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A Colorado Massacre Postscript: Why Does It Happen Here?

July 23, 2012

Of course it had to happen on July 20, the anniversary of the single most stupendous achievement in the history of our species. And in a way, it paints a sorry symbolic portrait of a great nation in decline. From 1969 to 2012 — a mere 43 years — we’ve gone from walking on the moon to witnessing a massacre of innocents by a lone gunman at a Batman movie in a suburban multiplex.

I probably shouldn’t read too much significance into the date the killer chose to carry out his deadly deed. It’s obvious that he picked July 20 because that’s when “The Dark Knight Rises”  premiered at a midnight show in Aurora, Colorado. But, given my general pessimism about the state of this Union, I couldn’t help noting the date and thinking back to that other July 20 that so many of us baby boomers remember so vividly.

My brother and I can still recite Neil Armstrong’s final words as the lunar module closed in on its target: “Forward, forward… drifting to the right a little… contact light.” That was the moment: the touchdown, the goal achieved. And good old Walter Cronkite, as boyishly exultant as the rest of us, shouted a simple sentence that drove it all home: “MAN ON THE MOON!” The Eagle had landed.

So why does it happen here, almost routinely, with such sad and predictable results, in the same nation that sent men to the moon? Is it our national gun fetish — or something deeper and even darker?

And why are the perpetrators so eerily indistinguishable from one another? It’s always the same, isn’t it? Young single male. White (usually). Quiet (always). Kept to himself mostly. Unwilling or unable to form intimate relationships. Frustrated. Very frustrated.  A bit grandiose. And obsessed with guns.

We don’t really know what kind of devils got into the head of James Holmes. A stellar student until very recently, he fit the classic mass-murderer profile like a size-10 foot sliding into a size-10 shoe. But most lonely young men who fit the same profile don’t launch homicidal attacks on random crowds.

Young Holmes had been an academic superstar… his prowess in school undoubtedly formed the core of his self-esteem. One of his former classmates recalled that the kid never had to take notes; he just sat there in silence, absorbed everything by osmosis and aced his exams. But maybe the doctoral program in neuroscience forced him to bump up against his intellectual limitations for the first time in his life. (I bumped up against mine a little earlier, in high school physics and calculus… and I have to tell you it took years to recover from the shock.) 

Holmes’s grades began to crumble; he was about to be put on academic probation when he withdrew from the doctoral program at the University of Colorado. The world suddenly must have seemed sinister and unreal to him… as sinister and unreal as a Batman movie. What a joke… and so the former wonk metamorphosed into The Joker, that malevolent archvillain and Batman nemesis with the grotesque grin etched permanently onto his face.

Did the young man’s first brush with academic failure drive him to bitterness, despair and bloody revenge fantasies? Did it poison his shy, bookish, grade-dependent nature? Was it enough to drive him insane?

We could speculate that America has become a hard-driving culture in which failure is not an option. And yet Japan is, if anything, even more hard-driving and intolerant of failure. But here’s an eye-opening statistic for you: in the U.S., the annual gun-related death rate per 100,000 people (including both homicides and suicides) is 10.27 — among the highest in the world. In Japan, the figure is 0.07 — among the lowest in the world.

Guns simply are not indispensable props in Japanese culture. By contrast, Americans have been romancing them since since the days of the lone frontiersman with his buckskin jacket and trusty Pennsylvania long rifle… a potent symbol of American manhood and independence. The Western gunfighter and Prohibition gangster long ago entered American lore, along with leathery, gunslinging cinematic role models like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. 

An American man’s sense of personal failure — his inability to live up to culturally imposed standards of success and manliness — can turn lethal in the presence of guns.  The possession of a long, cold steel weapon bolsters his sense of potency. He begins to imagine himself a stoical hero in the Old West tradition… a hardened maverick half in love with violent death.

Because, you see, in addition to being a success-driven and gun-loving culture, America is also a narcissistic culture. Just as we love to believe that any American can succeed with enough grit and hard work, we love to believe we’re special.  (The Japanese don’t.) With a little imagination, we envision ourselves as heroes in the making… even celebrities. Walter Mitty is alive and well, and today he carries a Glock. James Holmes carried two of them, along with an assault rifle and an old-fashioned Remington shotgun.

Right-leaning men (and plenty of women) in America today seem to be wedded to their guns — or at least the concept of guns — as a form of resistance to encroaching government and its entangling tentacles. If the Second Amendment were to be repealed — if it suddenly became illegal for Americans to own guns — why, the feds could confiscate our property without a peep and we’d all become slaves. Or so their nightmare fantasy goes.

But what if we simply outlawed assault rifles and other semi-automatic weapons that spray sudden death toward crowds of hapless victims? I can’t think of a single peacetime use for such weapons — except to make it easy for psychopaths to commit mass murder. And yet the NRA and its amen corner would go all apoplectic if we took their semi-automatics away.  

I wonder how many intruders they expect to be breaking down their doors in the near future. I wonder how many shots per minute would satisfy their lust for the heroic superpowers denied to them in life?

So how do we get our gun crisis under control without triggering an armed rebellion from the NRA crowd? In The Cynic’s Dictionary nearly twenty years ago, I proposed (only half-facetiously) that we should allow everyone to own guns but suspend the production of bullets. We probably don’t have to go that far. But it’s definitely time to push for an unconditional domestic ban on assault weapons, which should be strictly limited to use by the military in foreign wars.

And let’s toughen 0ur standards for granting gun permits. We already put prospective drivers through a rigorous battery of written and hands-on tests before they can earn their licenses. Let’s do the same for firearms. 

With over 250 million guns already in private hands here in America, it won’t be easy to stuff this unwieldy genie back inside the bottle. But since the worst gun offenders are usually young and inexperienced, we can raise the bar to make sure that prospective gun owners are fit to use firearms. If they fail, or if they violate gun laws, we simply deny them a license the way we would deny a license to a clueless driver. End of story. The Second Amendment doesn’t prevent us from subjecting gun owners to more intensive screening.

Fair enough? I think so. After all, in the wrong hands, both guns and cars are deadly weapons. We need to be at least as vigilant with gun owners as we already are with drivers.

Still not convinced? Just ask the parents of the twelve people whose lives ended prematurely in that Colorado movie theater on the 20th of July.

95 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2012 12:47 am

    Great essay, Rick. There is no use for an assault rifle in our society. Their banishment should be a no brainer, but the “slippery slope” people (those who believe that all efforts to curtail a nuisance or danger inevitably lead to further unintended loss of freedom) always seem to prevail. Freedom from slaughter by maniacs should be given a higher priority. It’s time for the NRA to become a responsible organization, instead of an unremitting booster for the dissemination of guns in our society. They should lead the charge for a ban on assault rifles, from a gun safety standpoint.

    • lovetheocean permalink
      July 24, 2012 2:11 pm

      Couldn’t agree more. As an aside, I think the “slippery slope” mentality goes way beyond gun control and is at the heart of the political polarity we have in this country now. I think a lot of Americans do want to see political compromise on a number of issues, but each side feels that, if they give an inch, the other side will jump in and take an arm. Americans just don’t trust each other or their politicians (not that the current group of politicians should be trusted).

    • July 24, 2012 3:31 pm

      Well said, RP… though I think you’re expecting too much from the NRA given its role as a 2nd Amendment rallying point for gun lovers and a promotional vehicle for gun manufacturers and dealers. I doubt if they’ll reform from within.

      As Lovetheocean points out, the political extremists in this country are practically paranoid about surrendering any ground to the enemy.

  2. Rob Anderson permalink
    July 24, 2012 1:01 am

    You’re so close to knowing the answer to your own question, Rick, and yet so very far away. I’m glad you brought up the Japanese, because cultural differences do explain much, though not in the way you think.

    Honor and the avoidance of shame are both central to Japanese culture, which is why such acts as these do not happen there, despite the ferocious pressure on individual Japanese. But the element you missed is that, unlike here, the Japanese simply aren’t vaporized by their own mistakes or some hiccup in the economy. The society – the community, if you will – does not allow *that*, either.

    And here in the United States, a person can be rendered into a non-person with barbaric speed. And that fear is very real, very close to the surface, despite the fact that no one speaks of it. Add to that our cultural obsession with success, then the rest of what you have described, and the wonder is not that such massacres occur, but that they don’t occur *more often.*

    • lovetheocean permalink
      July 24, 2012 1:52 pm

      Very insightful

    • July 24, 2012 3:27 pm

      I agree, Rob. I still think our national gun fetish is a major factor, but you’re right that we live in terror of slipping off the success track and hitting the ground with a horrific thud. There’s no safety net to catch us. If we fail, our society makes it very difficult to get re-established (unless we have tons of money). And that can make some of us angry enough to commit mayhem. You’ve been through it; I’ve been through it… fortunately, neither of us has snapped.

      In the case of the Aurora shooter, he hadn’t really experienced that kind of failure yet in his life; he was simply too withdrawn to have a social life, and he was probably going through a gradual psychotic breakdown on top of that. Whether his academic difficulties precipitated the breakdown, or the breakdown precipitated the academic difficulties, remains to be seen.

