Charleston shooting

Massacres and Magical Thinking

The urge to "do something" after the Charleston church attack inspires half-baked proposals.


"If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown," President Obama said on Friday, "we don't know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston." Actually, we do know: Had the bill to which Obama was referring been enacted, it would not have stopped Dylann Roof from murdering nine people at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church last week.

Obama's comment reflects the magical thinking that horrific crimes like Roof's seem to invite: If only we had adopted Policy X, this might not have happened. That tendency—driven by the understandable desire to "do something," as Obama put it—is most conspicuous among supporters of gun control but is not limited to them.

Obama was talking about legislation proposed following the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—in particular, "reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported," meaning expansion of the background check requirement for gun buyers to include sales that do not involve federally licensed dealers. But as CNN reported the day of Obama's remarks, Roof bought the .45-caliber Glock Model 41 pistol he used in the church attack from a Charleston gun store, which means he passed a background check.

There is no reason to think he wouldn't, since Roof apparently did not have a criminal or psychiatric record that would have disqualified him from owning a gun under federal law. Although he was arrested for illegal possession of Suboxone, a Schedule III narcotic, in February, the misdemeanor charge was not enough to bar him from buying a firearm.

If Roof used Suboxone without a prescription, that would have legally disqualified him from owning a gun, since federal law excludes anyone who is "an unlawful user" of a controlled substance. But a gun dealer would have had no way of knowing about Roof's tastes in psychoactive chemicals, because the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System does not track people's drug habits—a good thing, since otherwise anyone who has recently consumed cannabis (even in states where it's legal) or used someone else's prescription medication would be stripped of the right to own a gun in practice as well as theory.

In short, "universal background checks" make no sense as a response to the Charleston attack. Then again, universal background checks made no sense as a response to the Sandy Hook massacre, the perpetrator of which used a rifle legally purchased by his mother and in any case did not have the sort of criminal or psychiatric record that would have legally barred him from buying a gun on his own.

Gun controllers like Obama were not the only ones tempted by magical thinking after the Charleston massacre. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), whose voting record earned him an A from the National Rifle Association, suggested such crimes could be prevented by "just being able to track people—put them into systems where they can be deterred or stopped."

Surely Roof would have been stopped by this imaginary surveillance system, Graham said, because "I bet there were some indicators early on that this guy was not quite there." But odd people with eccentric or extreme ideas, even odd people who drunkenly spout off about starting a race war, far outnumber mass murderers.

Monitoring everyone who is "not quite there" therefore is not a very practical approach, even leaving aside the implications for civil liberties in a free society where holding abhorrent beliefs is not supposed to be a crime. As Graham conceded, "it's very complicated in a nation of 300 million people where you have freedom of movement and freedom of thought."

Similarly, Obama fantasized in an interview last week about "some common-sense stuff" that respects the right to keep and bear arms yet "prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something, or confused about something, or is racist" from "going into a gun store" and buying a weapon. Don't worry: The details will be worked out later.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Sort of like the magical thinking that taking down Confederate Battle Flags will stop the next bigotries asshole from shooting up a church

    1. *bigotted stupid autocorrect

      1. How is your autocorrect racist?

    2. You beat me to it. How Reason writers can hold two diametrically opposed views simultaneously is beyond me. Whatever the mob wants in one article, then go against the grain the next.

      1. Are you advocating for groupthink?

        People have the right to be wrong, even reason staffers

        1. Are you advocating that the libertarian philosophy be inconsistent?

          1. By its very nature libertarian philosophy is inconsistant.

            But that has nothing to do with that we were talking about.

            1. I’ve read a couple of your posts and skimmed your blog — and can honestly say I have no idea what you’re talking about.

              1. Well there’s your problem.

                A: I’m not personally a libertarian.

                B: most of my online ramblings are either venting spleen or for the purposes of humor (often both).

                C: Libertarian philosophy runs afoul of the realities that, like many ideologies, it can only work in a pure state if human nature were redone. Thus it runs into the question of what un-libertarian things must be accepted to avoid destruction of the core.

                1. I feel the same way about democratic republics.

                2. Libertarian philosophy runs afoul of the realities that, like many ideologies, it can only work in a pure state if human nature were redone. Thus it runs into the question of what un-libertarian things must be accepted to avoid destruction of the core.

                  I was going to answer the first half of your assertion, but I would rather answer the second.

