Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton.
There’s a saying that “practice makes perfect,” but that’s not quite right. If you practice the wrong notes over and over again, perfection will never come. On the contrary, each time you practice, the bad habits you practice will dig deeper and deeper into you, pulling you further and further away from perfection. Change will become harder and harder until, at some point, it will become nearly impossible.
The response to the violence of the past couple of weeks demonstrates that the habits displayed after Las Vegas, as well as several mass shootings before and since that October 1st, remain even more entrenched today.
On one side, those in favor of gun control write letters and op-eds that those with guns will never read. On the other side, those opposed to gun control write letters and op-eds that those without guns will never read. Occasionally something darkly amusing will percolate through this broken process, like the idea of some random Arkansanian fighting off 30-50 feral hogs in 3-5 minutes with an AR-15, but, most of the time, the responses are drearily predictable.
If you need guns to “fight the government,” you should immediately be banned from ever having a gun and have all your weapons confiscated because you're a psychopath.
On and on and on the arguing goes, forever and ever, ad infinitum, until either the heat death of the universe or the next angry man with a gun and a grudge finds us in a public place and slays us all.
Now look, I’m not going to lie to you. Where do I stand on guns? Let me put it to you this way - Ayn Rand thought Libertarians were nuts, so let’s just say that there’s a very strong chance, no matter what your political persuasion is, that we don’t stand eye to eye. Somewhere around my home is a pamphlet written either by Ayn Rand or one of her successors claiming that, if Libertarians have our way, Native Americans are going to clear out the suburbs with privatized nuclear weapons.
Admittedly, perhaps that seemed like a worse idea during the relative peace and competence of the Nixon Administration.
Put less facetiously, I’m more pro-gun than your average Republican. When I read about the Second Amendment’s “well regulated militias,” I think of Murray Bookchin’s reflections on democratic militias and the direct arming of the masses. I think of the Black Panthers openly carrying firearms to defend their communities, and I think of the NRA supporting gun control measures to disarm them. I think of the Socialist Rifle Association, the Pink Pistols, and other organizations that actively seek to arm and train frequently persecuted populations.
Do I agree with everything those organizations say and do? Absolutely not. Do I think the Socialist Rifle Association is considerably more honest in its intentions than the NRA? You bet. At the very least, I think it’s a bad idea to let the government have a monopoly on violence, and I’m certainly not alone. Especially this government.
That said, I don’t like getting shot, nor do I like the idea of my loved ones (nor yours, for that matter) getting gunned down capriciously. I also recognize that, especially since gun ownership has become a Red Tribe affectation (which it will remain as long as people like Philando Castile get murdered without consequence - where was the NRA on that one again?), Blue Tribe is going to want to take Red Tribe’s toys away, especially if Red Tribe is going to start openly rooting for civil war and supporting Y’all Qaeda.
So let’s talk about that.
First thing’s first - we can’t ban guns. Even if you ignore the Constitution, a Republican majority in the Senate, and a 2nd Amendment-friendly Supreme Court, it’s not going to happen if you can’t find anyone to enforce such a law at the local level. If you don’t believe me, consider what happened right here in Nevada when the Legislature passed a bill authorizing background checks, something which had been passed by initiative a couple of years ago before former Attorney General Adam Laxalt hand-waved it away. Suddenly, several rural counties announced they were “gun sanctuaries” and weren’t going to enforce the law. Nevada’s rural counties aren’t alone, either - Illinois, among other states, has “gun sanctuary” counties as well. Additionally, some Nevadans are calling for a recall of Gov. Sisolak, though it’s unlikely to get very far.
What this means from a practical and political standpoint is that, to ban guns, it would require a level of force equal to, if not exceeding, the level of force President Eisenhower brought to bear to end segregation, and for the same reason. If the local governments won’t enforce a law, state and federal governments would either have to enforce the law directly, much as President Eisenhower did when he nationalized Arkansas’ National Guard and deployed them to Little Rock, or choose to refuse to enforce that law, similar to current federal policy regarding marijuana.
Before anyone gets excited about the possibility of deploying the Nevada National Guard into Jarbidge to disarm the natives, however, remember that soldiers are individuals with their own opinions. The Arkansas National Guard almost certainly didn’t support desegregation, but they weren’t about to say no to the Supreme Allied Commander who won D-Day; absent a leader with Ike’s credibility, it’s doubtful the National Guard would have complied. It’s hard to find recent statistics on rural versus urban military recruitment, but rural America was a more reliable contributor of volunteers for several years following the start of the Iraq War. If that’s still true, the principle of methodological individualism strongly suggests the military would not be a reliable ally in such an effort unless the people leading the effort had the respect of those in the military.
Next, let’s talk about “common-sense gun control.”