    • kawarimi permalink
      July 25, 2012 8:36 am

      To add to the discussion on cultural differences in Japan, while there may not be the same types of gun violence as here, the main instances of violence that I knew of were yakuza, and they used things like baseball bats, etc. in lieu of guns since they’re outlawed. Or so I heard.

      But while Japan has low rates of violent crimes, they do have high rates of suicide. And a common way to commit suicide is to throw yourself in front of a train. My teachers in Japan explained to us that the families would be charged for the clean up, and that different tracks had different costs, so the lower cost tracks would get more suicides since the person committing suicide would choose where the family they’re leaving behind would owe less.

      Anyway, my point being that the predominant outcome from mental distress in Japan is suicide, while here in the US it seems to be manifesting in more and more cases of tragic violence. While guns may be the tool used in this outcome, I think the way to address the issue has to come before it gets to the point of action. Which makes me wonder if maybe the change is we tend to know our neighbors and colleagues less than we used to. No one speaks up and intervenes before the person gets to this point of extreme. I always seem to read the same telling signs in the person, but no one did anything to help the person, just thought they were “weird” and “reclusive”. Just as they need to find a way in Japan to help people cope to reduce their high rate of suicide, I think we in America need to find out how to identify and help individuals before they commit such atrocities. I think it’s easy to point to things like guns and video games, but I don’t think the issue is as simple as an external object but rather the complex subject of an individual’s mental health and his ability to cope.

      Just my two cents. I’ve been following this blog for a few months, I had gotten the link from No Labels. Thought I’d finally join in the conversation.

      • July 25, 2012 11:34 pm

        Good to hear from you, karawimi… and thanks for the astute analysis. The only thing I would add is that an individual’s mental health can be undermined by society and its values. A society that overvalues individual effort and success — whether in the Japanese or the American style — is going to produce a lot of frustrated, maladjusted individuals.

        It would also be a tricky matter to intervene in such cases… do you isolate nerdish introverts and force them to undergo therapy? That would seem pretty intrusive (and I don’t think introverts want to be singled out as potential mass-murderers). We probably need to undertake the hard work of building a more supportive and nurturing culture, here in America at least. It’s hard work because American adolescent culture can be so relentlessly brutal toward those who seem “different.”

      • kawarimi permalink
        July 26, 2012 7:56 am

        Thanks for the welcome. As I said, it’s “complex”.

        And just to point out in Japan one of the causes is because they focus so little on the individual. It’s all about group conformity (all the schools have uniforms, there’s no “have it your way” when ordering food – they accommodated me as a vegetarian foreigner but it’s normally frowned upon to special order, etc.), and they talk very little about individual feeling and well-being. One place where there is individual expression is at Harajuku on weekends, people go there wearing the wackiest fashion. But it’s kind of an ‘approved’ outlet for individual creativity in that it’s centered in one area at certain times, so even this example of individual expression is somewhat controlled.

        So I think the sense of honor or failure, as an individual, has at its core serving or failing the group, so it’s not quite the same as here.

    • July 28, 2012 9:44 am

      You want to use Japan as a counter example ?

      The Japanese are in an economic malaise that is nearly as long as our great depression, with no expectation of getting out anytime soon.

      Japan has its mass murderers too – they use sarrin in subways

      • July 28, 2012 5:24 pm

        Ah, but what was the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 in Japan? Think of James Bond: 0.07. That’s admirably slim, especially when you consider that they’ve been suffering from a 20-year economic slump. I hate to imagine the toll here when our economic slump crosses the 20-year mark.

      • Rob Anderson permalink
        July 28, 2012 5:38 pm

        That is where the “horrors of socialism” come into play, drastically ameliorating what happens to the lives of Japanese citizens. It’s not a perfect system – nor are the ones in Denmark, Sweden or New Zealand – but it works a hell of a lot better than our’s.

  3. Gail permalink
    July 24, 2012 7:16 am

    If only it were that simple. First, what is your definition of an assault weapon? Semi-automatic rifles are not in any way assault rifles as they are not selective fire (however in media firearms reporting the term ‘assault rifle’ usually refers to visual appearance rather than internal functionality). I call them Rambo guns or simply scary looking guns. The action of perhaps 80% of all long guns and the majority of hand guns sold today are semi-automatic. Where do you want the line drawn?

    • July 24, 2012 3:35 pm

      Gail: I know, I know, it’s not an easy term to define. If you think about it, even an old-fashioned revolver could qualify as a “semi-automatic” because you can fire six quick shots without reloading. Maybe there should be a ban on gun clips that hold more than six rounds or thereabouts. That should be enough to make short work of an intruder.

      • Gail permalink
        July 24, 2012 7:18 pm

        How to control online sales of after-market products is a whole different subject. I reject the idea of outlawing a hunting rifle that comes with a clip with slots more than six for pragmatic reasons and the only person I have known who used a banana clip to hunt was a disabled vet missing his left eye and arm who was unable to reload a new clip without help. Couldn’t reload but was a crack shot.

      • July 28, 2012 1:14 pm

        Yes, everytime the trigger of a handgun is pulled someone dies – or atleast is hit.

        At distances greater than about 15 ft. in real life situtations even marksmen frequently miss.

        Even police officers rarely have the opportunity to aim in real life situations.

        One of the purposes of a handgun is to force an armed assailant to keep their distance.

        There is no magic number of bullets that is the maximum necessary to be safe if resorting to a firearm for self defense is required.

        What you can know with a high degree of certainty, is that banning certain types of weapons will make those more attractive to criminals and less available to law abiding citizens.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    July 24, 2012 8:58 am

    RP, glad you brought up the slippery slope. Quite often, when I hear or read about the gun debate, I think about the abortion debate, and how the “slippery slope” argument has really taken much of abortion controversy into crazy-land. During the 2008, Presidential election, I read about Obama’s support for live birth abortions and his opposition to an Illinois bill called the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. Although I am moderately pro-choice, the idea that babies are born and then killed once out of the womb – and , if they survive that “procedure,” could be left to perish in a supply closet or other out-of-the-way place – seems to me nothing short of legal infanticide. Yet, NARAL and other abortion activist groups support partial birth and full birth abortions as a matter of principle, based primarily on the slippery-slope question of “when does a woman’s choice to bear a child end?” They apparently feel that it does not end at any reasonable point.

    Like many, I question why people should be allowed to purchase scary looking machine guns and 100 round magazines. As far as I know, not too many folks are facing murderous hordes of killers attacking their homes (although, in the case of some border states, I could be mistaken about that!). On the other hand, I understand that, just as the NRA believes that any sort of caving to the anti-gun crowd will eventually lead to the end of the Second Amendment, I also know that, as Gail observes, not all semi-automatic weapons are assault weapons, so where DO you draw the line?

    Should we continue to allow people to buy cars that can go up to 120 mph, even though those speeds are illegal and deadly?

    Moderation in these debates is critical, but almost totally lacking. Most people could agree on rational controls, if it weren’t for the distrust that each entrenched side encourages toward the other.

    • pearows permalink
      July 24, 2012 11:50 am

      Eh, I keep accidentally posting “anonymously”…..

    • July 24, 2012 3:41 pm

      Yes, PR, that ingrained distrust of the opposition is our undoing. We should be able to find moderate solutions to issues like gun control and abortion that draw the line against extreme practices (e.g., 100-round gun clips and partial birth abortions) while securing basic rights (i.e., ordinary handguns and early-term abortions). Chances are we’d hear angry invective from both sides (that’s the moderate’s lot in life) but it’s really the only fair and rational way to proceed.

    • July 28, 2012 12:54 pm

      The problem with “moderation” is that it is just code for forced compromise.
      It is the mistaken belief that all ideas and viewpoints have equal merit and equal weight.

      If someone comes up to you and says “I want to kill both your children – hand them over”, the solution is not to respond with “moderation” – no you can only kill one.

      Further we have had more than seven decades of “moderate” compromise.
      FDR assured us that Social security taxes would never go above 2%.
      Medicare was nearly going to pay for itself. The same was purportedly true of Medicare part D and ObamaCare.

      “Moderation” has gotten us into our current mess. The route back is over the corpses of all the bad ideas we have imposed and are still stuck with.

      The “legitimate” use for assault weapons, is in defending oneself against an increasingly powerful and tyrannical government. Though the only gun I own is a pea shooter and has no ammunition – I want the government, and my neighbors to worry when they try to impose their will on me by force – that the legitimate response to illegitimate force is force.

      Whenever A and B collude to take something from C by force for their own benefit or that of D, C is entitled to forcibly resist.

      This is at the root of nearly every solution proposed here and by the left.

      Whatever you chose to do, if it requires even one person to involuntarily surrender something that is theirs either a right or property for some “common good” that is not only an immoral solution – but one that may be resisted with force.

      This nation was not formed because British soldiers were pillaging our women, or burning our houses. We revolted because one group of englishmen thought they could impose their will by force on another they looked down upon.
      King George and the British parliament thought everything they demanded was quite reasonable – “moderate”, after all they were just asking us to bear the costs associated with the french and Indian wars and other burdens Britain sustained in protecting the colonies.

      I am constantly appalled at the abysmal grasp of the past that even some very smart people seem to have.

      Very few if any of our problems are new.
      Our lives are in most every way better than they ever were in the past.
      The few exceptions and nearly all our failures are directly attributable to the failure of governments to correct problems that our outside its ability to fix.

