Should we talk about guns, or should we talk about pathology?

After the Friday massacre in Newtown, Connecticut conversations have hit the airwaves about schools becoming armed, arming our teachers.  There is an argument out there that more people in and around the Sandy Hook elementary school should have been armed with guns.  Had the teachers or other civilians been armed, then the shooter could have been stopped, goes the argument.

Depending on where you stand, that argument could seem counter-intuitive in which case you’ll say more guns, more violence, obviously.  Except that today I heard an angle from WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook during his program On Point of which today’s topic was Gun Control, that really gave me pause about immediately dismissing the “more arms in society is a good idea” argument.

The guest made the point that several mass killings in recent history occurred in areas that were designated gun-free zones:  the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooter, the Columbine shooters, and this most recent Newtown shooter, A.L. The guest’s point is that these mass killers target the defenseless. To be fair one of his points about this is that there shouldn’t be broad advertisements that people are defenseless. This sets up targets as sitting ducks for those who mean harm. I think we can all agree that advertising ourselves as sitting ducks is not advisable.  The example this guest used  goes something like this:  if someone has a stalker, that person doesn’t then advertise that their home is a weapon-free house.

Alex Seitz-Waltz in a Salon piece, The answer is not more guns, says that the “country’s most prominent researchers into gun violence” talked with him about “what they saw as an ignorance of the overwhelming body of social science research that shows unequivocally that more guns equals more deaths.”

Furthermore, Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told Seitz-Waltz, “if you want to argue that we have so many mass shootings and a homicide rate about seven times higher than other developed countries because we don’t allow enough concealed carry of firearms, the data just don’t bear that out.”

I can’t imagine going to work armed with a gun. Imagine studying to be an educator and knowing that part of the deal will be the requirement to be armed.  What if that were a requirement for all professions: psychiatric inpatient personnel; accountants; university professors; car mechanics.

It turns out that on the same day of the Sandy Hook massacre, there was a knife attack at an elementary school in China’s Henan province.  News site Salon.com posted a Global Post report that 23 children were wounded in that attack. I wonder how many people in China are giving the parallel argument to our more guns argument, saying this teacher should have been armed with a knife, as should the other administrators at the school.

Finally, the New York Times published a piece by Adam Lankford, a criminal justice assistant professor at the University of Alabama. In his piece Lankford talks about the similarities between American mass murderers and Middle Eastern suicide bombers. He has done extensive research on this topic and authored The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters and Other Self-Destructive Killers. What he had to say was fascinating: 

Over the last three years, I have examined interviews, case studies, suicide notes, martyrdom videos and witness statements and found that suicide terrorists are indeed suicidal in the clinical sense — which contradicts what many psychologists and political scientists have long asserted. Although suicide terrorists may share the same beliefs as the organizations whose propaganda they spout, they are primarily motivated by the desire to kill and be killed — just like most rampage shooters. In fact, we should think of many rampage shooters as nonideological suicide terrorists.

You can read the entire piece here: What Drives  Suicidal Mass Killers.

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