There are two simultaneous directions frequently proposed to not only reduce mass shootings but to also reduce more common gun-facilitated tragedies, such as suicide and domestic violence. First, keep guns out of the hands of those that are likely to do harm. Second, keep guns likely to do a lot of harm very quickly out of the hands of nearly everyone.
To keep guns out of the hands of those that are likely to do harm, two popular options are background checks and “red flag” laws, both of which were recently approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Sisolak. Both operate under similar premises - if they’ve been violent in the past, they’ll probably be violent in the future. Seems sensible enough.
There’s just one problem: If there was a chance these laws would meaningfully disarm Republicans, would there be any bipartisan support for them? Given the professed political opinions of many of our more recent mass shooters (and we’ll come back to their ideology in a bit), this question isn’t academic.
Background checks look for criminal history - the same criminal histories imposed on the poor and people of color as part of a conscious strategy to disenfranchise specific communities. Unsurprisingly, several white mass shooters, including the Las Vegas and El Paso shooters, never had a criminal record and thus passed their background checks with flying colors.
“Red flag” laws attempt to go one step further by looking at a person’s behavior in the moment to predict whether they may be a danger or not. This, however, requires judges to agree that a person is a threat that needs their guns taken away. What happens if that person happens to be, say, a well-connected billionaire who donated to the campaigns of people working in law enforcement?
The other option is to keep guns likely to do a lot of harm very quickly, such as “AK-47 style” weapons or bump stocks, out of the hands of nearly everyone. The problem here is that, yes, scary looking rifles look scary, but you can honestly kill a lot of people in a crowded space rather quickly with a pistol, a Dodge Charger, or a moving truck. Larger clips do make it easier to shoot several rounds without reloading, but smaller clips fit just fine in pockets and aren’t hard to swap out. It also doesn’t take a clip or a bump stock to commit more routine gun crimes, like spousal abuse or suicide. One bullet is more than enough for that.
What does work? Something must be done - what do we do?
The good news, and I mean “good” without any irony for once, is, unless either the Legislature or Governor Sisolak are motivated to call a special session, there’s very little our state government can do. That’s good because it gives us time to try voluntary, data-driven solutions that don’t involve our corruptible state and local governments instead.
One option to consider is to apply the lessons that ultimately defanged ISIS more globally. The key thing to remember here is that mass murderers are attracted to ideologies that justify their actions. The ideology of white supremacy, of course, does an excellent job of justifying all sorts of reprehensible behavior, but it’s not unique in that regard, nor is it strictly necessary - the Las Vegas shooter, near as anyone can tell, wasn’t motivated by ideology at all. Even so, people tend to be motivated by a desire to be bigger than themselves, and mass murderers are no exception. As Open Source Defense puts it:
Contrary to popular belief, the people who commit mass murder aren’t necessarily mentally ill, at least not in the sense of having a diagnosable condition. Some do, but most don’t. So that’s not the common thread.
What is a common thread is that they are almost all frustrated losers. The anguished virgin. The disgruntled husband who explodes and kills the extended family. The racist killing the outgroup that he feels is threatening his ingroup. The religious zealot doing the same. And, for that matter, the impoverished high schooler who kills a classmate after school over some trivial slight, or the husband who kills his wife — both of which, awfully, happen hundreds of times more often than mass shootings.
The shape changes but the mass stays constant: a hopeless loser who feels like he or his group are losing, thinks he spots who’s to blame, and decides he’s going to show everyone that damn it, he’s not the loser that you (and, subconsciously, he) think he is.
Consequently, one possible solution is to make it clearer that, if you associate with murderous ideologies or just act like a murderous loser in general, you’re still a loser and nobody’s going to care about you. In the case of ISIS, once news organizations stopped broadcasting their prisoner beheading videos and ISIS suffered defeats on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, committing crimes in the name of ISIS no longer looked like a viable way to become a winner after all.
With that in mind, publishing the “manifestos” of shooters - long, rambling documents in which violent bullies write post hoc justifications of their actions - is a bad idea. Naming shooters is a bad idea. Maintaining a mass shooter scoreboard is a very bad idea. Instead, encouraging a society-wide policy of No Notoriety, in addition to open ridicule of losers before they kill anyone, is a proven strategy to reduce the likelihood of ideologically motivated mass shootings. It’s a strategy that worked against the KKK in the 1960s, it’s a strategy that worked against ISIS, and it’s a strategy that can work today.
The legal system disfavors the powerless - particularly racial and religious minorities. If we’re going to use the law to solve our problems, we need to have an honest accounting of both the potential benefits and the potential costs, as well as an honest accounting of who will receive those benefits and who will pay those costs. In the process, we might discover we won’t help the people that need it and we won’t hurt the people that deserve it.
That’s why, before we resort to the law, we have a responsibility to those who are frequently on the wrong end of the law to try voluntary methods to solve society’s problems first, especially when those methods have been proven effective in the past.
David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].