It’s the guns, stupid!

In trying to decide who is guilty of a murder, investigators look for three factors that converge on the culprit: motive (a reason why the murder was committed), opportunity (the killer had to be in the place and time to carry out the plan and not have an alibi), and means (the killer needs to have access to whatever method was used for the murder). In the case of these mass murders in the US, the motives range all over the place including but not limited to racism, jealousy, anger, frustration, seeking fame, and mental breakdown. Opportunities are also plentiful, especially if you do not care about getting caught and your targets are not specific individuals. You can just wander into a mall, cinema, school, or anywhere large numbers of unsuspecting people are gathered.

But when it comes to means, a single common factor immediately jumps out and that is that these mass murders are possible because the killers had access to a powerful, military-grade assault weapons that enable the killing of large numbers of people in a very short time, so that however quickly the so-called ‘good guys with guns’ respond, it will not be quick enough to prevent a large number of casualties. We saw this in the two recent shootings where armed security were actually around and yet could not prevent the carnage.

Evidence for means as the main factor responsible for these tragedies is plentifully available. In the most recent case in Texas, the gunman legally purchased two rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition just last week, just days after his 18th birthday.

This article reviews just the large number of school shootings alone.

Mass shooters have killed hundreds of people throughout U.S. history in realms like stores, theaters and workplaces, but it is in schools and colleges where the carnage reverberates perhaps most keenly — places filled with children of tender ages, older students aspiring to new heights and the teachers planting the seeds of knowledge, their journeys all cut short.

If a mass shooting is defined as resulting in the death of four or more people, not including the perpetrator, 169 people have died in 14 such events connected to U.S. schools and colleges — from 1999′s Columbine High School massacre to Tuesday’s shooting in Texas. That’s according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, and to other AP reporting

This second article looks at the carnage in just Texas alone.

Once again, one of America’s deadliest mass shootings happened in Texas.

Past shootings targeted worshippers during a Sunday sermon, shoppers at a Walmart, students on a high school campus and drivers on a highway. Among the latest victims were 19 children and two teachers in the small town of Uvalde, west of San Antonio, where on Tuesday a gunman opened fire inside an elementary school in the nation’s deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade.

Each of those tragedies in Texas — which resulted in more than 85 dead in all — occurred in the last five years.

“I can’t wrap my head around it,” said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde. “It’s disturbing to me as a policymaker that we have been able to do little other than create greater access to these militarized weapons to just about anyone who would want them.”

And yet the gun lobby and their political enablers would rather have us focus on all the many varieties of motives, all of which are hard to identify, anticipate, and treat adequately at the best of times, and ignore the obvious problem about the means, a problem that can and should be solved and in fact has been done so by other countries.

At a press conference attended by Texas governor Greg Abbott and other Republican officials, they tried to claim, once again, that mental health was the root cause of the most recent tragedy. But then Beto O’Rourke stood up and told Abbot that this latest shooting is on him because he had done nothing after previous shootings. The people on the platform tried to shout him down.

After security walked him out,. O’Rourke spoke outside the venue.

O’Rourke is challenging Abbott in the race for governor this year and the civility police are out in force saying that it was rude of him to crash the press conference, though it does not seem to bother them when right wingers behave similarly at school board and election board meetings spouting their crazy conspiracy theories. So what if his behavior was rude? As Tim Murphy writes:

We’re all familiar with this routine by now—the elected officials who descend on the scene in their best emergency-response earth tones to bask in their proximity to law enforcement and collectively absolve everyone with power of any responsibility. People like Abbott and Cruz and Ken Paxton and Dan Patrick—the state’s Republican attorney general and lieutenant governor—will emphasize the “tragedy” of what happened and the unpredictability of it all. There were no obvious signs, Abbott said on Wednesday, not long before O’Rourke’s interruption; law enforcement acted quickly, he said, and saved lives; the assault rifles he acquired shortly before the shootings were, of course, purchased legally. They’ll give a few days of defensive interviews about hiring veterans to stand guard at schools. Maybe, in a few weeks, we’ll get “Uvalde Strong” t-shirts.

