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Will Connecticut Massacre Give Politicians the Guts to Take on the Gun Lobby?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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It’s happened again: a lone gunman has carried out a massacre, this time in an elementary school in Newtown, CT. A young man killed 18 children and eight adults, reportedly including his mother, a teacher at the school, before taking his own life.

And so once again I’m dragging out my plea for gun control, just as I did last summer, after James Holmes shot 12 people to death in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and in January 2011, after Jared Laughner killed six people and wounded 14 others, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Arizona.

Every time a deranged American male goes on a rampage, shooting down dozens of people, gun lovers trot out the familiar excuses: Guns don’t kill people, people do. If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. If some of the victims had been packing heat, they could have shot the bad guy before he shot them.

The journalist Jeffrey Goldberg floats this argument in this month’s The Atlantic. “Guns are with us, whether we like it or not,” Goldberg writes, so maybe good guys should arm themselves so they can take out the bad guys. After quoting a gun-control advocate asking whether we want to live in a country in which “the answer to violence is more violence,” Goldberg responds that “in a nation of nearly 300 million guns, his question is irrelevant.”

I reject this defeatism. I blame our recurrent mass shootings not only on despicable pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association—which feed off and fuel Americans’ childish obsession with firearms—but also on the cowardice of politicians.

In 2008 the NRA warned that Barack Obama would be the most anti-gun president ever. Actually, Obama, although he supported gun controls when he was an Illinois state senator, switched his stance during his presidential campaign. “I believe in the Second Amendment,” he said. “I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.”

He was true to his word: “Fears aside, gun rights thrive under Obama,” The Washington Independent reported in July, 2010. President Obama signed a law permitting people to carry guns into National Parks. He did not protest when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states and local governments could not overrule citizens’ federal right to bear arms or when legislators in Louisiana and Arizona passed laws allowing people to carry weapons into churches and bars, respectively. After a year in office, Obama received an “F” rating from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Here are some facts from the Brady Campaign: About 100,000 Americans are wounded or killed by firearms each year in the U.S.—which has the highest levels of gun ownership in the world—and more than a million Americans have been shot to death since 1968. Although gun supporters tout the benefits of self-defense, a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a suicide attempt; criminal assault or homicide; or unintentional shooting death or injury than for self-defense. Higher household gun ownership correlates with higher rates of homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings.

The American fetish for guns hurts non-Americans, too. The U.S. is the world’s leading source for small arms—defined as weapons that can be carried and operated by a single person—as it is for larger, more expensive weapons, such as tanks and jet fighters. Small arms, which range from pistols and rifles to rocket-launched grenades and shoulder-fired missiles, are the biggest killers in wars around the world. The International Action Network on Small Arms estimates that more than 600 million are in circulation.

The Action Network lobbies for tighter national and international controls on the manufacture and trade of small arms; urges a system of marking all firearms (perhaps with embedded computer chips, to allow easy tracking by law-enforcement officials); and promotes programs for collecting and destroying small arms. But the NRA has successfully blocked international as well as domestic gun control.

Mexican drug thugs, who have killed more than 30,000 people in recent years, rely on guns from the U.S. “Drug cartels have aggressively turned to the U.S. because Mexico severely restricts gun ownership,” The Washington Post reported in December, 2010. U.S. attempts to crack down on American dealers of arms to Mexico, the Post noted, are thwarted by “laws backed by the gun lobby that make it difficult to prove cases.”

President Barack Obama said in a brief, emotional appearance today: “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in these past few years.” Indeed. So what are he and other politicians going to do about it?

Postscript: I just posted more thoughts on the Connecticut massacre: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/12/16/question-for-gun-rights-fanatics-have-you-no-sense-of-decency/

Photo: Newtown Bee.

 

About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Inis Magrath 5:45 pm 12/14/2012

    “Will Connecticut Massacre Give Politicians the Guts to Take on the Gun Lobby?”

    No, of course no. If the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, one of congress’s own members, didn’t provide them guts enough to talk about gun control then nothing will. Ever.

    Link to this
  2. 2. gesimsek 5:58 pm 12/14/2012

    Gun lobby on the one hand and KillBill-Dexter mentality on the other turn this country into a butchery.

    Link to this
  3. 3. VelocitySquared 6:21 pm 12/14/2012

    “Cross Check: Critical views of science in the news” or is this “Cross Check: Political Views on things that have nothing to do with science”?

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  4. 4. gravytop 6:27 pm 12/14/2012

    The violence problem in the United States has no simple answers — only simple arguments.

    Query: why have there been so many mass shootings at schools, and so few at shooting ranges?

    In fact, I am agnostic on the question of the efficacy of strict gun control laws. I do not know if they will lead to a decrease of gun violence. Doesn’t seem to have worked in Mexico.

    But I know a weak argument when I see one, and I see a handful in this utterly unscientific opinion piece.

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  5. 5. Forsythkid 6:42 pm 12/14/2012

    Will anyone ever confront the root cause of the problem? The man was sick…very sick. Mental illness, in our country, is growing by leaps and bounds with one study indicating as many as 1 in 5 citizens suffering some form of mental dysfunction. Compounding the issue is the fact that our mental healthcare system has grown vastly overburdened and more and more sick individuals are falling through the safety net every day…

    I wonder if Obama, or anyone else for that matter, will ever acknowledge this developing nightmare. Or, like the doctors of olden times, will they continue to treat only the symptoms…

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  6. 6. mcohen 6:53 pm 12/14/2012

    I am puzzled. It is the job of science to place aside common sense in place of hard science. As everyone knows, the control issue has two sides: That more guns increase chances of innocents getting hurt and that guns can curve crime by allowing individuals to protect themselves. Placed with two opposing commonsensical views, I would go for the one that has the science behind it. And so I ask myself, how is it possible that Scientific American presents an article on the importance of critical thinking on one page and yet on another defends a view that, to my knowledge, no hard science exists to back it up? Where is the SCIENCE?

