Category Archives: Criminal Justice

Can Gun Control Stop Mass Shootings? (Part 2)

After a bit of a break for vacation.  I’m returning with Part 2 of my consideration of whether or not gun control can stop mass shootings (Read Part 1 Here).

Before we dive into the question, we first need to add some precision to our vocabulary. What constitutes a “school shooting” can be a very broad class, and when the term conjures visions of Columbine, that image doesn’t exactly fit the data points that were used by Everytown.  Many of the incidents were simply shootings that took place at or near a school.  That is, the school was not itself a target, and the violent altercation simply happened to take place there (such as a drug-related altercation or a suicide outside of school hours).  In fact, of the 74 events cited as school shootings since Sandy Hook, fact-checking website PolitiFact found 10 that conjured up images of Columbine (although even then, their list include events like the would-be shooter at UCF who committed suicide instead.) While all of the events cited by Everytown are shootings that took place at school, the appellation “school shooting” seems misleading.  To avoid confusion like this, rather than argue the semantics of defining “school shooting,” we might need to alter our vocabulary.

If it’s the Columbines, Virginia Techs, and Sandy Hooks we’re primarily concerned with, it may be more useful to look to criminology, which refers to these incidents as mass murders (or mass shootings).  While mass murder is not a technical legal term, it is used by the FBI and others to describe a multiple homicide involving four or more victims which take place all in one incident.  This is different from other terms which you may have heard, such as a serial killer or a spree killer (see below).  In contrast to the other classifications, a mass shooting will take place largely in one location, and it is an endgame scenario which the shooter(s) knows will almost always end in their death or arrest.

Diff murder

With this definition in place then, we can finally address the question posed by the title of these two blog posts: Can Gun Control Stop Mass Shootings?  At first glance, the answer seems to be yes.  Mother Jones flatly asserts that more guns equals more mass shootings (correlation as causation, anyone?).  Slate also puts it bluntly:  when Australia passed strict gun control laws in the wake of a mass shooting in 1996, they saw a massive drop in gun violence and there have been no further mass shootings.  So isn’t that all we have to do?  Cut down on guns and we cut down on violence?  That seems to be the logic behind groups like Everytown and many parents grieved in the wake of various mass shootings.  Of course, when Slate goes on to describe the laws Australia passed, the measures taken seem to go far beyond the ones that have so much trouble passing here:

“At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country’s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.)”  – Slate, Dec. 16 2012

Given our Constitutional framework in the wake of Dist. of Columbia v. Heller (holding that the right to bear arms for self-defense is a fundamental constitutional right), these types of measures could only pass with a significant Constitutional Amendment, one that I think we can all agree is unlikely to happen anytime soon.  Furthermore, as Heller ties its holding to a natural right of self-defense, pistols will remain the most difficult firearm to significantly regulate, and since a Texas State University found that a pistol was the most powerful weapon used in 60% of the mass shootings that occurred between 2000-2010, it’s difficult to imagine regulations that could be passed in the current framework that would fully achieve the desired result of keeping guns out of the hands of potential killers.

So do mass shootings just have to be accepted as a cost of the Second Amendment?  For the reasons I’ll discuss below, I don’t believe this to be true. Continue reading


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Can Gun Control Stop Mass Shootings? (Part 1)

In the wake of another outbreak of individuals deciding to make some sort of statement by attacking strangers in a public place, many people are again asking, “why?”  Former NYC Mayor Bloomberg and his organization, Everytown, cataloged all shootings (not all mass or even school-related) that have occurred on or near school campuses since Sandy Hook, which naturally implies that there’s something we failed to do in response to that tragedy which could have prevented subsequent tragedies.  This connection was explicitly made by fathers of victims of both Sandy Hook and the recent stabbings/shootings near UCSB.  Many point to the failure of gun control reform efforts in the wake of Sandy Hook as exactly the failure that led to recent events.  But is the solution to the problem of mass shootings simply, as some claim, increased gun regulation?  I think there are several reasons to be skeptical of this conclusion.

In this post, I will address the issue of gun violence generally, along with some thoughts on how aligning response with our understanding of the motivation of offenders can help us address the problem; then, in Part 2, I will look at how addressing the problem of mass shootings is different than the problem of gun violence, why there are some sociological reasons to be particularly concerned, and I will close by discussing some solutions to that problem. Continue reading

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