“Gun Crime”

I’ve lost count of the times people have insisted my feelings about guns would change if someone I knew was a victim of a “gun crime”. This shows their ignorance. And even if my “feelings” did change, the truth doesn’t.

I’ve had three close friends shot by bad guys. Two of them died as a result. Do I blame the guns? That would be as pointless and stupid as blaming cars for my daughter Cheyenne’s death.

In one case, my friend was shot in the head by an angry ex who had been in and out of mental institutions. While she sat at a red light. I don’t think she ever knew he was in a car next to her. She probably wouldn’t have been saved if she’d had a gun– which she was in the process of trying to get government permission to carry. But it wouldn’t have made things worse. Making it harder for her to “legally” carry a gun didn’t help her.

In another case, a friend was shot in a mugging. He didn’t hand over enough money (he handed over all he had, the mugger just didn’t think it was enough) and then tried to elbow the excited mugger. He survived. Since he was not situationally aware, was in a dangerous place at a bad time of night, having a gun might not have done him any good. But if he’d had a gun it wouldn’t have made things worse for him. And, just maybe things would have gone worse for the mugger– who was never identified or caught.

In the final example, a friend of mine, my closest teenage friend, was shot in the gut “accidentally” and left to bleed out for an hour or more until a witness finally decided to call an ambulance. It was too late. According to the shooter, it was accidental. But I don’t believe my friend would have held a gun by the barrel while handing it to someone– he was more careful than that. Although I also think drugs, possibly a drug deal gone bad, were involved. If it was really an accident, then his having a gun wouldn’t have helped. If, however, it was a murder, then perhaps he could have defended himself had he been armed. Either way, having a gun wouldn’t have made it worse for him.

It’s so dumb to separate “gun crime” (or worse, “gun violence”) from other archation. I’m opposed to the innocent being harmed or killed regardless of the tool used by the bad guy. I wouldn’t feel better had my friends been violated with fists, bricks, knives, boots, or “laws”.

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If It Bleeds It Leads: How the American Media Perpetuates and Profits from Mass Shootings

I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media the following if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders: Don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photos of the killer. Don’t make it 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story. Localize the story to the affected community. And make it as boring as possible in every other market.

Video games. 4chan. “Toxic masculinity.” These are just a few of the media’s favorite folk devils when it comes to assigning blame for mass shootings in America. However, there is startling evidence that how the media covers these tragedies makes them culpable in perpetuating future ones.

This might sound like an outlandish claim, but it’s supported by evidence from no less an authority than the National Institutes of Health. It’s related to a well-established phenomenon of copycat suicides known as the Werther Effect. Other countries’ medias have taken steps to minimize the Werther Effect through self-imposed industry standards on suicide reporting, and many of these standards have parallels with the coverage of mass shootings.

The American media currently has no industry standard practices for how to cover either suicides or mass shootings. However, one can easily see the difference between how mass shootings and suicides are covered. Whereas suicides are treated as sombre tragedies, mass shootings often have the sensationalism turned up to 11. There’s a detailed discussion of the shooter’s life story, motives and methods. Strong evidence suggests that this both encourages and instructs potential mass shooters.

Statistically-speaking mass shootings represent a tiny portion of all deaths in the United States. For example, 2017 was the deadliest year for mass shootings in America with a total of 117 people killed. For context, 102 people die from automobile accidents every day according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute.

Despite the low frequency of these tragedies, the media pays outsized attention to them for self-serving reasons which are both political and economic: There’s a demonstrated anti-gun agenda amongst America’s media. And there’s the ongoing shift in the media’s business model to attention-based revenue that results in ever-more sensational news coverage and “clickbait” headlines.

The lurid attention to mass shootings is profitable for America’s press, cable news networks, and social media companies – despite the consequences encapsulated by the Werther Effect. Thus a look at the role the American media plays in perpetuating these rampage killers is in order.