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  7. 7. Drowkin 7:13 pm 12/14/2012

    Stick to the science John. There is none on this subject, therefor you are using your job as a soapbox, something this country already has enough of, from both sides.

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  8. 8. outsidethebox 7:17 pm 12/14/2012

    Reply to Mcohen: this article was not only not about science. It was not about thinking. It was about feelings. Cue the music.

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  9. 9. priddseren 7:41 pm 12/14/2012

    And here we go again, somehow if this guy just didnt have a gun, none of this would have happened. I suppose this author has never heard of the dead children in israel from the years of suicide bombers and dare I say it, NOT using a gun to commit a massacre.

    It appears the psycho killer was also autistic, are we going to blame guns and Autism? Shall we ban all guns and round up all Autistic people because after all if he wasnt autistic, he would not have killed all those people either, at least that is the theory behind banning the guns.

    Or will I be getting a government mandate that I must now administer some ridiculous medication to my autistic daughter because some dumbass liberals decided to drug autistic people to make sure they cant commit any kind of violence.

    I know many of you are going to claim I am out of my mind and go right ahead, then tell me how easy it is to refuse to give a kid medicines or immunizations you don’t want but the government run schools do. Lets not limit it to liberal morons, the other side did it in Texas too, so my thoughts here are not so far fetched.

    Bottom line is an individual committed a massacre and is responsible for it. The problem is the various political interests cant have a world were people view themselves as individuals, so there is no way just an individual committed a crime in the world of politics, it must have been the autism and the gun, why not add gluten in the diet and video games as well. Lets ban it all in the name of allowing the government and criminals be the only ones with weapons pointed at the rest of us.

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  10. 10. alan6302 7:47 pm 12/14/2012

    I am sure that if this guy was mentally ill, it has something to do with toxins in food and pharma. Mercury fillings , fluorinated water, vaccines etc. Deficiency in some vitamins will do it. If he was on prozac we will never find out.

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  11. 11. rshoff 8:10 pm 12/14/2012

    Guns don’t kill. People do. Which is exactly why we need to legislate. People will continue to kill, let’s not make it easier. It’s morally reprehensible.

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  12. 12. crosscultural 8:12 pm 12/14/2012

    The problem is sin, not guns.

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  13. 13. rshoff 8:13 pm 12/14/2012

    @mcohen – It is about science. Logic. Math. Risk. Bottom line common sense. All acute brain functions, and in the aggregate sociological. This topic is rift with science. Applied science.

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  14. 14. rshoff 8:20 pm 12/14/2012

    gravytop: The question for me isn’t so much as to whether gun control will prevent all or even most gun deaths. It won’t. However the question is a moral one. Are we obligated to do what we can even if it’s not enough? Are we obligated to know the difference between right and wrong and stand up for it? The answer is yes. I believe that many gun deaths can be averted over the next several decades if we do. Not all, not most, but many. That is a moral imperative. THAT is the tie breaker for the agnostic.

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  15. 15. rshoff 8:25 pm 12/14/2012

    Forsythkid – You are absolutely right. Too many people are mentally ill and pushed to the edge of functionality in this aggressive military state extreme capitalistic society we share. And we do not treat the illness. But, in addition to treating mentally ill stressed out people, it would be helpful to remove some of the artillery from the arsenal. Guns.

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  16. 16. Skeptic Too 8:37 pm 12/14/2012

    I agree with the author. Its about time for us to outlaw guns of all types. While we are at it, perhaps we can also outlaw cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines and fix those problems as well.

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  17. 17. wmartin46 9:39 pm 12/14/2012

    I agree with the others that this is not the right forum for this topic–unless you also want to talk about “Fast and Furious”, and how it’s OK for an Executive Branch of the US Government to engage in gun running to drug lords in nearby countries in hopes of creating incidents that might be construed as a reason to terminate the 2nd Amendment Rights of the American people–and then lie about it to cover up your tracks! So, Mr. Hogan, did you blog about “F&F” at anytime during the past year or so?

    And what about talking about the need for “registries” of mentally ill people, so that society can better understand the danger it is in from so-called “Mainstreaming”. Should we talk about that, in a Scienc Blog?

    Let’s stick to science, and move the politics somewhere else.

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  18. 18. leovaz59 11:06 pm 12/14/2012

    this should not be about gun control but school security, it has happened far too many times to be OK.
    people of any ages should not be allowed to go in schools armed to the teeth with the intention of killing students of any age, grade schools are notorious for providing good security and vigilance but they need to close the loops where unauthorized strangers can have access in schools with out been checked for weapons.

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  19. 19. leovaz59 11:34 pm 12/14/2012

    School security should resemble airports and official buildings, we pay enough taxes to afford at least one security guard at the main school entrance.
    is a good thing that schools have put a stop to bullying as a part of school policy, aggressiveness needs not be tolerated and put in check trained or medicated, this 20 year old could have been diagnosed early and treated, and we would not be talking about gun controls, the NRA should do more than lobby for gun rights, they should help to self regulate for inappropriate gun ownership.
    on a personal note keep guns away from your crazy kids.

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  20. 20. iareconfuse 12:53 am 12/15/2012

    Firstly, this isn’t science, this is just a biased and sensational rant about firearms.

    Yeah, everyone always blames the inanimate objects. If you blame the firearm for something like this, would you blame the car that caused a fatal car accident? Would you blame the spoon for making a person fat? Crazy is as crazy does, no amount of legislation or restrictions will put a stop to crazy. Guns have nothing to do with the issue. The issue is with educating families and ensuring that children are being taught proper values from their parents and from their schools. Religion is not necessary, just common sense and proper parenting. Something was obviously wrong with the guy, and that should have been dealt with long before something like this was allowed to happen.

