Another Tragedy at a School…

ImageToday’s news is dominated by yet another attack at a school; a still-unidentified assailant for reasons unknown crosses paths with 14 victims.  We used to count the interval between these events in years.  Now, it seems like months or even days.

But, wait, there’s something different here.  Instead of dead bodies, the ambulances and helicopters today transported the living.  At least two are critically injured, but none – as of this writing – have died.

The reason for this important difference, of course, is that this time the attacker didn’t use a gun. He – officials have said the suspect in custody is a 21-year old male – used some sort of stabbing weapon to attack his victims.

So, when the National Rifle Association tells us that guns aren’t the problem, it’s the people, I’d like to respond by saying – with all due respect – bullshit.  There are 14 families today hugging their kids today instead of burying them.  There are 14 people whose lives didn’t end today.  There are hundreds of first responders in the Houston area who went home tonight and held their families a little tighter because they got to save people today.  Houston, Texas, the U.S. and the world are praying for recoveries along with understanding instead of just trying to understand why this has happened again.

Fatalities 0.  Injuries 14.  A horrible day, but better than our recent box scores:

Gun violence

The Senate is finally ready to take up legislation on preventing gun violence, including measures like background checks that are supported by 90 percent of Americans.  This chart explains why:  Nearly all Americans know that bad people and sick people are out there who can do terrible things in the grips of an illness or an ideology or simply evil.  Nearly all of us think we ought to take reasonable measures to limit their ability to kill our children, parents, siblings, friends, family or neighbors.

– Austin

54 thoughts on “Another Tragedy at a School…

  1. That anyone could argue for continued access to assault weapons sickens me. I am grateful that today, an old fashioned man powered weapon was used in place of a high capacity rapid fire killing machine. Of course it’s the person behind the gun doing the killing but as you point out, the fatality rate is going to be lower if the tool in the killer’s hand is limited in its power. Glad these kids lived. Horrified it keeps happening.

  2. Minnesotan says:

    A quick, hopefully short rebuttal.

    Background checks might work if they had any teeth. Much of the problem is how poorly the systems work, and how there appears to be zero accountability for those responsible for collecting mental health records and making sure it gets passed along to other agencies. Just a few examples:

    • On today’s, the guy that shot a West Virginia sheriff had bought a firearm despite being legally prohibited from possessing one. Maynard’s father has said his son had mental problems and had previously been in an institution. “At this juncture, it appears that the system didn’t work, for whatever reason,” Sparks told The Associated Press. “And we’re exploring that.”
    • The Virginia Tech shooter had passed two background checks even though a judge had found him to be a danger to himself and ordered him to get mental health treatment.
    • According to a Jan. 12 LA Times article, more than half the states haven’t provided mental health records to the federal database that gun dealers use to check on buyers.
    • The psychopath in MN that had killed his mother was able to easily evade the background system due to “failures in the state court system, and haphazard data collection by state agencies, according to interviews with law enforcement officials.”

    This list could drag on for quite a while. But the point is, government agencies seem to be doing a miserable job at collecting and sharing the information that is the key to a background system working in the first place.

    As for yesterday’s incident – it’s great that he didn’t use a gun. But the guy chose to use an Exacto Knife, which is about as non-fatal a weapon with a blade there is. We probably would be talking about multiple fatalities if he used anything more substantial. The weapon isn’t the point, as people this unbalanced could use virtually anything to cause great harm to innocent people. It doesn’t give me much comfort knowing there are so many people that either go untreated, or worse, undert-reated.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      The weapon absolutely is the point. It’s almost as if you didn’t read the original post.

        1. Minnesotan says:

          I agree the weapon is the point. He used a weapon that is a small step up from a Gillette razor. If he would have used an actually knife, even a steak knife, there likely would have been fatalities.

          My point Jim is that it simply was lucky he chose an Exacto Knife and not any number of other common items that could have been much more fatal. This incident was more of a “fortunate circumstance” than an example of what would happen from the result of enhanced background checks.

          To even prove that point, you’d have to have some evidence the person wouldn’t pass a background check in the first place.

