An American Madness

 

All countries have mental illness, but its expression differs dramatically by culture. Historically, in southeast Asia, men whose minds were coming unglued displayed symptoms of wild, uncontrolled violence. It was called “amok” and entered our language as “running amok.” In the Middle East, the afflicted showed symptoms called “zar” — inappropriate outbursts of laughing, singing, and screaming. In 19th century Europe, women had “hysterical” blindness and unexplained paralysis. In 20th century America, young people suffering from anorexia starved themselves to death in the belief that they were obese.

Our culture, for complex reasons, has given rise to a new expression of madness – the mass shooting followed by suicide.

A few of our worst – San Bernardino, Orlando, Fort Hood, Charleston — were terrorist attacks. The killers were not crazy, just bent on destruction for political ends. But the majority of mass shooters over the past several decades have been mentally ill men. The Virginia Tech killer had displayed many signs before his assault. So had the killers in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Washington’s Navy Yard, and on and on.

In 1966, a 25-year-old ex-Marine stabbed his mother through the heart. He then did the same to his wife, covering their bodies with sheets. He left a note confessing to the crimes and asking that an autopsy be performed on him after his death. Later that day, he climbed the tower at the University of Texas and began a shooting spree that lasted 96 minutes. Fifteen people, including teenagers, were killed, and more than 30 were injured before police were able to kill the man and end the siege.

An autopsy was performed. The shooter, who had visited many psychiatrists and other doctors complaining of headaches, was found to have a brain tumor, a glioblastoma, the size of a pecan.

Because the Las Vegas killer’s last act was to put a gun in his mouth and blow his brains out, an autopsy may be of limited value in this case. We can only do a social autopsy, and so far, that has led only to more questions. He was utterly outside the usual categories of mass killers. He wasn’t young. He was wealthy. He had displayed no previous signs of mental instability. His massacre was meticulously planned and executed — not a case of running amok with a gun. Any explanation, even that he had somehow become a devotee of ISIS (which the terrorists claimed afterwards but which is highly doubtful) would at least piece this together.

But even before learning what motivated this killer, we can shake off some of the old dust that encrusted the gun control debate. This is not about “gun violence” writ large. Most people know that deaths from guns have been declining over the past several decades even as gun ownership rates have risen. It is not about “silencers” either, as people who shoot guns for sport will tell you. The James Bond image of “silenced” guns stealthily dropping people is mostly a Hollywood invention.

A nation with a Second Amendment, a strong belief in the right to self-defense, and 357 million guns in circulation is not going to have an Australian-style confiscation. Gun control absolutists need to live in the real world. The US is not going to become Japan, which has almost no guns, or Switzerland, for that matter, which has a gun in every home and virtually no violence.

That said, if we understand that the thing we are trying to prevent is the next mass shooting, banning “bump stocks” would seem reasonable. These adaptations to the AR-15 – the Las Vegas mass murderer seemed to be using one and appeared to have many in the hotel suite — permit the user to fire so rapidly that the semi-automatic weapon becomes in effect an automatic one. No “good guy with a gun” stands a chance against a bad guy in that situation.

Machine guns, grenades, and other weapons have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934. A 1986 amendment made it illegal for civilians to own a fully automatic weapon manufactured after May 19, 1986. Machine guns of older vintage are available, but extremely expensive and highly controlled. That’s as it should be. No one thinks our Second Amendment rights are compromised because machine guns are nearly impossible to obtain. So are bazookas and Stinger missiles.

The American psychosis of mass shootings isn’t just a gun problem. Publicity, the modern opiate, may be a motive, which is why, in my small way, I try not to contribute. I don’t name the killers.

I believe the shootings of random, happy people doing normal, quotidian things are a symptom of the spiritual emptiness and loneliness that afflicts a subset of our people — a by-product of family dissolution and fraying communities. It won’t be solved by any gun measure. But if there’s a good reason not to ban bump stocks, I haven’t heard it.

There are 34 comments.

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  1. Thomas Anger Member
    Thomas Anger
    @

    I hate it when people use collective terms like American madness. It’s just as meaningless as “We the People“.

    • #1
  2. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Well worded and reasonable piece.  I’ve shot an AR with a “bump stock” and while it was fun it’s basically a novel way to blow lots of money on ammunition.  I wish the media/politicians would endorse the idea of waiting til the facts are in and see if there is anything we can do to prevent an attack like that.  Instead it’s hysteria and demands that “something is done” with zero consideration to whether it would have prevented said attack.  So frustrating and so predictable.

