I don’t re-blog much on this site, and I definitely try to stay out of politics (though sometimes I can’t help myself). Lately more than ever.
To be perfectly honest, I have grown weary of the culture war rhetoric on both major sides of the debate over guns in American society. I don’t want to see John Oliver making fun of gun owners or NRA videos of John Oliver on a TV getting smashed by a sledge hammer. I don’t want to see the mainstream media stigmatizing gun owners or Dana Loesch burning newspapers. I don’t want the Democratic Party to be anti-gun or the NRA to be a wing of the Republican Party.
I understand that culture warriors are going to be culture warriors, but I’m looking for a way forward, a via media, a third path. I don’t know if this is the right one, but I was contacted recently by Kareem Shaya about a web site he has put together called “The Path Forward on Guns.”
I can’t say that I have seen anything quite like it, so I told Kareem I would re-post it here and encourage readers to have a look.
The Path Forward on Guns
But we can’t move forward. Really can’t. Metaphysical can’t. Unstoppable-force-versus-immovable-object can’t. We’re stuck and that’s that.
The way we got here is simple: each side is trying to destroy the other. You win wars by force. And culture wars are no different. Each side fires their volleys, back and forth.
The NRA allied itself to all kinds of unrelated hot-button issues. New York State passed a 2013 gun ban that achieved 4% compliance and had effects like a father of three facing 15 years in prison for a pistol grip. The NRA made ads that alienated millions of people and ranted absurdly about “the clenched fist of truth”. Massachusetts banned bump stocks and sent a letter to every gun owner in the state saying, “Turn in your bump stocks by February 1, 2018 or face life in prison.”
Round it goes. The gun controllers feel like the gun rights crowd will never give an inch. The gun rights crowd feels personally threatened — “If that father of three is facing 15 years for a pistol grip, I could be next.” And both sides just dig in deeper.
Then we try rational arguments and fire off statistics, but the truth is nobody cares. Each side has their arguments, each side has their stats, and none of it ever moves the needle. You convince a few people, they convince a few people. It’s a wash.
So then each side gives up on persuasion and tries to ram their laws through. But no matter which side you’re on, the other side is strong enough to block your laws. Sure, you win some state-level battles here and there. But that only hardens the opposition, and they win their share of state-level battles too.
Both sides sell their donors the same pipe dream: “We’re going to slowly change minds. Raise money, pass state-level laws, run PR campaigns, support good politicians. And one day, finally, we’ll get 60 votes in the Senate to pass our dream federal gun law.” If you understand only one thing about American gun politics, understand this: that will never happen.
For decades we’ve pretended not to know that. But these scorched earth tactics aren’t working, and worse, they’re tearing the country apart. Kids get murdered and we’re too busy grabbing each other by the throat to even grieve, let alone to show the grace and love that the greatest among us model. It’s nauseating.
It is high time for a fresh approach.
The other side isn’t powerful enough to pass their laws, but they are powerful enough to stop you from passing yours. So if we accept the truth, that we will never agree, we have to ask a new question: how can we move forward even while everybody still disagrees? How can we write a law that neither side wants to block? The answer is going to test whether you’re honestly willing to do what it takes to fix this stalemate.
People in this debate often use the word “compromise”. But what they usually mean is, “Fine, let’s compromise: we’ll do none of what you want and only half of what I want.” Neither side is dumb enough to fall for that. An honest path forward means something very different: each side gives some things, and each side gets some things.
So let’s take the honest path, which is the only one that has any chance of happening. A path that advances gun rights and addresses people’s concerns about guns in the wrong hands. I’ve talked to dozens of people about this in person, and hundreds online. They ranged from people who would literally join a civil war against gun control, to people who want a flat-out ban on gun ownership, to people at every point in between. Almost every last one of them said they’d support this proposal in a heartbeat. The entire political spectrum is up for this.
Now it’s time to see if the politicians and each side’s big lobbying groups are up for it. It’s fun to bluster and preach to your side. But when the time comes to actually do something, when there is a real path forward on the table, that’s the true test. Your pressure on the politicians and lobbying groups will determine what they do next.
State-level and local-level carry laws can be so complicated, and interact in such unpredictable ways, that there are lawyers who base their entire practice on advising people on these issues. A narrowly-tailored reciprocity law will protect well-intentioned people from being accidentally ensnared by those laws as they travel out of their home state.
Even amidst the fractal squabbling that poisons this whole debate, there is one idea that nearly everybody agrees on: mass shootings are a media contagion. There’s a large body of research on the subject, and it indicates that saturation media coverage of these horrors likely causes additional mass shootings.
Let’s begin with the evidence on suicide reporting, which is subject to similar contagion effcts. (All bold emphasis below is mine.)
This paper reports a field experiment concerning mass-media and suicide. After the implementation of the subway system in Vienna in 1978, it became increasingly acceptable as means to commit suicide, with the suicide rates showing a sharp increase. This and the fact that the mass-media reported about these events in a very dramatic way, lead to the formation of a study-group of the Austrian Association for Suicide Prevention (ÖVSKK), which developed media guidelines and launched a media campaign in mid-1987. Subsequently, the media reports changed markedly and the number of subway-suicides and -attempts dropped more than 80% from the first to the second half of 1987, remaining at a rather low level since.
Avoiding sensational coverage of suicides can prevent copycat suicides, a new federally endorsed guide for the media says. US Surgeon General David Satcher, along with academics and suicide experts today issued recommendations calling on the media not to give graphic details about suicides, and not to portray them as heroic or romantic or present them as inexplicable acts of healthy people.
Given those very compelling results, researchers have applied the same analytical techniques to the study of mass shootings.