          1. Jim Leinfelder says:

            This is a rather thread bare and, quite frankly, annoyingly lazy, counter argument to background checks, that they won’t prevent all gun violence. No single measure will, of course. My only hope for this panacea your sort demands is the gradual evolution of this country away from its fetishization of violence and its peculiar to itself fixation on guns, as evidenced by the straight-faced use of the phrase, “gun culture.” We seem to moving ever so slowly in that direction, as evidenced by the drop in gun ownership. But if we get there, it’ll be after old age takes me out. Meanwhile, reasonable mitigation is a threat to no one.

            1. Minnesotan says:

              Jim, I’m not arguing against background checks, per se. I am pointing out you can’t use this incidence, at least with what is currently known about the stabber, as proof of what additional background checks or a reduction in guns would do.

              From what I’ve read, which admittedly hasn’t been anything today, this guy had fantasies about stabbing people to death. He had no desire to use a gun, so background checks don’t seem to have any relevance to this incident.

              If it comes out this guy wanted to use a gun for his rampage but couldn’t pass a background check – then it could be used as an example. If it turns out there were mental health issues that the new proposals would have prevented him from buying a gun – then it could be used as an example.

              Right now, from what we know, he didn’t use a knife because he couldn’t get his hands on a gun. He had no interest in using a gun in the first place.

  3. I don’t dispute much of what Minnesotan writes. The same database from which I drew the table above (maintained with a certain tone of obsessiveness by Mother Jones) also notes that the vast majority (70 percent or so) of mass gun killings in the last 40 years have been done with guns legally owned. The system as it exists today appears to be far from perfect. Part of that imperfection, it should be noted, is a consequence of lobbying by pro-gun organizations to prohibit collection, sharing and analysis of some information. Part of it is due to poorly drafted and/or poorly implemented laws and part due to enforcement choices; when you have to prioritize law enforcement dollars do you put your money against tracking and arresting those who try – and fail – to pass a background check (and thus don’t have a gun) or in tracking down bad guys who do? A legitimate question, I think.

    But, despite Minnesotan’s points, my original notion still stands: if guns were less available in our culture, there’d be fewer body counts and more survivors the next time somebody invades a school or a movie theater or a Congressional town hall meeting. There’d be fewer suicides (by far the largest cause of gun deaths).

    According to the CDC, there were 31,672 firearm deaths in the U.S. in 2010. 19,392 of those deaths were suicides. I believe many of those people would still be with us if they’d not had ready access to such a lethal device.

    Opponents of gun control point out that cars kill about the same number of people each year (33,687 according to the same CDC data) and ask if we should ban cars as well. I submit cars and other vehicles provide enough benefit to society to justify their lethality. I don’t believe the same is true with guns.

    Others will disagree and that’s OK, but I rarely find their arguments persuasive. I don’t believe the black helicopters are coming to get me (and if they are, my AR15 isn’t going to stop them) or that I need to arm up to defend myself from the hordes who are going to come for me and mine (watch any episode of Doomsday Preppers). I don’t hunt, don’t target practice, shoot skeet. I’ve never fired a handgun other than a pellet gun and a bolt-action rifle maybe three times (my high school, weirdly enough, had a riflery team and a shooting range in the basement of the gym). My parents didn’t own guns so they’ve never been a part of my experience.

    Yes, the Constitution provides that, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” but there’s a good argument to be made that the application of those words has been stretched far beyond original intent. And, of course, this is the same document that at one time accepted slavery and disenfranchisement of women, the young and people without property. It can and should be changed with need. Given the elitist tendencies of both the Federalists and the States’ righters among the drafters, I suspect that – were they around today – they’d be all in favor of restricting gun ownership to a small minority of the population.

    – Austin

    1. Erik says:

      The Viet Cong and Taliban took down hundreds of helicopters with small arms fire.

      Yes, I know you’re being conceptual rather than literal.

      What is it you’re actually trying to say? People shouldn’t revolt ever? ‘It’ (police state totalitarianism) will never happen here? People should succumb to an unfortunate fate of negligent police homicide, should they be so unlucky, and just let their estate fight it out in court?

      1. PM says:

        “People should succumb to an unfortunate fate of negligent police homicide, should they be so unlucky, and just let their estate fight it out in court?”

        As opposed to what? People get shot by the police (and killed, sometimes) and you are suggesting that they should arm themselves and kill the police in turn? Seriously?