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Codifying Our Worst Impulses: The Ideas that Started World War II

 

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, the deadliest violent conflict in human history.  Death tolls vary, but often reach 80 million souls.  What caused it?  Lists of proximate causes never end, but the only credible “root cause” is simply: ideas.  Three countries started World War II: Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union.  While popular summaries rarely list the Soviets as initiators because Hitler double-crossed Stalin two years later, Molotov and Ribbentrop’s  so-called Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a Treaty of Aggression Against Poland, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Romania.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What ideas led the leaders of Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union to war?  The obvious answer is extreme nationalism – the view any action is morally praiseworthy if it advances the interests of your nation-state.  Heinrich Himmler said it best:

For the SS Man, one principle must apply absolutely: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood, and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, the Czechs, is totally indifferent to me… Whether other races live well or die of hunger is only of interest to me insofar as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise that doesn’t interest me. Whether 10,000 Russian women fall down from exhaustion in building a tank ditch is of interest to me only insofar as the tank ditches are finished for Germany.

…When somebody comes to me and says, I can’t build tank ditches with children or women. That’s inhumane, they’ll die doing it. Then I must say: You are a murderer of your own blood, since, if the tank ditches are not built, then German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. That is our blood. That is how I would like to indoctrinate this SS, and, I believe, have indoctrinated, as one of the holiest laws of the future: our concern, our duty, is to our Folk, and to our blood. That is what we must care for and think about, work for and fight for, and nothing else. Everything else can be indifferent to us.

Almost everyone understands that Japan and Germany grew extremely nationalistic during the 1930s.  Few realize that the same holds for the Soviet Union as well.  Under Stalinism, anything that advanced the interests of the Soviet Union was the moral imperative – starting with the reabsorption of all the breakaway territories of the Russian Empire.

By itself, however, extreme nationalism need not generate war.  Rationally speaking, the best way to advance the national interest is with peace and consumerism.  The leadership of Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union, however, all angrily rejected this bourgeois, “shopkeepers’” perspective.  Instead, they equated the national interest with the power and glory of the government – and angrily denounced Western “plutocracies.”

This was most obvious in the USSR, which deliberately eradicated the rich, business, and private property itself in order to build a totalitarian militarized society.  But Germany’s National Socialists had a similar vision.  Their goal was not to build an idyllic consumer society, but a mighty war machine.  Unlike the Soviets, however, the Nazis had the common-sense to harness the rich, business, and private property rather than destroy them.   As Hitler told Nazi defector Hermann Rauschning:

He had no intention, like Russia, of “liquidating” the possessing class. On the contrary, he would compel it to contribute by its abilities towards the building up of the new order. He could not afford to allow Germany to vegetate for years, as Russia had done, in famine and misery. Besides, the present owners of property would be grateful that their lives had been spared. They would be dependent and in a condition of permanent fear of worse things to come.

The same holds for Japan: Its leaders equated the national interest with the power and glory of the Japanese government, not the safety and prosperity of the Japanese people.  So while the Japanese government happily used the domestic rich and domestic business, it truly bled them dry during the war.  As Walter Scheidel explains in The Great Leveler:

Japan was once one of the most unequal countries on earth. In 1938, the country’s “1 percent” received 19.9 percent of all reported income before taxes and transfers. Within the next seven years, their share dropped by two-thirds, all the way down to 6.4 percent. More than half of this loss was incurred by the richest tenth of that top bracket: their income share collapsed from 9.2 percent to 1.9 percent in the same period, a decline by almost four-fifths.

However rapid and massive these shifts in the distribution of income, they pale in comparison to the even more dramatic destruction of the elite’s wealth. The declared real value of the largest 1 percent of estates in Japan fell by 90 percent between 1936 and 1945 and by almost 97 percent between 1936 and 1949. The top 0.1 percent of all estates lost even more—93 percent and more than 98 percent, respectively. In real terms, the amount of wealth required to count a household among the richest 0.01 percent (or one in 10,000) in 1949 would have put it in only the top 5 percent back in 1936. Fortunes had shrunk so much that what used to count as mere affluence was now out of reach for all but a very few.

What’s the right word for “equating the national interest with the power and glory of the government rather than peace and consumerism”?  There are many candidate labels  – “statism,” “romanticism,” “populism,” “communitarianism,” “anti-capitalism.”  But none is quite right, so we might as well stick with the label that activists who equated the national interest with the power and glory of the government have preferred throughout the 20th century: socialism.  Obviously, there are many kinds of self-identified socialists – including socialists who unequivocally seek a peaceful, consumerist society.  Historically, however, these are rare – and since I’m not a socialist, I say that “real socialism” equals “what most self-styled socialists do when they have power.” Whatever label you prefer, the key point is that all the regimes that started World War II praised the power and glory of the government to the skies – and brought traditional elites – the rich and business – to their knees.  Or their graves.