     

    • #2
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    The Good Reason for not banning “bump stocks” is that banning things does not and cannot work. This particular thing is fairly easy to make, and criminals will find a way to make or import them. A ban is stupid.

    • #3
  4. TeeJaw Inactive
    TeeJaw
    @TeeJaw

    I’m a firearm enthusiast but have no desire to own a bump stock. I don’t believe it would be wise to outlaw them either because giving even a crumb to the gun control nuts will not satisfy them. It will only make them hunger for more. They are never satisfied, they never give up. In every conflict the aggressor makes the rules. Gun control nuts are the aggressors. Those who value their liberty must play by the rules they have set — or lose.

    • #4
  5. TeeJaw Inactive
    TeeJaw
    @TeeJaw

    Concretevol (View Comment):
    …it’s hysteria and demands that “something is done” with zero consideration to whether it would have prevented said attack. 

     

    If anyone can think of any law that, had it been in place, would have stopped Stephen Paddock, please let me know. I don’t think there is any such law. We have laws against murder but somehow murder still happens.

    • #5
  6. jaWes (of TX) Member
    jaWes (of TX)
    @jaWesofTX

    Mona Charen:But if there’s a good reason not to ban bump stocks, I haven’t heard it.

    I’ll go the other direction and make an argument for making fully automatic weapons more readily available.

    If part of the purpose of the second amendment is to ensure the people can form their own militias if needed, then it seems to me the right to keep and bear arms should extend at least to the type of weapon that is carried by the common infantryman in our professional army. The service members among us can correct whatever I get wrong, but from Wikipedia it seems that is currently the M4 or M4A1, one of the primary differences being the M4A1 version is fully automatic whereas the M4 is only capable of 3-round bursts. If the people were going to form an effective militia, would they not need at least a weapon as capable as an M4?

    On the other side of the argument, when the second amendment was written we had neither a professional army nor the destructive power of a modern fully automatic rifle. So perhaps the standard issue rifle from the Army is a poor benchmark for what civilians should be able to purchase at their local sporting goods store. But I would prefer that we approach these sorts of decisions rationally, as opposed to reacting emotionally to the latest tragedy. Yes, that weapon allowed him to kill many people. But as some have pointed out in other threads, he likely could have killed just as many by driving a semi-truck through the crowd. Is it wise to begin banning things because they are the current weapon of choice for psychopathic killers?

    • #6
  7. TeeJaw Inactive
    TeeJaw
    @TeeJaw

    An “American Madness?” Oh gosh, Mona.

    jaWes (of TX) (View Comment):

    Mona Charen:But if there’s a good reason not to ban bump stocks, I haven’t heard it.

    I’ll go the other direction and make an argument for making fully automatic weapons more readily available.

     

    I second that.

    The 1934 Act controls are ample to keep them out of the hands of criminals. Almost no crimes have ever been committed with a 1934  Act weapon. Some reports say only one, others say three. It’s no more than that.  Under the 1934 Act the ATF can show up at your door at any time and demand to see how your sweetheart is stored and to inspect it. I’m OK with that. The 1986 amendment was slipped in under cover of darkness without deliberation or hearings. Even Susan Collins is against enacting legislation in that fashion, or so she has recently said.

    If an ATF agent showed up at my door and announced, “I’m with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.” I’d say, “Well, come on in. I like all of your stuff.” [But not all at the same time, of course.]

     

    • #7
  8. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    Mona, you do know that a moderately competent machinist or hobbyist can convert an off the shelf AR to automatic fire?  (And an incompetent one can do it by accident.)

    I’m not interested in owning a ‘bump stock’ but banning them is the usual meaningless symbolism, and will only encourage those out to progressively constrain Second Amendment rights.  IOW, the kind of preemptive surrender we’ve come to expect from ‘mainstream’ Republicans.

    • #8
  9. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Locke On (View Comment):
    Mona, you do know that a moderately competent machinist or hobbyist can convert an off the shelf AR to automatic fire? (And an incompetent one can do it by accident.)

    But I would wager most of the mass shooters who used AR15’s aren’t machinists and don’t know any crooked machinists who would make an illegal mod for them.  Does that change the calculation here?

    • #9
  10. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    It’s almost impossible to extrapolate any useful meaning out of this single event. We won’t know for ten years whether it is a point on a trend line of similar events or a black swan.

    However, my husband has been saying for years that “whatever man can conceive he can achieve,” and I keep thinking that the horrific AK-47 scenes I’ve seen in the movies and television shows over the last decade, each one worse than the last because the producers are competing with each other to create the most horrific scene yet (and now they can do it all with computer graphics), is important. Whatever lies in the human imagination that creates these fictitious events in the movies and on television and in computer games may have somehow gone completely haywire in the Las Vegas shooter. He didn’t know the people he shot. He was creating a scene.

