Posted by Jay Livingston
Will Wilkinson blogs (here) “Why Aren’t There More Auroras?” Why don’t we see mass killings every week? The Aurora slaughter, he says, was not “senseless.” Just the opposite.
It is so easy to imagine from the perspective both of the murdered and the murderer . . . that I cannot quite fathom why it doesn't happen all the time. It is our safety that’s mysterious.His answer is basically human nature. His view is comfortingly anti-Hobbesian:
We are more thoroughly controlled by our society's norms than we tend to imagine. In a setting of peace, outside the context of war, to perpetrate an act like the Aurora massacre requires an almost superhuman feat of volition. There aren't more Aurora's because we are sociable robots, programmed for peace. To override that programming and act really monstrously requires both an uncommon estrangement and an implausibly free will.My first reaction when I read Wilkinson’s question was that his starting assumption was wrong: in fact there are more Auroras – disgruntled or unstable people who walk into an office or public space and start shooting. There are so many in fact – twenty a year on average (USA Today) – that to be national news, the incident has to be unusual in some way. Just three days before Aurora, a man in Tuscaloosa who had recently been sacked from his job got his AK-47, stood outside a crowded bar, and opened fire. Nobody was killed, so the story didn’t get much coverage.
My second reaction is that the question, stated that way, doesn’t easily direct us towards empirical data. It does not imply variables – things that can be different in a way that allows comparison. Instead, the question should be, “Why are there more Auroras at some times and places than at others?” Why, for instance, does the US have many more Auroras than do other countries? I doubt that human nature in the UK or Poland or Japan is any different than in the US. I doubt that we have more people of “uncommon estrangement” and “implausibly free will.”
But what we do have is guns – lots of them. And really good ones too. As in other countries, the uncommonly estranged here are very rare, as Wilkinson says. But in the US, an uncommonly estranged nutjob can walk into a friendly gun shop and walk out with an 100-round AR-15.
It’s much easier to be a mass murderer if you can get weapons of mass killing, much harder if you can’t.
In many countries, that AR-15 would be considered an unusual weapon and subject to greater restrictions than other guns. But here in the US, it’s as normal as blueberry pie. The Times (here) quotes Eugene Volokh, who is most definitely not a nutjob; he’s a law professor at UCLA, an expert on Constitutional law:
The guy basically had normal guns.Maybe the Times quoted Volokh out of context. I hope so, but I fear not. I would like to think that a military assault rifle with a 100-round clip is not a normal weapon. But apparently I am out of touch with the realities of American life.
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(Note to commenters: please keep your remarks civil and relevant. This post is not about freedom or self-defense or the Constitution. However, actual evidence on mass shootings, access to weaponry, uncommon estrangement, etc., in the US and elsewhere would be welcome.)