      We fixate on Aurora and nostalgize about a more peaceful past – that never existed.
      We rant about modern political bickering demanding a return to a more civil past – where our founders passed laws to allow them to lock up their political opponents over what they had said.

      Little in our past was better than today – and beyond the speed bumps caused by government failure our future will be even better. Not only will we see self-driving cars, but other improvements we have not yet imagined.

      And we will take for granted every benefit derived from free people seeking to meet their wants and needs or benefit from meeting those of others, lament the fact that we have still not reached a level of perfection we can not even define much less agree on, and seek to strangle the freedom that brought us where we are.

      • July 30, 2012 12:12 am

        Moderation is just a code word for forced compromise? I do believe you’ve missed the bigger issue: Simply living in a civilized society is a forced compromise. You’re not allowed to murder your annoying neighbor, exceed the speed limit, evade your taxes (unless you’re super-rich and enjoy the benefit of tax havens), rob the local convenience store, take a woman across state borders for immoral purposes, or even create a Ponzi scheme. (Sheesh, these inane restrictions on free enterprise!) These are all infringements on individual liberty.

        Unless you’re willing to live in the wilderness, you have to submit to certain rules of conduct that restrict your freedom. Are you willing to start an insurrection because the government has deprived you of the right to cheat others or endanger their lives?

        If you’ve been reading my columns (and I assume you have, because you always manage to find something to criticize in them), you know that I refuse to compromise on certain issues (like forbidding elected representatives from accepting lobbyist money). I can’t speak for all moderates, but I don’t compromise if the terms grate against my sense of justice.

        Moderation has gotten us into our current mess? I don’t know… I’d say the overly liberal welfare policies of the ’60s, coupled with conservative financial policies that have blatantly favored the elite right during the past 30 years, have landed us in our current predicament. Don’t blame us!

        You’re also good at cherry-picking your historical references. So you bring up the acrimonious political climate of the early republic instead of the Era of Good Feelings or the bipartisan spirit of opposition leaders like Everett Dirksen or Tip O’Neill during my own lifetime.

        Finally, you argue that little in our past was better than today. You might be fixated on technology; I’m probably fixated on the abrupt collapse of America’s middle class. We lived without today’s technology when I was growing up, and most of us were happy. I don’t think our future will be a happy one without a thriving middle class.

        End of sermon.

  5. July 24, 2012 12:04 pm

    The NRA doesn’t go crazy when you bring up the “assault weapons” thing, they very calmly point out that it is a meaningless term meant to provoke fear, and that an endless number of weapons used for hunting and other legitimate purposes can easily be legally declared “assault” rifles since all it appears to mean is “a semi-automatic rifle with a clip.” We already have a ban on fully automatic weapons and on the size of the clip you can put on a gun. An “assault” rifle otherwise is just a rifle like any other rifle, maybe cosmetically made to “look badass” in the same way that spoilers and rims can make your car look “badass” but they have no otherwise practical effect in making the weapon more lethal.

    The fact of the matter is that more people will be killed by lightning strikes in the United States this year than will be killed by random lunatics with guns as with the Batman shooting. Orders of magnitude more will be killed by cars–which, by the way, are also used on occasion by maniacs to intentionally mow down innocents.

    I don’t know anyone who thinks it would be unconstitutional to license and regulate firearm ownership, but the reality is that about 80% of our “gun crime” is directly related to gang activity involved in the drug trade. You want to reduce gun deaths and a whole lot else? If you ask me the real answer is to look at the dysfunctional way we’re carrying out the “War On Drugs,” which is where street gangs get most of their motivation to slaughter each other and kill others in the crossfire. That won’t eliminate the occasional random shooter lunatic, any more than it’ll eliminate all sorts of other occasional problems like… well, fill in the blank with any number of things deranged people do to themselves, to children, etc.

    When I was growing up in Chicago, a woman made headlines by mowing her car through a schoolyard crowded full of children playing at recess. Amazing, no call to do something to make car ownership tougher for crazies. Although, come to think of it, with self-driving cars only a few years from being commonplace on our roads, maybe we’ll start to see legislation like that. 😉

    • July 24, 2012 3:51 pm

      Hey Dean… Good points… it’s the renegade human rather than the device that causes the problem (the old “guns don’t kill people…” argument). True enough. But of course some devices make it easier for the lunatics to act out their revenge fantasies. Maybe limiting clip size would help.

      I know that most gun violence is drug-related and confined to the inner cities. There’s a whole battery of issues in those environments that needs to be addressed and corrected, starting with education and family structure… and then the whole issue of whether drugs (at least the less lethal ones) should be legalized to undercut the gang operations.

      I’ve heard about the self-driving cars being developed. That would be a step into the future. In the old days we used to fantasize about flying cars — without thinking about the potential for cars crashing in the air and falling on top of unsuspecting pedestrians. Maybe when they have the self-driving thing nailed down, we can finally graduate to the air.

      • July 28, 2012 12:09 pm

        If the existence of devices that made killing easier resulted in more killing everyone in the planet would be dead now.

        15-25% of us died violently when the only things we had were rocks and sticks.

        Today with everything from nuclear weapons to automatic weapons the rate is below 2%.

      • July 28, 2012 12:21 pm

        When you make it illegal to do something that a large number of people want to do, you create more criminals.

        Prohibition resulted in the emergence of organized crime.
        Why would we expect a different outcome from drug laws ?

        There are serious problems in certain aspects of our culture.
        But I do not grasp why you believe that “education” is the solution.

        In the past 4 decades we have over double our real dollar spending on basic education – the 3R’s, yet we are doing worse not better.

        After we have increased the basic education we are providing to the less well off, added more time for sex education, civics, and every other education cause we can concoct – do you expect to have left enough time for these kids to eat and sleep ? To even have a family ?

        Everytime some problem arrises you have a ready made solution to impose on it. But all this top-down solutions compete for the same scarce resources. There is not enough wealth in the country to pay for every purportedly good idea we should impose. The people you wish to inflict these solutions on have neither the time nor inclination to endure your solutions.

  6. pearows permalink
    July 24, 2012 7:22 pm

    Another point that is never made by anti-gun people is how many people are saved – or could be saved – by guns. There were 3 young men killed in Aurora who died while shielding their girlfriends from the shooter. At least one was a military guy (or ex-military, I can’t recall) who undoubtedly knew how to shoot. It is entirely possible that he, or someone else carrying a cncealed weapon, could have stopped Holmes. Of course, he was not carrying a gun, because guns were not allowed in the movie theater, and he was a law abider.

    Now I am not asserting that this would have definitely stopped – or lessened- the killing, but it is not preposterous to suggest it, as I have read. In fact there have been a number of potential massacres that were prevented by citizens carrying concealed weapons. I’m pretty sure that the guy who eventually subdued Jared Loughner in the Tucson shooting was carrying a gun.

    I hope that if I am ever in a situation where a crazed killer starts shooting, there is someone else around with a gun to shoot him. I don’t think that makes me a “gun-lover,” but it certainly makes it unlikely that I would support a ban on guns. And when I hear politicians like Mike Bloomberg, who is surrounded by armed guards 24-7 call for a gun ban, it is infuriating.

    • Gail permalink
      July 24, 2012 7:34 pm

      With all Holmes’ protective gear I doubt any shot would have made a difference but I know that having a gun when you need it is a plus. I was once involved in a attempted car jacking. As the four goons were beating on the car and shouting “Give it up” while looking through my windshield they saw me remove my hand gun from it’s case and scattered fast.

      • Pat Riot permalink
        July 25, 2012 9:23 pm

        Good for you, Gail! It’s a shame you had to reach to defend yourself, but I’m glad you were able to.

  7. Pat Riot permalink
    July 24, 2012 8:32 pm

    Good framework to your post, Rick: the July 20th high and low of America, lunar landing to another confused, sick American idiot shooting at the public. They are events like bookends to four decades of cultural confusion and cultural decay. The decay is obvious, but that is not to say there isn’t plenty of good in our culture that holds us together, supporting the good and the bad, the hard-working, caring folks mixed together and propping up and enabling the lost and the deranged.

    Oh it’s quite easy to produce “massacre shooters.” Here’s the basic recipe: first you drown out those imperfect “old school cultures” with their often hypocritical attempts to define right and wrong, and then you replace it with something worse, something that offers humans no psychological center or foundation at all—let’s call it our money-centered / performance centered / materialistic pseudo-culture, for the sake of brevity. Then add availability of guns. Then add a daily onslaught of fantasies from Hollywood. Life itself will throw in plenty of personal crises. Shake or stir.

    Back in the imperfect past, in “Bedford Falls culture,” human beings could more regularly turn to some type of foundation and “center,” for some type of MEANING and SUPPORT from family, friends, church, and community, albeit imperfect, flawed, hypocritical, not all worked out, fuzzy at the edges. On the other hand, in this brave new world many a new age zombie is left with nothing but a confused pile of twisted fantasies when life gets abrasive.

    Take away the things that lift people above the animals and you are left with something far more dangerous than any mere animal—an animal with some set of human ability for destruction…

    Guns don’t do anything by themselves. Guns just sit there on the table or in the drawer. It’s a PEOPLE PROBLEM, a societal / cultural / people problem. But at the same time it’s too easy for bad people to obtain guns. But then again I do fear, with good reason, the slippery slope of government banning.So here we are.

