Never trust initial reports of major events


I have not commented on the recent atrocity committed at the night club in Orlando by Omar Mateen that resulted in 50 deaths and an approximately equal number of injured. This is partly because of the sense of despair that these kinds of mass killings have become so common and nothing ever seems to get done about the easy availability of semi-assault weapons and high capacity magazines that enable even a single person to kill so many people in so short a time.

It was the murders in Newtown that really showed the grip that the gun lobby has on Congress. If the murder of 20 elementary school children and six adults in a predominantly white middle class suburban community, the kind of victims our politicians find most sympathetic, results in Congress not doing a thing about it, the chances of them doing anything meaningful when the victims are mostly gay and Puerto Rican, as in the case of the Orlando shooting, were pretty much zero.

But another reason for my delayed response was that the background and motivations of the killer in this case were particularly confused and in such cases one has to be very wary of initial official statements, especially if the sources choose to remain anonymous, because they are often driven by more of a desire to advance an agenda rather that illuminate.

For example, the recent hacking of the servers of the Democratic National Committee was initially blamed on Russian hackers and this was seized upon by the media because Russia seems have replaced the China as the villains du jour and its president Vladimir Putin has been demonized. It emerged later that responsibility was claimed by a hacker known as ‘Gufficer 2.0’, and although this hacker may be working for Russian intelligence, the connection has yet to be established and the methods of hacking seems to lack the sophistication that one would expect from a state intelligence service.

But the purpose of initial reports, especially from anonymous official sources, is to cement a favored narrative in the media and the public mind because they know that later corrections rarely make a dent in those impressions. Despite the fact that Mateen’s choice of venue and targets suggested possible anti-gay and anti-Hispanic motivations as well, it is his statements of allegiance to ISIS that were seized upon and highlighted as being the chief driver of his actions though his earlier statements in support of groups that were hostile to ISIS suggest that his politics were somewhat incoherent.

A lot of reports have focused on statements by Mateen’s wife Noor Zahi Salman and ex-wife Sitora Yusufiy about him and but Sam Husseini warns that we would be well advised to treat those with caution. There are further reports that Mateen may have been a closeted gay man himself and that his self-loathing and fear of being outed may have also played a role, at least when it came to the choice of target.

Following a massacre that killed 28 people in 1996, within less than two weeks, Australia successfully adopted a ban on semi-automatic weapons including persuading people to hand in the weapons they already had and there have been no such mass murders since. Of course, the gun culture in the US is far more deep-rooted and the gun lobby here is immensely powerful so it should be no surprise that the US Senate failed yesterday to pass four bills that imposed the most minor restrictions.

So we have had one case where a high death toll of extremely sympathetic targets in Newtown failed to produce any action. Another case in Orlando with an even higher death toll by a supposed ISIS sympathizer also failed to dispel the inertia. One wonders if even a combination of yet larger numbers, sympathetic victims, and a clearly ISIS-directed attacker will result in any action. I suspect not but I hope we do not have to have yet another atrocity in order to find out.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … I hope we do not have to have yet another atrocity in order to find out.

    I don’t like to go around throwing cold water on anyone’s optimism, but the chances of you getting that one fulfilled are scanning-electron-microscopic.

  2. kyoseki says

    The only way a mass shooting will generate significant gun control is if it takes place on capitol hill. Unless they’re directly impacted, the politicians voting against these measures will continue to bow to their corporate sponsors and the highly motivated NRA voters.

    (That’s not a threat, it’s a simple statement of fact).

    What is driving me bonkers is the constant talk of “what do we have to ban to fix this?” … there’d be a lot less resistance to moving all semi auto rifles that can hold more than, say, 5 rounds (not just the arbitrarily and poorly defined “assault weapons”) into the National Firearms Act and effectively giving them the same restrictions as machine guns – machine guns ARE legal, but the process takes 6-9 months and requires quite a lot of paperwork, background checks & registration.

    You could do the same thing with magazines over 10 rounds, but these are neither serialized nor particularly hard to manufacture, so the measure wouldn’t be as effective as controlling the firearms themselves.

  3. deepak shetty says

    . Of course, the gun culture in the US is far more deep-rooted and the gun lobby here is immensely powerful so it should be no surprise that the US Senate failed yesterday to pass four bills that imposed the most minor restrictions.

