Civil Liberties

J. Neil Schulman on How to Prevent Mass Shootings. And Joe Klein on What "Caused" Them!


Libertarian novelist and filmmaker J. Neil Schulman has a spirited take on the reaction to the Aurora, Colorado shooting.

"The media," says the Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns author, "focuses on the psychology of the shooter rather than the practical question of how to defend against these unpredictable shootings."

Schulman, who cites an estimate by academics Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz that there were 2.5 million defensive gun uses in 1994, writes:

You can't blame people who write comic books, or make movies, or wear costumes of characters in their favorite comic books and movies, for what happened in a darkened movie theater….

Massacres of the unarmed are not infrequent events on this planet, and every time they happen there are jokers with no ability to learn from history who use these killing fields to call for further victim disarmament. What the Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas; Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado; the Long Island Railroad; the campuses of the University of Iowa or Virginia Tech; Dunblane, Scotland; and the United States Army Base at Fort Hood, Texas all had in common is that it was illegal for the victims to carry firearms in case some demented joker who didn't abide by gun laws decided it was their day to die….

More gun-control could not have stopped James Holmes. The strictest gun control in Dunblane, Scotland — or even mass killings using a knife in Akihabara and Osaka, Japan — have never stopped these kinds of unprovoked massacres.A public with a critical mass of individuals carrying handguns, ready at all times to shoot back at sudden attackers, has worked to minimize casualties from terrorist attacks in Israel.

Meanwhile, over at Time's Swampland, Joe Klein acknowledges that gun violence is way, way down despite liberalized gun ownership laws. In fact, single-victim gun deaths are down 40 percent since 1980, according to the FBI. But Klein says that "mass shootings [in which four or more victims are killed] have exploded in frequency since the 1970s." And he claims to know why shootings like the one in Colorado persist:

[It] has to do with a lot of things. It has to do with industrial-strength violence on TV and the movies, and the obsessive use of violent video games by young men, and the increasing mobility and atomization of society….

Oh come on, already! Fantasy violence leads to real-world violence? How long will that mistaken (and unproven!) conceit survive despite all evidence— and countless Reason articles—to the contrary?

As to the mass shooting "explosion," Klein points to data from Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox (best-remembered for predicting the rise of "super predators" in the 1990s that turned out to be wrong) on mass shootings. Far from showing a gigantic rise in the number of incidents and victims over time, what you see is a pretty tightly constricted range of shootings and victims over time. Or as Ron Dicker of the Huffington Post notes over a slightly different time span, "The total number of people dying in attacks that claimed four or more victims has climbed from an average of 161 a year in the 1980s to 163 between 2006 and 2008, according to FBI statistics." Any gun death is a tragedy but a change of two in averages over a 20-year-plus time frame can't be characterized in any way as explosive.

Then again, Klein works for a publication that has never met a moral panic it didn't hype on its cover. From Satanism to Pokemon to "the Columbine Effect," Time is there for you when you need to feel worried about trends that exist first and foremost in the minds of the journalists who write about them.