Before you join me in blaming World War II on nationalism and socialism, though, there’s an obvious objection: These ideas have been ubiquitous for ages.  My response: The emotional impulses behind nationalism and socialism – impulses like xenophobia and anti-market bias – are indeed long-lived and widespread.  Far more children dream of being warriors than merchants.  But the initiators of World War II turned these knee-jerk feelings into bodies of thought.  They codified humanity’s worst impulses into explicit, militant, self-conscious ideologies.  And they took their ideologies seriously enough to kill for them – and often to die for them.

Does this mean that every latter-day nationalist and socialist is morally comparable to the architects of World War II?  No; that’s absurd.  The reason for this moral non-comparability, though, is disturbing.  The rhetoric of modern nationalism and socialism remains grotesque.  Anyone who says “By any means necessary” is, by implication, saying, “If it takes 80 million deaths for us to win, then so be it.”  The saving grace of latter-day nationalists and socialists is that almost all of them are hypocrites.  They may say, “By any means necessary,” but thankfully few have the stomach for it.  As I’ve said before, if your ideas are bad, hypocrisy makes them less bad.

Still, I am dismayed by the renewed popularity of nationalism and socialism.  I don’t think World War III is coming this century.  If it does come, however, I will blame the nationalists and socialists who take their scary slogans to heart.

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Will the DNC Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory Yet Again?

President Donald Trump faces an exceedingly narrow path to re-election in 2020. In order to beat him, the Democratic nominee only needs to pick up 38 electoral votes. With more than 100 electoral votes in play in states that Trump won narrowly in 2016 — especially Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida — all the Democrats have to do is pick a nominee ever so slightly more popular than Hillary Clinton.

That’s a low bar that the Democratic National Committee seems determined, once again, to not get over.  As in 2016, the DNC is putting its finger on the scale in favor of “establishment” candidates, the sentiments of the rank and file be damned.

Last time, the main victim was Bernie Sanders. This time, it’s Tulsi Gabbard.

Michael Tracey delivers the gory details in a column at RealClearPolitics. Here’s the short version:

By selectively disqualifying polls in which Gabbard (a US Representative from Hawaii) performs above the 2% threshold for inclusion in the next round of primary debates, the DNC is trying to exclude her while including candidates with much lower polling and fundraising numbers.

Why doesn’t the DNC want Gabbard in the debates? Two reasons come to mind.

Firstly, her marquee issue is foreign policy. She thinks the US should be less militarily adventurous abroad, and as an army veteran of the post-9/11 round of American military interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, she’s got the credentials to make her points stick.

Foreign policy is a weak spot for the increasingly hawkish Democratic establishment in general and the front-runner and current establishment pick, former vice-president Joe Biden, in particular. As a Senator, Biden voted to approve the ill-fated US invasion of Iraq. As vice-president, he supported President Barack Obama’s extension of the war in Afghanistan and Obama’s ham-handed interventions in Libya, Syria, and other countries where the US had no business meddling. The party’s leaders would rather not talk about foreign policy at all and if they have to talk about it they don’t want candidates coloring outside simplistic “Russia and China bad” lines.

Secondly, Gabbard damaged — probably fatally — the establishment’s pre-Biden pick, US Senator Kamala Harris, by pointing out Harris’s disgusting authoritarian record as California’s attorney general. Gabbard knows how to land a punch, and the DNC doesn’t want any more surprises. They’re looking for a coronation, not a contest.

If the DNC has its way,  next year’s primaries will simply ratify the establishment pick, probably a Joe Biden / Elizabeth Warren ticket, without a bunch of fuss and argument.

And if that happens, the Democratic Party will face the same problem it faced in 2016: The rank and file may not be very motivated to turn off their televisions and go vote.

Whatever their failings, rank and file Democrats seem to like … well, democracy. They want to pick their party’s nominees, not have those nominees picked for them in advance. Can’t say I blame them.

Nor will I blame them for not voting — or voting Libertarian — if the DNC ignores them and limits their choices yet again.

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Anti-Gun Laws Always Wrong Path

In the wake of the recent mass shootings and the hype surrounding them, people are asking “why?”

Simpletons parrot the popular answer: “guns.”

Sensible people know there’s no single reason.