        Now you really are sounding like the Black Panthers.

        1. Erik says:

          I’m talking about self-defense against the state. I’m not talking about any killling ‘in turn’.

      2. I’m not saying any of those things. I’m just noting that there’d be a lot fewer dead people to bury if it weren’t quite so easy for the mentally ill and the emotionally disturbed to get their hands on a gun when the urge to kill themselves or others overwhelms them. I question whether it’s worth paying the blood debt – 30,000 fatalities a year every year, 80 or 90 people a day – so that people can arm themselves against the distant possibility of a totalitarian government or the collapse of civilization.

        But, since you asked, yes, I do believe that revolts against an oppressive government can be just. Yes, it can happen here. I worry, in fact, that our obsession with “security” over the last 12 years has led us to devalue our civil liberties too much. But, the police state I fear the most is based on control of information rather than guns. Information can be deadly.

        As for “negligent police homicides,” yes, they happen, but in vanishingly small numbers as far as I can tell. According to Wikipedia, U.S. police killed 583 people last year in total, the vast majority found to be justifiable homicides. Even if you assume every single one of those killings was actually unjustified, that number represents 0.000019% of the population, a death rate on par with death from appendicitis.

        – Austin

        1. Erik says:

          You’re telling me I’m unpersuasive rather than wrong. Fair enough.

          Thing is, if we get a new background check law in the next couple days, the number of mentally ill or criminal it newly precludes from getting firearms is going to be ‘vanishingly small’. There’s not going to be ‘a lot fewer dead people’. There’s probably barely any efficacy to be had at all, not that is going to show up statistically. So there is in fact a legitimate argument that questions whether this is a worthwhile lawmaking endeavor, whether you’re persuaded or not. Under the circumstances, you’re inability to be persuaded because you presume to have some weight of analysis is a bit absurd. You’re making an assertion that is not in any apparent way superior to those arguments of the gun people.

          You’re insight of police power is that of a privileged, urbane white liberal. It’s so perfect it almost would have to be comedic.

          1. I yam what I yam. I’ve grown up extraordinarily privileged in one of the most wealthy societies in history in one of its most expansive periods. With a few exceptions, none of which have proven influential enough to reverse my world view, my experiences with large institutions – governments, corporations – have been positive.

            And, once again, it’s nice to find common ground in that we both agree the current range of proposals is unlikely to do enough to curb gun violence. I’ll take that as a win.

            And, as for analysis, I’m all for competing points of view; bring your data, bring your sources and let ye be judged.

            1. Erik says:

              You’re arguing for a proposal, a change. You’re the one obligated to make a case for it. You bring the data, speculative or otherwise. We’ll see if it’s falsifiable, then we’ll consider it in terms of cost benefit.

              You folks don’t own any presumptions here. You’d do well to understand that, merely just to identify where the ball is to be moved.

        2. Jon: Watching the Connecticut legislative process over the past couple weeks I was struck by how often individual legislators and journalists remarked on the same thing … namely, the wholly unique level of “passion” fueling the pro-gun lobby. “There’s nothing like it. Abortion doesn’t even come close”. “The reaction to this [by the “gun culture”] is unlike anything with any other issue. Nothing compares.” And so on and son on … .

          We see it on display here every time the topic is even whispered.

          Point being — again — that mental health problems in the context of guns is probably a lot broader than just manifestly insane characters like Jared Loughner, James Holmes and Adam Lanza. Firearms exert a powerful allure for a certain type of personality.

          They are coherent enough to make distracting legalistic, constitutional arguments for doing nothing to restrain the “gun culture”. But I submit these intensely “passionate” “gun enthusiasts” of our “gun culture” [euphemism upon euphemism] are psychologically troubled as well.

          Based on their responses to discussions like this I strongly suspect they actually do play “war games” imagining government assaults and violent confrontations that are, if not the stuff of B-movie fiction, so statistically unlikely as to be non-existent. … but yet we treat them as fully-functioning counterparts in this prolonged debate.

          I’ve often said that a plausible gun control strategy would be to open a broad and deep conversation about those individuals’ bizarre psychological need for guns, if for no other reason than that they re the ones actively stockpiling guns and ammo, while the rest of us buy fewer and fewer firearms and are increasingly baffled at what in hell so terrifies them.

