The list of related readings below the text of this post is updated occasionally.
TEXT UPDATED 03/02/08
The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is going to hell in a handbasket. And hell includes not just mass shootings, but mass murder by various means.
As Malcolm Pollock points out, in the context of mass shootings,
When I was a boy, all the households around me had a gun or two. We boys used to stack up hay-bales and put targets on them (a charcoal briquette was a favorite choice) to shoot at with a .22. Schools and scout-troops often had rifle ranges; I myself got a marksmanship Merit Badge while at summer camp with the Boy Scouts. I don’t recall being aware of any gun laws at all; you could buy ammo at the general store. (Gun safety was a big deal, though, and kids were taught to handle firearms carefully and respectfully.)
This was the state of normal (non-urban, middle-class, predominantly white) American culture half a century ago. Guns were an unexceptional part of that bygone world, and were easily accessible to all of us (you could order pretty much any gun you liked through the mail, by sending cash in an envelope!). Somehow, though, we hardly ever murdered each other, and mass shootings were very, very rare.
Something has changed, obviously. And it isn’t access to guns.
What is it? Malcolm has answers. As do the many other writers whose articles and posts are also listed below in “related reading”. Here’s a sample of Andrew Klavan’s analysis:
It was after a school shooting near Spokane last September that Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed a clutch of reporters:
When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home. None of those guns ever walked into a school, none of those guns ever shot anybody… Did the gun change or did you as a society change? I’ll give you odds it was you as a society. Because you started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified the gang culture, you glorified games that actually gave you points for raping and killing people. The gun didn’t change, we changed.
It seems clear to me the sheriff was speaking about rap music with its hateful, violent and misogynistic lyrics, and video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can have sex with a prostitute then strangle her or pull an innocent person out of a car, beat him, then steal his vehicle.
… I don’t argue that there’s a straight line between any specific cultural creation and bad acts. But surely, a culture in which those in authority approve of and argue for things like gangsta rap and GTA — and indeed for the use of violence to silence speech that offends them — well, such a culture becomes a machine for transforming madness into murder….
The left wants to defend gangstas and “transgressive” art and antifa thugs — but when the shooting starts, they blame the guns….
Now the left wants to legitimize disrespect for the flag and for Christianity. They want to ignore the rule of law at the border and silence protests against Islamic ideas that are antithetical to every good thing the west stands for….
For fifteen years and more, I have been complaining that the right is silenced in our culture — blacklisted and excluded and ignored in entertainment, mainstream news outlets, and the universities. But the flip side of that is this: the degradation of our culture is almost entirely a leftist achievement. Over the last fifty years, it’s the left that has assaulted every moral norm and disdained every religious and cultural restraint.
The left owns the dismal tide. They don’t like the results? They’re looking for someone or something to blame? Maybe they should start by hunting up a mirror.
There are other counts that I would add to Klavan’s indictment. Here are some of them:
- governmental incentives to act irresponsibly, epitomized by the murder of unborn children as a form of after-the-fact birth control, and more widely instituted by the vast expansion of the “social safety net”
- treatment of bad behavior as an illness (with a resulting reliance on medications), instead of putting a stop to it and punishing it
- the erosion and distortion of the meaning of justice, beginning with the virtual elimination of the death penalty, continuing on to the failure to put down and punish riots, and culminating in the persecution and prosecution of persons who express the “wrong” opinions
- governmental encouragement and subsidization of the removal of mothers from the home to the workplace
- the decline of two-parent homes and the rise of illegitimacy
- the complicity of government officials who failed to enforce existing laws and actively promoted leniency in their enforcement (see this and this, for example).
It all adds up to more violence than would otherwise have occurred in this country. Mass murder gets a lot of attention because, like the crash of a commercial airliner, it is a dramatic event that claims many lives at once. But even in the worst year on record (1995) the number of deaths in mass murders (180, mostly in the Oklahoma City bombing) accounted for only 8/10 of 1 percent of that year’s deaths by murder and non-negligent manslaughter.
It is therefore entirely reasonable to suggest that mass murder — as a “marginal” phenomenon — is of a piece with violence in America, which increased rapidly after 1960 and has been contained only by dint of massive incarceration. Violence in general and mass-murder in particular flow from the subversion and eradication of civilizing social norms, which began in earnest in the 1960s. The numbers bear me out.
Drawing on Wikipedia, I compiled a list of 317 incidents of mass murder in the United States from the early 1800s through 2017. (I excluded 2018 because it is still early in the year.) My consolidated list encompasses school massacres; familicides; religious, political, or racial crimes; workplace killings; and two miscellaneous categories of rampage killings (here and here). I omitted two incidents that are wrongly included by Wikipedia: the 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut, and the 2013 fertilizer-plant explosion in West, Texas.