Thankfully, mass shootings are rare. The way they are publicized makes them seem common, and copycat crimes often follow on the heels of well-publicized shootings. If it were up to me, the shooter’s face would never be shown and his name would be replaced by the words “some loser.”

Mass shootings — almost without exception — happen in places where guns are prohibited. This makes sense. People who plan to shoot random people don’t want their intended victims to shoot back.

A “gun-free zone” — be it a mall or other business, a school or other government facility, or an outdoor event — gives them exactly what they want.

Some people blame poor “mental health care,” suggesting it’s government’s responsibility to run a giant socialist program for identifying mentally unstable people and rounding them up or forcibly medicating them.

I don’t trust people who believe governing others is OK to make reasonable assessments of other people’s mental health.

The “worthlessness” these shooters express in the months and years leading up to their evil deeds must play a part. If you don’t have any meaning in your life it is easier to decide nothing has meaning so you might as well act on your hopelessness, nihilism, and anger.

These guys need meaningful relationships. They need meaningful work. Both are getting harder to find for the average person. This isn’t something government can fix, but perhaps society will find solutions.

I suspect the lack of an attainable frontier may contribute to the problem, and believe if one doesn’t open up soon, things will get worse.

I would be tempted to blame violent video games, except the evidence seems clear that this isn’t the case. If you desensitize people to committing violent acts it seems they’d be more accepting of aggression in real life. Yet the data points to the opposite effect. The violent games apparently serve as a sort of pressure release.

The same goes for violent movies.

I didn’t want to believe it, but I must accept the evidence unless more evidence comes to light. I can’t help but wonder why accepting evidence is such a difficult thing for humans to do.

The evidence is clear: there are many causes, but making things worse — with additional anti-gun laws — is always the wrong path.

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Mass Shootings and the Media

Why do we have mass shootings? What has changed? It isn’t the weapons. Americans have had guns for as long as there have been Americans. Kids too. Some people want to blame mental health, but that doesn’t explain it either. Even if we ignore the fact that the mentally ill are not typically violent (indeed, they are far more likely to harm themselves than others), there have always been crazy people.

“It’s racism!” some people insist. Really? If you graphed racist beliefs in this country, you would see a steady decline over the last century. If racism led to mass shootings, they would be declining. None of the typical reasons blamed for these crimes actually explain why someone would be more inclined to commit a mass shooting in 2019 than in 1959.

So, what has changed?

The answer, to me at least, is obvious. It’s the media. The media as it exists in 2019 is perhaps the most notable change from the world we inhabited half a century ago. Non-stop, politicized pronouncements of doom and gloom spill forth from every screen, every speaker, and every form of communication. Tales of death and crime terrify and titillate in turn.

Those who feel angry and want the world to know it now have an opportunity that never before existed. They can take control of the news cycle for days or even weeks simply by committing an act of mass violence. Regardless of if they live or die, their name and face will gain a level of exposure that rivals the most notable celebrity or politician. They can be famous, even achieve a certain type of perverse immortality. All they have to do is kill some random strangers.

A well-known politician has declared that “the media is the enemy of the people.” While his pronouncement may have been self-serving, it contained at least an element of truth. The media uses fear as a currency. It stokes controversy and creates enemies. It wants you to believe that it is doing a service, providing a public good. The truth is far more sinister. The media is creating the climate of hate and fear that inspires mass shooters. The media itself has become one of the most destructive forces in our society.

Instead of providing news and information, the media manufactures misinformation spun from opinion, conjecture, and political meddling. The media has constructed a world of danger and delusion to justify its own existence. And people just keep tuning in.

Unfortunately, there is no easy or obvious solution. I can advise you to turn off your T.V., cancel your cable subscription, and boycott your local newspaper, but until a majority does the same, the malevolence will continue to spread. All I can really suggest is that you recognize your real enemy. It isn’t your neighbors or the folks on the other side of town. It isn’t those who voted for that politician you hate. It isn’t immigrants or racists or whatever other hobgoblins the media has concocted for you to dread.

The media wants you fearful and suspicious, worried and angry. When you are, you are more controllable. You keep tuning in to learn who else you should hate. Stop allowing yourself to be controlled! Stop buying the bullshit that the media delivers by the dump truck load. Turn it off and tune it out. Talk to real people. You’ll probably find that you have a lot more in common than you have been led to believe, because—despite what the media tells you—it’s not actually a war zone out there.

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