What To Do?

I’m going to share some of my ruminations about what the US can/should do about mass shootings, because I can.

Of course, there won’t be agreement on this kind of stuff. It has become a political football (which, if you think about it, is an indicator of absolute horribleness) but, hmmm, am I revealing too much if I mention that I often ponder what I’d do if I had power? I’m interested and concerned with power because I often sit around wondering why it is that the people who have power don’t use it for good purposes. It’s part of my process of strategic analysis to look at the choices being made by ${whoever} and to wonder what I’d do if I were in their shoes. Usually, my results come back effortlessly as “something radically different” which is the point of the exercise: why do the powerful make the choices that they make? That is a serious question. And, my attempts to answer it are why I often refer to politicians as “sadists” or “sociopaths” – I can’t come up with an answer that’s not untenable. What does that mean? Nothing good.

Watching the whole “mass shootings” problem play itself out, I see two things immediately: the republicans’ responses are those of a bunch of completely corrupt servitors of the gun lobbies. The mouth-noises that they make, attempting to convince ${whoever} that they have other beliefs or an agenda are meaningless. The republicans are devoted to doing nothing and trying to get their base out to vote, with the usual lie “they are going to grab your guns.” Which, basically, has never happened. That the republican base accepts that is a sign of how ignorant and easily fooled they are. On the democrat side, I also see a lack of effective response. For example, grabbing guns might be a slightly effective response. Why, then, have the democrats not done it? I look at them and conclude that they’re in the same game as the republicans; they don’t actually want to solve any problems – they’re deeply interested in churning their base but that’s it. After all, what was the first thing that the democrats did after the latest shooting: they passed a bunch of legislation that they know the republicans will mostly kill. It’s all a con.

But, what can we do, assuming we actually do care about stopping mass shootings? And there is an election coming up, as usual. What do you do? Simple: you launch a flanking attack. The current strategy is not working; do something else.

My idea is to create the Department of Social Support. Do it big, and do it splashy. Take some money away from ‘defense’ (a theme of mine) and fund this entire thing by using it as an excuse to stop participating in some war, or other. Except, to do this, I mean actually do that. The democrats have a loathsome history of saying that they are going to help, only to do a few steps of the dance and have themselves force themselves to retrench and basically accomplish nothing. By the way, the electorate understands that. There are a lot of Americans, now, who hate Biden (including me!) for being an ineffective carved stump of balsa-wood, and they spare some hate for Nancy Pelosi whose concern, obviously, is trying to get progressives out of her caucus as much as it is to beat republicans. The strategic picture is, basically, “we are not going to engage on some pointless debate about whether AR-15s are evil pieces of junk” – we’re going to leave you so that’s your dead horse to beat, meanwhile we’re setting up a massive flank attack based on a populist approach to a serious problem that has traction.

“Back under Reagan, the mental hospitals in this country were closed and mental health became a public policy problem. The Reganites turned a lot of people onto the streets who are suffering and who need help; a good society does not do that sort of thing, it is the responsibility of a government to take care of its weakest citizens, not just its wealthiest…”

The DSS would take a straightforward public health approach to analyze the risk factors in mass shooters. I can tell you a few that I’ve mentioned before: domestic violence. Also: despair. DSS would acknowledge the thing nobody seems to want to talk about, which is that a lot of mass shooters seem to be attempting “suicide by cop.” What are the risk factors that lead to that? Abusive or negligent parents, bullying, etc. The fact that the mass shooters often start with their parents is a really big clue. Why isn’t anyone talking about that, when they’re yakkity yakking about magazine size and the definition of “assault rifle”? The DSS would talk about “at risk kids” and “adults who need help.” As we’ve noticed elsewhere, there is often lots of warning that someone is about to pop – what we lack is a way to engage with them and talk them down from the ledge. Here’s another way this program would be great: it’s a great job maker for veterans with PTSD, and/or people who want to specialize in helping. I imagine that the entry portal into the world of DSS would be a flowcharty sort of app that someone could access, which asks them “where does it hurt?” and works from there. Once the system determines that there’s a kid who’s getting bullied and thinks they may snap and grab a gun, it would schedule them a chance for a confidential sit-down with (let’s say) some Afghanistan war veteran, who has some training as a social worker, who can talk to the kid and learn about their problem and maybe help stabilize them while a better response is created. There would be adult versions, as well: someone who had addiction issues, marital despair, is unemployed and desperate – why not let them sit down with a guidance counselor to see if they can be talked off the ledge? Another program DSS would have is a sort of “witness protection program” for at-risk kids. If some teenager is being bullied and is thinking of killing their classmates, maybe what they really need is some counseling, a new name, and a move to the opposite coast along with opportunities to re-invent themselves doing something else? There are lots of runaways; we need to care for them, too. A lot of them have very poor outcomes, indeed.