    I would guess that this battle, like gay marriage , has to be won by the people and the politicians will have to follow suit. It’s not going to be won by legislation. Americans in favor of gun control like to argue about the gun lobby or NRA . But as far as I can tell a majority of Americans just don’t like restrictions on guns and unless that changes , there simply cannot be any motivation for a legal restriction.

  4. kyoseki says

    I’m not saying the resistance wouldn’t still be biblical, but a policy of earned trust as in Canada or New Zealand – which both allow people to own “assault weapons” (except with the distinctly less glamorous names of “service rifles” and “military style semi automatics” respectively) without anything like the same level of carnage we have here – is the first step in getting people to get serious about responsibility when it comes to firearms. There’s a world of difference between “you need to prove you can be trusted with this” and outright bans, which are effectively saying “you cannot possibly prove you can be trusted with this, we should take it away”.

    Banning assault weapons, even assuming you could get them out of circulation, which is unlikely (and hasn’t been proposed), would just mean the next massacre would be committed with something like a Ruger Mini 14, because the definition of assault weapon is pointlessly narrow. The Mini 14 was used in the Norwegian massacre in Utoya and yet still appears in the latest assault weapons bill as a “valid hunting/sporting rifle” despite being functionally identical to an AR-15 – it just doesn’t look like an AR-15, it looks like a regular wooden stocked rifle so it doesn’t qualify as an assault weapon. In fact, the way the assault weapons bill is worded, if you take the pistol grip off an AR-15 and change the name, it ceases to be an assault weapon (a lot of people don’t seem to realize this).

    So (hypothetically) let’s say we ban ALL semi automatic rifles like the UK did after Hungerford and even get them out of circulation; People seem to be forgetting that up until Orlando, the deadliest mass shooting in US history was committed with handguns, which are really just scaled down assault weapons, they’re less accurate at long range and they don’t go through body armor as well, but that’s about it – in a confined space (where most of the worst mass shootings happen), handguns are just as dangerous as rifles. I don’t understand the idea that “if he’d only had just handguns, he’d only have been able to kill 4 or 5 people” because it’s demonstrably false. 32 people died at Virginia Tech to “just handguns”, with another 17 wounded, they’re also concealable which is why other countries DO regulate the ever living shit out of handgun ownership.

    If it were up to me, anything semi automatic that takes a detachable magazine (which includes both handguns & other semi auto rifles, not just assault weapons) would be in the NFA and you’d have to undergo significant training & background checks in order to possess either – it really is the combination of those two factors that makes a firearm particularly deadly.

  5. kyoseki says

    a majority of Americans just don’t like restrictions on guns

    Admittedly, I live in a liberal state and don’t tend to associate with 2nd amendment absolutists, but most of the gun owners I know are completely ok with the concept of earned trust, but dislike the idea of banning anything outright.

    This is especially true when the bans are worded so poorly that they’re full of loopholes. One would think that anyone proposing such a ban would actually bother to research existing bans and try to identify their weaknesses, for some reason this doesn’t seem to happen, I don’t know whether it’s negligence or deliberate.

  6. doublereed says

    One of the measures that failed was simply funding the background check program of guns. Another was getting rid of the gun show loophole. The other two were about the people on the terrorist watchlist.

    Why are people talking about banning assault weapons?

  7. kestrel says

    @doublereed: I don’t get that either. You absolutely can not open your mouth about guns without someone saying you’re trying to ban guns. Puzzles the crap out of me. When I’ve asked people why they keep bringing up banning guns, when I’m just talking about better laws, they have told me that *actuallY*, I want to ban guns, and they are just “reading between the lines”.

    It’s enough to make me wish I COULD ban guns TBH. But of course, I can’t.

  8. kyoseki says

    Dr Singham’s blog post both talks about:

    nothing ever seems to get done about the easy availability of semi-assault weapons and high capacity magazines

    and

    Following a massacre that killed 28 people in 1996, within less than two weeks, Australia successfully adopted a ban on semi-automatic weapons

    … also, any time anyone points to Australia, Japan or the UK as examples of firearms regulation they’d like to see, they’re implicitly referring to the banning of firearms, since that’s what all of those countries did – it’s never Canada or New Zealand as the proffered example, it’s always the countries that banned firearms outright followed by eye rolling exasperation that “nobody wants to ban guns!”