                  The hell with it. If in order to avoid “destruction of the core” I must aggress, then I still won’t. Let it all go to hell but I won’t join in with the assaults on innocent people minding their own business.

                  The fact that it really won’t all go to hell like you suggest it will just shows how desperate you are for an argument against it. If that’s the best you can do, then we’re winning in a big way.

      2. There are a lot of fake libertarians that write here for Reason simply for a paycheck.

        We’ve got guys who magically think that the right policies from the right “Top Men” can help to mitigate “global warming”, and we’ve got other guys who magically think that the right policies from the right “Top Men” can help to micromanage our entire health care system out of Washington and provide the entire country gold-plated health care for no extra cost.

      3. Did anyone at Reason claim removing the flag was going to prevent shootings?

      4. This one I understand.

        It’s perfectly fine to suggest that the state not fly the symbols of a defeated enemy and treat them as something to be respected while being supportive of people’s right to privately own the same symbols.

        Public and private.

    3. Personally, I believe forcibly taking down the Confederate Flags and/or banning the sell or displaying of this emblem, will only exasperate the situation. If these backwards-ass rednecks haven’t let go after 150 years, they won’t allow their flag to be taken away quietly. I expect much more racial tensions as this fight continues.

      1. Pretty much this. I don’t have any issue with the government of SC or MS (or any other state) deciding to remove a Confederate battle flag from the state house grounds. They can do whatever they want with their property.

        But when people start talking about banning individuals from the sale or display of them, that’s where using force and coercion to enforce one’s own preferences on everyone else. But they wouldn’t be Progressives if they didn’t want to use force to make everyone else conform to their choices.

      2. This kid who shot up the church didn’t act in a vacuum. He was saturated with non stop media coverage of African Americans marching in protest and whispers of “race wars” coming from the MSNBC crowd.

        If the left thinks some sort of extreme rhetoric inspired the kid, then why do they believe removing the confederate flag will pacify them?

        I’m not from the south so I couldn’t care less about what happens to the confederate flag that’s flying on state buildings. But this is a prelude to the government trying to curb free speech and transaction. And this is the same government that actively avoids the term “Islam” when discussing terrorism and defined the Fort Hood shootings as “workplace violence:

  2. Or the magical thinking that if we just tax fuel some more, the economy will just stop being dependent on the internal combustion engine, and unicorns will take care of all of our transportation needs.

    Magic gonna magic.

    1. Wind and solar are magic ,that’s good magic,Confederate flag,dark magic,the cloth that can not be named

  3. where you have freedom of movement and freedom of thought

    Well, there’s your problem.

  4. How long before Wal-Mart starts selling Confederate battle flags again?

  5. I checked on Amazon last night and they were selling 4-packs of Confederate flags for 80$. Who really needs FOUR fucking Confederate flags?!


    1. Well, your average re-enactor battallion would need five or so (one per company)

      1. Change “re-enactor battalion” to “racist pieces of filth lording their white privilege over oppressed minorities and women” and I will agree with you.

        1. *turns gatling guns on Mony Crisco*

          My language is not for you to dictate!

          *wonders why it’s firing blanks*

          1. *wonders why it’s firing blanks*

            It happens to a lot of us eventually. Try putting boxers on it instead of tighty whiteys, it might help keep the ammo box a little cooler.

            1. You wear underwear? What the hell kind of libertarian are you? I haven’t worn ’em in ten years, there’s no going back.

      2. “Well, your average re-enactor battallion would need five or so (one per company) constitutes a white, cis-patriarchal quantum macro-aggression of epic scale, so.. 23?

    2. Were they assault flags?

      1. They had a pointy tip, the thing that goes up, and more than seven stars!

        1. Nobody NEEDS more than 7 stars!

    3. So, Amazon is selling high capacity assault Confederate flags?

      I guess Amazon is a racisty racist KKKORPORASHUN. I’d call for a boycott, but leftist hipster twats NOT buy stuff on Amazon? That’ll be the day. /sarc

  6. “Similarly, Obama fantasized in an interview last week about “some common-sense stuff” that respects the right to keep and bear arms yet “prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something, or confused about something, or is racist” from “going into a gun store” and buying a weapon.”