See where I am going with this? We’re standing up a whole new agency that has adequate funding and support, which is dedicated to helping take care of our country’s people who are at risk. Who could vote against something so obviously beneficial? Well, of course there are monsters who would vote against this sort of thing, but they’d be positioned for an absolutely frightful hammering for being the uncaring evil bastards that they are. I wonder how todays’ republicans would react? They’d probably puff up their chests and come up with some weird shit that is basically, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” But the democrats would also have to get their heads out of their asses and understand that they can’t just keep spiraling the defense budget, and protecting fossil fuel companies: they’d have to actually fight. That’s what you actually have to do, when you are confronting evil.

Remember during the early part of the ‘Rona, when the democrats were making a big deal about how they were going to send checks out to keep people afloat for a while? I got 2 checks from the government because I pay taxes. The way Nancy Pelosi set it up, it was taxpayers who got the checks, which deliberately abandoned those who don’t pay taxes because they work for tips. It is absolutely absurd that my 1%-ish ass got some extra money for a new bandsaw from China, but the undocumented worker who is struggling got nothing. Because they’re undocumented and bastards like Pelosi also want to sadistically punish undocumented workers. I can’t wrap my brain around it; she’s worth $100+million herself (she started off wealthy, then traded stock based on the inside information that being in congress gave her access to) That is also evil. It’s not the same kind of grinning-in-your-face-deathcamp-commander evil the republicans specialize in, but people like Pelosi and Biden can’t be trusted enough for you to turn your back on. I am, in fact, so disgusted with Biden and the democrats, who would rather use the death of Roe V Wade as a way of pumping up their base, rather than as a challenge to strategic action.

Some of you are doubtless thinking, “Marcus, this wouldn’t work because the democrats don’t have enough of a majority in the senate!” I have an answer to that, too: arrest all the fucking republicans who were involved in the coup. That would change the balance of congress, bigtime. Pass legislation while those assholes are busy trying to save their asses. Merrick Garland is a piece of broken, useless, machinery Biden pulled out of the recycling bin – he’s trying to adhere to some old school notion of courtesy, which is ridiculous when you’re in a cage-fight with someone who specializes in eating people’s faces and is quite open about it. Here’s the message: the point of a trial is to present evidence to a jury, and let the jury decide. We’re going to do that; we’ve locked these people up and they can lawyer up and we’ll present evidence and they’ll present evidence and if everyone is lucky we’ll be done with that around December, 2024. What’s going on with Garland is that he appears to think that he needs to wait until he has a perfect case which he will then lose when the clock runs out. What a yutz. /spit. If I were running the show in this country, I’d have a company of marines, in full dress with loaded rifles, march in and observe while the FBI did the arrests. Naturally, you are thinking, “but the FBI is full of fascists and that would not work.” True. True. Remember when Merrick Garland was going to re-factor and repair the Department of Justice? Yeah, I remember that, too. What happened? Garland appears to have looked at his stage-directions for the great stage of history, and decided that he’d rather be a non-entity. And Biden’s such a useless jackass he won’t replace Garland. He’s got this idea that he’s still living in the old school world of respect that he remembers (the one where he took huge amounts of money from Delaware banks) but it’s a different world and Biden’s qualifications say that he ought to be out on some golf course waiting for the dementia to finish him off.

Biden, I do not get. He made a ton of money by being a corrupt member of congress, lining his pockets at the expense of his honor. Once he had a massive fortune, why didn’t he quit? Obviously, because he wants power. He feels that it’s his turn. He has waited for so long for it. Well, now that he’s the most powerful man on Earth, he’s, apparently, just enjoying all the adulation and stuff. What did he want that job for? What we needed was an avenging paladin, what we got was another old duffer.

As I write this I am wondering if maybe I should not publish it. It reveals too much, namely that when the night is dark and the fireflies are dancing in the yard, I’m perfectly capable of doing a pretty convincing “sociopath” routine. It seems to me that it’s breaking the 4th wall for a historian: when you switch from studying history, to wishing that you could make it. Don’t worry about me, though, I see no path to power and am making no effort toward finding that path and setting foot on it.

