The Right Opinion

The Roots of Mass Murder

By Charles Krauthammer · Dec. 21, 2012

WASHINGTON – Every mass shooting has three elements: the killer, the weapon and the cultural climate. As soon as the shooting stops, partisans immediately pick their preferred root cause with corresponding pet panacea. Names are hurled, scapegoats paraded, prejudices vented. The argument goes nowhere.

Let's be serious:

(1) The Weapon

Within hours of last week's Newtown, Conn., massacre, the focus was the weapon and the demand was for new gun laws. Several prominent pro-gun Democrats remorsefully professed new openness to gun control. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is introducing a new assault weapons ban. And the president emphasized guns and ammo above all else in announcing the creation of a new task force.

I have no problem in principle with gun control. Congress enacted (and I supported) an assault weapons ban in 1994. The problem was: It didn't work. (So concluded a University of Pennsylvania study commissioned by the Justice Department.) The reason is simple. Unless you are prepared to confiscate all existing firearms, disarm the citizenry and repeal the Second Amendment, it's almost impossible to craft a law that will be effective.

Feinstein's law, for example, would exempt 900 weapons. And that's the least of the loopholes. Even the guns that are banned can be made legal with simple, minor modifications.

Most fatal, however, is the grandfathering of existing weapons and magazines. That's one of the reasons the '94 law failed. At the time, there were 1.5 million assault weapons in circulation and 25 million large-capacity (i.e., more than 10 bullets) magazines. A reservoir that immense can take 100 years to draw down.

(2) The Killer

Monsters shall always be with us, but in earlier days they did not roam free. As a psychiatrist in Massachusetts in the 1970s, I committed people – often right out of the emergency room – as a danger to themselves or to others. I never did so lightly, but I labored under none of the crushing bureaucratic and legal constraints that make involuntary commitment infinitely more difficult today.

Why do you think we have so many homeless? Destitution? Poverty has declined since the 1950s. The majority of those sleeping on grates are mentally ill. In the name of civil liberties, we let them die with their rights on.

A tiny percentage of the mentally ill become mass killers. Just about everyone around Tucson shooter Jared Loughner sensed he was mentally ill and dangerous. But in effect, he had to kill before he could be put away – and (forcibly) treated.

Random mass killings were three times more common in the 2000s than in the 1980s, when gun laws were actually weaker. Yet a 2011 University of California at Berkeley study found that states with strong civil commitment laws have about a one-third lower homicide rate.

(3) The Culture

We live in an entertainment culture soaked in graphic, often sadistic, violence. Older folks find themselves stunned by what a desensitized youth finds routine, often amusing. It's not just movies. Young men sit for hours pulling video-game triggers, mowing down human beings en masse without pain or consequence. And we profess shock when a small cadre of unstable, deeply deranged, dangerously isolated young men go out and enact the overlearned narrative.

If we're serious about curtailing future Columbines and Newtowns, everything – guns, commitment, culture – must be on the table. It's not hard for President Obama to call out the NRA. But will he call out the ACLU? And will he call out his Hollywood friends?

The irony is that over the last 30 years, the U.S. homicide rate has declined by 50 percent. Gun murders as well. We're living not through an epidemic of gun violence but through a historic decline.

Except for these unfathomable mass murders. But these are infinitely more difficult to prevent. While law deters the rational, it has far less effect on the psychotic. The best we can do is to try to detain them, disarm them and discourage “entertainment” that can intensify already murderous impulses.

But there's a cost. Gun control impinges upon the Second Amendment; involuntary commitment impinges upon the liberty clause of the Fifth Amendment; curbing “entertainment” violence impinges upon First Amendment free speech.

That's a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments. But there's no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.

We made that trade after 9/11. We make it every time the TSA invades your body at an airport. How much are we prepared to trade away after Newtown?

© 2012, The Washington Post Writers Group


Robinius in Broomfield, Colorado said:

I don't want to give up any liberties. New laws will be obeyed by the law abiding citizen and ignored by the criminal. Can anyone be held accountable for their own actions today?