    • pearows permalink
      July 25, 2012 8:44 am

      You are a poet at heart, Pat.

      • Pat Riot permalink
        July 25, 2012 9:22 pm

        pearows, I’ll take the poet comment as a compliment, thinking you meant there was some depth and some good word usage above. The negative interpretation would be that you are suggesting I stick to poetry and stay out of political commentary, haha I hope that’s just my defensive nature being open to all the possibilities!

        Glad to read your common sense approach to guns. A good citizen with a carry permit and a gun in the theater could almost definitely have put a stop to the idiot’s rampage. Even with body armor there are soft spots including the neck and hands and feet, especially from close range, and heavier caliber handguns like a .45 could have knocked him down and/or knocked the wind out of him even with armor.

        My father was an avid hunter/sportsman who introduced my brother and I to guns very early when we tagged along from about age 8 and up. Guns were always treated with respect / reverence / safety. No sportsman I met would ever think of pointing even an unloaded gun at another human being except in dire self-defence. The way guns are waved about and pointed at people in anger and also jokingly in TV and movies is a travesty that truly makes me sad and disgusted. The whole “redneck” image of gun owners and sportsman isn’t helpful either, though there are some of those stereotypes walking around out there too.

        I don’t know what we can do other than prosecute violent criminals. I wish we could figure a way to have better requirements for people who can own guns, but I don’t trust some government agencies to be good judges of who should have them and who shouldn’t. What a mess.

    • July 25, 2012 10:48 pm

      Thanks for covering the human part of the equation so eloquently, Pat. We’ve witnessed so much cultural and social change over the past several decades that I think we’re producing a lot of isolated, amoral, troubled individuals who have nobody with whom they can bond.

      People used to grow up in the warm embrace of their community, which in the old days was an actual geographic place instead of a nationwide conglomeration of people who happen to share your politics, race or sexual orientation. Bedford Falls, Mayberry, even the neighborhood where I grew up consisted of people who genuinely cared about each other and stayed in the same house for most of their working lives. Such places bred stability and solid values.

      I know I sound like a cultural reactionary sometimes, but I blame our degenerate pop culture for a good part of the problem. Values have literally been turned upside down since I was a kid: bad is good, and good is kind of pathetic in the eyes of today’s snarky, unfriendly, drop-dead cool urban hipsters. Without an underlying communal code of decent conduct, we’re all free to be you and me — and free to go to hell (or its earthly equivalent).

  8. July 25, 2012 6:06 pm

    Got hung up on this sentence: ” A stellar student until very recently, he fit the classic mass-murderer profile like a size-10 foot sliding into a size-10 shoe. ” Not clear on what you mean… Otherwise, in strong agreement.

    • Pat Riot permalink
      July 25, 2012 9:25 pm

      I think Rick meant that this idiot fit the profile perfectly, like a size 10 foot into a size 10 shoe–a very good fit.

      • pearows permalink
        July 25, 2012 10:50 pm

        Pat, the poet remark was a compliment. 🙂

    • July 25, 2012 10:03 pm

      Ellie: I probably should have worded it thus: “A stellar student until very recently, he also happened to fit the classic mass-murderer profile…” In other words, if you look at the profile I described in the previous sentence — young, quiet white male who kept to himself, had no intimate relationships — and had a thing for guns… Holmes would fit that description to a T.

      • July 25, 2012 10:46 pm

        So would Joe have not that long ago. I know what you meant; I just didn’t think the description was a stereotype. Maybe I’ve been in L.A. too long and simply don’t “get” certain stereotypical descriptions anymore. Sorry for any disruption in the flow.

      • July 25, 2012 10:57 pm

        Well, think of it this way, as an exercise in pure logic: nearly all mass-murderers are young, quiet white males who keep to themselves, have no intimate relationships and have a thing for guns… but not all young, quiet white males who keep to themselves (etc.) are mass-murderers. So I’m not stereotyping those quiet types as mass-murderers, but I’m probably stereotyping the mass-murderers themselves.

      • Rob Anderson permalink
        July 26, 2012 12:24 am

        That is actually not true, Rick. The majority of spree shooters have been middle aged or slightly older, from James Huberty back in ’84 to the “101” shooter at the law firm in San Francisco several years ago, and almost every one in between. The theatre shooter is an exception to the rule.

      • July 26, 2012 4:35 pm

        Rob: The theater shooter really isn’t an exception… there’s the Tucson shooter (can’t remember his name), Breivik in Norway, the guy who shot up Virginia Tech, Klebold and whoozit at Columbine, and the “daddy” of them all — the first random mass assassin I can remember — Charles Whitman, the young man who picked off pedestrians from the University of Texas tower. But it’s good to know (I think) that those quiet, socially withdrawn young men don’t hold a patent on mass shootings.

      • Rob Anderson permalink
        July 26, 2012 10:31 pm

        The total body count crown belongs to the old guys, and the age groups are about even in terms of membership. And aside from Whitman, young men only started doing this recently.

  9. July 25, 2012 11:01 pm

    Here’s another way to look at it, Ellie… If I drew a Venn diagram (Mr. Hutter would have loved this), we’d have a large circle of quiet, lonely young men, and within that circle we’d have a much smaller circle of gun-crazed mass murderers. The mass-murderers would be like a tiny subset of the quiet, lonely young men.

    • July 26, 2012 11:37 pm

      Scratch the circle-within-a-circle concept. With Rob’s added info about middle-aged mass murderers, I guess the diagram would look more like a large circle (quiet, socially withdrawn young men) intersected by a small circle (mass murderers). I’d still bet that the middle-aged murderers have much in common with the younger ones: withdrawn, alienated, frustrated, angry and interested in guns. Unfortunately, America makes it easy these days to rack up several of these traits.

      • AMAC permalink
        July 27, 2012 12:38 am

        I may be the last American without a Facebook account. I wonder if the coming of social media has made it easier or harder to be anti-social. I still talk to my friends the old fashioned way, calling with my I-Phone! We know children are spending more time at home by themselves, and I wonder if the internet has made it easier for them to not socialize physically with others. I am concerned with lack of basic social skills with some students I have worked with. Being new to public education, I can’t judge the current levels against past trends.

    • July 28, 2012 12:01 pm

      A large percent of mass murders are sociopaths – though Mr. Holmes may have a different problem.

      But most sociopaths are not even criminals.

      What are you seeking to do incarcerate all intelligent quiet young men ?

  10. Pat Riot permalink
    July 25, 2012 11:27 pm

    DrEMiller, sorry to be Mr. Obvious back there with my parrot-like translation of Rick’s phraseology, lol.

  11. AMAC permalink
    July 27, 2012 12:24 am

    I am all for the waiting period. I think weapons should come with a gun lock (trigger). Many weapons are made without so much as a safety. I know a lot of these ideas fall into the “personal responsibility” debate, but to me these are as necessary as seat belts in automobiles. I own seven firearms, have hunted off and on most of my life. I have never felt the need to own a handgun. I do not like handguns, and won’t allow one in my house. I don’t know for sure if I would outlaw handguns, given the choice. I would like to increase the waiting period on purchasing a weapon and require proof of training. I also do not like assault rifles. I do agree that there would be a great difficulty in qualifying assualt rifles. I think it would be more effective to simply regulate the number of bullets per magazine as we did with semi-automatic shotguns post-Brady.

    With that being said, the weapons are not the root problem. It could be argued that it enabled the act, somewhat. We do have a problem with violence in this country. It is not limited to violence involving a firearm. I would like to better understand why we are so violent. I have my own ideas, but nothing to back them up with other than personal feelings. We know that family structure positively influences children (statistically) and we do know that the traditional family structure is deteriorating. With something this complex, I doubt we can point to one cause. Weapon regulation is an easy target. Not that I am against some regulation increases in this area, but I doubt this would do much to curve the violence.

    • July 27, 2012 11:30 pm

      Yes, the family is deteriorating, and that’s almost certainly a factor behind gun crime in this country. Even more important, I think, is that parental influence is waning, and has been, since the 1960s. They never really regained their moral authority after that crazy decade. Most young people are influenced far more by their friends (usually the worst of their friends) plus what they see in the media. Traditional religious morality is almost extinct except among Evangelicals in the red states.

      • July 28, 2012 11:57 am

        Why do you keep prefixing “crime” with “gun” ?

        In the US
        firearm violence is higher than some of the rest of the world – because we have access to firearms, but violence, and violent deaths are quite low.

        Long before gun powder was invented your odds of dying a violent death were about 10 times that of today.

        Do we ban rocks because they can be used to kill ?

        You are constantly confusing the method with the cause of a problem.
        This leads you to inefectual efforts to limit a specific method

      • July 30, 2012 12:19 am

        Yes, our times our less violent than the Stone Age or even 18th century Europe, but they’d be even less violent than they are without assault weapons. Agreed? Try convincing the parents of the murdered moviegoers that the gradual drop in violent deaths over the centuries is something they shouuld celebrate.

