Firearms and Evil by David Montgomery

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School shootings are a moral problem, that cannot be solved by campaigning against firearms. These atrocities must be recognized for what they are – instances of evil that are becoming more common in our secular, individualistic society.

Instead of facing the problem of evil, elected officials and political activists are exploiting mass shootings to push for phony solutions that fit their social agendas. This should infuriate everyone sincerely concerned about the past, present and future victims – and perpetrators.

For example, a bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate (Senate Bill 1062) to criminalize the possession of magazines that allow a firearm to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. It is already illegal to buy or sell such magazines in Maryland, even though they are readily available in other states and were legal before Governor O’Malley pushed that legislation through. As a result many recreational shooters and hunters already own magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges. They are compatible with a number of rifles and pistols that are legal to purchase in Maryland, and some that are legal to own but may no longer be sold here.

The proposed legislation would make current owners of such magazines subject to as much as 3 years in prison. That is a more disruptive form of gun control than ever before attempted in Maryland, and it would do nothing to prevent mass shootings.

Nibbling away at the Second Amendment is a cause that many progressives support, and setting a precedent for confiscation of parts of firearms from their current owners is high on their list of milestones. The Florida shooting appears to have given those activists an incentive to give it a try.

But criminalizing possession of high-capacity magazines in Maryland cannot possible reduce the likelihood or magnitude of mass shootings – let alone the other ways that evil men find to inflict harm on others. If a young man in Easton or Frederick or Bowie wanted to open fire on a school, it would take him less than two hours to drive to a state where purchase of higher-capacity magazines is perfectly legal. Intending to commit a crime of far greater proportions, he would hardly be deterred by the illegality of possessing it on his way to mass murder.

As many have already pointed out, existing law was quite sufficient to prohibit the Florida shooter from purchasing any firearm, if law enforcement had followed existing rules. That was also the case in many past shootings. But better enforcement and further tightening of restrictions on legal firearms purchases will have little effect as long as an even shorter drive puts a would-be shooter in a neighborhood full of illegal firearms for sale. As terrorist attacks in Europe demonstrate, cars and knives are also effective instruments for killing when firearms not available.

The introduction of bills like Senate Bill 1062 is an outrage not because of their potential effects on law-abiding gun owners, but because it will produce only wasted effort devoted to the wrong questions, no matter how it turns out.

That is because the evil that leads to school shootings is in the individual, and we can see how it arises. All the school shootings were perpetrated by loners, social outcasts, from broken homes, who were subverted by some evil ideology or philosophy. One writer points out that “Shooters have problems at school, family issues, violent behavior, and police encounters. They take medications, lack communication skills and show strange, unpredictable behavior. They indulge in violent video games and send disturbing messages through social media.”

These shooters did not become entranced with killing because they stumbled across a firearm; they searched out a firearm to carry out an evil intention fully formed without any reference to how it would be accomplished.

None of the mass murderers grew up going to church every Sunday with their parents. None had supportive families that showed their love, taught the difference between right and wrong, and brought their children up to believe in a higher power. None attended schools that included moral and spiritual development in their teaching, nor has there been a mass shooting at that type of school.

Those clamoring for action to prevent future mass shootings seem unable to recognize this. When they take a break from blaming firearms, the liberal media repeat that “the red flags were all there” to identify the Florida shooter, and then call for law enforcement to take preventative measures, advocate more social programs for disturbed youth, and demand tighter surveillance of social media. Unfortunately, all of those suggestions amount to looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack of disturbed youth who would be turned up by such profiling.

In all this, the fingerprint of liberal society becomes clear. The shooters are but one or two in a far larger number who fit the profile of an isolated and disturbed youth, yet most remain relatively harmless. All of them are nonetheless damaged by growing up without bonds of love or trust in anything good that is greater than themselves. Thus they become prey to the external evil of neo-Nazi and similar creeds and the internal evil of wishing for their own death accompanied by the deaths of others for whom they can feel no empathy.

Many of us see this as a logical consequence of liberal society. All around, liberalism is driving faith out of the public square and inculcating in its place a belief that nothing matters but an individual’s desires and feelings. Society is then not a community in which stable and permanent relationships (earthly and heavenly) give meaning to life but a place where isolated individuals pursue their own satisfaction.

For those children lacking a permanent community and belief in a power greater than themselves, the social group in school or neighborhood may seem a solution. But that simply makes the pain and isolation of being excluded from such an apparent source of meaning more intense. And exclusion does occur, because none of the members of the group see it as a community, but rather a playground for their own desires.

No wonder some succumb to a sense of loneliness so great that they only desire to kill and die. Firearms do not create that feeling, nor would some minor annoyances in obtaining firearms be sufficient to deter the very few who do become killers.

