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So what are we going to do about it?

Randy Stapilus
View from Here

And so as we end another year, another round of madman shootings – just this week three dead and one injured at Clackamas Mall in Oregon – where only luck kept the death toll from rising much higher – and at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where so many children were slaughtered.

How much longer, how many more insanity-driven shootings, before something meaningful is done? Not, to be sure, with the idea that there’s such a thing as a perfect prevention, but with the idea that mass killings should be at least harder to accomplish, and diverted more often. And recognizing that it doesn’t have to be this way: The United States really is an aberration among the more developed countries around the world, most of which see nowhere near as much of this sort of violence.

Drawing in part from a Jeffrey Goldberg piece in the Atlantic and a spate of other articles, here are a few thoughts.

• If someone is determined to kill, they will kill. But the impact can be lessened. If guns were not the hand weapon of choice, violence would not end, but fewer people probably would die. Last week in central China a man entered a school and attacked about two dozen people – but he did it with a knife, and while many of those people were slashed and stabbed, all of them lived. The attack was not prevented entirely, but the efficacy of weaponry made a difference.

• With something on the order of 300 million guns of various kinds in the United States, the idea of getting rid of them, or even very many of them, is futile. Leaving aside legal issues, there are many legitimate legal uses of many guns apart from those use by law enforcement and military, and self-defense is a legitimate use. But relatively few people really know how to properly, carefully and safely use a firearm. Anyone who thinks the Clackamas or Newtown events could have been stopped by a population of shoppers or educators who’d been packin’ ought to stop to visualize what probably would have happened in fact: A frantic shootout by panicked people that would have doubled, tripled, quadrupled the death toll. A public of vigilantes ready to shoot first and ask questions later would be vastly more dangerous than what we have now.

• Do we really need, on the open market and available for any (prospectively crazed) person to buy, semiautomatic firearms that can kill dozens of people in minutes? Yes, other guns can kill, too, but not so many people, so quickly. Do we really need such easy access to 30-round magazines for AR-15 semiautomatics? Shouldn’t it be at least harder to access such lethal firepower?

• Gun critics also, though, should stop to ask: What should we do, how should we respond, if a maniac with a gun shows up in a public place? Should there be no response? Goldberg’s Atlantic article points out how a school administrator in Georgia prevented a potential mass shooting because he was armed. The takeaway seems to be that carefully training and then arming a select and limited number of key personnel working in public places – a concept something like having marshals working on airline flights, not as their primary job but with strong secondary training – could in fact help.

• We should be getting a little clearer idea at this point of what sort of individual usually does this sort of thing. A widely applicable profile has begun to emerge: A young man, with job and/or relationship problems, cutting social ties around him … Red flags ought to start popping up after a while. More attention is needed to properly identifying these red flags, to try to divert these shooters before they become shooters.

• Maybe some gun ownership rules should be considered. There are rules now theoretically banning guns from people convicted of certain crimes and with certain mental conditions but, as observers have pointed out, few to none of the recent mass killers even fell into those categories (not that this might have stopped them from getting hold of the weapons anyway). We may need some more sophistication in how we approach this. Goldberg: “It has to be made more difficult for sociopaths, psychopaths and the otherwise violently mentally-ill (who, in total, make up a small portion of the mentally ill population) to buy weapons.”

None of these ideas are complete answers. But they, or some combination maybe in concert with other ideas, could save some lives.

What we should not do is fob off the argument about how to deal with these crazed shootings. Remember: This can happen anywhere, even in your neighborhood. What we’ve endured so far should be more than enough.

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