Ultimately, the question of whether his intervention Wednesday was polite or not is less important than the fact that O’Rourke is right. The effect, if not the outright point, of events like the one he crashed is to ensure that the right time and the place to discuss gun control never comes—to indulge the delusion that the people who are truly doing nothing are actually doing something. The shooting was predictable, if not in the specific sense, then in the broader one: The state’s and the country’s gun laws enable outcomes such as this by design. If it wasn’t predictable, then why can we keep predicting it?

O’Rourke should not be alone in speaking out like this at public events. I would like to see ordinary people similarly challenging these politicians whenever they come out in public with their mealy-mouthed excuses for why they never do anything.

Reducing the means for such crimes is what we can do something about and until we do, we should treat all talk about motive and opportunity, although they always play a role, as secondary, mainly serving as distractions to shift focus away from the main culprit. After all, the number of potential motives is huge and there is no way that sufficient resources will ever be available to deal with all of them. Also we cannot significantly reduce opportunities. What are we going to do? Put metal detectors and armed guards at every school, church, temple, grocery store, theater, shopping mall, and the like? But the presence of armed guards has not prevented such massacres in the past.

During Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” was drilled into his staff to keep them focused on what was seen as the key issue and not get distracted by other things. In the attempt to reduce mass murders, the driving slogan should be “It’s the guns, stupid!”

Seth Meyers had a good segment on the bogus made up rationale for unlimited gun ownership and what needs to be done to reduce the amount of tragedy.

Jimmy Kimmel got very emotional.


  1. Tethys says

    I think it would be great to occupy their convention with a counter demonstration that involves paintball guns and multiple armored demonstrators with lots of red paintballs and good aim.

    It would not actually harm them, but since they advocate for race based terrorism, I think a taste of terror and being covered in red paint and bruises would be entirely appropriate and has the bonus of being painful but not very violent.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    Mano, you missed an opportunity. You should have titled the post, “It’s the guns, stupid.”

  3. Mano Singham says

    moarscienceplz @#3,

    You are absolutely right. I have changed it. Thanks!

  4. John Morales says

    I’ve long held that it’s better to restrict ammunition.
    Most casualties are due to being hit with bullets, not with guns.

    Modern firearms don’t fire black-powder propelled bullets; they are rather more advanced.
    And modern propellant is not something anyone can just make in their kitchen.
    Well, not safely and reliably.

    So, let them have as many guns as they want.
    Getting the ammo? Make it not-so-easy.

    (And yes, I know about the enthusiasts who press their own cartridges. With stuff they buy)

    Anyway, that’s my answer to the conundrum, as an old hand at AD&D rules-lawering.

    Restrict ammo, not guns.

  5. John Morales says

    [Um, I might have been too opaque]

    Technically, it adheres to the 2nd Amendment, which refers to arms, not to ammo.

    So no constitutional issue there.

  6. txpiper says

    “Restrict ammo, not guns.”
    I’m afraid that cat is out of the bag. But if you really want to approach it from that direction, I would focus on primers.
    It’s a safe bet that the government will do what Salvador Ramos did; punish people who are normal and innocent. You have to expect as much from when the culture is encouraging malignant, abnormal behavior.

  7. jrkrideau says

    I think that the worst of this from the viewpoint of non-USA people like me is that we are getting to the point that we have an “Oh no, not again” reaction, shrug, and say “It’s the USA”. That really was my reaction to the last massacre. I am a bit horrified at my reaction but it “was” just another US mass shooting.

    We certainly do not expect the USA to do anything to make things better.

  8. KG says

    You have to expect as much from when the culture is encouraging malignant, abnormal behavior. -- txpiper@7

    Malignant, abnormal behaivour like pretending there is nothing much in the way of legislation that could reduce access to guns and related equipment designed to make it easy to kill a lot of people quickly?

  9. txpiper says


    “legislation that could reduce access to guns and related equipment”
    If you were in charge, what would this legislation look like? Can you briefly outline whatever it is that you have in mind?

  10. John Morales says


    If you were in charge, what would this legislation look like? Can you briefly outline whatever it is that you have in mind?

    If I were in charge, I’d use my executive powers to appoint those with proven qualifications and expertise to make that determination, after due diligence.