  12. AMAC permalink
    July 27, 2012 12:31 am

    I am not an Obama supporter, but I am always entertained by the “Obama Haters”. The brainless retoric has already started back up that President Obama is going to take our guns. Just days from such a tragic event, and this is what people in my part of the country are worried about! It’s as amusing as it is troubling.

    • Rob Anderson permalink
      July 27, 2012 1:11 am

      I’m sorry, but they have a right to have that fear. In 1989, about five minutes after the Stockton schoolyard massacre, California legislators had pulled an assault weapons ban from wherever they’d left it in case of just such an incident, and voted it into law. And that law was the model for the later federal ban. There’s nothing “amusing” about it.

  13. pearows permalink
    July 27, 2012 9:18 am

    We certainly have a violence problem, but I would contend that another real problem is our near total disregard of the signs of mental illness. Serious mental illness often presents in late adolescence and early adulthood – Loughner and Holmes are right in the age group. I’m sure we all know of kids that we went to HS with that were healthy and normal, but became “disturbed” in college or after. A significant number of substance abusers are self-medicaters. And serious mental health issues are rampant in the military, where screening and treatment can barely keep up with the need.

    One of the many reasons that I am opposed to Obamacare is that it will continue the process of off-loading mental health coverage onto Medicaid, where only the cheapest drugs and very little outpatient treatment is covered…and no inpatient care.

    Now, I’m not saying that the Aurora shootings would have been prevented if, say, Holmes had better access to mental healthcare. Probably not. But if we really want to try and prevent violence in society, I would say that better mental health screenings and treatment would be more effective than banning violent movies, video games and guns.

  14. Anonymous permalink
    July 27, 2012 10:21 am

    Ban Graduate school. I still have nightmares about it and I received my degree.

    But seriously, the gun and violence obsession are in American DNA. They should be removed, but can’t be. So, the reaction of many is that they need to have the right to have their very own piece, never mind that statistics show that having ones own piece is more dangerous than not having one. Should we really feel safe if we right and the need to carry concealed weapons into theaters?

    Its one of the things about American culture that makes me wish I were Swedish. There is a long list of countries where citizens have greatly limited access to firearms. I don’t care if my actual chances of being killed by an armed mass murderer/lunatic are low, the fact that I have to read about one of these massacres of innocents all too often and that they are one of the issues that shape my country’s culture and values in and of itself is toxic and shameful and affects me.

    Isn’t it interesting that an often extreme defense of abortion is a part of liberal culture, while an often extreme defense of weaponry is a part of conservative culture. These cultures are both pretty logic proof, one defends their own tribe and rationalizes its culture, its the price of belonging to a tribe.

    • July 27, 2012 11:23 pm

      One of my Facebook friends seemed to think that if the moviegoers had been armed, the massacre would have been stopped cold. I told him that was probably true for this particular theater on that particular night, but in general I don’t want to risk being gunned down for inadvertently stepping on somebody’s foot or munching too loudly on my popcorn. Imagine if spectators at professional sports events were armed!

      You’re right, of course, about the tribal nature of American beliefs in our time. It might be that in the old days most of us used to think as part of a single tribe, which probably wasn’t conducive to creativity but also didn’t breed the kind of raging mutual hostility you see today between the “red” tribe and the “blue” tribe.

      • July 28, 2012 11:50 am

        So the civil war was a love fest ?

        I thought it was libertarians who were supposed to be nostaglic for the 19th century ?

        The US purportedly has this culture of violence – yet it is the rest of the world and particularly europe where a sporting event is likely to lead to riots and death.

      • July 30, 2012 12:28 am

        Cherry-picking again, Dave. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 50% of the guns. So what if we don’t trample anyone at sporting events… we’re more likely to be shot dead than the residents of any other industrialized nation. Even worse, we’ve built a cult around guns (starting with the lone frontiersman and continuing through gangsta rap) that will be almost impossible to eradicate.

      • pearows permalink
        July 30, 2012 8:43 am

        I tend to agree with your facebook friend, Rick. While I understand your concern that there might be a rare case of anger management failure that would result in a shooting over a stubbed toe, I think that the overall effect would be more along the lines of Gail’s experience- thugs and bullies would think twice before preying on people that they viewed as helpless. From what I have seen, there is statistical evidence to back up both sides, depending upon how you spin the numbers, but I am generally persuaded by the “more guns, less crime” numbers that show that right-to-carry laws tend to result in a lower rate of murders, rapes and assaults. I don’t believe that the possession of a gun, acquired for self-defense, turns law-abiding citizens into killers, anymore than I think that playing cops and robbers with toy guns turns children into violent criminals.

      • July 30, 2012 10:23 pm

        We also love violent video games – do we ban them ?
        They have about as strong a statistical coreleation to violent actions as legitimate gun ownership does.

        The culture in this nation is different – completely behind you on that. Despite our incredible sports fanaticism, we rarely riot at sporting events.

        Changing culture is extremely hard – you have said so yourself, with all kinds of unintended consequences. Prohibition and the war on drugs stand as everlasting monuments to government efforts to change culture.
        Dead is dead. Do dead people quibble over whether they were killed by Guns or knives, or ….
        If you add together all the things that are so much more likely to get you killed in the US – why is it that when you are done our life expectancy is virtually identical. Our health care purportedly sucks, or infant mortality rate is dramatically higher, we are far more likely do die in automobile accidents, or by guns, we have twice the rate of obesity and diabetes.
        Yet or standard of living is higher, and our life expectancy is about 6 months shorter than Europe.

        Can you atleast grasp that something is not quite right in all of that ?

        Have draconian gun laws made New York a safe place to live ?

        Would Holmes’s victims have been better off if he used a bomb or Poisonous gas ?

        We are more violent than Europe. And less violent than much of the rest of the world. We are also less violent than 100 years ago, and less violent than 100 years before that. And we will likely be less violent in another 50 – whether we ban guns or not.

        This country and the world are continually improving. The trends are pretty much worldwide, they are independent of regulation and laws. They correlate with only one thing – an increase in freedom, and the economic benefits that come with that.

        I am not sure there is anything that would have stopped James Holmes.
        Or at-least not short of something so draconian that no one here could tolerate it.

        The world is not perfect, Life is not fair. Even totalitarian regimes are unable to rigidly control everything – but they are the closest we have gotten.

        Those are your real choices. Accept the world is not fair, and recognize that maximizing freedom will result in continuous improvement, or impose something from the top by force and move slowly closer to totalitarianism.

        i am not the one desperately seeking Bismark.

    • July 28, 2012 11:46 am

      Most data I have seen has shown no statistically significant link either way between gun laws and rates of violent crimes.

  15. Pat Riot permalink
    July 27, 2012 6:29 pm

    I think a large portion of the violence in our country originates as quite natural energy that is grossly misplaced / mis-channeled. There are healthy outlets energy and unhealthy ones.

    My brother and I were both very hyper when we were elementary shcool age. My father would let us climb mountains and hike across fields all day hunting and we’d get it out of our system. (By the end of a day of hunting all we wanted was a bowl of soup and a blanket.)

    I am convinced that those of us who grew up in the “be back before dark / play outside all day” generations had more opportunities to get the energy and aggression out of our systems in all kinds of ways. Again, it wasn’t perfect back then. There was stupidity and violence, but today’s violence is a different style and scale.

    Athletics (with good sportsmanship) is an example commonly given as a healthy outlet. The PAL Police Athletic League is based on this.

    Not to be krass, but sex within a good relationship is a great outlet (that I believe was designed that way). A plumber friend of mine joked that the penis is a pressure-relief valve, like on a hot water heater. There is something to that. Think about all that build up and then after we just want peaceful sleep or a sandwich, lol. I’ll stop on that note.

  16. Pat Riot permalink
    July 27, 2012 6:40 pm

    People in agrarian societies are getting it out of their system by working the fields. If you’ve gotten your hands dirty with just a mere a vegetable garden, then you know how the Good Earth can drain you of anxiety and just plumb tucker you into submission.

    I love technology, but man it has it’s side effects if not used in…drum roll please..MODERATION !

    • July 28, 2012 11:41 am

      Are you arguing that agrarian societies are less violent ?

  17. pearows permalink
    July 27, 2012 11:09 pm

    Well, it has just today been confirmed that James Holmes was under a psychatrist’s care at the University of Colorado…but being under psychiatric care does not, ipso facto, prevent one from buying a gun. On the other hand, Holmes’s privlleged communications with his psychiatrist involved his plans to SHOOT PEOPLE.

    Maybe we oughta re-think some of these regulations…….

    • July 27, 2012 11:18 pm

      That psychiatrist has some ‘splainin’ to do.

    • July 31, 2012 9:51 pm

      There are already laws mandating that psychologists report credible threats of violence.
      But determining a credible threat is difficult. Many psychological disorders have violent fantasies, dreams, and threats as symptoms. Even some normal people have violent fantasies or dreams, and most of us have issued a threat in anger we had zero intention of carrying out.

      People with mental illness – even mental illnesses involving violent expressions are mostly unlikely to act on those threats of fantasies.

      Most paranoid schizophrenics are not violent, most sociopaths are not violent.

      I do not believe that psychiatry is at a state where it is even close to being able to predict whether a mentally ill person with violent expressions that has not yet acted on them will do so.

      We do not live in the world of the minority report where we can arrest people for crimes they are going to commit in the future.