If the mass media and social media enthusiasts make a pact to no longer share, reproduce, or re-tweet the names, faces, detailed histories, or long-winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in the span of one to two years. Even conservatively, if the calculations of contagion modelers are correct, we should see at least a one third reduction in shootings if the contagion is removed. Given the profile of mass shooters, we believe levels of mass murder could return to a pre-1970s rate, where it becomes a truly aberrant event that although not eradicated, is no longer a common option that goes through the mind of every bullied, depressed, isolated, somewhat narcissistic man.
We need to be thinking ahead to the mass-shooters-in-waiting — the copycats who will use the Las Vegas murders as a template for their own horrific schemes. And we have good reason to believe that the more publicity the Las Vegas shooter garners, the greater the motivation of copycats to “dethrone” him with the next mass shooting. (The reader will note that I do not use the Las Vegas shooter’s name in this piece).
Findings indicate that the mass killers received approximately $75 million in media coverage value, and that for extended periods following their attacks they received more coverage than professional athletes and only slightly less than television and film stars. In addition, during their attack months, some mass killers received more highly valued coverage than some of the most famous American celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and Jennifer Aniston. Finally, most mass killers received more coverage from newspapers and broadcast/cable news than the public interest they generated through online searches and Twitter seems to warrant. Unfortunately, this media attention constitutes free advertising for mass killers that may increase the likelihood of copycats.
Researchers at Arizona State University analyzed news reports of gun-related incidents from 1997 to 2013. They hypothesized that the rampages did not occur randomly over time but instead were clustered in patterns. The investigators applied a mathematical model and found that shootings that resulted in at least four deaths launched a period of contagion, marked by a heightened likelihood of more bloodshed, lasting an average of 13 days. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of all such violence took place in these windows.
What [Columbine killers’ names] are doing is laying out a script so precise that it makes it possible for kids with really really high thresholds to join in …. They’re making this particular “riot” more accessible.
[Name of a thwarted school shooter] is not a psychpath. He’s a nerd. And 40 years ago he’d be playing with his chemistry set in the basement and dreaming of being an astronaut. Because that was the available cultural narrative of that moment…. Now he’s dreaming of blowing up schools. He did not come up with that himself. He got it from the society of which he’s a part, and we’re responsible for that.Malcolm Gladwell lecture on school shootings as a contagion, based on a New Yorker article he wrote on the same subject
The perverse truth is that this senselessness is just the point of mass shootings: It is the means by which the perpetrator seeks to make us feel his hatred. Like terrorists, mass shooters can be seen, in a limited sense, as rational actors, who know that if they follow the right steps they will produce the desired effect in the public consciousness.
Part of this calculus of evil is competition. [Dr. Paul Mullen] spoke to a perpetrator who “gleefully admitted that he was ‘going for the record’”.
Aside from the wealth of qualitative evidence for imitation in massacre killings, there are also some hard numbers. A 1999 study by Dr. Mullen and others in the Archives of Suicide Research suggested that a 10-year outbreak of mass homicides had occurred in clusters rather than randomly. This effect was also found in a 2002 study by a group of German psychiatrists who examined 132 attempted rampage killings world-wide. There is a growing consensus among researchers that, whether or not the perpetrators are fully aware of it, they are following what has become a ready-made, free-floating template for young men to resolve their rage and express their sense of personal grandiosity.
My aim here is not to blame the media: such events have undeniable news value, and there is intense public interest in uncovering their details. But it’s important to recognize that such incidents are not mono-causal, and sensational news coverage is, increasingly, part of the mix of events that contributes to these rampages.
Playing right into the memetic contagion, CNN has been heavily promoting a “fact sheet” it made, which is literally a grotesque mass murder scoreboard. Fox News, the New York Times, Breitbart, MSNBC, take your pick, nearly every big news organization feeds this contagion.
All responsible press organizations should adopt the following set of guidelines by professor Adam Lankford, variations of which are echoed, according to a report from Vox, by the FBI, researchers at Texas State University, The I Love U Guys Foundation, and other groups across the country.
- Don’t name the perpetrator.
- Don’t use photos or likenesses of the perpetrator.
- Stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past perpetrators.
- Report everything else about these crimes in as much detail as desired.
This is a simple one. A number of state and federal agencies are failing to consistently report prohibited possessors into the NICS background check system. That system won’t work properly if its records aren’t up-to-date, and Congress should fix these inconsistencies.
Your Action Plan
1. Contact the lobbying groups that you donate to
These groups follow their donors’ wishes. If they hear from you on a topic, they’ll think about it. If they hear from enough of you on a topic, they’ll act. Contact every gun-related group you donate to, and tell them to support America’s first honest path forward on guns. Commit to a specific dollar amount that you’ll donate once they endorse the path forward.
Here are a couple of the biggest groups on each side:
- National Rifle Association – @NRA
- Everytown – @everytown
- Second Amendment Foundation – @2afdn
- Giffords – @GiffordsCourage
2. Blow up Twitter about this
Tweet tactically. Anybody can tweet @realDonaldTrump and call it a day, but that accomplishes nothing. You need the person you’re tweeting at to actually read what you wrote, and to share it with a lot of people.
Find your favorite medium-size Twitter accounts that talk about gun issues. The sweet spot is the 10,000-30,000 follower range. Enough followers that they have a powerful audience, but cozy enough that they’ll personally read your tweet. Engage with lots of those folks. If your tweets are worth reading, those medium-size accounts will quickly start replying and retweeting you. Then you’re off to the races.
3. Contact your House rep and your Senators
Tell them you’re done with the zero-sum scorched earth gun debate, and that you want a real path forward. Phone calls are much more effective than emails. Use callyourrep.co to instantly find phone numbers for all of your members of Congress. Create a call script and share it on Twitter so that other people can use the most effective script when they call their reps.