A Surprising Place of Common Ground in the Mass Shootings Debate

When it comes to mass shootings in the U.S., there is something we should all be able to agree on no matter where on the political spectrum we fall.

Whether we are strong supporters of gun rights, gun restrictions or some other approach, there is at least one thing we can all say.

This doesn’t happen very often in our polarized nation, so it’s worth taking notice.

Mass shootings are very common in our country. Virtually nothing has actually been done to address any of the suspected causes. For the last several years, Congress has not been actively debating the pros and cons of any proposed plans to address this problem with any serious intent.

Therefore, we should all be willing to admit that mass shootings will continue at about the same rate.


This is just basic logic.

Like the old saying goes: If you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten.

We should all be willing to agree on this regardless on where we stand politically or what we think are the causes of mass shootings. That’s simply the most likely scenario. If anyone disagrees with this, I’d sure like to hear it.

Is this something we are willing to accept?

Is this just the way life is going to be going forward? The new normal?

Who’s Job Is It?

So whose job is it to ensure the safety of school children? Liberals and conservatives may have some different views. However, even the most conservative libertarians—who want as small of a government as possible—will argue that “that government’s only legitimate role is to protect individual rights to life, liberty and property.”

The government mandates that children go to school, but it seems incapable of ensuring their safety while there. When politicians say “now is not the time to talk about gun violence” they are derelict in their elected duties no matter which political philosophy you follow. People are free to use self-defense, but that should be a last resort, not a first resort. The first and primary responsibility for security falls directly on our elected leaders.

What Do We Do?

Gun control supporters actually have plans with lots of ideas. Here’s one. There are others. Maybe they will work, maybe they won’t, but they are based on real data and real experience in other parts of the world, as well as previous laws in the U.S. The causes of mass shootings are complex, but more and more the data is showing us that the sheer availability of firearms is the strongest correlating factor in mass shootings, like this NY Times article. Other countries have comparable rates of mental illness, breakdown of the family and (lack of) religious commitment of the population, but most don’t have many mass shootings. The U.S. has more guns and more gun-related deaths—those are the only two data points that are unique for us.

Other data, like in this Washington Post article, is showing us that a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines would result in a significant drop in mass gun deaths. We already had a version of that law from 1994-2004 and no one lost their basic liberties over it. It probably wouldn’t solve the whole problem, but it would be a significant step in the right direction.

If gun control isn’t the solution, then what, pray tell, is?

Some say the solution is better mental health treatment. In this NY Times article, a psychiatrist shares the cold reality about why mental health treatment will not fix the problem of mass shootings. She argues convincingly for better gun control.

Some gun rights supporters don’t actually have a plan, other than the slow arming of the entire population. It seems like the only scenario they support is turning this country into some kind of a Wild West video game, where everyone walks around all day packin’ in some kind of testosterone-fueled action movie and schools are turned into fortresses. That seems like a fantasy for little boys, but this is a situation that calls for mature men and women. The fact that virtually every other nation in the world has figured out how to keep school children safe without having to resort to this should be our first clue that there is a better way.

It is hard to accept someone telling me that my child is safer if teachers are armed when the halls of Congress is a gun free zone.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Regulations Work.

Despite all the negative comments you may hear about gun regulations, the truth is that the government does a fantastic job regulating weapons. The vast majority of weapons are only available to the military, and the military does a great job of keeping it that way: Armed tanks, missiles, nukes, chemical and biological weapons, most bombs and grenades, you name it. You just can’t go out and buy that stuff, because regulation actually works quite well. In fact, if you want a bomb, you pretty much have to make it yourself. Try to research how to do it and acquire the ingredients without attracting the attention of Homeland Security in the process! A few domestic terrorists have shown us that it can be done, but it’s clearly not easy. I’m tired of making it easy for mass murderers.

But you need a comprehensive control. You can’t allow it in one city then ban it in the next city (i.e. Chicago).

People act like a ban on assault rifles would be some major break with the Constitution, but the vast majority of weapons have always been unavailable to civilians. Given our long and bloody history with mass shootings, the line between “military” and civilian” weapons has become blurred and needs to be re-evaluated.

There are clearly some weapons circulating in the general population that only belong in the military. Civilized countries just don’t let random people walk around the streets carrying loaded machine guns. You can’t even do that in the military—weapons are kept under a strict chain of command and there are detailed procedures for how to use and store them. Large scale firepower should never be in the power of random citizens to use at their private discretion.

Imagine walking around a military base just randomly carrying loaded firepower whenever you felt like it! That would never happen. There are very good reasons for that: Accidents, mental illness, people with grudges, people with power issues, sociopaths, suicidal people who want to take out others, the list goes on and on. There is some firepower that is so large that vast amounts of damage can be done before anyone can react to stop it, so it’s better to stop it further upstream. The threat of losing their lives or life in prison does not seem to deter most terrorists.

Weapons of mass destruction should only be kept and used (if at all) by an organized body (such as the military) which is accountable to the government (the people) where there is a strict chain of command, training and precautions governing their use and storage. I think that’s what the framers of the Bill of Rights meant by the term “well-regulated.”

“A Good Guy With a Nuke”

Some things are not meant for private individuals to use at their own discretion. Nuclear weapons are a great example. A “good guy with a nuke” is not an effective deterrent against a “bad guy with a nuke.” If both parties have a conscience and feel responsible for the lives in their respective nations, then a nuclear standoff might work. But all you need is one crackpot dictator with nothing to lose who doesn’t care about the consequences, then suddenly we’ve got nuclear Armageddon. A good guy with a nuke will be ineffective in stopping the deaths of millions in that scenario. He might get the last word, but at what cost?

A school shooter is very similar to a crackpot dictator with nothing to lose. They all probably know they are going to eventually get caught and either killed or imprisoned. They don’t care. They just want to cause as much devastation as possible before that happens.

Social Contract

The best solution is that we as a whole society should come together and make a social contract with each other—making the free choice to give up the use of some weapons because the lives of our children are simply more important—and their freedom to live is more important than our freedom to own weapons of mass destruction.

Living in the large civilized society means that we have to continually make adjustments and compromises in order to figure out how to share this space together and accommodate each other in the best possible way. There is nothing new or unusual about having to make adult sacrifices in order to be in relationship with each other. We do it all the time, as we are a nation of laws and sensible regulations. Like a successful marriage, you give up some things so you have have even better things. We can choose to stomp our feet and complain that the “government is taking things from us,” or we can maturely come together and take responsibility for these choices because we realize that are indeed the best options available.

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