    • #10
  11. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Locke On (View Comment):
    Mona, you do know that a moderately competent machinist or hobbyist can convert an off the shelf AR to automatic fire? (And an incompetent one can do it by accident.)

    But I would wager most of the mass shooters who used AR15’s aren’t machinists and don’t know any crooked machinists who would make an illegal mod for them. Does that change the calculation here?

    You’re thinking a guy who accumulated dozens of rifles, thousands of rounds, and a bunch of mod kits is going to be put off by have to learn that trick?  Even an accountant can probably manage it.  (I am carefully not linking to where can you find out how to do it, but trust me, the info is out there.)

    • #11
  12. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Locke On (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Locke On (View Comment):
    Mona, you do know that a moderately competent machinist or hobbyist can convert an off the shelf AR to automatic fire? (And an incompetent one can do it by accident.)

    But I would wager most of the mass shooters who used AR15’s aren’t machinists and don’t know any crooked machinists who would make an illegal mod for them. Does that change the calculation here?

    You’re thinking a guy who accumulated dozens of rifles, thousands of rounds, and a bunch of mod kits is going to be put off by have to learn that trick? Even an accountant can probably manage it. (I am carefully not linking to where can you find out how to do it, but trust me, the info is out there.)

    No, I specifically said “most mass shooters”.  I agree that an highly motivated, unscrupulous, dedicated, malevolent person will not be easily stopped by those types of bans.  But for someone with a smaller dose of any of those traits, it might deter them.

    The main consideration in making laws like these is not what some could do in principle, but what they actually do in practice.  Else you could argue there’s no point in screening for bombs in airplane luggage because in principle somebody could just make a guided missile in their garage.  I and several work my colleagues have the knowledge required to create a missile guidance system.  None of us is willing to put that knowledge toward illegal uses.  Odds are, very few people who have the desire to bring down airliners have someone in their social network who is both capable and willing to help them.

    • #12
  13. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    “Does that change the calculation here?”

     

    Not really.

     

    I knew a guy who claimed at the age of 16 he and his buddy stripped down a m-16 to fully automatic by reading instructions out of a book.

     

    We live in the age of the internet where 3D printed guns exist.

    • #13
  14. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Mona Charen: Machine guns, grenades, and other weapons have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934. A 1986 amendment made it illegal for civilians to own a fully automatic weapon manufactured after May 19, 1986. Machine guns of older vintage are available, but extremely expensive and highly controlled. That’s as it should be. No one thinks our Second Amendment rights are compromised because machine guns are nearly impossible to obtain.

    I do, and I offer to debate you or your proxy on the constitutionality of the NFA and its progeny as applied to full auto weapons.

    So are bazookas and Stinger missiles.

    Is this merely an attempt to insult our intelligence? If they banned pocket knives, you could also say “So are bazookas…” If you understood why the NFA was unconstitutional as to full auto weapons, you might be able to explain why it might not be as to bazookas, etc.

    • #14
  15. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    I knew a guy who claimed at the age of 16 he and his buddy stripped down a m-16 to fully automatic by reading instructions out of a book.

     

    Seems like hearsay.  Maybe bragging exaggeration.  Even if true, I think that’s the exception.  Postulate that making bump-stocks illegal might cut out 20-30% of mass shooters who aren’t savvy enough to make one themselves.  If we have a national policy prohibiting automatic firearms, banning bump stocks seems to fit with the spirit of that.  Right?

    • #15
  16. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    Locke On (View Comment):
    Mona, you do know that a moderately competent machinist or hobbyist can convert an off the shelf AR to automatic fire? (And an incompetent one can do it by accident.)

    I’m not interested in owning a ‘bump stock’ but banning them is the usual meaningless symbolism, and will only encourage those out to progressively constrain Second Amendment rights. IOW, the kind of preemptive surrender we’ve come to expect from ‘mainstream’ Republicans.

     

    I’m sure a machinist can modify a semi for full auto – then that machinist and the person that had him do it would be violating the law and should face the consequences. This is the first thing in months I’ve agreed with Mona on – I’m a gun owner (not hardcore enthusiast nor gun grabber) but you ardent gun enthusiasts/no compromisers seem unreasonable here. I fully support ‘the right of the people to keep and bears arms’ but there’s the ‘well regulated militia’ portion too. I think if you guys don’t bend on these near-automatic alterations, you’re inviting a more draconian response.