There are communities within this liberal realm of radical individualism that do provide the kind of upbringing and hope that give a child a reason to do good and avoid evil. They are almost all centered around churches, and despite all the attempts of liberalism to marginalize faith-based communities, they are saving their children from the evils of nihilism and despair. That is why it is worth continuing the battle to restore a core of faith to American democracy. And it is the only proven way to save as many as possible from the fate of the victims and the shooter in Florida.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    Really now. Are you mad or stuck in some Orwellian world view? Perhaps both? The denial of truth in your “argument” is astonishing.

    Fact: our country does not have more mental illness, probably has more church-goers, is less liberal (mass shootings in Western Europe, last I saw, are almost nonexistent). There is loneliness worldwide. The only difference is the ridiculous availability of assault weapons in this country, weapons that have no business being used by anyone other than military/law enforcement.

    The denial of seeing the NRA as nothing more than a gun manufacturer’s lobby is self-serving greed.

  2. Gren Whitman says:

    Perps who murder school children and teachers (as well as worshippers, movie goers, concert fans, workers in their workplaces, etc.) are not members of any “well-regulated militia,” as required by the Second Amendment. Amendment needs to be modernized or abolished.

  3. Michael Nielsen says:

    Setting the facts straight:
    Europe has just about as many school shootings as the US despite much tighter gun control laws
    Since WW2 there has been five major school/university massacres in the US including the 1966 Austin and 2007 VA Tech shootings
    There has also been five in Europe (3 in Germany, 1 in UK and 1 in Finland)
    Largest religious/political/racial motivated massacres the US only has one in the top 10.
    The US does have more rampage shootings with no-specific target type like the Las Vegas and Killeen massacres
    While the general availability of firearms in the US makes accidental shootings, suicides and murders during the commission of another crime much more common in the US, it appears that people planning mass murder have no trouble finding weapons even in the strictest gun control environment. The worst shooting rampage ever was committed in 2011 in Norway, a country with very high educational standards, a very socially advanced society and tight gun control laws.
    It is unrealistic to imagine that the US will ever outlaw private gun ownership. This means there will always be weapons available for psychopaths and terrorists to get their hands on. Suggesting that gun control can be used to solve the problem is dishonest and allows politicians to pretend they are doing something about it while really doing nothing. We can outlaw bump stocks, 20-round magazines and certain “cosmetic” features on guns (ie Assault Weapons) and pat ourselves on the back while we wait for the next massacre to occur.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      Sorry. Not true. More assault weapons equals more deaths.
      This is getting so rediculous.
      Y’all that need the rush? Go join the Marines…if you can handle it.

      • Matthew Daley says:

        Mr. Nielsen puts forth a number of quite relevant facts, to which I would add another: what Ms. La Motte calls assault weapons are used in less than one percent of homicides in this country. There is ample room for improving the scope of our laws and their enforcement. Being clear about the realities – and the facts – is essential if we want to find a way forward. It is a really multi-faceted problem and trying to reduce it to a single factor is not likely to be productive.

    • Maria Wood says:

      120 people have been killed in school shootings in all of Europe since 1913.

      138 people have been killed in school shootings in the United States since 2014.

      First, 138 is more than 120. Second, 115 years is more than 4 years. Europe’s tighter gun laws are effective.

      You do not define what you call “major school/university massacres” but your claim that there have been only 5 in the US since WWII is false by any conceivable measure. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Virginia Tech, and Umpqua Community College are just five examples of literally dozens of school shootings in the US in recent memory.

      These are but the tip of the iceberg of American gun violence. Over 90% of Americans are in favor of stricter gun legislation. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that limiting access to guns would reduce gun violence in circumstances including but not limited to: mass shootings in schools, churches, movies, everywhere people gather; suicide; domestic abuse; accidental shootings (including, notably, by children, who gain access to their parents’ unsecured firearms); and in the course of other crimes.

  4. Jeffrey D. Carroll says:

    Mr. David Montgomery just hit the nail on the head. As most in this liberal society are quick to jump and blame guns and the NRA.. Maybe they should dig a little deeper and understand that the real problems are not the guns but the fact that god, faith and conservative family values have been pushed out of schools and become ridiculed in this country. I own many guns and some may be labeled assault weapons. I have sporting guns but also many for self defense. This is my right and it shall never be infringed upon. I am one of millions of people in this country that will continue to remain a proud NRA member. The efforts of the anti-gun media will actually backfire on them and as you may have already seen.. Firearms sales are spiking and NRA memberships are increasing

  5. I agree with the writer that the problem with school shootings is not the firearms although this is part of the problem. I also agree that the problem is with the mind and heart of the shooter, not the weaponry. I disagree with the writer in that he blames school shootings on the expanding liberal consciousness and its ramifications such as secularism, loss of family values and individualism, although these too are part of the problem. I am happy living apart from this society. I recognize my dependence on others, but I don’t believe in the values put out by the society and have had to develop my own. I would like to contribute in my way and have learned how to do so. Things are changing rapidly. Everything is speeding up. It is difficult to understand the world today. Thank you, David, for your point of view.