      I would love the security of knowing that next time I go to the theater, I will not become the victim of some mass murder.

      But I am not willing to sacrifice real freedom for a false sense of security.

      There are lots of facts we do not know. regardless, I am glad I am not James Holmes psychiatrist. I am glad that I will never have to chose to incarcerate someone because they might be dangerous.

  18. July 28, 2012 10:02 am


    You have fixated on Guns here as if gun control would solve this problem

    But then your solution to any problem always seems to be to limit something tangential to the problem.

    Corruption in politics is not caused by money, just as mass murder is not caused by guns.

    As has been noted Holmes was very intelligent.
    I can think of several easy ways to kill atleast as many people as Holmes did using things that can readily be found in my home.

    Like it or not there is not much that can be done in a free society to prevent intelligent lone individuals from acts like this.

    Worse still there is not alot that can be done in an unfree society.

    I am reluctant to comment deeply on Holmes at the moment.
    We dont know alot, and like the Martin/Zimmerman fiasco much of what we think we know may prove false.

    But he appears to fit a paranoid schizophrenic profile.
    This is a mental illness that effects primarily smart people. Onset is late teens through early adulthood. I have personally had close contact with a few.
    One of my friends and competitors in highschool developed schizophrenia, Most are not actually dangerous. We do not know the causes, and we do not have a cure.
    It is extremely difficult from the outside to tell the onset from the normal behaviors of quirky intelligent people. Drug addiction is commonplace and masks and explains symptoms.

    I celebrated my 30th birthday with a sigh of relief. The onset of schizophrenia is very rare after that.

    So what do you want to do ? Lock up all smart people because they might become schizophrenic ?

    • July 30, 2012 12:29 am


      • July 31, 2012 10:02 pm

        So what standard do you use to determine when what might happen is sufficient to deprive any of us of freedom ?

        Every post you make essentially argues that some freedom is insufficiently important or tread upon to interfere with some additional government power you want that in most instances will not accomplish the purpose you justified it with.

        I am not trying to be facetious. I have been here a long time. You are clearly a smart person. But I can not recall any issue that did not run pretty much as I described above.

        Your not pragmatic – the real world almost always runs counter to your expectations.
        Nor are you idealistic.

        Mostly you remind me of Eeyore – “oh crap, the world is going to hell, well lets pass another law, it won’t help but atleast we can say we tried”

  19. July 28, 2012 11:39 am

    One of the common problems with Rick and the left is this presumption that we can force some kind of perfection onto the world from the top.

    In the real world bad things happen. Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Droughts.
    I believe the root of the AGW psychosis is the inability to grasp that nature could chose on its own to wipe all of us out at anytime.

    We have a desperate need to feel that we are in control. Nature is not violent and unpredictable – it is something we are doing, and if we would just stop, There would be no more Tsnami’s, ice ages, warming, cooling, ….

    Nature, life, IS NOT FAIR. Maybe we can mitigate that a little but we can not fix it.
    Pretending we can is chosing permanent failure and depression.

    Some of us are born with the ability to swing a bat or golf club better than anyone else, some smarter, but some of us are physically and or mentally inferior. It is not fair. But it is life. We do not live in Lake Woebegon “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

    Rick noted another July 20th event,

    In one year 1968 of the same era

    The Peublo was captured,
    The Tet Offensive began – 543 US soldiers dying in one week.
    The My Lai massacre takes place
    Martin Luther King is assassinated
    Andy Warhol is shot
    Robert Kennedy is assassinated
    The DNC convention riots take place

    150,000 years ago 15-20% of us died as the result of violence.
    With the age of enlightenment dropped to 5%.
    During the 20th century deaths due to violence were reduced by 1/2 again.
    Thus far the 21st century is about half as violent as the 20th.

    Bad things still happen – and will continue to happen into the future.

    Still we have every reason to believe absent government failure, the future will be better in most every way than the present.

  20. Pat Riot permalink
    July 29, 2012 11:02 pm

    Asmith, I’ll preface my response by again stating for the record that I get frustrated by and see the inefficiencies and dangers of over-regulation by government. We don’t need to list examples of government over-regulation here.

    That said, your posts above seem to me, like most of your posts of the last couple years have seemed to me, to be strikingly lacking a reasonable “middle.” Your views usually seem to always have extreme opposing poles. Government is bad and freedom is good, etc.
    For instance, above you wrote:

    “One of the common problems with Rick and the left is this presumption that we can force some kind of perfection onto the world from the top.”

    You really should be fined at least $100. for your use of the word “perfection” above. That’s an extreme viewpoint, as though any and all restrictions are seeking a “perfection.”

    You tend to see any government regulation at all to be an assault from the top against personal freedoms. I don’t think you have ever acknowledged any government regulation or rule to be something that has been agreed upon FROM THE BOTTOM UP for the greater good.

    Rather than get too philosophical here, let’s try practical: what do you think of traffic lights? If you go through a red light, and a cop gives you a ticket for $125 for a moving violation, do you see that as a top down restriction of your freedom?

    • July 30, 2012 12:30 am

      Thank you, sir.

    • asmith permalink
      July 30, 2012 8:37 pm

      Most of the post that is bothering you is really just a bunch of facts. It is not particularly philosophical. At best I am asking you if your philosophy works with the world as it actually is.

      We can argue about man, but the volatility, unpredictability and “unfairness” of nature are just how things are. If you are unhappy about that take it up with your god not me.

      To the extent there is any philosophy, lack of moderation, or extremism, it is in asking how you can reconcile whatever your principles are with the world as it is.

      “Perfection” is incompatible with “moderate” however that gets defined.
      But the “moderates” and tepid progressives here are seeking and expecting perfection far more than I am.

      What I offer rests on very few core principles. Derived logically from the world as it is.
      They are to underlying principles developed during “the age of enlightenment”.
      Though we have strayed far from them they are the principles and values that got man where he is.

      I am not backing away from my use of “perfection”. Perfection and “fair” are intrinsically related. They are completely at odds with freedom. Every choice you make that favors one, decreases the other.

      But even if I remove principles, all my arguments work on a purely pragmatic basis.
      A free world is imperfect messy, chaotic, it is not fair, but even when it works badly. Even at its worst it performs better and is less corrupt than what we have.

      I have not actually argued that Government is bad. Nor that all freedom is good.
      We have a social contract. Jefferson expressed it thus:

      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men”

      The only purpose of government is in securing our natural rights.
      When it does so it is good. When it ventures outside that it is not.
      We are far from that today, but two centuries ago we offered those principles as the only legitimate basis for government. That one imperfect paragraph is laden with understanding of man and government that is just as fresh today.

      I remember watching the Berlin Wall crumple or Tianemen Square and thinking “my god even totalitarian regimes require the consent of the governed”.

      Government is not inherently evil.
      Nor is all freedom good. I have repeated over and over the one freedom the social contract requires we surrender is the initiation of violence against others.
      The purpose of Government is enforcing the “Rule of Law”.
      I do not want to get into what “the rule of law” is but it is but any appealing sounding regulation someone can dream up. It it is not rooted in the narrow purpose of government, if it must adapt to changing times and norms – then it is not “the rule of Law”. For atleast seven thousand years some permutation of “thou shalt not kill” has been close to universally accepted. Those “laws” that are that enduring are a good start.

      As to traffic regulations – there are actually bottom up solutions to even those problems that work better. In some rare but successful instances some cities have actually been forced into implementing more organic means of providing traffic safety at unusual locations that were working abysmally with top down solutions.
      But traffic laws or public hiways are so far from the hill I wish to die on – if it is essential for you to have states and municipalities dictate these too you. If you must believe they can not be accomplished better by any other means – you can have your traffic regulations.

      In fact while given the opportunity I would reduce the local state and federal governments to their extent in the late eighteenth century, I will be happy to join with anyone to advocate for anything that actually reduces government.
      You want a smaller military – i am with you.
      You want less corporate welfare – you can count on me to support you in anything that actually reduces government.

    • July 30, 2012 8:48 pm

      If moderates were truly moderate. If they were not really always after more government not less, we would be having a love fest.

      Just about every libertarian in the world would happily join you to reduce defense spending. We would agree to eliminate any or all corporate welfare.

      Anything that reduces government power – because that always increases individual freedom.

      When have moderates offered any such thing ?
      When have moderates not fought against almost anything that reduces government power by even a little ?
      What moderate proposal has been offered here that is not an increase in government power ?
      Is there any problem in existence that moderates see that does not require even more top down government power, even less individuality liberty ?

      Yet I am the extremist ?

      I have been here a long time. I think the label “whimpy liberals” is a much better fit than “moderate”.

    • July 31, 2012 10:43 pm

      I keep rereading the post above, trying to figure out why it has touched a nerve.
      There is nothing ideological in it.
      there is an inconsequential reference to government at the end.
      I can expound – I think government will fail, and i think the future will be bright anyway.

      Regardless, i have let you rope me into a debate over what rules might be necessary.
      That was a mistake. Not because I believe rules are unnecessary – but because until you grasp two things:

      That humans have no entitlement to anything beyond what nature grants them.

      That the world has been continuously getting better in most every way – and that coincides with greater freedom.

      How do you make rules if you do not grasp what is inside your control and what is not.
      What rights you have and what you do not ?