    Here’s an example of how firearms legislation doesn’t work to curb violent crimes:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-man-slashes-22-children-near-china-school-20121214,0,6383015.story

    So, using this other similar recent incident in China, is the knife to blame? Firearms are completely banned in China, yet these kinds of things still happen – I wonder why? Maybe if you ban kitchen knives or heavily restrict them like the UK has done, then maybe you’ll reduce crime. Oh wait…

    If you restrict anything, criminals will either find another way to do harm, or to acquire a banned item illegally. By definition, which I’m sure you know (hopefully), a criminal is someone that does not abide by the law. So, knowing this definition, one would assume that by passing more laws to restrict firearms ownership would be to essentially disarm law abiding citizens that might want a firearm to protect themselves or their loved ones.

    Nobody in the NRA is lobbying for wild-west type shootouts with bad guys. They’re only trying to level the playing field for citizens with criminals that don’t play by the rules. If you don’t want to own a firearm, then don’t, it isn’t mandatory – nobody is pointing a gun at you to own one. However, don’t insult the people that are willing to carry a firearm with good intention solely to protect themselves, and maybe you.

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  21. 21. karenalcott 1:55 am 12/15/2012

    Wow, first of all, all but one of the Chinese children were recovering at home by the end of the week, while using a gun allowed our child massacre enthusiast to kill all of his targets. Secondly, how does discussing the fact that the US has the highest level of gun violence and gun ownership of any developed nation, equate with paranoid visions of police state violence, (like vaccinations)? And lastly, suggesting that an intellectual deficit or mental illness explains or excuses the decision to commit violence against the innocent; disregards the facts. Most violent criminals are the very definition of sanity, they know what they are doing, they plan it out and they take pains to ensure they aren’t prevented from achieving their objective. They are sane and evil and evil people are no more proof against insanity than good people are. Conversely, a vast majority of mentally ill and/or disabled persons are quite harmless, because they are not evil. Illness and debility are misfortunes that can strike anyone, good and evil are choices we make.

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  22. 22. markpeaty 2:40 am 12/15/2012

    ‘karnalcott’, I agree; as a foreigner looking at USA I see the US ‘citizen’s right to bear arms’ as:
    1/ a 17 & 18 century concept linked to a legitimate desire *of those times* to prevent Britain or another country from re-invading, and
    2/ an 18, 19, & 20 century desire to conquer native Americans and keep Black slaves in their places.

    I would suggest to all citizens of USA that in order to ‘live long and prosper’ what you need, as we do, it to ensure compassion, democracy, ethics, and scientific method are *all* embodied in and manifest by *all* your institutions and and social organisations. Your citizens do *not* need to carry guns to make this so; the opposite is true. The carrying of guns in neither an indicator of strength nor a guarantee of safety; these can only come through caring, cooperation, diligence and mutual respect.

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  23. 23. PrimoLeoncefalo 4:09 am 12/15/2012

    “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We may want to think our politicians are tough, but only when their constituents bombard them with an issue will they get tough. The massacre in Connecticut is a serious symptom of a disease that we first caught at Columbine, and has been raging now for 13 years. Schools and universities are the prime targets[biggest bang for each shot]and not a single piece of legislation to protect the classrooms.A declared war on the NRA is the first step, and the flow of guns will slow to handguns and pistols.Second, locks, alarms, detectors, intercoms, armed guards, armed teachers, CCTV – any one of these might have prevented the Newtown massacre. Do it NOW!!! and Obama’s press secretary will just have to eat his words!!!!!

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  24. 24. CiaranJ 7:46 am 12/15/2012

    The decent and civilized thing would be for me and others to firstly show sympathy and respect for those involved in this terrible tragedy.

    But no – maybe the first thing is for all the pro gun lobby to jump in and attack the blogger.

    But then the rage comes. And it is futile rage because people like priddseren want nothing to change. I have seen his posts and in his world the gun laws and the climate are not going to change and everything he doesn’t like is a conspiracy to try to change his world.

    So here is the way it is going to be;
    The “conservatives” will not change and will gradually become an angry and frustrated minority, more and more isolated from the real world and any scientific facts that they do not like. Which is fine because they like to imagine themselves under siege.
    Gun based massacres of children and adults in the USA will continue – so get used to it.
    When the real nutters finally manage to enable 3D printing of guns in a citizen’s garage then any kind of licensing or state sponsored selection criteria for gun owners will go out of the window. Wellcome to gun heaven.

    As for the NRA, well maybe they are a bastion of freedom and a bunch of heroes fighting for the second amendment.
    Or maybe they are a self serving interest group with blood on their hands.
    I wonder which it is?
    Whatever – if Americans want to shoot Americans then that is your business. I do not care what they do in the US but the fact that, as Horgan points out, “the NRA has successfully blocked international as well as domestic gun control” is my business. Those actions do show the NRA are not just interested in the rights of US citizens to bear arms but more in the right of gun manufacturers to make as much money as possible.
    I would be interested if anyone knows if the NRA will be in favour of citizens creating 3D guns for free in their basements, or will they start to talk about legislation and controls at the point that it impacts profits?

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  25. 25. bloomingdedalus 7:57 am 12/15/2012

    Amazing that you scientists completely ignore the reality behind these mass killings. The Chinese do the same thing with knives, so, to blame guns is childish and ignorant. Additionally, it is illogical.

    Notice that both these lyricists were assassinated for telling you the truth:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWKpblxejWE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWsJcg-g1pg

    Scientists need to stop playing the ‘politically correct’ game, the overthrow of patriarchy has created this problem because males are not evolutionarily adapted to poor mate distribution – the one thing which has staved off incidents like the Arab Spring, or Chinese elementary massacres, or this massacre, until the contemporary era.

