% of others with the same problems did so.

    You want to allow teachers to carry?...you bet. Violating rights in the name of safety?...WLP can go fuck himself.

  • Sigivald||

    Schools are already prisons.

    The only difference is that under that policy idea more of them would have a full-time armed cop; some of them already do.

    (And the "mentally ill database" IIRC was one of people ... the law already prohibits from buying a gun.

    "Adjudicated Mentally Ill" is already a disqualification - LaPierre was pushing for having the States actually have the data someplace checkable, I believe.

    [I didn't pay much attention to the details of his speeches at the time, but I don't recall it being a literal call for everyone with any "mental illness" of any sort to be in a database.

    Just the ones the existing laws should already be caring about.

    This might be a civil rights problem, but at least it isn't a new one, if I'm remembering it correctly.])

  • Zeb||

    'You arm the cars that move your money but not the buses that move your children.'

    I think that is less of a good point that it might seem at first. There are loads of people who would like to get their hands on your cash. There are very few people who would like to steal or harm your children. And the risks of turning schools into secure compounds are worse than the tiny risk that some nut will shoot up a school in my opinion.

  • SIV||

    The NRA hasn't spent one dime lobbying for that shit.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Is that from their annual spending reports or something?

  • Sigivald||

    No, but it's a damned good guess from the complete lack of action politicians have taken on it.

    Not that the NRA mainly works by spending money on lobbying; it works by getting people to vote, which politicians care about even more.

    The only thing a politician wants lobbying money - which they can't personally keep, remember - for is to win elections; votes do that even more directly.

    The NRA gets results, which is why it has members and grassroots (which is also why it gets results).

    That there's been no political movement on the issue suggests very strongly - in accordance with what I've seen in NRA communications I glance at - that the NRA hasn't actually pushed it as a policy prescription.

  • Zeb||

    I've stopped giving to the NRA because of that and because of their annoying volume of fundraising mail and phone calls (though they did stop calling after I told them that they would never get another cent from me if they called me at home again).
    I do sort of miss getting The American Rifleman, though.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I quit the NRA when they rated all the Libertarians a question mark on 2A rights. Apparently they couldn't be bothered with a few phone calls (there was no e-mail then).

  • ||

    Since the LP platform specifically mentions gun rights they could probably have made the reasonable inference that they were pro-2A.

  • LiberTarHeel||

    JPFO, or GOA, if you absolutely must; anything else is full of asshats.

  • AlgerHiss||

    Well, then perhaps you ought to go pal around with the Sarah Brady crowd. That way, you won't be "embarrassed".

  • ||

    I'm trying to figure out if you're retarded or not. You like cake, don't you.

  • Floridian||

    Don't do it Epi. Don't lock eyes with it.

  • ||

    Floridian, what I'd like to know is, why are there retarded people in this comment thread with us?

  • Floridian||

    You would think the simple act of typing would be a barrier to entry for the mentally challenged, but alas, it is not. Also their search for cake knows no bounds.

  • WTF||

    Wrong! The correct answer is:
    "Mr. Episiarch, we're doing our best to weed them out, but some of these retards are extremely clever."

  • ||

    Thank you. Us Strangers With Candy fans have to stick together.

  • Floridian||

    Ah, it was a TV reference. I'll show myself out.

  • SweatingGin||

    Don't worry, scrote. There are plenty of 'tards out there living really kick-ass lives. My first wife was 'tarded. She's a pilot now.

  • AlexInCT||

    UTILIZE!

  • Sarg221||

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ys4oIwj6yw
    I just watched this. So many things that I've read here make sense now.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Who wants cake?

  • WTF||

    They all do. They all want cake.

  • OneOut||

    I want to eat my cake and have your's too.

  • UnCivilServant||

    But... I don't have any cake.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    But you want some.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Not really, no.

  • AlexInCT||

    Fists and elbows!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This is why I am ashamed to tell people I'm an endowment member of the NRA.

    Oh, come on, now. Cheap fearmongering emotionalism and scapegoating are time honored debate tactics.

    You'll never get anywhere with that Constitutional argument.

  • Killaz||

    Yeah, but this round they came at my bread and butter. I cannot support the ratfucks at the NRA.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    why are there retarded people in this comment thread with us?