          Also, let’s not ignore that on the topic of adequately dealing with mental health issues, these same “firearm enthusiasts” are invariably the same people urging cuts in social programs designed to help the utterly insane.

          1. Minnesotan says:

            Brian, I think you make a lot of assumptions. I do know when the gun legislation was being debated in MN, 2nd Amendment supporters overwhelmed the capital and greatly outnumbered those pushing for greater gun control laws. By most accounts they were orderly, peaceful and anything but the type of people you describe.

            About the only accurate description you make of them is “passionate.”

            I strongly suspect most people who have no interest in owning a gun think everyone else shares that viewpoint. And they’re mystified to find out that just because their friends, co-workers and neighbors don’t walk around with guns strapped to their hips that they also think guns should be regulated out of existence.

            1. Ok, then we’ll assume that all those folks in Connecticut gobsmacked by the “passion” of “gun enthusiasts” also completely misread what they were seeing. And we’ll politely ignore the numbers that show dwindling gun ownership among the population at large simultaneous with expanding gun and ammo purchases by existing owners … and the ferocity with which the latter minority “defend their rights”. We’ll just pretend none of that is happening and it has no meaning deeper than … they love their guns.

        3. Re: Jon’s “Even if you assume every single one of those killings was actually unjustified, that number represents 0.000019% of the population, a death rate on par with death from appendicitis”

          Yes, but the 2nd Amendment doesn’t protect the right to possess a puss-filled abscess on a useless organ. READ THE CONSTITUTION, JON.

          1. It doesn’t? Are you sure? I thought it allowed us to possess pretty much anything that could be weaponized. A pus-filled abscess on a useless organ sounds like a very dangerous bio weapon.

        4. Erik says:

          Negligent police homicides kill more people than mass shootings. If that’s a tolerable number, and not a problem to address, then there certainly isn’t a need to address mass shootings through background checks.

          1. Jim Leinfelder says:


            Absent any citation, I’m inclined to doubt your claim, even as parsed as it is. But whatever the stats are on negligent police shootings (let’s assume you object to be wounded as well as killed), can’t we assume that the “gun culture” and its threatening pall of ubiquitous weaponry in this country is a contributing, not mitigating, factor in the over application of force by police? I can’t site anything but common sense to support my assertion. But it seems to me that a cop reading the sorts of things you and your peers post would leave them in all the more hair-trigger mind set every time they encounter any one of us.

            1. Erik says:

              It occurred to me it was a bad claim after I hit submit.

              The general observation is that we think we need to ‘do something’ about some things that are statistically insignificant, while others things with similar statistical frequency are not as urgent. And this happens because emotions are a determinant.

              I don’t know. Maybe. But it’s a chicken / egg thing that I don’t think has much relevance. Ubiquitous weaponry isn’t going away. Our natural rights to self defense aren’t going away.

            2. Minnesotan says:

              Jim, how does your assertion jive with the numerous law enforcement officials who have publicly opposed many of the gun control measures that have been put forth – and especially those who encourage citizens to carry?

            3. Jim Leinfelder says:

              MN, I would ascribe it to the usual garden-variety stupidity to be found in any group, and the religiosity of many people’s gun affinities that eclipse their own interests, in this case, a small minority of cops.

              Most police in leadership positions do not oppose better, more effective, background checks. Most people don’t. And then there’s congress.

            4. Minnesotan says:

              Jim, you might be surprised at the findings of a recent survey when it comes to cops and gun control. I know I was. I’m a bit skeptical of the survey, but here is an an article from a columnist at the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

              “police overwhelmingly favor an armed citizenry, would like to see more guns in the hands of responsible people, and are skeptical of any greater restrictions placed on gun purchase, ownership, or accessibility.”

              If you take issue with the AJC columnist, the WSJ also mentioned it on their blog, but most of the story is password protected:

            5. Jim Leinfelder says:

              This is getting pretty tiresome.

              Look, as they say on cabe TV talk shows, granting the fondest wishes of these alleged cops who feel their efforts would be aided by additional responsible gun owners and passing legislation to allow for universal background checks, magazine capacity limitations, stiff penalties for straw buyers and a ban on assault weapons for that matter, are in no way incompatible.