    Simply because a few people become enlightened does not overthrow millions of years of male control of mates genetically. Stop making excuses for the political spectrum by blaming it on guns. That’s like blaming sneezing for the cold virus.

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  26. 26. Archimedes 8:02 am 12/15/2012

    My sincere condolences to the family and friends of those wounded and killed in this terrible tragedy.
    However, individuals, groups of individuals, organizations, and governments are significantly less likely to committ atrocities of this type on individuals,groups and/or engage in pogroms against their own or other individuals, if they know that the citizenry is armed.
    There are many totalitarian and authoritarian individuals and groups in the USA that uniformly and adamantly oppose the Second Amendment and the right of the citizenry to possess firearms.
    They do not see the citizen as an individual with that rationality which gives him or her the right to possess freedom, individual rights (including the right to possess firearms), and self determination but as a means to further their totalitarian and authoritarian ends.
    Hence, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights were promulgated to insure these fundamental rights.

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  27. 27. simbalion 8:47 am 12/15/2012

    Your interest in protecting lives is phony. If you really cared about preventing the next mass shooting, you would realize gun control has never been an effective approach. There’s been a mass shooting every year for many years now, and gun control exists in this country. No matter what laws we enact, guns fall into the hands of the wrong people.

    If you are serious about saving lives, then another approach is required. You need to determine why people become psychopaths, they are not born that way, and prevent them from going down that road. These shootings are a symptom of your failure to maintain a society which cares about each other.

    This political nonsense about gun control makes me sick to my stomach. You should be ashamed.

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  28. 28. dbtinc 9:18 am 12/15/2012

    While it may be time to revisit the issue of how to better protect our citizens from violence of all stripes including guns, I suggest that this is not the moment. Let the parents of these poor children deal with this tragedy on its own merits and not as an excuse of the special interests to attack one side or another.

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  29. 29. CiaranJ 9:30 am 12/15/2012

    OK Archimedes makes an interesting point.
    Is it true that “individuals, groups of individuals, organizations, and governments are significantly less likely to committ atrocities of this type on individuals,groups and/or engage in pogroms against their own or other individuals, if they know that the citizenry is armed.”
    Well clearly not in the case of individuals as an armed citizenry has not prevented this latest massacre and the previous ones.
    Is it true for groups, organizations and governments? I do not know but I can sympathise with the viewpoint. In all these countries with high levels of violence in South America and around the world does arming citizens lessen the violence or increase it?
    Are US citizens so scared or distrustful of other US citizens, groups and your own government that you need to be armed?

    Simbalion says “gun control” is political nonsense that makes him sick to his stomach”. So then if you do not have gun control then are you advocating gun uncontrol?
    Surely even those who are pro-gun see that there must be some level of control. What should that be? Is it necessary for citizens to carry automatic weapons with armor piercing bullets and dum-dums.
    I am not anti-gun. For instance I see the need for guns for citizens who live in isolated areas to hunt and protect themselves. There may be good reasons for guns. Its not about anti-gun its about the control mechanisms, its about who is carrying the gun and where.
    In any case this is a pointless discussion about another pointless massacre because nothing will change.

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  30. 30. jgdalal 10:39 am 12/15/2012

    Do not hold your hopes to high. The current lot will not develop guts until they are “shown” that the voters keep them in office not the lobbies and funding sources. It’s up to us the voters to make that happen. For years we have not.:(

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  31. 31. Traveler 007 11:04 am 12/15/2012

    Guns was not the factor here, its the people.
    They are 1000′s of gun shows every year with 10,000 guns at each, 100,000 rounds of ammo and 1000′s of “gun people” at these.If guns cause the killings, why is there not a bunch of slayings at these gun shows?
    Guns are used up to 2.5 million times a year for protection and to stop crime and used for bad about 10,000, no comparison.

    One thing that was a common factor at the theater shooting, the mall shooting and the school. They were all “gun free” zones. The theater and the mall both had signs up banning honest citizens from protecting themselves and the school is a “no gun ” zone by law. All the shooters chose these targets in no small part because they knew nobody inside could stop them.
    The law or the signs didn’t stop the criminal did it?If any law is changed, they need to stop places from banning people the right to protect themselves unless they are going to provide armed guards. They have been school shootings stopped in the past when a person went out to his car, retrieved his gun and went back in and stopped the perp. Using your logic we should ban cars because of the deaths even though they are used far more for good.

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  32. 32. Sinned43 11:23 am 12/15/2012

    It’s Obama’s fault! Obama created the atmosphere for this to happen and there will be more. Guns don’t kill people do. How can ALL the guns in this country be gathered up? Criminals surely wont’ give them up. What will Obama and his liberal DemocRATS do? Have the dumb cops break into your residence and search for guns? As a young man I made my own gun, so trying to remove guns is pure folly. Remove Obama and things will get better.

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  33. 33. LarryW 12:03 pm 12/15/2012

    This morning I created a petition at Change.org, to citizens of the US to repeal the second amendment. No more pussy-footing around the dialog of gun control on the right-wing’s and NRA’s turf.

    Watch for it.

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  34. 34. Sinned43 12:16 pm 12/15/2012

    I think global warming may this wacko kid go bananas. Being fed contaminated breast milk made him want to kill his mother. Realizing he voted for Obama drove him insane. His guns were only tools and without them he could of done the same thing by using rat poison to eliminate a lot more of those Liberal DemocRATS. Remove guns from the equation and others will find ways to accomplish the same outcome. Now if we can persuade all Liberal DemocRATs to commit suicide then the problem will be solved.