    BECAUSE REAGAN KICKED THEM OUT OF THEIR INSTITUTIONS

  • ||

    Incorrect answer. The correct answer is "Epi, we're doing our best to weed them out, but some of these retards are extremely clever."

  • sarcasmic||

    I like Brooks' answer better.

  • UnCivilServant||

    No, Epi, you ahve the wrong answer on your key, go get re-keyed.

  • mr lizard||

    I love the smell of Progtears in the morning.

  • ||

    My preferred gun advocacy organization these days is NAGR. First of all, they had poor widdle Hill staffers complaining about all the phone calls they had to answer with NAGR members on the line. They must be doing something right if the little snowflakes are irritated.

    Second, they have awesome monthly gun giveaways.

  • Floridian||

    Gun give aways! I'm sold. Also is NAGR meant to sound like people who annoy you. You know. N*ggers.

  • ||

    +1 Manbearpig

  • ||

    A Binelli M1 giveaway, you say? Done and done.

  • ||

    Just to warn you - they tend to send out a lot of "URGENT! PANIC!" emails. No more than, say, the LP, though.

  • Zeb||

    Do you get the monthly "The UN wants to take all your guns" messages?

  • ||

    I did before I set up a filter :)

    Now I just read their Facebook page for new on the gun grabbing front. And to enter the gun giveaways.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I'm an endowment member of the NRA.

    "Sometimes a gun is just a gun."

  • ||

    From my wonderful school:

    "You will notice new signs around campus, reminding our faculty, staff and students that no guns are allowed at DePaul. These signs are required by law, as a result of the changes in the state's concealed carry of firearms law. While the state law may have changed, our policy remains the same: DePaul strictly prohibits students and employees from carrying firearms on campus.

    Thanks

    Director of Public Safety"

  • ||

    I'm sure the next Seung-Hui Cho will read that carefully and cancel his murder spree.

  • ||

    Someone called them out on this but their answer was that the CPD is on campus. That still doesn't give me any comfort at all. If some asshole is shooting up people at McGaw and the police is across the campus at Levan, then people are still fucked.

  • ||

    Chicagoeons for the most part are indifferent when it comes to gun control. The only people who are going apeshit about are the rich white liberals who live in great neighborhoods and the idiot transplant college students.

  • General Butt Naked||

    The only people who are going apeshit about are the rich white liberals who live in great neighborhoods.

    Hughesian democrats?

  • Killaz||

    We should start a charity where we buy up houses in neighborhoods with a high concentration of rich liberal gun control advocates and public officials and set those domiciles up as half way houses for violent criminals.

  • ||

    You would never see a meeting of the zoning board convened so quickly.

  • Killaz||

    Also, I am in no way liable if you should be raped, mugged or assaulted while obeying the rules I enforce on this campus.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    That's the ticket, right there. Almost makes me want to go get raped on campus, so I can sue them for not allowing me to protect myself.

    You're a private business, you have EVERY right to stop me from carrying on your property. And the second you do, you become liable for any crime I might have stopped with my gun.

  • Killaz||

    I let them know they could expect to be drowned in lawsuits for the rest of their lives at the security desk sometime ago. We are not exactly on friendly terms, but that is not a problem I created. I just responded to it because I'm not a lamb.

  • ||

    A couple of years ago, during Women's History Month, the Conservative club I belonged to held an event that showcased how women can protect themselves from violence and not be victims if they are allowed to carry.

    Man, the feminists lost their shit. Our argument was that if women were able to carry and be able to defend themselves, then sexual assaults could be prevented. The feminists accused us of victim blaming and said the onus should be on those who commit sexual assault.

  • Killaz||

    I know only a few feminist who ever question the systemic rightness of groupthink, hence the cognitive dissonance that is never off the display case.

  • ||

    onus should be on those who commit sexual assault.

    Well, it should/i be, but we don't live in fucking La La Candy Super Fun Happy Land. For fuck's sake. These women would rather allow themselves to be victimized just to make some idealistic point about how things should be?? I'm sure their rapists will take that into consideration.

  • ||

    HTML fail.