These graphs are derived from the consolidated list of incidents:
The vertical scale is truncated to allow for a better view of the variations in the casualty rate. In 1995, there were 869 casualties in 3 incidents (an average of 290); about 850 of the casualties resulted from the Oklahoma City bombing.
The federal assault weapons ban — really a ban on the manufacture of new weapons of certain kinds — is highlighted because it is often invoked as the kind of measure that should be taken to reduce the incidence of mass murders and the number of casualties they produce. Even Wikipedia — which is notoriously biased toward the left — admits (as of today) that “the ban produced almost no significant results in reducing violent gun crimes and was allowed to expire.”
There is no compelling, contrary evidence in the graphs. The weapons-ban “experiment” was too limited in scope and too-short lived to have had any appreciable effect on mass murder. For one thing, mass-murderers are quite capable of using weapons other than firearms. The years with the three highest casualty rates (second graph) are years in which most of the carnage was caused by arson (1958) and bombing (1995 and 2013).
The most obvious implication of this analysis is found in the upper graph. The incidence of mass murders was generally declining from the early 1900s to the early 1960s. Then all hell broke loose.
I rest my case.
Bill Vallicella, “Deriving Gun Rights from the Right to Life“, Maverick Philosopher, November 10, 2009
Crime Prevention Research Center, “Comparing Murder Rates and Gun Ownership Across Countries“, March 31, 2014
Jayman, “Guns & Violence, Again…“, The Unz Review, June 11, 2014
Malcolm Pollack, “Troubleshooting Gun Violence“, Motus Mentis, July 4, 2015
J. Christian Adams, “Flashback 30 Years: Guns Were in Schools … and Nothing Happened“, PJ Media, February 15, 2018
Dov Fischer, “When Do We Get to Talk About the Other Reasons?“, The American Spectator, February 16, 2018
Andrew Klavan, “The Left Is Reaping the Whirlwind of the Culture They Made“, PJ Media, February 16, 2018
Malcolm Pollack, “Reaping the Whirlwind“, Motus Mentis, February 16, 2018
Susan L.M. Goldberg, “When Will We Have the Guts to Link Fatherlessness to School Shootings?“, PJ Media, February 17, 2018
Steve Chapman, “A Cure for Mass Shootings Doesn’t Exist“, Reason.com, February 18. 2018
Karen Townsend, “Shocker: WaPo Fact Check Agrees with Rubio’s Statement on New Gun Laws“, Hot Air, February 18, 2018
Dave Bohon, “A Common-Sense Strategy for Protecting Schools“, New American, February 19, 2018
Rafael Mangual, “Second, Third, and Fourth Chances — at What Price?“, City Journal, February 20, 2018
Mark Meckler, “Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Had One Thing in Common“, Patheos, February 20, 2018
Fred Reed, “Kids: Now and Then“, Fred on Everything, February 21, 2018
Brandon J. Weichert, “Toxic Liberalism Created Nikolas Cruz“, The American Spectator, February 21, 2018
Melissa Mackenzie, “Twenty Reasons Mass Killings Happen“, The American Spectator, February 23, 2018
Daniel Greenfield, “Muslim Terrorists Topped Mass Shootings in 2 Out Of 3 Years“, Frontpage Mag, February 26, 2018
Allie Nicodemo and Lia Petronio, “Schools Are Safer than They Were in the 90s, and School Shootings Are Not More Common than They Used to Be, Researchers Say“, News@Northeastern, February 26, 2018
Lloyd Billingsley, “Enabling Killer Cruz“, Frontpage Magazine, February 27, 2018
Dennis Prager, “Why the Left Opposes Arming Teachers“, American Greatness, February 27, 2018
Brandon J. Weichert, “Our Kids Are Not All Right“, The American Spectator, February 27, 2018
David Kopel, “The History of the ‘Assault Weapon’ Hoax. Part I: The Crime That Started It All“, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 2, 2018
George Neumayr, “Relativistic America: Neither Safe nor Free“, The American Spectator, March 2, 2018
Bruce Heiden, “Utopia, Pacifism, and Guns“, American Greatness, March 3, 2018
Larry Elder, “How Many Lives Are Saved by Guns, and Why Don’t Gun Controllers Care?“, Frontpage Mag, March 6, 2018
Greg Jones, “Political Correctness Is to Blame for Parkland“, The American Spectator, March 6, 2018
Mark Overstreet,” Safety Is Not the Reason Democrats Are Pushing Gun Control“, American Greatness, March 17, 2018
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1963: The Year Zero
How Democracy Works
How Government Subverts Social Norms
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
The Opposition and Crime
How America Has Changed
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Death of a Nation
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Scapegoating in Baltimore
As the World Lurches
A Not-So-Stealthy Revolution