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  35. 35. LarryW 12:17 pm 12/15/2012

    I think if couched correctly, the discussion can be scientifically and not strictly policy based. We can start talking about hyper-enlarged amygdala’s and how manufactured outrage that has been encouraged and promoted has caused an increasing violent views to become dominant in our culture. This is anthropological also.

    How and why did the Nazi machine arise? How and why did Yugoslavia descend into butchery between neighbors? How and why are Islamists descending into butchery? We can talk about how Hirohito came to power and over 30 years programmed the Japanese population into the belligerents of WWII. We can talk about how scapegoating arises, xenophobia.

    We can talk about how nonsense words come to stop reasonable discussions like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” There has to be some scientifically based reasons how people and societies descend into mobs.

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  36. 36. nobody02 12:26 pm 12/15/2012

    Guns laws prevent massacre? Please explain to me why this still happened than? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2248054/China-stabbing-22-children-elderly-woman-stabbed-outside-primary-school-Chinese-knifeman.html It’s not the guns, it’s the people.

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  37. 37. CiaranJ 12:27 pm 12/15/2012

    Sinned43
    Yeh right its Obama’s fault.
    You are one of those I referred to earlier who is no longer connected to the real world.

    Why not give every citizen a nuclear weapon, after all its not nuclear weapons that kill people …
    Why not give Iran nuclear weapons, after all …

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  38. 38. Fossilnut 12:38 pm 12/15/2012

    More politics on Sci Am. I’m not in favor of private gun ownership but this is not a scientific issue. A more scientific approach to the incident could be applied.

    Re a comment on screening individuals. How? About one in 2 million psychopaths is a serial killer. Bad stuff happens by crazy people…no way to make more of this guy’s mentality than that.

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  39. 39. Sinned43 12:43 pm 12/15/2012

    @CiaranJ. Nice idea! Hope your one to be vaporized. Poof!

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  40. 40. Fossilnut 12:45 pm 12/15/2012

    “You are absolutely right. Too many people are mentally ill and pushed to the edge of functionality in this aggressive military state extreme capitalistic society we share. And we do not treat the illness.”

    There are tens of thousands of pschologists, psychiatrists, social workers dedicated to treating these people. Thousands of individual programs. a whole cocktail of meds. Rehabilition halfway houses. Group homes.

    Please, note. We ‘do’ treat these people and no, we can’t lock up 10 million people because a couple of them will flip out. The USAS has 330 million people. If you have a solution for monitoring everyone all the time then you must be God (or Santa Claus).

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  41. 41. rshoff 12:58 pm 12/15/2012

    ciarinJ “if Americans want to shoot Americans then that is your business. I do not care what they do in the US”

    I care, and want you to care as well! btw, the NRA (national RIFLE association) is not about family men out hunting deer any longer. It is an atrocity.

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  42. 42. Percival 1:21 pm 12/15/2012

    Mr. Horgan, again you abuse a scientific forum to promulgate political ideals. The problem I see is that there is no science supporting your implied ideal, that if guns are not available, murder rates will decrease.

    Worse, you draw a false parallel between private ownership of firearms and international warfare, blaming the U. S. not only for making it possible for criminals and the insane to commit gun crimes domestically, but also for arming combatants around the world.

    In the interest of injecting some science into the discussion I invite you to research crime statistics in those jurisdictions in the U. S. where firearms ownership by private individuals is completely prohibited, and compare with those in jurisdictions with few or no restrictions. I will not front-load your results by citing any specific examples.

    As for placing blame for deaths in wars, have you no sense of history? Humanity as a species is addicted to warfare; the evidence is literally legendary.

    Deleting the U.S. contribution to the international small-arms trade will hardly be noticed since the most popular “assault rifle” worldwide is the ever-popular Russian AK-47 and its variants, which incidentally are not, and never have been, manufactured in the U. S.

    Preventing gun violence by removing guns is treating a symptom, not a cause. Preventing warfare by removing its tools is simply not possible; remove modern arms and we will go back to thousands of men hacking each other to death with only slightly modified farming implements or whatever else is handy.

    Your emotional language, “…a deranged American male goes on a rampage…”, if carefully parsed, points to real possible solutions. Discover the roots of the derangements and address them.

    Finally, I find it necessary to chide you for your use of derogatory rhetoric. You call the NRA “despicable” (deserving of hatred and contempt), you speak of “Americans’ childish obsession with firearms…/…fetish for guns…”, and call politicians “cowardly” for failing to live up to *your* expectations.

    I suggest you put your hatred aside in favor of reason. Gun violence is not a thing unto itself, it is merely one of many modalities of violence. Address the causes, not the modalities, of violence and it will reduce.

    Warfare is an entirely different animal; violence between individuals is rarely due to differences in ideology, whereas warfare almost always is. I have no idea how to address that; perhaps you do?

    Link to this
  43. 43. Sinned43 2:16 pm 12/15/2012

    @Percival As you correctly stated about guns the author of this article isn’t very bright. First of all the kids mother bought the guns and enjoyed target practice with her sons. What someone does with a weapon is their choice and not the buyers or manufacturers fault. Many of our enemies would enjoy it if our country was disarmed. Got to admit this is a lot of fun reading about opinions and political views. Let’s keep the verbiage flowing.

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  44. 44. CiaranJ 2:40 pm 12/15/2012

    The truth is that various sides might start with the facts but then opinions take over and then it gets politicised. The danger is that a knee-jerk reaction takes place by whichever political group has power.
    It is also true that it will be very difficult if not impossible to remove millions of guns in the USA, if that was even desireable.
    Hand guns were banned in the UK and Australia after school massacres but the results are mixed.
    For data on the UK case see
    http://www.politics.co.uk/reference/gun-crime
    www politics co uk/reference/gun-crime

    So I do not know what the answer is, maybe there isn’t one. It is so tragic that children become the targets.