    Which is the reason I went off on an admittedly long-winded rant, sorry.

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    semi-assault weapons and high capacity magazines that enable even a single person to kill so many people in so short a time.

    This is simply false.

    For the purpose of our conversation, which is about civilian mass shootings, all semiauto rifles have about the same rate of fire, about the same accuracy, about the same time to reload, and the same ability to accept high capacity magazines. “Assault weapon” is simply a mythical category.

    Also, for the purposes of this conversation, any semiauto handgun is also about as dangerous any semiauto rifle. The handgun loses a little bit in terms of accuracy, but it more than makes up for it in terms of concealability. Handguns commonly come with “high capacity” magazines, including 15 to 20 rounds. This is the natural size and capacity of the magazine for the handgun, and magazines limited to 10 rounds must be artificially limited as such by filling space in the bottom of the magazine. 30 round magazines for many handguns are readily available.

    Also, for the purposes of this conversation, limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds is also ineffective. Reloading a magazine only takes about 2 seconds, and going from 30 round magazines to 10 round magazines does not make a noteworthy change to the rate of fire. Almost all mass shootings happen over minutes, not seconds. This includes Orlando AFAICT. Also, requiring more reloads will not measurably increase the number of mass shooters stopped by someone talking the shooter. There is a reason that almost no mass shooter is stopped by an unarmed civilian by tackle. Going from 30 round magazines to 10 round magazines only increases the number of required reloads by 3x, and 3x of a very small number is still a very small number.

    For example, Virginia Tech had lots of deaths, and happened with only handguns and mostly 10 round magazines.

    Going even further, some representatives are now calling for bans on all rifles with detachable magazines. This one might be slightly effective, but far less so than what most people would realize. The shooter could just carry extra guns, and instead of reloading a magazine, they could change to a new gun. The rate of fire is unaffected. The only practical difference is that it slightly raises the money costs of the shooter, and only by that method would it slightly reduce the number of mass shooting events.

    For a simple demonstration of these facts:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSySuemiHU

    Please educate yourself on the facts, so that we can discuss gun control that is actually effective.

    If you want to combat the problem of gun violence by banning make and model of firearms, then you really do need to ban all semiauto firearms (and revolvers). Anything less almost certainly will not make a difference in terms of average gun deaths nor mass shootings.

    I suggest and support the following gun control measures:

    Mandatory training and licensing of firearm ownership. Includes safety classes, training on the law and ethics of self defense, and education on the stats of common “accident” aka negligence scenarios. Includes mandatory background checks for all gun sales and transfers. This is totally constitutional based on the authority of the congress to train the militia, and based on the second federal militia act of 1792.

    Create mandatory gun safety rules, and vigorously enforce them. In particular, make it a strict-liability criminal negligence offense to lead a loaded firearm unattended in a place that is readily accessible to minors.

    Fight the problem of lead poisoning.
    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/lead-exposure-gasoline-crime-increase-children-health

    Increase the economic prospects of the poor.

  10. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Damnit. I need to proofread:

    >someone talking the shooter
    should be:
    >someone tackling the shooter

    >lead a loaded firearm
    should be:
    >leave a loaded firearm

  11. lanir says

    I didn’t hear about Orlando until about 20 hours after it began. So all the news outlets had time to make their stories and get them out there. Because of who got shot combined with the things the gunman said while he was doing it, I knew this would be a real mess in the news. So I went looking at Fox, CNN, NPR, and PBS. Fox was just bizarre, they had about a dozen articles and half of them were dedicated to pinning responsibility on this guy they don’t like down there (he had nothing to do with it, I don’t even know what made them think he did). CNN was pretty blatantly going for the anti-Muslim thing. NPR looked a bit more subtle. The only one that avoided making up a story and contented themselves with just telling the facts available was PBS.

  12. lanir says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal #9: That video has some obvious irregularities. Also, if it really takes dozens of missed rounds to stop a single target I have an even bigger problem with guns. That’s an awful lot of lead sprayed willy-nilly so someone can pretend that in the best case scenario they can go Rambo on someone they see as a threat. Missed shots have consequences.

  13. John Morales says

    EnlightenmentLiberal:

    @EnlightenmentLiberal #9: That video has some obvious irregularities.

    That’s basically orthogonal to the points that I raised.

