According to the FBI, mass shooting incidents are on the rise. Look at any chart on the number of mass shootings in the U.S. year by year for the last few years and the trend line sticks up like a dagger pointed at the heart of America.
Many of the killers, like Peyton Gendron, who killed 10 black shoppers at Tops Restaurant in Buffalo New York are motivated by race. For others the motive may be a grievance against a hospital, an employer, or even a casino where the shooter, like a modern day Stagolee, gambled and lost.
In the aftermath of a recent spate of mass shootings America is angry about this recurring nightmare yet divided on how we make it stop.
On one side of the political spectrum conservatives argue that America, already awash in guns more, guns are the answer. But more than thirty careful studies show more guns lead to more crimes. According to Scientiﬁc American in 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies showed that people who had access to ﬁrearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered.
The suggestion that we arm teachers is equally dubious. In a Rand Corporation study there were thirty incidents of gun accidents when police or teachers brought guns into a school between 2014 and 2018.
On the other side the liberals focus has been on the elusive goal of an assault weapons ban. Would such a ban pass constitutional muster? The Supreme court has ruled that generally, neither the state nor the federal government can ban possession of handguns in the home for self-defense. But semi-automatic assault rifles are weapons of war. Soldiers need them. Police need them. But civilians do not. Not for hunting, nor for home defense. It does makes sense to ban assault rifles or large capacity magazines or both. But here I have a sense déjà vu.
We banned assault weapons in 1994. At that time, manufacturers simply modiﬁed the weapons so that that technically they did not ﬁt the deﬁnition of the banned guns. Assuming we would close this loophole what about the millions of assault weapons already out there. Would we ban these too? How well could we enforce this? There is also flourishing market of illegal handguns in almost every major city. Could would-be killers simply flock to the black market?
Banning automatic weapons is the beginning, not the end, of our journey.
We need an early warning system. Unfortunately, we lack the means to foreknow, like the police in Minority Report, who will launch the next mass shooting attack, or where, or when. But we know enough about these killers to develop a set of proﬁles to give us starting points for investigation. While their backgrounds are diverse, most are angry young, white men. Most, according to Peterson and Densely, have experienced “traumatic violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides or extreme bullying” early in their lives. This is often associated with racism or other forms of hate, as well as feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem. “ Many of these killers, like the Buffalo shooter, display a deviant obsession with violence through online activity. There are variety of websites dedicated to hate or violence or both. Sociopaths talk to each other on these platforms competing for perverse clout through posts glamorizing violence. Robert Crimo posted thousands of times images of suicide and death. On one Crimo’s posts he depicts in a crude drawing a youth shooting students in a school armed with ak-47 like gun. Two of Crimo’s music videos, he styles himself a “rapper,” depict shooting. He also has a post, under the moniker, Awake47, “I say we just get rid of all the blacks.”
Whether we classify mass shooters as terrorists or not they are waging the moral equivalent of war against us. This is beyond what the local police can handle. We need to invest in battalions of investigators, psychologists, and social workers to provide a permanent intelligence network, aggressively monitoring the internet, and working with schools, hospitals – and local police – to identify threats.
We have tools to prevent many of these killings. We have missed a lot of red flags. We must do more. We owe it to our children and to generations yet unborn.
Donald Jones, is professor of Law and the author of “Dangerous Spaces: America’s New Dilemma” (2016).