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:18 AM

Capt. Call in New Mexico said:

Come on, Charles!! You know very well that Obama will not call out the ACLU, nor will he call out his liberal Hollywood friends. But, suppose that he actually did call them out, then what? It would all be lies, because Obama is a liar, and the truth is not in him. Obama is aided in his deception by his father, who is the father of lies, Satan. As for you, it is so unfortunate that you are suckered in to the liberal way of thought.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:29 AM

George Rogers Clark in Franklin replied:

Emcee >>>
A New Declaration of Independence

PATRIOTS who have taken Murray T. Bass' challenge, here is a link (below) to a page on one of my blogs. It is just for a few charter patriot's who want to help get this idea off the ground.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 2:38 PM

Ed Shipley in Amarillo, Tx said:

I sure don't know what will prevent future mass murders. I only repair firearms, not people. But I know only defective or damaged firearms discharge without an action on purpose by the person handling them. I recognize, however, that most mass murders are committed in places where there is little chance of the murderer being effectively resisted or stopped, since the place is always where firearms are not allowed for the targeted victims, and when no cops or military defenders are around. I also think that most people realize the difference between some fantasy entertainment and an incident of reality. A failure of a person to realize that difference is probably an indication of some mental problem on his part.

So, I usually carry a concealed firearm, and hope to God never to need to shoot it at anyone, anywhere, anytime, for any reason. But I never know where I might be that may be where and when a criminal, a terrorist, or a fantasist decides that his (imagined) reality involves his guns and me or my family...or someone else. And I try very hard not to go where firearms are not allowed.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 2:19 AM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

You will notice that the Biden hearings are to be called "Gun Violence" or " Gun Control" hearings, even though they claim to be equally concerned with mental health and societal influences. "No preset agenda here" - some say.

Why don't they call the committee : "The Control of Wide-eyed Nut-jobs and Radical Islamic Jihadists" who commit violence.

Take a look at the pictures of these people -- All except one were already seeing a psychiatrist, and that one guy- was a psychiatrist!

No offense to Dr K., but most of the Psychiatrists I know are pushing the limits themselves, if you know what I mean.

People should be grateful that concealed carry permit holders are living and working among them - concealed - but ready to defend, if life is threatened. Sheep-dogs. We need more of them, and we need to allow them, and their concealed firearm, into our schools and churches where evil has been finding "gun free" kill zones too often.

There will be less violence - the data proves it. It may be counter-intuitive to those with no experience with firearms, but consider this.

When you board a commercial flight, are you not comforted by the thought that there is an undercover armed "air marshal" among you? Most people are, and give it little thought. Let's do the same for our schools. I know of several large training centers, such as Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, that will train 3 staff members from every school in the country. ( They already train 1,000 people every week ) Let's take them up on it.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 2:24 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

There is no law, sanction, or cultural change that will stop mass murders. If the person bent on killing as many people as possible doesn't have access to a gun they will find some other way to kill. Cultural change will never take place in this country as long as we have leftwing idiots who believe the government is the answer to all our problems.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 7:07 AM

Ct-Tom in NC said:

Presumably, the latest killer's mother was aware of his deterioration and was concerned about (and frightened of?) him. So, why did she allow him access to her weapons? It always amazed me that the columbine kids were able to amass arsenals, including bomb-making stuff in their parents' houses with no one the wiser. As much as anything, there is a failure of parenting in these cases. Like terrorism, maybe parents need to learn that if they see something, they should say something. And then, they'll also need to pay some attention to their kids.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Ct-Tom in NC replied:

Also, assault (fully automatic) weapons have been illegal for ordinary citizens to buy for many years. Weapons, like the AR-15, that look like assault weapons, were recently banned for 10 years to no discernible effect on crime.

No modern soldier would be comfortable going into battle with an AR-15. It is not a military weapon, like the M4-class arms used by the military. In short, no regular folks are walking around with true assault weapons today, only cops, soldiers, and criminals. Banning the AR-15 would be ridiculous. 'Course, that's not to say that the government won't do it.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 9:01 AM

JC in Peoples Republic of Illinois said:

For Pete's sake! Another conservative heavyweight coming out in favor of "assault weapon" and "high capacity magazine" bans. Of all people, Dr. Krauthammer should be able to do better math.

Once again, "Why do cops carry AR15s and pistols with standard/full capacities?"

If your answer is, "To murder as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible, in the shortest time possible" - then logic has left the building.

The correct answer is, "Because such weapons provide effective defense against heavily armed and/or numerous violent adversaries. It is a good thing to be at least as well equipped as someone trying to kill you, if not better equipped. Finally, no good guy ever wished he had fewer rounds in a gunfight against a criminal." This exact same answer applies to law-abiding private citizens.