    So what? It specifically refers to your adduced video; you should address the pointrather than waving it off, presuming you want to be an honest interlocutor.

  14. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    AFAIK, most people do have shitty hit rates when under pressure, including cops. I don’t see anything obviously inaccurate about it. I also don’t see how it relates. Do I need to look up cop accuracy rates when under fire for you?

  15. sonofrojblake says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal, 9:

    The shooter could just carry extra guns

    Nice use of the word “just”, there. Sounds like the lobby shoutout scene from “The Matrix”. Extra guns is extra cost, extra complication, extra need for messing about retrieving it from whatever sling or holster you’ve got it on/in, and more than anything else extra weight. The ideal combination for a successful mass shooting is a single semi-automatic rifle and a single semi-auto handgun, and lots of magazines for each. Reloading at speed under pressure without stoppages is a skill it’s hard to practice as a civilian, so forcing reloads on gun users is a tiny, tiny step forward it’s probably worth making, if that’s all public opinion will stand.

  16. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Again, Hollywood myths. Most mass shootings are not pressure situations. The shooter usually has minutes, or tens of minutes, to kill, including Orlando. It’s not literally 5 seconds of carnage. It’s 5 minutes of carnage. Again, also for example Virginia Tech, which was only handguns and lots of magazines.

    You’re fooling yourself if you think the magazine capacity will measurably help. You’re fooling yourself if you think that bans on weapons without detachable magazines will be much use either. It’ll be some use, but not much.

  17. sonofrojblake says

    We sound in agreement. Compare:

    a tiny, tiny step forward it’s probably worth making, if that’s all public opinion will stand

    and

    It’ll be some use, but not much

  18. Dunc says

    If you want to combat the problem of gun violence by banning make and model of firearms, then you really do need to ban all semiauto firearms (and revolvers).

    This is exactly what we did in the UK, and it seems to have worked quite well. It’s also what they did in Australia, where it also seems to have worked well.

  19. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To sonofrojblake
    Let’s be supremely generous, and say that limiting magazine capacities to 10 would result in 10% fewer mass shooting deaths. That’s maybe 3 people per year. Tops. And that’s being supremely generous. It’s probably closer to 1% less deaths per year from mass shootings, which is less than 1 person per year in a population of 300 million. That’s how completely useless limiting magazine capacity is.

    “Fine. So it’s probably useless. Let’s do it anyway.” Look at the costs, political and legal.

    Without a constitutional amendment, you’re IMO setting dangerous precedent to destroy our other precious civil liberties. You’re damaging rule of law and constitutional protections.

    You’re also pissing off gun owners which represent a sizeable portion of the population for nothing. This is a wedge issue for may voters. Imagine how much good work we could do in terms of other issues facing this country if we didn’t have this useless wedge issue dividing the country. Gun control is a gris-gris. It might get liberals to the polls, and it might be good politics for the liberal politicians, but this kind of useless gun control is utterly horrible politics for actually making this country a better and safer place.

    If you’re going to piss off gun owners, at least go the distance and go for the full ban on all semiauto firearms (and revolvers). At least that would do something.

  20. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Note: Sorry – I was off by a factor of 10. It’s closer to 500 deaths from mass shootings per year, for an optimistic return of 50 lives saved per year from this magazine capacity limit, and probably closer to 5.

  21. Dunc says

    Let’s be supremely generous, and say that limiting magazine capacities to 10 would result in 10% fewer mass shooting deaths. That’s maybe 3 people per year. Tops. And that’s being supremely generous. It’s probably closer to 1% less deaths per year from mass shootings, which is less than 1 person per year in a population of 300 million.

    Your arithmetic seems suspect… There are far more than 30 mass shooting deaths per year. As of June 19th, there have been 216 deaths in mass shooting incidents (defined as incidents in which 4 or more people were shot, not including the shooter) this year, and we’re only half-way through. If you’re that badly misinformed about the basic facts, I have to regard the rest of your opinions on the topic as somewhat suspect.

    Then, of course, there’s the fact that whilst small reductions in mortality may not seem like a big deal to you, they’re rather more important to the people in question.

    Without a constitutional amendment, you’re IMO setting dangerous precedent to destroy our other precious civil liberties.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, your other precious civil liberties are pretty much fucked already.