    • #16
  17. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    “Seems like hearsay. Maybe bragging exaggeration.”

    My understanding talking to a number of gun experts is you can recreate the basics of a bumb stock using a shoelace.

    How many crimes since 1934 have been done using either a bump stock or fully automatic weapon?

    In fact how many mass shooters have there been using a bump stock to cut 25 percent of them out of the equation?

    • #17
  18. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    “Seems like hearsay. Maybe bragging exaggeration.”

    My understanding talking to a number of gun experts is you can recreate the basics of a bumb stock using a shoelace.

    How many crimes since 1934 have been done using either a bump stock or fully automatic weapon?

    In fact how many mass shooters have there been using a bump stock to cut 25 percent of them out of the equation?

    The copy-cat effect that seems to influence mass shooting suicides suggests that we’ll see an increase in bump stocks used in mass shootings in the future.  How many instances would meet your threshold?

    Or are you making this argument: “If we can’t stop 100% of would-be mass shooters, it’s not worth doing.”

    • #18
  19. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Mona Charen: That said, if we understand that the thing we are trying to prevent is the next mass shooting, banning “bump stocks” would seem reasonable.

    There is nothing magic about firearms, a slaughter is a slaughter. Are the 86 individuals slaughtered in Nice any less dead because the massacre was performed with a cargo truck as opposed to a firearm?

    Let us speculate that whatever Second Amendment restrictions you please are in place retroactively, so that the Vegas perpetrator is successfully prevented from performing a “mass shooting” thereby. So what, do you imagine it ends there?

    The individual in question was a pilot, owned his own aircraft and had substantial quantities of ammonium nitrate. Determined to carry out his massacre he turns away from his first plan and instead flies his aircraft with a bomb into a massive open air concert.

    Congratulations, you’ve at least tripled the casualties but at least you prevented a “mass shooting”.

    • #19
  20. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    The reason not to ban things, even dumb things, like bungee jumping or bump stocks or cigarets and sugary drinks is if it cant’ actually affect the behavior targeted, it merely stimulates those who want to ban lots of things, regulate others, and in general control the lives of other people.    And it can distract from real issues like urban gun deaths in minority neighborhoods and suicides where interventions might actually help.

    • #20
  21. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Mona, your past paragraph was spot on. I fear it will get worse. Mental health has been in the spotlight for years.  Patrick Kennedy is a very positive voice for these issues. His book A Common Struggle is excellent. It will give you a whole different perspective on the Kennedys.  Both parties have had a platform on this issues for years.  It is huge, and barely a whisper.  The HIPPA Laws are not favorable for healing, nor are the physicians who over-prescribe meds and push patients through the system.  The healing has barely begun on the Vegas tragedy, and the mouthpieces on both sides, like Hillary, are all too quick to spout the answers, yet people like her have had decades in public office to do something.  It’s always AFTER the massacres do we have these conversations.  It’s so painful.

    There is mental illness and gun laws and then there is evil.  Evil running rampant in today’s society – it is real.  This man had the wherewithal to plan a diabolical, sinister act of hate upon innocent multitudes – your last paragraph holds the remedy.

    • #21
  22. Dorrk Inactive
    Dorrk
    @Dorrk

    There may be very good arguments against restricting certain types of guns or gun enhancements, but “it would make my political adversaries happy” is not one of them.

    If it’s easy to to DIY a bumpstock, then regulating or outlawing the official sale of them should be unobjectionable, right?

    Everything is a “slippery slope” from one angle or another. It’s a meaningless objection except as an excuse to be obstinate out of spite.

    • #22
  23. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Roberto (View Comment):
    There is nothing magic about firearms, a slaughter is a slaughter. Are the 86 individuals slaughtered in Nice any less dead because the massacre was performed with a cargo truck as opposed to a firearm?

     

    I suspect the allure of shooting rifles into a crowd is a type of glamorous evil that is extremely alluring to the kind of psychopath we’re talking about.  I have speculated in the past that the prospect of killing people in a mass shooting, rather than detonating a bomb or driving a truck, makes certain twisted people more likely to carry it out.  I can’t support this with any evidence but it nonetheless seems true.

    • #23
  24. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    The gun control advocates will put forth a specific bans and surround them with hype.  Those who do not want to encourage dishonest demagoguery should not rise to the bate, we can’t win on the little things like a bump stock.  Instead invite a broad discussion of the issue of gun violence  and put forth principles that must be met.  There are a variety of gun violence and each requires different interventions.    What is the threat an intervention is aimed at stopping,  what is the mechanism the law change would use, why is this particular threat a priority relative to others.  What is the evidence that the intervention will be effective.  How will the rule be worked around. What are the foreseeable unintended consequences?  Invite them in but invite them in to have an honest discussion.  They don’t want that.  Give it to them any way.  Then dismiss them if they’re not interested.