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  45. 45. karenalcott 3:37 pm 12/15/2012

    Who is this “Madeleine” at #7? And what are they hawking? You can find that same quote on most of the comment pages, here on SciAm and I have seen it on PC mag’s online discussions. Although, they seem to have gotten rid of it, I suspect its a virus or at least a scam, so don’t go there.

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  46. 46. karenalcott 4:54 pm 12/15/2012

    Yo sinned43: You do realize that your weird, vitriolic ranting, makes rational Americans who own guns for sport and home security, look like a bunch of Fruitloops, don’t you? Real Americans who love their country and their democratic freedoms, do not want other Americans who hold different views or voted for the other guy, to commit suicide or suffer any other violence. We understand that you can’t have a Democratic process without a full and reasonable accounting of opposing views. Rarely is that accomplished by ranting, raving and issuing threats. I fear you are exactly the sort of individual who should not own a firearm of any sort.

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  47. 47. Sinned43 5:10 pm 12/15/2012

    @karenalcott your the only fruitloop on this page. Being a women tells me you have no common sense. Women do have smaller brains than men. Bet your very lonely. I own guns and can use them quite well.

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  48. 48. karenalcott 5:21 pm 12/15/2012

    Sinned43: There you go again, ranting and such are counter productive at best and perhaps a sign of poor intellectual capacity. As a matter of fact, I have been hunting and fishing since I was a preschooler and am an excellent shot. Thanks for asking but no, when I go to the range I am never lonely. I have a retired serviceman, my husband and our fellow Rod and Gun club members for company.

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  49. 49. Sinned43 5:30 pm 12/15/2012

    @ karenalcott my goodness we have a lot in common. Nuts! I was looking forward to bashing you with more invective. Oh, well. Peace be with you and have a nice day.

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  50. 50. littleredtop 8:24 pm 12/15/2012

    How about someone addressing the source of the problem – mental illness? Isn’t it about time that we revisit the failed Carter/Rivera program of freeing the mentally ill and consider institutionalizing those with mental problems?

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  51. 51. Glendon Mellow 10:01 pm 12/15/2012

    Speaking as both a Canadian who doesn’t understand American gun culture and as a fellow blogger on the SciAm network, thanks for this post, John. Well said.

    For all those crying “where’s the science??” in this comment thread: knock it off. This is a blog and who are you to tell a blogger they shouldn’t weigh in on a tragedy of this horrific magnitude if they choose, whatever the topic? Some things affect all of us.

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  52. 52. iareconfuse 11:25 pm 12/15/2012

    @ Glendon Mellow – Well, considering the blog description is “Critical views of science in the news”. I would say that it’s pretty reasonable to ask where in the hell the science in this post is. A sensationalist rant is exactly what this is, and it isn’t appropriate for a blog that is linked directly to Scientific American. If someone wants to preach about their views, they should do so on their own personal blog that is unattached to any organization, especially one associated with science…

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  53. 53. Glendon Mellow 9:30 am 12/16/2012

    Yes, iareconfuse, truly your poor eyeballs have suffered greatly for the indignity of a “sensationalist” non-science post on a science site.

    Link to this
  54. 54. markpeaty 11:07 am 12/16/2012

    Is it not the case that when the US constitution was amended to allow ‘citizens to bear arms’ the armaments in question were muzzle loading muskets? Is there anyone in the USA who seriously believes the authors and amenders of the US constitution truly meant that ordinary citizens should be allowed to own automatic machine guns and bazookas?

    There is nothing remotely sporting or playful about automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades, and the rest. These things are made in order to kill people easily and quickly; they are weapons of war; they are not meant for “self defence”. The idea that ordinary citizens of *any* country have a need for such things in times of peace is ludicrous; the practice of allowing any man and his dog to keep such things at home along with fully loaded magazines is just dysfunctional.

    The fact that USA still keeps such a totally anachronistic clause in its constitution indicates to me that US citizens do *not* have such a good grasp of what democracy is about as most seem to think. I think the underlying reason for all the pro gun propaganda is that rich and powerful people who make their money from making, selling and exporting lethal weapons want to keep on making money even if this requires the slaughter of thousands of innocent bystanders.

    I think US citizens should feel chagrin and shame that they are being so easily duped by rapacious gun manufacturers. The gun manufacturers clearly do not experience empathy and/or have learned to lie so completely to themselves and each other that they have lost track of what it really means to be human.

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  55. 55. MissionHelper 12:58 pm 12/16/2012

    @rshoff

    “It is about science … This topic is rift with science …”

    a) The science content is zero, as is distressingly common now at SciAm.
    b) The word you wanted was ‘rife’, not ‘rift’.

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  56. 56. centromere 1:20 pm 12/16/2012

    @rshoff – ‘Are we obligated to do what we can even if it’s not enough?’

    Are we obligated to take action knowing in advance that what we can do will be insufficient? Are we obligated to fail?

    No, we are not.

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  57. 57. centromere 2:12 pm 12/16/2012

    @53 markpeaty “There is nothing remotely sporting or playful about automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades, and the rest.”

    That’s why they are unavailable to civilians. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_rifle#United_States

    “The fact that USA still keeps such a totally anachronistic clause in its constitution indicates to me that US citizens do *not* have such a good grasp of what democracy is about as most seem to think.”

    The fact that some people are ignorant of American gun legislation indicates to me that those people do *not* have such a good grasp of American democracy as they seem to think.

