Tag Archives: newton

Putting It All Together

Since everyone is running around right now asking, “What to do!?” about mass murder incidents (but not really wanting an answer; it’s a rhetorical question, since they already have an answer and usually don’t want to listen to any alternatives) I thought I’ll pull together what I’ve written in various places on the subject.

So, you say you want to stop school massacres? Okay, here’s what you do.

First, secure the schools. I’m not necessarily talking about really expensive systems here; even just locking the fucking doors would be a start. (One in three school administrators admits to leaving doors propped open. ) Right now it’s harder to get into a computer data center than into most schools. What does that say about our priorities?

Second, make sure that the various mental health facilities and organizations update the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check) database, like they’re supposed to. I mean like really make sure they do it. As in, if some head-shrinker doesn’t file the required reports, and the person goes on to kill someone, the negligent head-shrinker, or administrator faces criminal charges as an accomplice. That’ll perk ’em up.

Third, spend some money and fix our broken mental health care system. These mass killings started after Reagan butchered the system back in the ’80s. It’s time to fix it. Colorado, is at least, making a decent start.

Fourth, stop making celebrities out of mass murderers. When someone runs onto a baseball field, they cut the camera feed from the field so as to not give that person any publicity, and encourage others. But if someone kills a bunch of people, they become the most famous person in the world, at least for a few weeks. Let’s stop doing that; do not mention the criminal’s name, do not show their picture. Instead of becoming celebrities they disappear, unworthy of mention.

Fifth, create a smart database of firearms-related purchases. This one requires a little explanation. The idea is that, as I’ve said in relation to other security problems, there are no dangerous weapons, only dangerous people. The most dangerous weapons you can imagine–an armor-piercing semi-automatic nuclear missile with a bayonet, hollow point, and a cyanide coating–isn’t going to do anyone any harm if the holder doesn’t want to do any harm. But practically anything is dangerous if someone does intend harm.

So, watch for people who intend to do harm.

So, put all those transactions into a database. Guns, ammunition, accessories, training classes, all of it. Let people buy what they want (within the limits of current laws, of course), but track it. Any unusual purchases–someone who’s never bought a gun before goes out and buys five in one week, for example–throws up a flag in the computer system and that person’s information gets routed to a special investigative division of Homeland Security, who would then check this person out. A flag would also be thrown in the NICS database, putting a freeze on any firearm purchases by that person. If their address comes up in the NICS system flagging another household member, they get flagged too.

Here’s the thing; this can’t be some ordinary beat cop, some TSA package-grabber, who does the investigating. The investigator has to be more psychologist than cop, because the idea isn’t to determine what the person has done, or what they’ve bought, or what they may be guilty of. We already know that what they bought, and they may not be guilty of anything, yet. The idea is to determine their mental state, to try and get an idea of what they might do.

In other words, if someone starts buying a bunch of guns out of the blue, send a smart person over to talk to them and try to find out if they’re a fucking nutcase who’s about to flip his shit and kill a bunch of people.

Why do this rather than simply ban dangerous guns? Because banning dangerous guns is not only hard, it’s ineffective. People right now are calling for a ban on ‘assault weapons’ to prevent another Newtown shooting, but Connecticut already has a ban on assault weapons. The shooting happened anyway. Gun control alone doesn’t work. Guns aren’t even the most dangerous thing an attacker can use, though you wouldn’t know that from the news coverage. We need to think harder, try harder, and come up with something more effective than one-note rote responses. We can do better.

These things aren’t perfect. Nothing we can implement is going to be perfect. People are inherently imperfect, and some bad people will always find a way to hurt other people. But this plan would, I think, work better than any other proposal I’ve heard. We can stop most of the bleeding, and I think we should.

A Murmur From The People

This is an interesting poll. It would appear that, at least according to this Gallup survey, the common people think that increased school security, better mental health care, and changing the media’s depiction of violence would all be more effective than an ‘assault weapon’ ban. Even 33% of self-professed Democrats think that such a ban would not be very effective.

This is in sharp contrast to the political class, which is all about, and only about, gun laws. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as they get a better sense of how the voters are leaning.

Good Sense

As usual, Bruce Schneier talks good sense.

This essay from 2007 that he links to in that post is particularly apt.

If you want to do something that makes security sense, figure out what’s common among a bunch of rare events, and concentrate your countermeasures there. Focus on the general risk of terrorism, and not the specific threat of airplane bombings using liquid explosives. Focus on the general risk of troubled young adults, and not the specific threat of a lone gunman wandering around a college campus. Ignore the movie-plot threats, and concentrate on the real risks.

Attacks like the one in Newtown are ultimately not psychology problems, or gun problems, or school problems. They’re security problems, and may or may not have elements of those other things. The problem isn’t as narrow as how to ban guns, or how to help crazy people; it’s how we can increase our security. Don’t just make up your mind on a solution, regardless of the details of the problem; focus on the problem and come up with a real solution. Or find you may not need a new solution at all.