    • #24
  25. Hammer, The Member
    Hammer, The
    @RyanM

    It is important to note that a bump stock is not required to bump fire a gun. People generally don’t do this because they cannot really bump fire and aim. Those stocks didn’t likely have much impact. Many people can pull a trigger on a semi-auto fast enough and with much more control. Such a ban would be meaningless and would not do anything to prevent the next mass murder.

    • #25
  26. Hammer, The Member
    Hammer, The
    @RyanM

    Dorrk (View Comment):
    There may be very good arguments against restricting certain types of guns or gun enhancements, but “it would make my political adversaries happy” is not one of them.

    If it’s easy to to DIY a bumpstock, then regulating or outlawing the official sale of them should be unobjectionable, right?

    Everything is a “slippery slope” from one angle or another. It’s a meaningless objection except as an excuse to be obstinate out of spite.

    Not out of spite, out of principle. The government should not ban things. Allowing them to regulate things that are “no big deal” is a very bad idea.

    • #26
  27. Hammer, The Member
    Hammer, The
    @RyanM

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    I knew a guy who claimed at the age of 16 he and his buddy stripped down a m-16 to fully automatic by reading instructions out of a book.

    Seems like hearsay. Maybe bragging exaggeration. Even if true, I think that’s the exception. Postulate that making bump-stocks illegal might cut out 20-30% of mass shooters who aren’t savvy enough to make one themselves. If we have a national policy prohibiting automatic firearms, banning bump stocks seems to fit with the spirit of that. Right?

    Except that such postulation is nonsense. People are talking about “bump stocks” only because this shooter happened to have a few. Without them, a roughly equal number of people would be dead. It wouldn’t cut 20-30% of anything. It would have no impact at all.

    • #27
  28. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Roberto (View Comment):
    There is nothing magic about firearms, a slaughter is a slaughter. Are the 86 individuals slaughtered in Nice any less dead because the massacre was performed with a cargo truck as opposed to a firearm?

    I suspect the allure of shooting rifles into a crowd is a type of glamorous evil that is extremely alluring to the kind of psychopath we’re talking about. I have speculated in the past that the prospect of killing people in a mass shooting, rather than detonating a bomb or driving a truck, makes certain twisted people more likely to carry it out. I can’t support this with any evidence but it nonetheless seems true.

    You were better off with your first guess. It’s notoriety that is desired. The means are utterly irrelevant, but the cachet of being a notorious villain talked about by media for days and weeks on end has value, as opposed to some loser no one gives a damn about who when he dies not one person attends his funeral.

    Focusing on the means is absurd. It’s the glamorization which is the true draw. If this trash could have gotten this much attention with a slaughter delivered by a garbage truck then he would have done it that way.

    • #28
  29. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Weren’t the San Bernardino shooters originally planning a bomb attack?

    I think the “bump stock” ban would, at best, serve as a bone to throw to the gun nuts.  For that matter, in this particular case I’m not sure changes to the mental health system would do much either, but all the information isn’t in on that score. The girlfriend has apparently described some strange, pre-atrocity behaviors, but I don’t know if these would serve as red flags for a serious mental illness quickly enough and obviously enough to have some intervention make a difference, even assuming effective intervention was available. (I agree, of course, with @MarciN that the effective interventions aren’t broadly available and those that are are stymied by HIPPA etc.)

    I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat myself: I have come to understand that describing the problem as “Gun Violence” isn’t particularly helpful. Any magic solution to Gun Violence doesn’t stop Timothy McVeigh, the truck running over people, stabbings, the Tsarnaev brothers etc. etc.

    Instead, I’d prefer that we address:

    1. Terrorism (mostly Islamic, at the moment)

    2. Inner city crime/gangs

    3. Severe Mental illness

    If we could effectively deal with any one (let alone all) these issues so as to turn down the volume if not eliminate them altogether, there would be fewer murdered people. And in the case of #2 and #3, less suffering and more happiness.  Which would be nice.

     

     

    • #29
  30. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    There is one thing that I read that makes me think the Las Vegas shooter was truly and deeply mentally ill. According to the woman at the coffee shop he often went to:

    “He looked like he never slept because of the large bags under his eyes,” added Ms Mendoza.

    Sleeplessness is the most common symptom of mental illness. It makes sense to me that that may have been what the doctor was treating who originally prescribed the Valium for him.

     

    • #30
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