And don't start with the "cops and federal agents are different" nonsense. Aside from the fact that history has shown us what happens when the State has a vastly disparate level of force over unarmed people ... there's nothing magic about a badge that suddenly imparts superhuman levels of morality and responsibility. Look up the crime percentages of cops vs. CCW permit holders, you'll be surprised at the results.

Get with the program, Doctor.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 8:57 AM

wjm in Colorado said:

Three areas are cited, and two of the three have protection from the Bill of Rights. The final area, incarceration of the mentally unstable, should be the focus, but the delusional left would rather have psychologically unstable murdurers walk freely. Democrats, the Party of Marx, are enemies of the state, and once again their policies are total failures.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 9:21 AM

George Rogers Clark in Franklin replied:

wjm >>>>>
A New Declaration of Independence

PATRIOTS who have taken Murray T. Bass' challenge, here is a link (below) to a page on one of my blogs. It is just for a few charter patriot's who want to help get this idea off the ground.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 2:39 PM

Robert in New Mexico said:

The reason the 1994 assault weapons ban "failed" was because it had nothing to do with the numbers of "assault weapons" and magazines in circulation.

It was ineffective because assault weapons were never used in more than about 1 in a 1000 crimes.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Patriot Pat in in Pacifica replied:

Ever notice how quickly the bleeding hearts come out from under their rocks to jump on a "tragic incident? " Yes, it follows the Lib mantra: Never waste the opportunity to use a tragic event." It scores big points among the voters.
Look at the polls and recent elections. Pity. We once were better than that.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM

George Rogers Clark in Franklin replied:

Robert >>>
A New Declaration of Independence

PATRIOTS who have taken Murray T. Bass' challenge, here is a link (below) to a page on one of my blogs. It is just for a few charter patriot's who want to help get this idea off the ground.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 2:40 PM

Patriot Pat in in Pacifica said:

As usual, Dr. K, with the precision of a surgeon, explains the case of senseless violence. And, with the same insight, offers a plausable solution. Pity those in politics and power don't have the same basic common sense. Or, better yet, can't seem to understand or are willing to do the right thing. We could get our country back on track again. What a shame.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Jerry in Idaho said:

The only real improvement not mentioned, that does not impinge our liberty in any way but rather uses our inherent inalienable right to self defense, is to allow citizens to be armed so as to stop as soon as possible any attacks that do occur. There is no way to "prevent" attacks from ever happening but we can certainly minimize the the outcome.
People are being sacrificed to this insanity of mass killings because we can't accept this reality. What a shame.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 3:58 PM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

We are slowly being made into "subjects" that the government commands and controls. And it's all part of the socialist/one world plan. And we benignly bow our heads and follow. There is no America anymore, not the one we have known, anyway. In this instance, it appears that the good doctor is falling in line. He's probably never fired a gun. His weapon of choice is words, and when he uses the word "ban", he's lost this reader.

Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Orf in Pittsburgh said:

First, "assault weapons" are an invention of the Left. There is no such thing unless a fully automatic military weapon is meant, and such weapons are already illegal. So why, Chuck, do you say you approved of the "assault weapon" ban?

Second, prohibition of any weapons desired by people will be as effective as the Prohibition of the early 20th century -- which brought us Al Capone, wood alcohol deaths or blindness, John Dillinger, and organized crime that exists to this day.

Third, it is well known that gun-free zones are the usual hunting ground for deranged shooters -- the schools at Columbine, Newtown, and Lancaster County, PA, etc., and the military base (of all places) at Fort Hood.

Fourth, It is also well known that states with the most restrictive anti-gun laws, especially in the large cities, have the highest rate of murder by guns.

Fifth, if law-abiding citizens are prevented from having guns, only criminals will have guns. Guns are often used to thwart crime than to commit crime.

All gun-free zones should be eliminated and concealed carry permits should be more available. Since schools seem the preferred hunting ground for craven killers, armed guards should be in every public school. Military bases should not be gun-free zones (is this really necessary to say?)

The insane homeless should be given a home, behind bars if necessary. The obsolescence of vagrancy law needs to be returned with benefit to society and those incapable of providing for themselves.

Leftist politicians who persist in their self-made delusions about guns should join the homeless in their insitutions.

Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 11:15 AM