    Well, it should be, but we don't live in fucking La La Candy Super Fun Happy Land. For fuck's sake. These women would rather allow themselves to be victimized just to make some idealistic point about how things should be?? I'm sure their rapists will take that into consideration.

  • Killaz||

    Ha! I thought you were rather brilliantly mocking their hysteria with the italicization.

  • ||

    Ha! I thought you were rather brilliantly mocking their hysteria with the italicization.

    Yes, that's what I meant to do!

  • ||

    I am not condoning rape or victim blaming but in an ideal world, we wouldn't have issues like this but unfortunately we have really awful people who are out to do some harm. For those feminists to eschew women being allowed to carry to simply prove a point is ridiculous.

  • Zeb||

    Even if it were realistic to expect that social pressure or whatever could eventually eliminate whatever it is that causes rapists to rape, people still need to protect themselves in the mean time. Are women just supposed to accept being raped until society at large sorts itself out?

  • ||

    Are women just supposed to accept being raped until society at large sorts itself out?

    I guess so. At least you get that coveted Victim Status© out of the whole thing - tewtally worth it!

  • Floridian||

    I've always thought women should be the number one advocates for right to carry. They tend to be victims more often than men. I don't really get the lack of instinct to use the best means to protect yourself. At least it is legal in all 50 states now.

  • PaulW||

    Like I told my wife, who wins in a fist fight man vs. woman? Man 95% of the time.

    Who wins in a baseball bat fight man vs. woman? Man 95% of the time.

    Who wins in a knife fight man vs. woman? Man 95% of the time.

    Who wins in a gun fight man vs. woman? 50/50, with probably an advantage towards the woman because they are generally better shots and smaller targets.

  • PaulW||

    Haha, and Dr. Presley wonders why most of us went ape shit at the idea of "libertarian feminism"

    Fuck that movement from the bottom of my heart (at least in recent history). They do more to push women backwards than they do forwards.

  • ||

    What are they going to do to you, ask you to leave? Fuck them.

    Here is Seattle, in one of the city's many tries to do an end run around state law (Washington state law states that no locality may enact gun laws that are any stricter than state law), they tried to ban carrying in public parks (of which there are many in Seattle). So while they were trying this I went to Seattle Center and they had big signs up saying no firearms allowed, which I promptly ignored. All they can do is ask you to leave, and that's only if they somehow know you're carrying, which how would they?

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    They can stop and frisk you, because you're black. Oh, wait, wrong fascist city.

  • ||

    Correct. Here the SPD didn't care unless a city official asked you to leave and you didn't. Regardless, the policy was a violation of state law, as usual, and got shot down. Too bad, so sad.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Director of Public Safety

    Public safety can't be centrally directed, it must be crowdsourced.

  • Zeb||

    "Public Safety" in that case refers to an organization with that name, not to actual public safety.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Public safety can't be centrally directed, it must be crowdsourced.

    It takes a village.

  • OneOut||

    My relief knows no bounds. I shall keep this knowledge with me in case I ever decide to go on a robbery and/or killing spree.

    I'm a NeoLibert...and you can too !

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    It is a silly policy, but DePaul is a private school and should be able to set whatever conditions for entry it wants to, and people that respect other people's property rights should respect that.

  • ||

    DePaul absolutely does have a right to set up these sort of rules. And we have the right to mock them for making such rules. They have obviously made this rule to cater to the Progressives that run the school.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    "And we have the right to mock them for making such rules."

    Absolutely agree.

  • Redmanfms||

    It is a silly policy, but DePaul is a private school and should be able to set whatever conditions for entry it wants to, and people that respect other people's property rights should respect that.

    Thanks Mom.

  • KDN||

    Thanks Mom.

    This should be the default response to Bo whenever he goes into his "high arbiter of the NAP" routine.

  • ||

    My second FIFY of the day!

    This should be the default response to Bo whenever he goes into his "high arbiter of the NAP" routine.
  • Bum||

    Reminds of the all glass doors with the sign "locked for your protection".

  • General Butt Naked||

    Did anybody get their free NRA pocketknife?

    I sent them money a month ago and all they've sent me is more pleas for money. How long does it take to send me my damn membership card and my damn pocketknife?