    Link to this
  58. 58. karenalcott 2:34 pm 12/16/2012

    There is a lot of science that ought to be considered, if we are to engage in a productive conversation about violence, and plenty of math too. Statistics, psychology and sociology spring to mind. The recent tragedy in PA is on the one hand, violence carried out against women and children using a firearm, the most common kind of violence. But on the other hand, most of the victims did not know their killer and were not at home, not very common at all. Mass killings get a lot of press and we all hear about “stranger danger” efforts in the schools, but most deliberate violence as well as most weapon related accidental injury happens in the home, is committed against women and or children by someone they know well, most often their partner or parent.
    Also, many mentally ill or disabled people are not getting treatment. If they can’t get it together well enough to obtain treatment and carry out their Dr’s orders, or if they can’t afford the Dr or the prescriptions, they are on the street and on their own. Their families are in the same boat if they can’t prove in advance that the family member is an eminent danger to anyone or if they can’t afford the lawyers and then the Dr, there is nothing they can do. Mental health issues aren’t covered the same way other illnesses are by insurance companies either. One day just drying out in a hospital costs a couple thousand bucks.

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  59. 59. abolitionist 2:40 pm 12/16/2012

    iareconfuse – “If someone wants to preach about their views, they should do so on their own personal blog that is unattached to any organization, especially one associated with science …”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Politicizing what purports to be a Science blog degrades and trivializes it. Although, on second thought, perhaps that’s why sciam publishes it …

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  60. 60. RSchmidt 2:45 pm 12/16/2012

    Should we be surprised that when faced with a crisis the right wing fanatics resort to lies and misinformation to advance their caustic agenda? We see it with the climate deniers and again we see it with the gun lobby. They claim there is no evidence that fewer guns will result in fewer deaths, but we have the statistics from all over the world showing that nations with tighter gun laws have fewer deaths. The US is unique in the west with this situation. You have to be blind not to see it, but that is what the right wing psychopaths are, blind. The radical right has shown time and time again that they are happy to fill bodybags with american children in order to keep their toys. Its time we stopped the NRA from sarificing our children on its alter to the 2nd amendment. Its time we stopped allowing psychopaths to control the agenda. It is time we turned america into a home for americans and not a war zone.

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  61. 61. SilverTusk 2:51 pm 12/16/2012

    rshoff: “… the NRA (national RIFLE association) is not about family men out hunting deer any longer. It is an atrocity.”

    Is that a Profession of Faith, or do you have any evidence to warrant your claim? You know, facts. If you did, we could at least pretend that there was some science in this blog.

    Link to this
  62. 62. CarefulReview 3:09 pm 12/16/2012

    RSchmidt

    “… right wing fanatics resort to lies and misinformation to advance their caustic agenda? …”

    “… that is what the right wing psychopaths are, blind …”

    “… they are happy to fill bodybags with american children in order to keep their toys …”

    “… Its time we stopped the NRA from sarificing our children on its alter to the 2nd amendment. Its time we stopped allowing psychopaths to control the agenda …”

    Are you capable of entertaining an opinion that is not yours as anything other than evil? Your rant has devalued what little value there was in Mr. Hogan’s political piece.

    Or is your rant above due to the fact that rloldershaw gave you a sound public spanking in the Two Different Higgs Bosons thread (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/12/14/have-scientists-found-two-different-higgs-bosons/#respond ), and so you felt the need to grace another with your bile?

    In either case, would you please in the future bear in mind that you are not the sole repository of Truth and Wisdom, and that those who fail to share your beatific visions of What Should Be are not necessarily wrong?

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  63. 63. LenkiMoonshine 3:24 pm 12/16/2012

    wmartin46 @(17) – “Mr. Hogan, did you blog about “F&F” at anytime during the past year or so?”

    That’s different.

    “And what about talking about the need for “registries” of mentally ill people, so that society can better understand the danger it is in from so-called “Mainstreaming”. Should we talk about that, in a Scienc Blog?”

    That’s different.

    “Let’s stick to science, and move the politics somewhere else.”

    That’s a dream.

    Link to this
  64. 64. LenkiMoonshine 3:25 pm 12/16/2012

    wmartin46 @(17) – “Mr. Hogan, did you blog about “F&F” at anytime during the past year or so?”

    That’s not the same.

    “And what about talking about the need for “registries” of mentally ill people, so that society can better understand the danger it is in from so-called “Mainstreaming”. Should we talk about that, in a Scienc Blog?”

    That’s different.

    “Let’s stick to science, and move the politics somewhere else.”

    That’s a dream.

    Link to this
  65. 65. Pragmatist 5:19 pm 12/16/2012

    This article misses the main point of Goldberg’s article.
    Goldberg, despite his bias, was at least trying to be balanced.
    This article chooses to ignore that:
    * In that “… nation of nearly 300 Million guns..”,
    and only about 315 Million people those guns didn’t
    just pop up like mushrooms.
    They were purchased by choice, by citizens of what
    still at least pretends to be a democracy.

    * That 100,000 casualty out of that 315,000,000 total population, is comparable to casualties occuring
    from falls in the bathtub.

    * That civilian gun ownership has been proven time
    after time to drastically REDUCE violent crime and
    save lives, all day, every day.

    This is part of a media generated hysteria based on
    the ‘if it bleeds it leads.” principle, and maybe also
    on th political agenda of the small privileged groups
    controling the media who are uneasy with the
    empowerment of the common people (clearly intended by the Founders when they wrote that Second Amendment).

    Lets not be so easily manipulated.

    Link to this
  66. 66. RSchmidt 8:32 pm 12/16/2012

    @CarefulReview, yes I forgot the, anyone who disagrees with you is always wrong, argument. Because it is the cornerstone of modern critical thought. Not sure what someone else’s diatribe about another subject has to do with this one but I guess it serves your attempt to distract from the issue. Perhaps you could teach me a sound lesson by providing a logical justification backed by solid stats why the US alone in the western world needs to have unrestricted access to any kind of firearm imaginable and how that has kept America safe. The civilized world looks at you in disgust as you bury your children then seem to forget why. But I guess that’s just me thinking everyone who disagrees with me is wrong.