      How do you make rules if you see the world as dark and decaying when it is bright and growing ?

      How do you fix the dark and decaying world ?
      Open your eyes!

      It is not perfect, it is not fair but it is getting better all the time – despite the parasites moochers and looters.

  21. July 30, 2012 9:43 pm

    One last remark for the moment.
    I respect every one here – even those whose views I think are idiotic.
    There are alot of smart people here.

    Respect is not the same as agreement.

    Usually this blog debates important issues.
    Mostly this blog is tolerant.
    I post to TPM, ThinkProgress and other truly liberal blogs,
    but veer too far from the party line and the debate degenerates to ad hominem.
    That does not happen much here, and even when it does it is pretty mild.

    I respect the intelligence of the posters here enough to believe that if I can challenge your premises. Get you to see the world as it is without these fallacious progressive delusions, that you might actually become truly moderate – if not libertarian.

    Do you really believe the world or this country on the whole is worse today than three decades ago ? Do you really believe the poor are poorer ?

    Take an honest look at government. Not through my eyes, but your own. But really look. Even if you do not believe government programs are always costly and almost always fail, dont you beleive that they do often ? How often ? 10% of the time, 25% 1/3 50%. The number does not actually matter. I think even the most generous view of government requires us to always demand government think longer and harder before acting.

    You do not have to accept my principles to be skeptical of giving government more power. The world is not perfect decisions have unintended consequences. Outside of government we adapt of perish – and we do so quickly. Ideas that sound good are easy. Ideas that actually work are much harder. Outside of government making corrections is often hard, but required for survival. Inside government correction is nearly impossible.

    These differences are structural. They are not flaws in government, nor flaws in the free market. They are the way it is supposed to be. Law is supposed to be stable well thought out and rarely changing. Government is supposed to be inefficient and relatively weak rather than powerful and corrupt.

    Much of what you view as my criticisms of government are just recognition of its real nature. When you ask it to do what it was not designed to do – why does failure surprise you ?

  22. Pat Riot permalink
    July 30, 2012 10:09 pm

    Asmith, you are special. During your last two rants above, you said, “What I offer rests on very few core principles. Derived logically from the world as it is.”

    And I thought a dialogue involved expressing opinions and explaining those opinions, but you don’t have to worry about making sense because you are dealing with logical facts from the world as it is!


    Anyone familiar with this site is familiar with your core principles, ad nauseum. I say those core principles of yours often prevent you from really apply logic to specific situations. I’ve journeyed into labyrinths with you before, so instead let’s stay on topic:

    What do you suggest we do about the increase in massacre shooters? Nothing? We all just mind our own business as free men? We don’t come up with any solutions? Any solution we come up with just limits our freedoms? C’mon, Ye Who Sees the World As It Is, what’s a solution to this very real problem?

    • Rob Anderson permalink
      July 30, 2012 10:18 pm

      Prepare yourself, Pat, for a tsunami of mental diarrhea.

    • July 31, 2012 7:15 pm

      As there is no increase in massacre shooters, i am not sure how to respond.
      Here is wikipedia’s list of similar events worldwide for the past 100 years.
      A cursory review shows no difference between the US and Europe.
      Norway has stricter gun control laws than we do and 1/3 the violence we do, yet Anders Brevik recently killed 77 children there.
      In the US as in much of the world – these an other acts of violence are on the decline.
      By orders of magnitude the most likely cause of violent death in the 20th century was at the hands of the State – think Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.
      Today it is war.
      In the US more innocent people are shot by police officers each year.
      More people are killed by lightning or wild animals.

      in 1995 McVeigh killed 168 – including 19 children using fertilizer and diesel fuel.
      James Holmes is purportedly very intelligent – which is common in these types of events.
      If there were no guns in the world – do you think that would have stopped him ?
      In Rwanda the Hutu slaughtered 800,000 Tutsi primarily using machettes.

      Why are we even discussing non-solutions to problems that are inconsequential in comparision to nearly all our other problems ?

      And I will note everything above is either fact or purely pragmatic not ideological.
      Though I do not believe that it is an accident that rational pragmatism reaches the same conclusions as classical liberal values.

      What is it that you want to do ?
      Whatever it is – is it going to actually make a difference ?
      Or is it just going to make you feel good for having done something ?

      This is my point about moderate/progressive attempts to perfect the world.

      When you can tell me how to end the 40 or so deaths from lightning strikes in the US each year, I will be happy to discuss problems that are smaller.

  23. Pat Riot permalink
    July 31, 2012 1:29 pm

    haha a tsunami. No let’s hope not. We don’t need the core principles again. We can scroll up for two years and extract those seven hard-wired ideas. No I think this time he will focus on the specific topic: massacre shooters and how to not have our children gunned down in public places. A partial solution perhaps. A direction?

    We don’t have nine year olds driving cars. We have traffic lights at busy intersections. We no longer allow drunk driving. Those are rules for public places. Those are rules aiming at fairness–not perfection, but in the direction of fairness. It’s not fair to me and my family if some guy that’s enebriated crosses the yellow line and hits my family head on. No, life is not fair, but we can use our common sense and LIMIT some of the unfairness.

    Plenty of freedom exists in between common sense laws. In fact, common sense laws give us additonal freedom because we don’t have to get snared and hampered by bullshit as much.

    Too many rules = not enough freedom
    Not enough rules = chaos = not enough freedom

    a workable amount of rules (a.k.a. rules in moderation) = better quality of life

    Pat “Goldilocks” Riot

    • July 31, 2012 8:46 pm

      There is only one core principle. The social contract secures all the natural rights (and only those) of every individual – except our right to initiate violence against others.

      Killing someone else may not be fair – but it is prohibited because there is no social contract if we are permitted to go around killing each other willy nilly.
      Myriads of things we can do nothing about – and plenty of things we can but do not – and should not are not fair.
      Even the rules you cite are not fair. Some nine years are perfectly capable of driving – prohibiting them is NOT FAIR. Most drunks never kill anyone. Stopping at a traffic light when there is no one coming is NOT FAIR.

      Fairness is an abysmal basis for rules or law. It is always true that any rule based on fairness to one group is unfair to another. Fairness and “common sense” are inevitably at odds. Fairness is always with respect to a person or group, there is no such thing as societal fairness.

      I am not advocating anarchy but your second equation is false.
      no rules = total freedom. There is no natural right to survival.

      And for the record I have never argued there ought to be no rules.
      The portion of the declaration of independence I quoted above asserts quite plainly that the sole purpose of government is to protect our natural rights.

      But there is no right to be treated fairly, and natural rights are not whatever rights government wishes to create at the moment.

      I am actually shocked that I even have to argue much of this.
      I am hard pressed to think of a single form of government, or ideology, or philosophy that has “fairness” as its core principle.

      Its not fair is the rant of children. Adults are supposed to grasp not only that the world is not fair, that it can never be fair, but that fair is undefinable and can not be reconciled against any principles.

      Fairness is malleable enough to get you anywhere. Fair is a standard that allows you to steal from others to get what you believe you deserve.

      Hitler thought it was only fair that Austria was returned to Germany, then the Sudatenland, then Poland. It was only fair that Germany be given lebensraum.

      Japan attacked Perl Harbor because we unfairly deprived them of oil and their rightful place in the world.

      Is it fair that the US is successful and Wealthy and Africa is not ?

      In my own personal life I strive to treat people in accordance with my own definition of fairness. You are free to do the same. But you are only entitled to have your natural rights protected.

      We have a hard enough time resolving conflicts between those rights which are limited and reasonably well defined.

      If you make fairness your core value, you are seeking a world of continuous violence, conflict and strife. There is and can not be a universal standard of fairness.

      Natural rights excluding the right to initiate violence works for individuals, groups and nations.

  24. July 31, 2012 9:30 pm

    “Plenty of freedom exists in between common sense laws” .

    All laws sacrifice freedom. That is a truism. But even my ideology requires sacrificing the freedom to harm others at whim.

    I am not arguing anarchy.

    More laws, even “common sense” laws. Even laws those laws that i accept as absolutely necessary come at a cost in freedom.

    We are not more free with more laws. We are less. You can argue if you wish that we are better off, that the sacrifice of freedom was worthwhile or beneficial. But you are still less free.

    Infinite law is slavery.

    The theme of virtually every one of Ricks posts here is “there ought to be a law against that”.

    I do not think I can recall a single post ever asking for less laws.

    The solution to every problem is more law.

    Apparently common sense = slavery, atleast for moderates.
    That is hyperbole – but the observation that none of the so called moderates here are ever for reducing laws, regulations, spending, taxes, government.
    There is no benefit from government so small as not to be worth giving up a little freedom for. There is no freedom so important that there is not some “common sense” reason sufficient to whittle it down further.

    You do not have to be libertarian to grasp that little of what has gotten better in 30, 50, 100, 200, … years has had anything to do with more and more government.

    There have been positive contributions of government.
    The Magna Carta proclaimed the power of the king is not infinite.
    Numerous milestones from then to now, increased individual freedom for more and more of us. Our founders divorced rights from the whim of kings.
    We recognized that freedom was not limited by race, nor gender.

    For as long as I have been here the new moderate has stood for less rather than more freedom. For the view that people can not be trusted to make choices for themselves.
    For the view that whatever the problem more government and less freedom is the answer.