So, that’s it. The way to make progress on spree-killers and other kinds of violence within society is not to argue about AR-15s and clip sizes, etc. – it’s to take a public health approach and study the problem with an eye toward answering “why do these people do this?” What infuriates me about that is that we actually have a pretty good start on that analysis, but that conversation is not happening at all because America, collectively, has a lot of fapping that they’d rather do. I have absolutely no hope that anything useful will be done.

I am painfully aware that one of the quintessential elements of the fascist mind-set is that they believe they are able to get things done. Usually, that’s delusion and narcissism. It makes me worry a bit when I start sounding like one of them.

History will say that Biden was not the man for the hour. It’s pathetic. Imagine if someone on the deck of the Titanic yelled “follow me, I know the way out!” and everyone followed him and he slipped and fell off the deck, into the ocean. Don’t audition for a role unless you are fairly confident that you can play it.


  1. Ketil Tveiten says

    I imagine your DSS idea would have problems passing the box in the decision-making flowchart for «Will The Public Support The Proposal For Giving Them A Nice Thing» that is labelled «Will Black People Get The Nice Thing?» (the arrow labelled «Yes» points directly to «No»), but maybe I’m just cynical about how racist Americans are?

  2. says

    Yes, it’s important to understand “why people do this”, but there is also the pragmatic approach of preventing them from doing it by removing the tools that allow for it. Although I have not dredged up the data, I doubt that the USA has an order of magnitude greater problem with mental health than places like the UK and Australia, which have significantly lower odds of people being killed by guns. For the most part, we watch the same movies, read the same books and magazines, and play the same video games. And I agree that many of those cultural artifacts are imbued with violence, but if the tools aren’t there…

    The major impediment that I see is that “the horse is already out of the barn”: literally decades of Republican malfeasance regarding guns have put us in a terrible position. I think that can be solved but it’s a long reach.

    Meanwhile, the plan that the bipartisan* Senate group came up with is, at best, a minor tinkering at the edges. I don’t see much improvement from it (short of allowing senators to claim they did something). It’s like giving your car a good cleaning and waxing, and expecting that to vastly improve your gas mileage.

    *I have a hard time using that word seeing that the Republicans flat-out refused to even consider a number of proposals that a majority of Americans want. This was not an honest compromise, let alone an examination of the data leading to appropriate action. I suspect that it is part of a cynical long range plan wherein they can claim in a few years that they reached a “compromise” with Dems on gun control and it had very little effect on gun deaths, so therefore gun control doesn’t work. It’s the creation of a future talking point.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    … am I revealing too much if I mention that I often ponder what I’d do if I had power?

    “Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.”
    Alfonso X of Castile

  4. crivitz says

    While I like the plan to arrest the coup-plotting congresscritters and pass legislation while they are tied up with legal battles, I just guess that immediately afterward, the red state governors where those coup-plotters are from would then appoint replacement reps in their place who would continue with the obstruction. And of course there is the 6/3 Supreme Court that will shoot down anything that could even hint at being humane legislation. There must be a way out of the situation, but hell if I know.
    Also, think it’s just fine—helpful even—to show your “sociopathic” side. After all, who am I to argue with the guy who runs the Argument Clinic in this joint?;-/

  5. Hatchetfish says

    “we actually have a pretty good start on that analysis”

    Good discussion and summary of where we are on that here, if you haven’t listened/read. Follman also starts out with the same premise that gun control is hopeless, and so as you put it a flanking maneuver is needed.
    : https://www.npr.org/2022/05/02/1095489487/trigger-points-mark-follman-how-to-stop-mass-shootings

    Utterly infuriating watching the democrats walk right up and pee on the electric fence of calling for bans. It’s like watching someone with one of the old ‘choose your own adventure’ books pick the same ending five times in a row and not understand: “You’ve brought about a minimum of two generations of corrupt naked fascist rule, and your ban will be overturned in less than a year. Better luck next time.”