  • Floridian||

    I got one but it was 15 years ago when I first joined.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I've been a member for awhile, and they sent me a letter in dec. that said if I renewed my membership, I'd get a nifty NRA pocketknife.

    Well, it's been a month and all I've gotten are more letters asking for money. I got whittlin' to do and can't be waitin' around all damn month for my knife.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    A month? I've been waiting three months for my Reason T-shirt.

  • Floridian||

    And my extra subscription for a friend.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Just got my membership card in the mail minutes ago.

    Conspicuously absent: my goddamn pocketknife.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Was my Reason T-shirt in there by any chance?

  • General Butt Naked||

    Does it have eagles and america on it?

  • Floridian||

    It should have come in a large envelope with everything in it.

  • SweatingGin||

    A month?!? YOUR MEMBERSHIP IS ABOUT TO EXPIRE! RENEW NOW!!!

  • ||

    BLOOMBERG AND OBAMA WILL WIN WITHOUT YOUR GENEROUS DONATION!!!

  • ||

    I just loved when all the gun control bullshit got shot down in the Senate and my Progressive friends on Facebook went nuts. I was pretty indifferent to gun control before Newtown but when I read up on the issue and saw the Progressive's irrationality, I started to see why many 2nd Amendment advocates fight so hard against gun control.

  • PaulW||

    You know, the media could really do quite a bit in deterring incidents such as these, namely reporting on instances of successful self defense. A few of the right wing news sites do this quite often, but you mostly get silence from the left on some people who do some pretty heroic things.

    Of course, successful self defense often involves guns, and to the mass media, using guns even in self defense is bad because guns are bad to them.

    If there is perception that if you go try and shoot up a school or neighborhood or movie theatre that you are just as likely to get your head blown off before you fire a shot, it would obviously deter people from trying this crap in the first place.

  • Floridian||

    The news was on about that retired cop that shot that guy in the movie theatre. Interestingly the fact that he was a trained officer made no difference in calling for a total ban and trusting..wait for it..trained officers with our lives.

  • PaulW||

    That is what I mean, what gets the attention? Those stories that further their goals. Sick.

    And I'm definitely on board with the idea that "trained officers" are no better than trained citizenry. In fact, I think trained citizenry is better because they do not have the obvious prejudices and itchy trigger fingers that cops get over the course of their career.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Don't be an asshole and you're much less likely to get shot. Simple statistics, I'm sure.

    Being an asshole is not a capital crime.

  • PaulW||

    I wasn't commenting on the legality or morality of shooting an asshole. I was just pointing out the obvious that too many people fail to understand.

  • daisy brown||

    my co-worker's aunt makes $82 an hour on the internet. She has been out of work for 7 months but last month her paycheck was $19464 just working on the internet for a few hours. Find Out More.........

    W­W­W­.­S­T­A­R­5­­8.­­ℭ­­Oℳ

  • JeremyR||

    The NRA's idea of having an armed guard works.

    Look at that relatively recent school shooting in Colorado. The deranged kid only killed one other student because he ran into armed resistance. And then there was another one in Arkansas that was immediately stopped by an armed resource officer

    If we are going to force students into places where they are sitting ducks, having an armed guard for protection is hardly out of line.

    And while gun laws haven't drastically changed across the country, apparently 1000s of people have been arrested under the new laws in New York. We have gun manufacturers leaving many states that have new gun laws. All in all, the net effect is gun rights have been infringed.

  • ||

    Look at that relatively recent school shooting in Colorado. The deranged kid only killed one other student because he ran into armed resistance.

    Only does you so much good if the cops stand outside the building with their dicks in their hands waiting for the violence to end like they did during Columbine though.

  • BrielleYousifage||

    my neighbor's aunt makes 68 dollars/hour on the laptop. She has been out of a job for nine months but last month her pay check was 15377 dollars just working on the laptop for a few hours. read the full info here

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    http://www.tec30.com
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • @ShawingtonTimes||

    Ending the #WarOnDrugs — the failed prohibition that masks the war on #BlackMenAndBoys et al — and the violence it inspires by legalizing, regulating and taxing schedule 1 drugs will eliminate much of the violent gun related drug crimes on urban streets and protect young and older children from the menacing pushers.

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