DO SOMETHING! EVEN IF IT’S WRONG!

…which seems to be the battle-cry of legislators. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune,

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee called on Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to take “immediate committee action” in response to the mass school shooting at Red Lake High School.

“It is difficult for us to conceive of a more pressing public policy matter than protecting our children from school violence,” the Democrats wrote Tuesday.
The group, led by Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the committee, identified a number of possible congressional measures, including enhanced child safety guards on guns, closing of gun law “loopholes,” renewal of the federal assault weapons ban, and limits on ammunition magazine capacity.

The Democrats also called for increased school security measures, and increased resources for state and localities to hire and retain safety officers.

Not to make this a partisan thing, but at least the Republican quoted had somewhat of a grip on reality:

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, interviewed on CNN, said he did not believe the incident could have been prevented by even “the most aggressive” gun control measures that have been proposed. He called it a “human problem.”

The Democrats fall back on their shibboleths of “gun control” and increased social spending. (Okay, I did make it a partisan thing.) But Pawlenty hits on a truth that most politicians simply want to ignore – it is a “human problem.”
There is, normally, huge social pressure to DO something!” when a horrific incident occurs. I think that’s a natural human reaction. If it’s a natural disaster, the normal reaction of many people is a desire to send aid. If it’s a criminal act, the normal reaction is to want to capture and punish the criminal. But when it’s an incident like a school shooting in which the assailant takes his own life, the urge to “do something” is in some way thwarted by the fact that the perpetrator is a child or youth, and is dead by his own hand. There is no catharsis available, no way to find any resolution. We are left with unease and a lack of closure.

I am, as any reader of this blog knows, an ardent defender of the right to arms. I am aware that the incidence of “school shootings” is a relatively recent phenomenon. This table indicates that the first of the recent incidents was in 1979. The next occurred in 1985, then two incidents in 1988, one each in 1989, 1992, and 1993, one in the U.S. and one in Scotland in 1996, two domestic and one in Yemen in 1997, seven domestic incidents in 1998, five in 1999, and so on. (Not all of the incidents listed are what I would consider “rampage” attacks, but all are disturbing.)

Gun control advocates suggest that things like “enhanced child safety guards on guns, closing of gun law ‘loopholes,’ renewal of the federal assault weapons ban, and limits on ammunition magazine capacity” are needed to prevent these incidents, but as Gov. Pawlenty points out, even the most aggressive gun control will not prevent those intent on evil from carrying out their acts. Gun control advocates blame these incidents on “gun availability,” yet when I was growing up I and most of the kids I knew “had access” to firearms and ammunition. My father had three guns, and I knew where they were and where the ammo was. Same for a lot of my friends.

We just didn’t kill each other.

I had a discussion with a co-worker back about the time of the Columbine massacre. He’d been a hell-raiser in his youth, and a self-admitted bully at times, but (to paraphrase the conversation) he was glad he was not a younger man, because:

When I was growing up, you faced each other and fought fair, and when the fight was over you were friends again – or at least you respected each other. Kicking was for girls.

Then kicking was OK.
Then kicking when the other guy was down was OK.
Then using a stick, or a brick. Then a knife. Now it’s guns.

I quit when we got to sticks.

There is no doubt that there are a lot of lethal teens out there, where there once were not. The hardware is (and has been) available. Nothing up to and including door-to-door confiscation is going to change that, and we all know that’s not going to happen, anyway. Metal detectors at school entrances won’t stop it. John Lott, among others, recommends allowing teachers to carry concealed on campus as a deterrent. I’m not a big fan of Lott, and while it’s certainly possible that some of these incidents might be averted or ameliorated, I’m not even sure that armed security will stop them. It’s tough to dissuade someone willing, nay eager to die while taking as many with him as he can.

The question most people seem to want to avoid is why we have so many lethal teens? I mentioned a few days ago that I had picked up several books, one of which is Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. I chose this book for one reason because it is one of the few texts that actually addresses this question. I haven’t had time to do more than scan through it, yet, but Col. Grossman appears to have a compelling argument. The book covers the human aversion to inflicting injury on another, and the intense training required to overcome this aversion in combat soldiers, along with the mechanisms involved in that training to restrict the lethality of soldiers to the battlefield. Near the end of the book, however, he looks into the rising level of violence occurring in America. (The book was copyrighted in 1995, and does not reflect the last decade of decreasing criminal violence – but I think his observation that the level of aggravated assault, i.e. assault with the intention of committing severe bodily harm, has climbed dramatically as of late is still a valid one.)

Col. Grossman states:

The three major psychological processes at work in enabling violence are classical conditioning (á la Pavlov’s dog), operant conditioning (á la B.F. Skinner’s rats), and the observation and imitation of vicarious role models in social learning.

In a kind of reverse Clockwork Orange classical conditioning process, adolescents in movie theaters across the nation, and watching television at home, are seeing the detailed, horrible suffering and killing of human beings, and they are learning to associate this killing and suffering with entertainment, pleasure, their favorite soft drink, their favorite candy bar, an the close, intimate contact of their date.

Operant conditioning firing ranges with pop-up targets and immediate feedback, just like those used to train soldiers in modern armies, are found in the interactive video games that our children play today. But whereas the adolescent Vietnam vet had stimulus discriminators built in to ensure that he only fired under authority, the adolescents who play these video games have no such safeguard built into their conditioning.

He goes on to note the influences of gangs, drugs, poverty, etc., but this is a general observation about the general level of violence, whereas here I am focusing on the specific incidents of rampage killings in schools.

In all of these incidents the perpetrators have been social outcasts. We’ve always had social outcasts – it’s human nature, I think – but now the social outcasts aren’t just committing suicide, they’re taking their tormenters with them. I think Col. Grossman’s not far off the mark in finding that the human aversion to inflicting violence has been severely reduced by our culture, which seems to worship it. Acidman had a post yesterday on the TV classic Gunsmoke, where he noted:

I’ve kept my television tuned to “The Western Channel” for the past day and a half. They show a lot of “Gunsmoke” reruns on there, the old black-and-white episodes that I watched as a boy. Matt Dillon was my hero back when those stories first aired, but I look at his character today with different eyes.

Between yesterday and today, I counted 16 people that Matt Dillon killed. Festus threw two more into the body count. Stop and think about that for a moment.

James Arness was EXCELLENT as Matt Dillon, except for one thing. He never had the eyes of a killer. Anybody who shot as many people as he did could not sleep well at night unless he was a complete robo-cowboy, with no sense of conscience or regret.

Gunsmoke wasn’t the only western, or the only program where a lot of killing occurred, and the good guy only got “a flesh wound” at worst. The difference is, I think, is that topic I have commented on several times; the difference between violent and predatory and violent but protective. The one thing that all of these incidents share is no guiding moral hand on the shoulder of the perpetrators. There is nothing to direct them away from “violent and predatory.” Combining that with the cultural conditioning Col. Grossman describes that literally permeates our society, and that may very well explain why rampage shootings by youths are a wholly modern and far too common occurrence.

But it doesn’t bode well for any kind of solution other than arming responsible adults to avert or ameliorate the attacks.

And that isn’t “something” that the majority of the populace is going to be comfortable with.

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