  6. lochaber says

    Anyone remember a couple years back there was this “trend” of firearm fetishists pointing their firearm at their crotch, because they were mad about basic firearm safety rules, (or something, i dunno, I think I am physiologically incapable of understanding their nonsense…)


    This is why I don’t think any attempt to fix anything will be successful…

  7. seachange says

    #4 crivitz
    You are perhaps supposing they’re not actually greedy? Like any large wealthy club, part of the reason for joining is the promise of the share of the benefits. If congress throws out the creeps and they go to jail, then blindly following along no longer gets ‘your share’ of the benefits. Somebody else does. Yes, that somebody else is a part of your large wealthy club, and sometimes this benefits you. But it might not. And it wouldn’t do so as much.

    Former President Donald Trump did that with his revolving-door positions, and he ran out of folks willing to take part. Some of them went to jail and some of them got pardoned. This is not very sure.

    So, what is the ‘cost to us’ to imposing this upon them, in your opinion?

  8. says

    Ketil Tveiten@#1:
    I have suggestions for that, too. But that’s for another day. [best of all it does not depend on empowering mjr]

    It is not possible to be too cynical about how racist americans are.

  9. Jean says

    Ignoring the privacy and legality issues, I wonder if you could train an AI to identify those at risk by looking at their social media postings and their browsing history. With the number of mass shooters, the training set might be large enough to make good predictions. You’d then need to help those people out and no simply use repressive actions.

  10. flex says

    From OP,

    Who could vote against something so obviously beneficial?

    Never underestimate the power of the “who’s going to pay for it?” reason to not do something to help.

    It’s a big “get-out-of-jail-with-no-moral-stain-on-your-character” card.

    It won’t matter if you point to various bloated government programs to find funding. They can’t be cut.
    Raise taxes on the already wealthy? Are you out of your mind, they wouldn’t fund our campaigns!
    It won’t matter if you say we have a fiat currency where as long as the money meets a current need it’s good, so just print more. They deliberately and aggressively won’t understand that government economics is different than home economics.
    It won’t matter if you point out that the cost of not doing anything is greater than the cost of doing something. They don’t care, the property damage is low and other people’s lives are really not all that valuable.

    And at the end of the day, they’ll say, “We wanted to do something but we couldn’t find the money for it.” Convenient ignoring the fact that they decide where the money will be spent.

  11. JM says

    Setting up a reasonable level of social support in the long run has to be a major part of any solution. The rising availability of plastic and metal printers is going to make availability of guns less controllable over time no matter what is put into the law. People have already printed pistols, though they don’t work very well yet. In another ten years or so people are going to be able to go around sales controls entirely and just make pistols and sub-machine guns. At that point control of ammunition is where things will have to go and that is even harder then controlling guns.

  12. snarkhuntr says

    3d printed guns are fairly workable now, if you’re equipped with a good 3d printer and have time and technical knowledge. If you want to end up on a list, do a google search for the FGC-9. I downloaded the documents less because I want to make a gun (I do not), than because I wanted to see how they used 3d printed mandrels to electrochemically machine the chamber and rifling into the steel barrel. Pretty ingenious. The gun appears to be a fairly reliable carbine/machine pistol that can be assembled entirely from 3d printed and modified hardware parts explicitly available in high-gun-control countries.

    With that out of the way, Gun Control is not a sufficient solution to the US’s mass shooting problem. What seems neccessary is a wholesale revamp of policing. Very few of these shooters come ‘out of nowhere’. The inevitable postmortem examination of their social media activity and personal lives almost always seems to show that they engaged in toxic, harassing, misogynist behaviour in online spaces beforehand. Many of these folks engaged in explicit threatening behaviour as well – comments that were in and of themselves criminal. Unfortunately they tend to be directed at marginalized people (women, minorities, etc), and the police are entirely uninterested in investigating such crimes when the victims lack social capital.

    Had each of these losers been investigated and prosecuted (as well as red-flagged) for their online activity – their access to firearms could have been drastically reduced. A properly constructed non-carceral justice system that invested in interventions such as counselling and rehabilitation services might have caught these people and redirected them onto a more pro-social path and prevented a lot of death and misery.

  13. says

    As I have pointed out before, domestic violence is an 80% co-morbidity with spree violence.
    It is absolutely unconscionable that our lawmakers continue to ignore that.

  14. snarkhuntr says


    I would not be shocked if there were a 100% overlap between abusive behaviour of various flavours and spree violence – if the data could be collected.

    I listened to the recent episode of I Don’t Speak German where they did some diving into the journal/manifesto of the Buffalo shooter. The level of oblivious entitlement and chan-culture engagement leads me to strongly believe that he would have been a very toxic online (and possibly personal) presence – even if he did not abuse anyone at home.