    There’s knowing that something must be done, there’s having the will do to it, and there’s having the expertise to determine how it could be done.

    Legislators only need the knowing and the will, and the resources to access that expertise is there.

    (Of course, the USA is an outlier in the degree autonomy the states have from the federal)

  11. consciousness razor says

    (Of course, the USA is an outlier in the degree autonomy the states have from the federal)

    But so much of that is an effect of the inaction of federal legislators, not actually the reason for that inaction. Congress does have this terrible habit of shifting responsibility away from themselves, but they don’t actually need to do that most of the time.

    Consider the situation the country was in under the Articles of Confederation…. It just didn’t fucking work for the national government to be that weak, so in less than a decade they simply decided to replace it with a whole new system. All totally legitimate: they saw there were problems that needed to be fixed and had the support of the population, so that’s what they did.

    Yes, there were some who didn’t like how much power that gave to the federal government, which is at least a coherent political view for a person to have. And of course, many still think this way, at least with regard to some particular issue or another.

    But what doesn’t make any sense is pretending like (in the new system created by the constitution) we’re still supposed to be living in that sort of loose confederation of mostly-autonomous states with a mostly useless central government, so Congress’ hands are tied and there’s nothing to be done about it.

  12. KG says

    John Morales’ suggestion @11 is a good one, but obvious possibilities would be banning weapons and accessories that make it possible to shoot multiple rounds in a short time (with current possessors given a time limit for handing them in and full monetary compensation), increasing the lower age limit for purchase or possession of guns of any kind, requiring proper background checks including access to all social media accounts before a gun can be bought (with criminal sanctions including a life ban on gun possession for failure to provide such access, and any threats of violence or hate speech found leading to a lifetime ban), banning sale of guns and ammunition by anyone other than a registered dealer required to keep a full record of what they sold to whom, banning political donations by any weapons manufacturer or lobby group. Most of these measures are in place in other countries, which, astonishingly enough, don’t have frequent mass shootings. Now of course I know none of these measures would pass Congress at present, because the Republican Party and a significant number of Democrats are in the pocket of the gun industry; that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t work if passed, nor that they wouldn’t be popular.

  13. txpiper says

    KG (and John),

    Your posts illustrate the challenges legislators face. The last thing we need is gigantic black markets.

  14. Holms says

    Cop-out. Other nations with such laws are a live demonstration of them, and we see they make a tangible reduction to the availability of guns.

  15. txpiper says

    “Other nations with such laws….”
    Other nations don’t have our history, heritage, legal system or demographics. I would expect sprawling gun bans to work as well as the war on drugs has.

  16. Holms says

    Ah, after all that you retreat and say even proven approaches will not help America because… America. If no law could win you over, then you were opposed to firearm regulation from the start and your appearance of interest in having any discussion was a sham.

  17. KG says

    First, you have not actually made an argument, simply an assertion. I challenge you to back it up if you can. Second, you’re implying that the owners of the weapons I proposed banning possession of would deliberately flout the law and refuse to turn them in. So in fact, you’re saying that there are few, or no, law-abiding possessors of such weapons. Which only emphasises the importance of banning and impounding them. Third, an obvious measure I didn’t mention: make the possession of any loaded gun in a public place without a lawful excuse (such as being an on-duty police officer*, or being in a designated hunting area, with the appropriate licence) a felony, with automatic removal of the right to own a gun as a mandatory part of the sentence. As for history and “heritage”, most “Wild West” frontier townships had an even stricter provision: visitors with guns had to hand them to the sheriff and retrieve them when they left. The NRA, through most of its history, supported restrictions on gun ownership and use, such as banning concealed carry. The current “the more guns the better” culture -- like the evangelical opposition to abortion -- only goes back a few decades, as a political weapon of the right, -- and while majority opinion might not at present back all the gun-related measures I’m suggesting, it’s certainly in favour of increased restrictions.

    *Of course the fact that in many places, the police are simply the most powerful gang of bullies, also needs to be dealt with -- but allowing general possession of loaded weapons merely serves to excuse their tendency to shoot first and ask questions afterwards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *