But these statistics and comparisons mean little to the nation’s psyche, which is reeling from a feeling of terror and helplessness.
Mass shootings make Americans feel unsafe generally. They harm the nation’s reputation abroad. They happen with alarming regularity and strike in places as diverse as churches, nightclubs and supermarkets. I am writing this from a building where, 20 years ago, a gun-wielding woman began shooting in the lobby, killing one person. That wasn’t the only such incident in Utah.
It’s reasonable to ask, what are our leaders going to do about this?
Unfortunately, that is a question that immediately invites an avalanche of political baggage so heavy and thick that many Americans can’t see above it to find common-sense, data-driven solutions.
But leaders are elected to lead, and that means showing us how to look above all that clutter.
A month-old story out of Lubbock, Texas may be worth studying. According to various news reports, a woman convinced her 19-year-old grandson to go to the hospital for treatment after he told her he had bought an AK-47 and wanted to “shoot up” a hotel before killing himself.
Police discovered that weapon, along with 17 loaded magazines and several knives, as well as black tactical pants and a black trench coat in a hotel room the young man had rented. They ended up charging him with making false statements to a firearms dealer who sold him the weapon. Now he faces up to five years in federal prison.
The first part of that story ought to give us hope. The second part is disturbing. Whatever must be going on in that young man’s head, I’m not sure federal prison is the best answer.
But what is? Would so-called “red flag” laws help. Utah lawmakers have opposed this, but what do they offer as an alternative?
Here’s what we know about mass killers:
The majority of them have suffered trauma and exposure to violence at an early age, involving anything from domestic violence to sexual abuse and bullying.
Nearly everyone of them came to a crisis point, defined as a perceived grievance from something at work, a relationship rejection or other loss. In many cases, this led to changes in behavior or talk of suicide — things others could observe.
Mass shooters like to study what other mass shooters have done, and they see this as validation for their plans.
Finally, all had found the means to obtain the weapons they needed, with most getting them from family members.
We know all this because the National Institute of Justice funded a two-year study, in great detail, of every mass killing in the U.S. since 1966.
We know other things, too, such as that gun buyback programs, in which governments pay people to voluntarily turn in their firearms, don’t work. Governing Magazine reported that studies have shown this doesn’t reduce crime, mainly because the people who turn in guns aren’t criminals.
Beyond that, the federal government hasn’t funded many studies about gun crimes because a 20-year-old law discourages such things, for fear that data will be manipulated to push gun control.
That needs to stop.
Fifty years ago, Americans landed men on the Moon, showing this nation could do just about anything, no matter how impossible it might seem. Mass shootings aren’t new in this country, but they have reached such a level of regularity that they ought to consume the best efforts of the nation’s brightest people. This is our moonshot. We shouldn’t buy into the myth that progress is impossible.
The Deseret News editorial board has given the nation’s top leaders 21 days to get together and find real answers. That’s not unreasonable, but it shouldn’t happen only in Washington.
Utah’s leaders should be doing the same, devoting at least as much time and energy to this as they are to tax reform, and doing it free from the interference of high-paid lobbyists and their agendas.
Maybe they make up only a fraction of total homicide deaths each year, but mass shootings are having a disproportionate effect on what it means to be an American, and we shouldn’t tolerate that.