    If I am an extremest what are you ?

    Based on the views expressed here – why should i believe that moderate means anything but a slow “common sense” path to slavery.

  25. Pat Riot permalink
    July 31, 2012 10:47 pm

    You came up with a partially clever response by mixing our recent massacre shootings in with the broader context of killings and deaths, and then you sent, if not a tsunami, then at least a couple mudslides of info, and you made a few damn good points, but you are also misleading and incorrect all over the place.

    For starters, your Wikipedia list of “rampage killings” supports my point that this type of violence is on the rise. For the U.S., the years listed are 1991, 1984, 2009, 1949, 2012, 1990, 2009, and 1958. Except for the 1949 and 1958, six out of those eight are 1984 or later. I am talking about shooting at innocent people in public and I am talking about in a civilized society.

    The Wikipedia list does at least separate out the family murders which are crimes of passion and separates by other categories, but there is much mixed data in there too that is misleading, such as a “rampage killing” in Afghanistan in 2011 and one in France in 1945. Those are in war-torn areas/times. I also can’t gauge the killings in Columbia (drug related?) or in civil war-torn Africa or Asia or the old Soviet Union as I do not know what kind of injustices or other circumstances surrounded those events.

    Here’s what I was saying: In my 50 years of living in the United States, 1962 to present, these kinds of masacre shootings are on the rise, and that is true. Let’s leave lightening and highway accidents and genocide in chaotic African countries out of this particular equation for now. Let’s not cloud it with layers of other information. Again, you made some good points, but you also included some whopper falsehoods (e.g. “all laws sacrific freedom”) in there that sent me off my chair, lol. It’ll take some time to get through it. If it doesn’t pertain directly enought to the post about massacre shootings and guns, then we should go to the wildcard debate.

    • Rob Anderson permalink
      July 31, 2012 11:11 pm

      You are correct, Pat, and more than you (or anyone else here) seems to know. The modern era of spree killings (a more accurate phrase than “rampage”) did not begin with Charles Whitman, because his was a result of a massive tumor pressing against the limbic portion of his brain, wherein resides our aggressive impulses. No, the first real spree killing was committed by James Huberty in1984 at the McDonalds in San Ysidro, California. This was followed, in rapid succession, by similar types of sprees in Kileen, Texas, three postal facilities, a technology company in Silicon Valley, a printing plant in the midwest, and numerous school incidents starting in 1996 and culminating with the Virginia Tech incident. Oh, and the 101 California massacre in San Francisco where a law firm was the target. I’d bet there are at least a half-dozen more I’m forgetting, but if you tote up the total number of casualties it begins to look like an undeclared war fought piece-meal over many years. And I don’t think it is an accident that this era began at the end of Ronald Reagan’s first term, when the depradations of his administration were finally being felt, and the white collar folks were getting “downsized” in record numbers for the first time ever, largely because of mergers and acquisitions.

      Matt Taibbi’s former publishing partner wrote a book about this several years ago. I’m going to try and find out the title, and if I do I’ll post it here. It’s a very good book, and everyone should it read it.

      • August 2, 2012 7:13 pm

        You can play all the games you wish, whether it is Kazinzki, McVeigh, Holmes, or whoever, all these people have one form of mental deffect or another.

        I am sure wikipedia is far from exhausitive. Further you can redefine your terms however you wish to distinguish or include whatever events you want.

        What is the meaningful difference between serial killers, rampage killers, spree killers, mass murders, …. ?

        Lizzi Borden was 1892. Herod was BC.

        If we filter by killers who used guns – we will have a 100% correlation to guns.

        Regardless, these are extremely rare events. You are more likely to be killed by lightning.

    • August 2, 2012 7:03 pm

      I started a long response – but this is just stupid.

      You can not develop a trend from half a dozen events over a century, in a country with 300,000,000 people.

  26. Pat Riot permalink
    August 1, 2012 12:03 am

    As I read through your last posts, I can see that there is too much work involved to try to help you see how extreme much of your thinking is–not to try to get you to agree with all of my views, but just to try to pull you away from your extremist manner of thinking. A big part of it is your use of absolute terms such as “all,” “any,” “every,” “no,” which are problemmatic to logic. Sure, most people can see how laws can limit freedoms, but you take concepts such as “freedom” tto absolute extremes and pop out the other side with “…common sense = slavery” C’mon man!

    Also, again, you are tripping all over the simple concept of fairness. You overthink the concept of fairness to some impossible extreme pure essence of fairness. It’s not necessary. It’s extreme. No offense, but it must be the Asberger’s-type synaptic connections. Fairness is an easy, workable, practical concept. Most people can instantly, intuitively, sense when something isn’t fair:

    six kids who’ve been playing in the sun want to drink from a public water fountain, but the one biggest kid is blocking the fountain and won’t let any of the other kids have a drink (just out of meanness). The other five kids decide it’s not fair. They want their share of water. They get together and they make a decree or law: any kid who blocks the fountain is going to get the shit beat out of him by everyone else.

    I think that might be a fairly good microcosm (?) of what good government is. Now if you are going to say that the law that the five kids came up with “steals” or “limits” the freedom of the one big kid, well then you’ve got synapses up there that’ve been soddered together forever.

    • August 1, 2012 7:08 pm

      Can I presume from your analogy that we are in agreement that ultimately government is force. That all that distinguishes government for purely voluntary associations is the right to initiate force ? Or is that somehow extreme ? I guess that Thoreaux, Tolstoy, Ghandi and Martin Luther King were extremists too.

      In your analogy:
      I am going to presume a universe of 6 kids, and that the water fountain was a public commons.

      Is the solution the other kids arrived at – the only alternative ? Even the best alternative ?
      If we substitute nations for kids, and weapons of mass destruction for water fountain does your analogy still work ? If not what about those changes alters the principles you are trying to demonstrate ?

      How is it that we know that biggest kid is acting out of “meanness” ? Is it relevant ?
      If he were acting from some other motive would it alter things ?

      Whose water is it ? Why did anyone – either the big kid or the others have a “right” to it.
      How is it we know that any particular structure is “not fair” ?
      Are we entitled to water just because we are thirsty ?

      Is any decree made by the majority of kids valid law ? Can the majority decide to execute one kid for impeding their access to water ?
      Can the majority decide they want the big kids bike and take it by decree ?
      Does fair mean everyone gets the same amount of everything ? Regardless of whether the contributed ?

      As to what I believe – using your hypothetical is it was presented, the water fountain was not owned by anyone. So there was no theft. You do not make clear whether the “Big kid” was actually violent or threatening violence. If that were the case AND if his actions impaired a right of the other kids then their use of force was justified – though possibly excessive – and they needed no decree to do so.

      Regardless the entire hypothetical has an entirely different problem, I think it is generally accepted that whether acting as government or individuals, even when acting legitimately, we are obligated to use the least violent means of accomplishing even legitimate ends.
      I can easily think of atleast 5 other ways to resolve this.

    • August 1, 2012 7:19 pm

      Sometimes I use the absolute terms that upset you because they are correct.
      Sometimes I use them in an attempt to get you to confront how infrequent the exceptions are. From a purely pragmatic perspective, government does not fail ALL the time. But in order to be just the actions of government must succeed nearly all the time.

      Even using your ends justifies the means rationale, if you are going to take away a right – no matter how small, in order to gain some public good, wouldn’t that be morally wrong by your own standards if the outcome was a loss of rights, but no public good ?

      Yet government does not succeed most of the time. How many government programs are you aware of that were terminated because they did not work ?

    • August 1, 2012 7:25 pm

      If I have made an argument that is demonstrably logically false – point it out.
      And there are places where logic does not apply – logic can not create our values – though it can reveal their inconsistencies.
      If you really believe that the ends justifies the means – I can not refute that logically, but I can demonstrate the possible outcomes of that value.

      But please do not try to tell me that something that contradicts logic is somehow still acceptable. I am not going to buy it if you tell me that today is 1 + 1 = 3 day either.

    • August 1, 2012 7:37 pm

      If you are going to continue to fixate of “fairness” I suggest that you study John Rawls.
      Rawls is the 20th century theorist who constructed a philosophy most closely founded on fairness.

      But even Rawls starts with liberty – his first principle is

      “First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others”

      Further Rawls “basic liberty rights” are very limited.

      “The basic liberties of citizens are, the political liberty to vote and run for office, freedom of speech and assembly, liberty of conscience, freedom of personal property and freedom from arbitrary arrest”

      Fairness is further defined as those principles we would reach commonly if no one knew what position, class, social status, … they would have.

      I have alot of problems with Rawls, but most every “fair” position that has been elucidated here would still run afoul of Rawls.

    • August 1, 2012 7:48 pm

      Your analogy fundamentally devolves to an argument about the administration of the commons.

      Communism and socialism, are political theories that place everything or most everything in the commons.

      Ultimately even the Russians, Chinese and Cubans were forced to create property rights.
      They discovered that the commons is pretty much unmanageable – at-least not using top down means.

      I normally avoid property rights here. But we have solved myriads of administration of the commons problems using property rights.

  27. August 2, 2012 6:27 pm

    Teen kills 8 injures 5 in China – with a knife

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