              However, the trend is not favoring a more widely-armed populace, just more guns and tons of ammo in the hands of the shrinking numbers of gun fetishists who cannot shut up about how dearly they love, love, love ’em some shootin’ irons.

            6. Erik says:

              It is getting tiresome. We keep revisiting a discussion that is not germane. IE, you get a bite at this apple once a generation, and we’re not getting AW bans or magazine limits this time around. Stop the moral preening on irrelevancies.

            7. Erik says:

              OK. Good article, but he can’t bring himself to falsify our notion that the state doesn’t have a natural monopoly on force and weapons.

            8. Jim Leinfelder says:

              Three hundred million guns out there, Erik. What are you on about? Just trying to, in some small way, mitigate the violent mayhem.

            9. Erik says:

              Again, it’s very ambiguous that the level of violence in this country is such that that a newly aggressive mitigation plan, in the form of legislation, is really necessary. This is a low crime country where crime continues to trend down. Under the circumstances, I’m inclined to not have rights diluted. This is not an irrational perspective.

          2. PM says:

            bait and switch time?

            Mass shootings are NOT the only thing that would be addressed by background checks. levels of crime with a deadly weapon would be as well(to the extent that enhanced background checks would keep some criminal from acquiring weapons), as would suicides (by keeping some of the mentally ill away from weapons). Just to mention 2 others.

            1. Erik says:

              There’s no efficacy for that either.

              There’s this BS stat of 40% private sales floating around, which doesn’t even matter.

              The guns that criminals don’t steal are acquired by straw buying at retail counters. It’s not as if that isn’t against the law. It’s just impossible to make that case and prosecute. It’s not illegal to buy a gun and give it to someone, not matter what the form 4473 makes you attest.

              The Toomey – Manchin bill doesn’t change that. And you’re not getting the Schumer bill, because it wouldn’t pass. What is it that you think you’re for that actually has some chance of becoming law?

            2. PM says:

              Sure there is. for example, for a background check to be efficacious, all it would have to do is to keep one suicidal person from purchasing a gun on an impulse–that is a very low bar. It is a simple solution to a not all that complex problem–gun violence.

              I am not saying that it would necessarily have prevented any particular school shooting–but a very good system of comprehensive background checks might have done so (it would be impossible to prove that one way or the other–can’t go back and replay history, nor can you conduct double blind social experiments of this nature).

              In any event, the case i made earlier for background checks still stands–it is the best way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill (can you tell me a better way, that you would prefer, Erik?)

            3. Erik says:

              It might be literally efficacious if it saves one life, but it’s an extremely poor cost / benefit proposition.

              I reject the premise. I’m not convinced we need a better way. We live in a low crime country, where crime continues to trend down.

            4. PM says:

              So in your opinion, there should be no restrictions on the ability of criminals or the clinically insane to purchase guns?

              If you disagree, what restrictions would you place on them, and how would you enforce those restrictions?

            5. Erik says:

              I never said that, and it is not reasonable to read what I have said and then assume that is my position.

              I think there’s a great deal of logic that supports the current background check system.

              The gun rights bloc will ostensibly have no objection to these administrative things that can be done with medical reporting.
              I’m against universal background check because it needs a registration component for it to work.

              By the way, if we get the Toomey-Manchin bill, and then Reid and Schumer and the President declare victory, you’ll have gotten chumped.

            6. PM says:

              but the current system isn’t working! It is full of flaws, as pointed out by Minnesotan! Why do you support a flawed system? Why do you oppose trying to make it better and more comprehensive? Why do you oppose it covering a greater percentage of gun sales? Personally, i think that it should cover all gun sales–this current proposal doesn’t do that, but it covers more than current law, so that is progress (of a sort).

              and, by the way, at this point in the debate, i am for seeing the NRA get beat–doesn’t matter to me if it is a big defeat or a small defeat, i want to see them lose–I want their strategy of opposing all change in current gun laws to be defeated. I want legislators to see that the NRA does not own washington, that legislation can be passed over their opposition. I think that would be healthy for the country.

  4. PM says:

    The fact that there are problems with the current system of background checks is an argument in favor of doing background checks better, more thoroughly, more comprehensively. It is not an argument in favor of not doing background checks at all.

