Tomasky’s take

Good stuff:

But whatever is determined on that front, in a broader sense our culture glorifies these fantasies–not of shooting children, obviously, we’re not that far gone yet, but revenge fantasies that involve blasting people to bits with guns. It’s sick and quite unique among advanced countries. Our society, led in this direction by the people and forces with whom we’re all familiar, fundamentally considers deaths like today’s worth the price of keeping these demented fantasies alive. That’s the sad truth…

UPDATE: I just saw a tweet from HuffPo’s Ryan Grim that read: “Gun control advocates — or anti-massacre activists — will be holding a direct-action protest at the White House at 4:30 today.” That’s good. Anti-massacre activists. That’s a name-change I wholly endorse. We are living through a slaughter. The Washington Postnoted this afternoon that of the 12 deadliest attacks in US history, six–six–have occurred in the last five years. We are living in an era of slaughter. I admit to having thrown up my own hands against the NRA, arguing that they have too much power and it wasn’t worth the risk to take them on. I’m done with that. We’re living in a f***ing [edit mine] abbatoir, now drenched in the blood of little children. We have to do something.  [emphasis mine]

Chart of the day

Ezra has 11 facts that you should know to inform the policy debate.  Read all of it.  Till then, here’s a handy chart:

And here’s fact #2:

2. Eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States.

Time has the full list here. In second place is Finland, with two entries.

And there’s also this:

8. More guns tend to mean more homicide.

The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders. This holds true whether you’re looking at different countries or different states. Citations here.

But, just to show that it’s not really all that simple:

3. Lots of guns don’t necessarily mean lots of shootings, as you can see in Israel and Switzerland.

As David Lamp writes at Cato, “In Israel and Switzerland, for example, a license to possess guns is available on demand to every law-abiding adult, and guns are easily obtainable in both nations. Both countries also allow widespread carrying of concealed firearms, and yet, admits Dr. Arthur Kellerman, one of the foremost medical advocates of gun control, Switzerland and Israel ‘have rates of homicide that are low despite rates of home firearm ownership that are at least as high as those in the United States.’”

My big takeaway question– what are they doing in Israel and Switzerland that we can learn from?  As obviously, guns are here to stay.


Thanks to Nathaniel Harris (whom I can attest is really, really smart among other things) for pointing out the error in point #3:

In recently history, there was certainly something interesting going on in the case of Israel and Switzerland. However, “fact” number 3 is no longer accurate. The quote Ezra pulled from the Cato report is from 2000; since then, both countries have limited gun possession. If memory serves, this was due in part to gun violence, particularly suicides. In fact, at least in the case of Israel, I think per capita gun possession has fallen far below U.S. levels. I also don’t think it’s nearly as common for the Swiss to take their military-issued rifles home with them anymore.

Finally, I just noticed Ezra issued a correction on this point as well.

Yep.  Perhaps even more we can learn from these nations?  Regardless, I do think it makes sense to look at the policy in countries that indeed have a serious culture of private gun ownership (i.e., we won’t learn anything much from looking at a country like Japan where there is no gun culture to speak of)  to see what they are doing more effectively than us– no question we’re doing it worse than anybody.

The US is different

So, this tweet has been making the rounds a lot. I didn’t want to post it with the others without verifying the claim:

A quick look at the wikipedia page on school shootings (there’s a sobering thought) suggests that the numbers are not quite right.  (Here’s another list of shootings that seems to have fewer foreign ones– eyeballing it, I’m guessing that’s the source of the tweet).  Regardless, what is absolutely clear is that the overwhelming number of school shootings across the world are in the United States.  4% of the world’s population, 25% of resource usage, and >50% of school shootings.  Damn.

So, what’s different?  Well, we’re more religious than most modern democracies.  But so are many other not-as-developed nations.  But they don’t have a ton of shootings.  Not it.  We’re richer.  Nope, plenty of other rich nations with very few/no shootings.  We’re multi-ethnic?  Nope– no clear answer there.  Hmmm, what’s different?  Could it be that we have far far more liberal gun ownership laws than the rest of the developed world.  And, to be fair a concomitant culture that places far more emphasis on gun ownership as an aspect of individual liberty.   I don’t think you can entirely separate the two, of course.  But they are both a damn problem.  Just scroll down that wikipedia list– it’s horribly depressing, and in context, horribly damning.

There’s a lot of argument that nutcases will get guns illegally if they cannot get them legally.  But as I’ve argued before, the easier it is to get legal guns, the cheaper and more available guns will be on a secondary black market (it’s not exactly graduate-level economics).

I don’t know what the particular mix of policies is that would actually work best in our gun-loving society, but damn we really need to be figuring them out and passionately advocating for them.  And to whatever degree we can change our gun-loving culture that seems to lead to such sub-optimal policy, I would argue that we need to do that as well.

More thoughts

Some of the twitter postings that have resonated the most with me:


I honestly cannot read about the elementary school shooting in Connecticut without my eyes welling up.  This is just too horrible to contemplate so I’m mostly going with purposeful mental denial.  That said, we must, must, must do something more to prevent tragedies like this.  I don’t think right now is the time to know what these things are, but this absolutely has to be a call that we’ve got to change some things in this country– presumably policy related– to prevent events like this.  At this point, if I thought arming teachers with guns would actually work, I’d be all for it.  Of course, I don’t think that’s the best solution, but my point is that at this point I’m willing to consider about anything to stop such horrible, senseless tragedies.  Just make it stop.

Photo of the day

So, this Banana Car was parked in front of the place I went for lunch the other day.  Took a good look while the driver must have been taking a lunch break.  Then I saw it drive off and totally forgot about it.  Until it actually had a feature story in the N&O and a nice on-line photo gallery:

Takaaki Iwabu

The students is learning (criminal justice edition)

Finished grading exams last night– hooray!!  Anyway, it was one of those really rewarding grading experiences where I was actually quite impressed at how much the students had really learned the key information– at least when it comes to criminal justice policy.  It’s interesting to see, over time, the various articles I assign that really get through to students and make an impact on their thinking.  When it comes to the failures of our criminal justice system and the way overpopulation of our prisons with non-violent offenders, the great Economist piece, Too many laws, too many prisoners” was definitely one of those pieces.   Here’s a key summary from it:

Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.

The system has three big flaws, say criminologists. First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them.

It’s great.  If you have any interest in criminal justice issues you need to read it.

The students who did not answer that question item had the choice to answer about the death penalty.  In that case, an article I know I’ve plugged here before– the great New Yorker piece on the surely wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham by the state of Texas– definitely had an impact.   I put a lot of time and thought into what I assign my students (given the rate at which they ignore them, probably too much) so it is really edifying when the articles I choose really get through and leave a lasting impact.  I’m under no illusion that students will remember much at all of anything they learn in my classes, but I’m pretty sure that the truly distrubing lesson of Cameron Todd Willingham will stick with them for a long time.

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