    Link to this
  67. 67. CarefulReview 9:28 pm 12/16/2012

    RSchmidt

    “@CarefulReview, yes I forgot the, anyone who disagrees with you is always wrong, argument.”

    No, you obviously have not forgotten it. Once rloldershaw gave you a thrashing in the Two Different Higgs Bosons thread (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/12/14/have-scientists-found-two-different-higgs-bosons/#respond ), you have studiously avoided that thread, and have sought out others for your ad hominem arguments.

    “Because it is the cornerstone of modern critical thought.”

    Nonsense. It never was, nor will it ever be.

    “Not sure what someone else’s diatribe about another subject has to do with this one”

    It was your diatribe that rloldershaw refuted. It was another example of your ad hominem attacks on those who do not share your POV. That’s what it has to do with this one. Your behavior was the same in each instance.

    “Perhaps you could teach me a sound lesson by providing a logical justification backed by solid stats why the US alone in the western world needs to have unrestricted access to any kind of firearm imaginable and how that has kept America safe.”

    As you would need to be receptive to a different POV for that to be possible, I very much doubt that anyone can teach you anything. However, as a point of fact, U.S. civilians do NOT “have unrestricted access to any kind of firearm imaginable”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_rifle#United_States
    The mere fact that you are flat out WRONG will, I suspect, influence you not at all.

    “The civilized world looks at you in disgust”

    Now you claim to speak for the civilized world. Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Suuuuuuuure you do.

    “But I guess that’s just me thinking everyone who disagrees with me is wrong.”

    Not so. Others also think you believe that everyone who disagrees with you is wrong

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  68. 68. Chryses 6:13 am 12/17/2012

    CarefulReview,

    While I respect your efforts to communicate with the troll, I do wonder why you invest such Sisyphaen efforts in the task. It appears to me, based upon the troll’s posts throughout this site that your chances of connecting in any useful way with him are essentially zero.

    Link to this
  69. 69. CarefulReview 7:19 am 12/17/2012

    Chryses

    A reasonable criticism.

    There are everywhere those who cannot, for one reason or another, contribute to a task. There are also those who feel entitled to like to see their opinions posted. The intersection of these two sets produces a collection of those who commonly attack without merit, the opinions of others. My experience has been that while in practice it is not always so, it is in principle true that all those who are capable of and invest the effort to joint in a discussion or argument may be persuaded that this or that proposition is or is not reasonable. This is why I posted the two factoids.

    The first, in re weapon possession ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_rifle#United_States ) which refutes the claim in re U.S. citizens “have unrestricted access to any kind of firearm imaginable”, shows that he is, in matters of fact, wrong. This hopefully will enable those who fantasize otherwise to recognize that the basis of their claims is based upon a false premise.

    The second detail was to alert those who indulge themselves in ad hominem arguments, e.g. “… right wing fanatics resort to lies and misinformation to advance their caustic agenda? …” (#61 above) that their similar postings in other threads, such as “@rloldershaw, spoken like someone suffering from the dunning-kruger effect” (#5 http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/12/14/have-scientists-found-two-different-higgs-bosons/ ) indicate a pattern of gratuitous attack, rather that rebuttal in argument.

    My goal was, and remains that taken together, the two facts might assist those who might need it, to get past their preconceived notions of Right Thinking.

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  70. 70. centromere 9:46 am 12/17/2012

    @46 RSchmidt – ‘why the US alone in the western world needs to have unrestricted access to any kind of firearm imaginable’

    You are mistaken.

    Civilian ownership of assault rifles or any other full-automatic firearm is regulated by the BATF. This control is based upon the National Firearms Act of 1934 as amended by Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968. In addition, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 halted the manufacture of assault rifles for the civilian market and currently limits legal civilian ownership to units produced and properly registered with the BATFE before May 1986. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_rifle#United_States ).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Firearms_Act
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_Control_Act_of_1968
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firearm_Owners_Protection_Act

    Link to this
  71. 71. CDBSB 12:19 pm 12/17/2012

    The real question is will this tragedy be used to make mental health a priority? Guns are tools which can do nothing without an operator. It’s the mental health of all that we need to be concerned about.

    Plus, if you make firearms illegal, only outlaws will have them. Look south of the border to see how “gun control” is working out for Mexico.

    Link to this
  72. 72. FlexibleArrangement 12:57 pm 12/17/2012

    ‘The real question is will this tragedy be used to make mental health a priority?’

    That’s unlikely. The Crusade is against guns, not for making mental health a priority.

    Link to this
  73. 73. NewGatsby 5:40 pm 12/17/2012

    As reported by Michael Shermer (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=wronger-than-wrong ), Wolfgang Pauli had a description of an argument that is claimed to be “scientific”, but cannot be tested with the possibility of being rejected by experiment: “Not even wrong.”

    Link to this
  74. 74. SugarTax 11:14 pm 12/17/2012

    RSchmidt: ‘the US alone in the western world needs to have unrestricted access to any kind of firearm imaginable’

    What makes you think that Americans have/need ‘have unrestricted access to any kind of firearm imaginable’?

    They don’t, you know.

    Link to this
  75. 75. rshoff 5:01 pm 12/20/2012

    @Tusk – A little superficial research is all that is needed to identify the trend. Google NRA and Paramilitary. Look for legitimate links. They are abound. For further research I fully encourage US Justice Dept to conclusively prove this. In addition, we should use scientific principals to probe into our biological and psychological compulsions to feel the power of owning weapons.

    Link to this
  76. 76. rshoff 5:03 pm 12/20/2012

    @missionhelper: You are correct and I was wrong. It is ‘rife’ not ‘rift’. Hopefully that is not a capitol offense.

    Link to this
  77. 77. the kid 10:48 pm 12/22/2012

    Now I remember why I dropped my sub to this lefty rag.

    Link to this

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