  22. sonofrojblake says

    There hasn’t been a mass shooting (defined as a shooting in which at least FOUR people are either killed or injured) in the UK since 2010. In that incident, 12 people were killed. It was huge news.

    In the US, 22 people were killed in mass shootings already this month of June, 2016, and the month isn’t three quarters over and that’s not counting Orlando. Ten people were killed on just June 11th, across four of the five mass shootings that day around the country.

    Doesn’t it bother you at all that your knee-jerk estimate of the number of people dying was off by a factor of ten? And don’t the “civil liberties” of the people being killed count? People in civilised countries (e.g. the UK and Australia) seem to get by very well without having the “civil liberty” to carry a semi-automatic handgun or rifle.

  23. hyphenman says

    So, I’ve written this before, but maybe one more time won’t hurt.

    Enforce the 2nd Amendment. No. I mean really enforce the 2nd Amendment.

    Restrict firearm ownership, other than single-shot hunting rifles and shotguns, to members of the militia, also known as the inactive reserves.

    How would this work?

    Institute a mandatory draft of all citizens at the age of 18, or the receipt of a high school diploma, whichever comes first, for a six-month training period. This would essentially be basic-training-plus with special provision for those who might, for a narrow scope of physical disabilities, be unable to meet physical requirements, but mentally able, to complete the program. (Those citizens would still have to serve the six months but be excused from regular physical training, &c.).

    Washout and you lose your 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

    A person could opt out of the draft (and the militia), but by doing so forgo their 2nd Amendment rights

    Upon successful completion of the training, each citizen would become a member of the inactive reserve, subject to call-up in time of national emergency, and be licensed to fully exercise, as a member of the organized militia, their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

    This would also, I believe, have a very strong dampening effect on our government’s predilection for wars of adventure since nearly every family would have skin in the game and be less likely to support wars that could put their children in harm’s way.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  24. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To sonofrojblake in 24
    If you want to reach UK levels of gun deaths, then you have to ban all semiauto firearms (and revolvers). I haven’t disputed that. I’ve agreed with that. Your post is a complete non-sequitir, a red herring. It’s a diversion. In no way do you address my actual points in any way, but the post pretends to be a rebuttal. You’re being dishonest – whether to me or to yourself, I don’t know.

  25. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    It wasn’t a knee jerk estimate. I google for numbers. I used the first web site that I found. I think the website had bullshit numbers, which were in number of deaths per million, which is why it wasn’t immediately obvious. After hitting “post”, only then did my basic numeracy kick in, and I realized my error, and the error of that randomly googled website. My apologies for that error.

  26. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Maya
    Well, that’s just wrong on many levels.

    “Assault rifle” != “assault weapon” in the technical nomenclature. “Assault rifle” more or less means an automatic firearm, e.g. a machine gun.

    Machine guns manufactured after 19 May 1986 are illegal for civilian possession in the United States.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firearm_Owners_Protection_Act
    So, that magazine is incorrectly using terms, or advertising illegal services (or services that are soon to be illegal).

    Your citation does nothing to demonstrate your (seeming) claim that some semiauto rifles are more dangerous than other kinds of semiauto rifles in the context of civilian mass shootings, which is really what this conversation is about.

  27. hyphenman says

    @Maya No. 29 and Enlightenment Liberal No. 30

    I think the whole “assault weapon” terminology is a red herring unless you consider the coolness factor.

    For me, this is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. When less than five percent of our population has ever served in the military (as I have) and far, far fewer have ever fired a weapon in combat (which I, thankfully, have not) there is a sense of having missed a quintessential part of being a man.

    Nearly 250 years ago, Samuel Johnson wrote: “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.” That was true then and, while they may vehemently deny the reality, that is true today.

    The people I know who own semi-automatic versions of military weapons (principally AR-15/M-16s) do so not because they are superior hunting weapons–they’re decent varmint rifles–but because there is a undeniable coolness/machismo factor in holding one and shooting at paper targets, bottles and cans.

    The truth is that blowing shit up is cool, but that truth makes a really crappy political argument.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  28. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To hyphenman
    I would like to channel this outrage into productive (and constitutional) gun control, because it would be really nice to lower the gun deaths in this country, and I am personally outraged when people waste their time on ineffective gun control that does nothing except piss off Republicans and help gun manufacturers as people have to buy new guns to work around cosmetic bans.

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