    The fact that police routinely avoid investigating crimes of threatened violence because they occur online (and to minority/disadvantaged groups) allows people like the shooter to fester in peace, quietly growing more and more hateful in their thoughts until some percentage of them decide to act out in the real world.

    Imagine how much good we could do if everyone who sends keyboard warrior death/rape/whatever threats to vulnerable online people were publically exposed and where applicable prosecuted.

    These people do not generally take meaningful steps to avoid identification – a subpoena to [social media platform] and to [ISP] would be enough. Most law enforcement officers could do this in literally a few minutes. They don’t do it (and don’t respond well to claims of online threats/harassment) because they simply don’t care about the victims.

  15. says

    There was a law passed in Maryland that people could not get carry permits for handguns if they had past convictions for domestic violence. The police unions immediately swung into action, because the law disqualified something like 60% of cops from carrying their service weapons.

    Now, Maryland’s “red line” laws specifically exempt cops and military.

    You really can’t make this shit up. By all means let’s argue about magazine sizes.

  16. says

    Very few of these shooters come ‘out of nowhere’. The inevitable postmortem examination of their social media activity and personal lives almost always seems to show that they engaged in toxic, harassing, misogynist behaviour in online spaces beforehand. Many of these folks engaged in explicit threatening behaviour as well – comments that were in and of themselves criminal. Unfortunately they tend to be directed at marginalized people (women, minorities, etc), and the police are entirely uninterested in investigating such crimes when the victims lack social capital.

    One of my pet peeves is that the FBI spent billions of dollars compromising privacy on all of the social media platforms – so they could pretend to be jihadis, and monitor muslims. There are massive keyword in context searches run on private group communications – looking for “allah akbar” and keywords that might indicate something’s up. I can’t see any of this as anything but absolute screaming incompetence, given that the FBI is consistently late, and unapologetic, “oh, well, the guy posted in his facebook that he was going to bring his gun to school…”

    The Parkland survivors are bringing a $1bn lawsuit against the FBI, who knew that the shooter was a high risk and did nothing. Given that the FBI had such special access and did not use it effectively, let’s hold them liable. I pretty much stood up and cheered and danced around my office chair when I heard about the suit. That is the way to defund the police, BTW.

  17. says

    At that point control of ammunition is where things will have to go and that is even harder then controlling guns.

    You’re not kidding. I could make ammunition, if I cared to. I have a metal lathe and nitric acid, brass, lead, and copper. The precursors for ammunition are very easy to come by.

  18. says

    Never underestimate the power of the “who’s going to pay for it?” reason to not do something to help.

    Oh, I don’t. That’s why I approached all of this in the context of “Marcus is emperor of the US for the duration of the crisis.”

    That’s why I find fascism scary and compelling. It offers the hallucinatory dream that maybe, if I just had enough authority, I could fix these things. But the next thing you know, you’ve had a bad day and just declared that churches are to be taxed and abortion is a sacrament and if people encounter a dog or a cat on the sidewalk, they have to bow and get out of its way (if it’s a dog) or throw themselves down that it may walk upon a padded surface (if it’s a cat). Oh, and the republican party is illegal. I’d be a good emperor. One day a month would be paid vacation and everyone would fly kites. Think how awesome kite flying day would be in Fargo in January!

  19. sonofrojblake says

    I could make ammunition, if I cared to.

    Hmm… here’s a thing. Based on nothing but my hunch, I’m going to stick my neck out and posit that the Venn diagram of “people who can make their own ammunition” and “people who will go on shooting sprees” has a very, VERY small intersection. Ted Kaczynski was in there, but really almost all the spree shooters who make the news and probably all of the ones who don’t are strictly the kind of people who are only doing it because it’s easy, and quick. And easy and quick access to the finished product is the problem. Yes, if you control access to ammunition then a tiny minority won’t bother going to the gun store they’ll just knock their own up, but those people weren’t ever going to walk into a school or cinema and start shooting anyway.

    I present no data in support of this argument, but do tell me if it doesn’t pass your smell test.

  20. says

    the Venn diagram of “people who can make their own ammunition” and “people who will go on shooting sprees” has a very, VERY small intersection. Ted Kaczynski was in there

    True. And, turning casings on a lathe would be a mighty time-consuming No bueno.
    Kaczynski’s bombs were actually pretty amateurish. I’m probably not supposed to say that, am I?

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