    Obama embodies the proggiest of instincts to save people from themselves. It must be the projection that Sarc is always talking about- they honestly cannot believe that people have emotional restriant that they themselves lack. Kind of like why they hate free markets. For Tony’s sake, take it away, Uncle Milty:

    “What most people really object to when they object to a free market is that it is so hard for them to shape it to their own will. The market gives people what the people want instead of what other people think they ought to want. At the bottom of many criticisms of the market economy is really lack of belief in freedom itself.”
    ? Milton Friedman, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 1961

    1. It must be the projection that Sarc is always talking about- they honestly cannot believe that people have emotional restriant that they themselves lack.

      Saw this the other day.…..story.html

      Basically it says that conservatives are better at dieting than liberals because liberals lack any self control. They are slaves to their impulses.

      1. Hmmmmm, I’d probably think it has to do more with outside peer pressure. Conservative peer groups are more likely to push being fit and attractive. Liberal groups have a large segment that is trying to say you should be attractive no matter what you look like.

        1. Never mind, read the article. Yeah that research makes sense. Conservatives are better at exerting self control because they are more likely to believe in free will. Liberals are less likely to believe in free will so they have more trouble with self control.

        2. Read the story. It involved asking questions related to self-control, of which the liberals admitting to having none.

      2. LOL at this sick burn:

        “You tell liberals that belief in free will is bad and they are like, ‘Good, I don’t have it anyway,’ ” he said.

  7. If only there was a magic hashtag that could solve this problem, like #BringOurGirlsHome did.. but for murder and bigotry.. When.. When.. will these elected officials get off their lazy asses and start a hashtag trend to solve this problem?!

  8. “SOMEONE OUGHTA DO SOMETHING” is said by scum like Dylann Roof, as well.

    1. He appears guilty of taking it further that rhetoric.. and will probably succumb to Barbiturate/ potassium chloride poisoning somewhere in the next 20 years as a result..

    2. Someone could have done something if they weren’t lulled into a false sense of security that dependence on the government provided.

    3. I see no difference between Barack Obama and Dylann Roof.

      1. One better: I see no difference between Barack Obama and Adam Lanza.

      2. If that is your true sediment sir, then you are both dishonorable and blind.

        1. Fuck you, shithead. Why don’t you go talk to some of the families odumbass blew up with drone-fired hellfire missiles?

  9. Don’t worry, racism will be solved as soon as there are no more Confederate flags.

    And I think under Lindsey Graham’s surveillance system, he’d be among the first to be under scrutiny. He is the very epitome of a weird, creepy little fellow

  10. Or how about surrounding children with parents, family, and friends who espouse and emulate the principle of respect and non-aggression towards even those who they perceive as not respecting them? And how about maintaining a close relationship with that child as they grow older and strike out on their own so that they may intercede when troubling thought and behaviors occur? Nah, that’s too hard. Let’s just pass another law.

    1. Aw, come on. Parents, family and friends have no business raising children. That’s what government is for!

      1. It takes a village, dammit!

        1. Kinda like New York City – I don’t want to visit and sure as hell don’t want to live there.

        2. Resistance is Futile

  11. Obama fantasized in an interview last week about “some common-sense stuff”

    Now, *that* is leadership!

  12. The progs central conceit is that they can alter the reality of human nature. If they had G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate they’d really put it into the atmosphere, and then would have the nerve to act shocked at the consequences.

    1. +1 Reavers

      1. The progs would argue that Reavers are caused by Confederate flags and reading Atlas Shrugged.

  13. Better parenting in his early life would likely have worked. Other than that better friends and acquaintances that are willing to step in when someone is going astray would help as well. It takes intervention at the personal level, government programs just don’t cut it.

    1. Do “we” yet know where Roof acquired his racist ideas? Parents, asshole friends, the internet, a Tea Party Rally, Woodrow Wilson?

    2. There’s nothing that can be done to improve any of those things you mentioned. The only personal intervention that can improve, and is improving as the laws become more permissive, is for a person to take charge of their own self protection by carrying a gun and shooting back. Churches, schools, movie theaters…gun free zones everywhere are a real risk to domestic security.

  14. Obama’s most consistent rhetorical devices are 1) denying his opponents have a legitimate (provable) counter-point and 2) questioning their motives.

    By saying “common sense” solutions he’s doing both. He won’t acknowledge any of the points Jacob outlines, and he’s suggesting that resisting gun control can only be understood as an emotional or childish position. We’re not using our common sense, therefore we are stupid or childish.

    It is magical thinking or, more likely, mendacity – that he understands the above and just wants his way regardless. FUTW.

    1. Obama’s most consistent rhetorical devices are 1) denying his opponents have a legitimate (provable) counter-point and 2) questioning their motives.

      Not just him, but the left in general. First you question your opponents motives and intentions, and once you’ve painted your opponent as a bad guy you use ad hominem arguments to dismiss any point that they may have. The left thrives on fallacies.

    2. The progs Only “common sense” solutions” in this case = Disarm the American Public. That’s the panacea they believe in so the gov’t is in Total Control.

  15. I believe it was a “we’ve gotta do something” attitude that got Confederate battle flags flying over a few southern state capitols during the civil rights movement.

  16. As Graham conceded, “it’s very complicated in a nation of 300 million people where you have freedom of movement and freedom of thought.”

    I’m pretty certain Graham views that (freedom of movement and thought) as a bug, not a feature. IOW, this wasn’t him conceding defeat on the idea of monitoring and tracking everyone, just admitting that it would require everyone to give up their civil liberties.

  17. The craziest reaction i’ve seen to this is people saying the NRA should be labeled terrorists or a hate group or otherwise held responsible for these shootings.

    That’s insane and sheer scapegoating. The group that advocates the rejection of dependence on the government for self protection rather than “magical thinking” draconian gun control that wouldn’t work are the bad guys?

    Time and time again, the liberals prove that they cannot tell the good guys from the bad. That’s why they suck at foreign and economic policy. They are detached from reality.

    1. See Lady D. and Sarc’s comments above. The left is absolutely convinced that everyone who disagrees with their positions are “bad people” with bad intentions, and therefore they believe it’s OK to use ad-homs and dismiss them as pure evil instead of engaging with them and recognizing that maybe they have point. It’s pretty fucked up.

      FWIW, many on the “right” do the same thing. They believe, for instance, that all leftists are really Marxists who wish to turn the country into a Communist hellscape as opposed to economically illiterate morons with dumb ideas.

      1. They believe, for instance, that all leftists are really Marxists who wish to turn the country into a Communist hellscape as opposed to economically illiterate morons with dumb ideas.

        What’s the difference? Seriously. Intentions?

        In practice there is little difference between Communist ideas and ideas of economically illiterate morons, and their policy prescriptions are almost identical.

  18. 8O%. If support were that high it would be law

    1. Most people have no idea what was in the legislation proposed after Sandy Hook. A poll that asks if you are for background checks before gun purchases is not the same thing, but the media keeps harping on it as if it were. It’s almost as if they were just lying to spur action…

  19. I was under the impression that Roof’s father GAVE him the gun as a gift. Not that he bought it at a gun store.

    1. That was the initial report. My understanding is that dad gave him cash which he then used to buy the gun.

      1. And the funny thing is, either way, the Sandy Hook Panic gun laws won’t have kept Roof from getting a gun.

  20. Perhaps Senator Graham is a fan of Person of Interest and thinks that represents reality, that an AI can make predictions based on patterns of behavior and be 100% accurate in your intentions.

  21. The things suggested by Graham and Obama would have nasty unintended consequences while failing to stop even a single mass shooting event I’m aware of.

    It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to put two and two together and think that they wanted to create a gun owner database for future confiscation. Incrementalism is how the left works and they’ve done nothing but try backdoor bans on guns for over a generation now.

  22. There are wacky ‘magical thinking’ on both sides of the debate. You’ve pointed out the flaw in the left’s thinking, but the right’s response? Chuck Norris thinks congregations should be armed. To show how absurd that is, just Google ‘shot accident church’..You’ll get these:

    – ‘Tragic accident’: Pastor’s daughter shot at church – US news – Life | NBC News

    – Easter mass interrupted by gunfire in Pennsylvania ? RT USA

    – Police: Man accidentally shot himself while sitting in church, tried to act like he was fine | FOX31 Denver

    – Churchgoer Tries to Hide Gun After Accidentally Shooting It Mid-Prayer

    Seriously? Can you imagine the bloodshed if all parishioners were packing heat?

    1. Yes, I can imagine the bloodshed: as it currently is, it is far less than intentional murders and suicides, *and* it has been going down, in terms of raw numbers (and thus going down as a percentage of the population) as gun ownership and concealed carrying has increased.

      Sure, you’ll get the occasional negligent discharge, but to get the full picture, you really need to do more than just do a Google search (which just gives us anecdotes); statistically, this concern you have simply isn’t a major problem.

  23. Bowing to the urge to “do something”, most often ends up with something being done that is absolutely idiotic.

  24. Mr. Egan:
    In Iraq, you had (presumably) an Army of people trained specifically in how to handle weapons. You also had strict requirements regarding what condition to carry your weapon in & under what circumstances. The guns carried were almost all long guns – officers & some other folks carried pistols, but the overwhelming majority of US Mil were carrying M4s. You had serious – and I mean serious criminal and cultural impacts for a “wrongful” discharge (call it an ND or AD, whichever), getting busted a stripe could happen, or being court-martialed for an egregious fuckup – so real serious fucking consequences. The strictest gun control laws anywhere, with the most well-trained and disciplined gun-handling cohort ever.

    The article linked below mentions 90 deaths alone by 2011. That’s just deaths. I know for a fact that it was so many that when I popped in on a couple of occasions, soldiers were no longer being allowed to have bullets and there was a whole shitstorm over having guns with no bullets in a war zone (that bit of genius cost the Marines a couple hundred in Lebanon and the Corps still teaches about it.)…..alk-about/

    So understand, if people have guns, there will be ADs/NDs. Just like if people drive cars there will be deaths – lots of them, in fact. We kill (in the US) 33K annually in MV fatalities. 33,000.

  25. We massacre people every year in cars. Voluntarily. Everyone participates in the annual slaughter. No one thinks for a moment, “If we only just had MORE speed limits, or MORE signs, or MORE traffic cops, or MORE troopers on the road, we would all be better off.”

    33,000 in 2013 is actually down from the high around 2001 or 2002, when it was like 43,000. Dan Gardner wrote a book called “The Science of Fear” and then a follow up, I think. In it he discusses how fear of flying in the wake of 9/11 may likely have caused more people to drive and highway deaths to rise by 1500 in that year.

    Taking guns away, putting more restrictions on people, and overall infantilizing responsible adults, all in the name of the lowest common denominator (but repackaged as “safety” or “the common good” or in Obama’s dumbass way, “common sense” – of which he is woefully under-gifted in reality) is not the fucking answer. It never has been and it never will be.

    1. One final thought Mr. Egan.

      I’m in my 40s. I’ve fought in a couple of this country’s wars and raised a couple of kids. I pay something like 37-38% of my gross income to the feds and state. That doesn’t include what I pay in sales taxes, or the tax on the gas I buy, or the tax on booze, property tax, tax for the privilege of using the King’s roads, or the other myriad of places where Uncle Sam takes his fucking cut.
      How much more do I have to fucking give?

      In return for what? Roads that are “meh,” shitty service at the DMV, officious workers at the VA, and Team Blue and Team Red both telling me more and more of what I can and can’t do and why I need them to read my fucking emails for my own safety. (Like any of those fucking clowns have anything to offer me on the subject of how to defend myself or my home from terrorists. I fought them on their own dirt, and the govt thinks I’m scared and need their fucking protection from “terroristas” in MY neighborhood? Or that I’ll be safer if I’m disarmed??)

      Because you’re worried about some dope who ND’d himself in the leg in church? (That was the first link of two that I could find. Everything else in google was Rick Perry saying something stupid about Charleston).

      Thanks for your concern, but I’m a capable adult. And there are many more like me. We don’t need any more regulations.

  26. 90% wanting background checks was proven to be a lie 2 years ago..

    Common sense, reasonable, responsible are all code words used by gun grabbers

    and Mental health is the avenue to gun control – it worked in Eastern Europe prior to WWII

  27. We can’t stop whacks inside our country, but maybe we can stop whackos from entering our country. The world is safer now than ever, but of course placing troops and heavy arms on Russia’s border is simply not seen as a problem. Are We are a world of emotional misfits engaging minor affronts (as big time death and destruction go) and missing global war provocations. . . Maybe?

  28. Just remember that the end game is a disarmed nation, where the state controls all information, then the Democrats proposals make perfect sense.

  29.…/can-sma…… Smart guns combined with GPS technology which could only be used in your home or 1000 acre farm. This would eliminate all accidental shootings and keep perps from taking police guns and killing them. All present guns could be retrofitted. Guns could be activated by a code from the police and be used other places. This wouldn’t be perfect but would be a 99% solution . The Roseburg shooter could have had 13 smart guns but they wouldn’t fire outside his home.

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