    Lets face it, everyone (the NRA included) agree that there are some people who should not have access to guns–criminals, toddlers, the insane. In order to accomplish this very basic goal that all people agree on we need a system of background checks that is comprehensive and works well. Once we have that, we can then argue about just how extensive the list of people who should not have guns should be.

    I can not see how anyone can argue seriously against a thorough and comprehensive background check system. Just as we check id’s of people who want to buy alcohol or cigarettes, we need to do something similar to those who want to purchase firearms.

    1. Minnesotan says:

      I’m not arguing against background checks. I’m pointing out that in many of these situations the background checks that were conducted should have prevented them from buying a gun in the first place. But they didn’t, and generally speaking the response seems to be, “we’re not sure why the system the system failed, we’ll look into it.”

      I’m saying there shouldn’t be background checks – but it would be a better use of resources to fix the issues with the current background check system before adding additional background checks – which seems to be like adding on an addition to your house, when you know the foundation isn’t sound.

    2. PM: Remember that in our system of government we only pass legislation that completely, totally, utterly solves the identified problem. Insider trading? Laws are written, It disappears. Ditto: Homicide, speeding, expired tabs, sexual harrassment. Unless a law delivers 100%, we don’t go there.

  5. PM says:

    OK, I am just a bit confused: are you saying “I’m not arguing against background checks”; or are you saying “I’m saying there shouldn’t be background checks”.

    I do agree with you that it is important to fix the current background check system, which clearly isn’t working well (apparently many states do not report things like if someone has been committed to a mental facility, etc.). But we also need to fix the holes in the system–all gun sales should include a background check. And we should probably amend privacy laws to allow doctors to place people on some sort of do not sell lists, etc. And i expect that there are all sorts of other things that need to be done to make the system work well–but a big portion of the problem has been the obstructionism of the NRA and its allies.

    1. Minnesotan says:

      PM, I’m not against background checks. But I also believe that additional background checks are more of a feel good measure than anything that will prevent the next tragedy from occurring.

      1. Minnesotan says:

        As you mentioned PM, privacy laws that would allow doctors to identify people as a threat to cause great harm to others would be a huge step. Of course, you also have the problem of all the computer systems and databases “talking” to each other is probably another huge hurdle that would need to be addressed.

  6. bertram jr. says:

    Austin: Gun violence is a false term conjured by the left.

    You should know better. Why don’t you?

    A gun is an inanimate object.

    1. Gun violence, knife violence, air conditioner violence. I don’t see a liberal-conservative dimension to any of those terms. Tote bag violence? Fanny-pack violence? Not seeing it.

      – Austin

      1. Minnesotan says:

        What about SameRowdyCrowd violence? I think we could have ourselves quite a royal rumble. I’ll be the guy in the ring chewing on the turn buckle like George the Animal Steele.

  7. PM says:

    OK, we seem to have about killed this topic (temporarily), but here is another angle–maybe the solution to the problem of mass shootings/stabbings is censorship….

    “Perhaps the best way to prevent mass shootings is censorship. For example, it could be made illegal to publish any information at all about mass shooters. No names. No pictures. No probing stories about their fraught home lives. Nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t work, and mass killers would nevertheless go on to achieve through their evil work the glory of infamy. Then again, maybe it would work. Shouldn’t we be willing to at least consider a small abridgement of the first amendment, if doing so would save even one child from a horrific death?

    The fact is, most of us would rather lose an abstract kid or two than resort to this sort of censorship. We don’t like to admit that, so we tend to deny that it would work. But nobody actually knows it wouldn’t work.”


    1. Erik says:

      Seems to be a spitballing exercise. Your side doesn’t want that. They want firearms prohibition. My side doesn’t want that.

      I think it’s bad law. Another inane-ity.

  8. bertram jr. says:

    As Rush quite accurately pointed out today (4/16), Bill Ayers started out doing exactly what happened yesterdayin Boston. I imagine you all are trying to wring out your apologetic tomes to terrorists blowing more American innocents to shreds…..well, Bertram is taking this rather personally. I have an 8 year old son, and my brother in-law, who runs Boston regularly, in the 4 hour range, took this year off.

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