It happened again. Damnit. Another guy with a gun, a grudge — and a flak jacket — took revenge on the world. Again. The fraternity of cities that have been visited by mass murderers just gained a new member. In light of what happened the frustration evident in President Obama’s initial statement needs no explanation. “I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again…to offer my condolences to families.” the president said. “But based on my experience as president I can’t guarantee that, and that’s terrible to say.” He can’t guarantee that because mass murders like the one in Umpqua are disturbingly common; the shooter in Charleston hasn’t gone on trial yet and here we are again. Now for the other shoe. As awful as it is to see this happen again the glib manner the president has taken addressing the issue illustrates just how myopic he is in attempting to confront it. The same president that defended politicizing the issue referred to the “choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America,” and went on to add that “we collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.” Not a syllable about the shooter, the same one who got a profile and a picture on the cover of the October 3rd Los Angeles Times.
There is no problem with the intentions of people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton. But for all the time they spend talking about “commonsense” gun laws and criticizing the NRA for opposing their plans they overlook another possible motivator. When a mass murder like the one in Oregon happens the shooter often ends up as famous as their victims. It happened after Charleston when one photo of the shooter there got as much attention as the nine victims. It is no coincidence then that an Arizona State University study found that mass shootings (where four or more people are killed) increase the incidence of similar events within 13 days. According to their research, roughly 30 percent of mass killings take place within what are referred to as contagion periods. There is no proof of a direct connection, but the shooter’s decision to designate a “lucky one” to deliver an envelope to authorities shows an interest in delivering some kind of message to society with the killings as a means to that end. That said, there is merit in some of Ms. Clinton’s proposals. The so-called “Charleston loophole” that allows a sale to be completed if a background check cannot be done in three days should be closed. Bringing background checks to gun shows is worth considering, so are restrictions in domestic abuse and stalking cases.
The problem with proposals like those advanced by President Obama and Ms. Clinton is that they have a way of going off the rails. One example is candidate Clinton’s proposal to hold gun manufacturers liable for damages when guns are used in criminal acts. It has two basic flaws. The first is that it carries a presumption of inherent danger, that a gun’s only purpose is to kill. This is a common fallacy held dear by gun control supporters, and relevant to the second flaw: her proposal gives no consideration to misuse by a gun owner, much less to the audacity required to commit murder. A gun is not dangerous when pointed at a target or hoisted at a skeet range. It becomes dangerous only when someone like the Oregon shooter uses it to kill, and Smith and Wesson should not be held liable for his actions any more than newspapers should be for printing his picture. Ms. Clinton’s comments on an Australian gun buyback program carried out in the late 1990’s is going to make owners even more nervous; not exactly productive on an issue as emotional as this one if her intent is to speak to anyone but her base. Her statement does point out one problem in dealing with shootings like Oregon, much less day-to-day street crime. There is only so much that can be done, short of confiscation, to prevent it because the intent to kill does not begin in the weapon. It begins in the mind of the person who wields it.