MEMO From Michael: Violence and Mass Killings: Our New Reality?

What a sad irony that right after re-living the tragedies of the 9/11 terrorist attacks we are confronted with another senseless mass shooting, resulting in 12 deaths and eight injuries at the Washington Navy Yard. And while we are digesting that, 13 people were shot in a Chicago, apparently the result of a random shooting by a roving gang.

Do you realize this was the fifth mass shooting this year! All bizarre. All awful. Especially, the Colorado movie theater killing of 12, and the horrendous slaughter of 26 young children and two teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. See a summary of mass killings at

In each case, the media leads a search for someone or something to blame. Who messed up? Why did our laws or mental health system fail us? So, the killings, always by a deranged man, ignite intensified political debate about gun laws and how we should identify and confine mentally ill people who might become homicidal. It’s as if we’d would feel safer if we had someone to blame or could convince ourselves that we can eliminate the problem of random shootings with better laws or better law enforcement.

I don’t think so.  I confess I am sympathetic to the gun control movement (for the life of me, I cannot understand why even NRA gun advocates defend the right to buy, own and use automatic weapons with unlimited bullets). But how can one seriously argue that universal background checks will stop people who have gone mad from finding a way to hurt or kill people? More extensive limits on guns and ammunition might prevent some crimes but not this sort.

Sure, enhanced security could make individuals safer (though the killer may simply find another group of victims), but having armed guards at every school and park, or arming teachers, as some have advocated, entails a host of off-setting economic and social costs.

And I don’t think we can count on finding early tip-off signs that a killer was in the making. I’ve yet to hear anyone come up with a sensible, Constitutional way of preventing a few people with mental problems (and there are millions) from going berserk.

I’m not advocating that we surrender — better laws, better enforcement, better mental health care might help, but we may have to face the fact that, like floods and hurricanes, the possibility of mass random violence may have to be accepted as part of our new realty.


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