  6. Susan De Simone says:

    Most of Europe is far more liberal than the U.S. however one defines that often-abused word. The writer presents no studies to demonstrate that all mass murderers were raised without love or religion. As Everytown has shown, women in the United States are sixteen times more likely to be killed with guns than they are in any other developed country and a majority of mass shootings involve incidents of domestic violence. In states that require a background check for every handgun sale, 47 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.

  7. Beryl Smtin says:

    To all the proud gun owners, who among you is a member of a “well-regulated militia” or even an unregulated militia. If called upon to take up your AR-15s would you scurry to your gun cupboard (if you even have one) and march proudly to defend our country? I suspect not, and I cringe to think of more and more arming of our citizens so that we have the wild wild west throughout the country in every city and state. Where are your brains?

  8. Mr Montgomery‘s fire-and-brimstone rant poses two easily testable hypotheses. One is that mass murders in this country are a direct effect of a Godless society that breeds liberal individualists who are… well – to pick out just a few characterizations – lonely, isolated, radical, evil, nihilistic, murderous neo-Nazis that are full of despair and self-loathing. Or… mass murder incidents are, or would be, virtually unheard of in societies centered on (a purely Christian fundamentalist concept of) God, church, faith, family, and moral instruction. The other hypothesis is that the flood of military weaponry in our civil society has no bearing on the plague of mass shootings in this country. Indeed, by Mr Neilsen’s telling, there’s nothing to see here – it’s nothing out of the ordinary that doesn’t occur in other countries.

    A 2015 survey (1) showed that the least religious countries in the world include Sweden, The Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, and Canada. These countries have some of the most secular and liberal societies in the world. In fact, only 8% of Swedes regularly attend religious services. By Mr Montgomery’s thesis, these countries should be rife with gun violence and near collapse from internal moral rot and civil mayhem. But the firearm homicide rates (2) in these countries are a mere fraction of the US gun-related murder rate. In Norway, for example, the murder rate is a miniscule 0.10 even with the mass murder of 85 people by Anders Breivik in 2011, referenced by Mr Neilsen, who, it must be strongly emphasized in the present context, self-identified as a conservative and a Christian on his facebook page (3).

    So if it’s not as Mr Montgomery argues, what accounts for the prevalence of mass murders in the US? It is not that we have a more violent society brought about by video games, or the drift to a more secular society, or even that we have a disproportionate share of mentally ill. It’s guns, too many guns, pure and simple. The correlation between the number of guns and the mass murder rate is undeniable (4).

    The US has 4.4% of the world’s population and owns 42% of the guns in the entire world. Since 1966, there have been 30 school shootings in the US that resulted in approximately 250 deaths that continues to climb (5). And that’s just school shootings. Since the Sandy Hook school shooting in December, 2012, there have been 1,607 total mass shootings in the US that resulted in 1,846 people killed and 6,459 wounded (6). This exceeds by far any other country in the world.

    Lastly, the evidence that the prevalence of guns is the problem goes beyond just correlation. Actual data from controlled experiments are available, most notably from the UK, Germany, Japan, and Australia (7). All countries outlaw the civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons and all countries report some of the lowest gun-related homicide rates in the developed world ranging from unmeasurable in Japan to 0.16 in Australia.
    QED

    What to do?
    1. Repeal the 2nd Amendment. It is an 18th Century anachronism whose original intent no longer applies and has been willfully misinterpreted by the NRA.
    2. Ban all gas-operated firearms from civilian use. If a .357 Magnum was good enough for Dirty Harry, civilians will still find it more than sufficient for their self-defense.
    3. Ban the sale of all ammunition for semi-automatic weapons.
    4. Vote. Vote out all those who think our obscene mass murder rate is to be tolerated because it is best described as the “price of freedom”.
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    1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/14/map-these-are-the-worlds-least-religious-countries/?utm_term=.5a0f7f21d609
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate
    3. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/224409-anders-behring-breivik-facebook.html
    4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html
    5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States#Pre-2013_amendment_list
    6. https://www.vox.com/a/mass-shootings-sandy-hook
    7. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/15/so-america-this-is-how-you-do-gun-control

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