Tolerable Terrorism

Another mass shooting by another lone lunatic. 12 lives – 12 families forever impacted. America? America shrugs. America doesn’t care. We have terrorism-scare-porn all day on the insidiously banal 24 hour cable news channels, and absolutely nothing will be done to try and prevent it from happening again. 

Because it takes a special mix of mental illness and access to firearms to plot and execute a mass killing. Luckily, we live in a country with unequal and iffy access to health care services – particularly mental health services, and which permits any person to build a Koreshian arsenal without much effort, thanks to ready access to enough firearms and mil-wank accoutrements to outfit a small banana republic. 

Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch

2012 saw seven mass shootings, including the mass murder of 20 1st graders. In a normal and healthy society, Sandy Hook alone would have been seen as excessive – something worth doing something about. Given remotely normal civic discourse, we would have taken serious measures at that time to help better balance the legitimate constitutional desires of people to feel safe in their homes and persons against others’ rights to be free from random mass murder. 

We had a discussion, and in the end America’s leaders decided against a weak and symbolic gesture because Barack Obama eats arugula, or something. The same forces that oppose even modest gun reform, oppose the first American effort to implement a market-based universal health care system – a system that might enable earlier and more effective mental health treatment and intervention for more Americans. 

For a week or so after Sandy Hook, the National Rifle Association – the gun manufacturers’ lobbying group – kept quiet, and people thought that was tactful. But when it spoke up, it added insult to the injuries suffered at the barrels of Adam Lanza’s guns. It told us that we need more – not fewer – guns in our society, and that we should spend hundreds of millions of dollars in schools, not on education, but on armament. In a time where communities are struggling to pay teachers, the NRA suggested that they all spend up on hiring gunmen.

We could maybe aspire to be like Jamaica or El Salvador – third world autocracies with massive income inequality where the building blocks of civil society are inept, corrupt, or both. Because more guns lead to more violence and killings. More guns don’t make a polite society, they simply make an arrogant and armed society – a society where it becomes much easier to bring about permanent retribution for even perceived slights. 

“A society that is relying on guys with guns to stop violence is a sign of a society where institutions have broken down.”

More guns means more killing – factually and statistically. Yesterday’s shooter apparently hit the gun fetish trifecta: Texan with a criminal record and a concealed carry permit

The Constitution gives people a right to bear arms, sure. But it doesn’t give you the right to own an arsenal big enough to fight the government. It was written at a time when the US had no standing army. We had no standing army because the Founding Fathers didn’t want one. So, every able-bodied male was a member of the militia. The purpose of the 2nd Amendment isn’t to give Gadsen Flag-wrapped idiots the means to overthrow the government, but to protect the government and the state from attack or invasion. 

Newsreaders’ TelePrompTers prompted them to wonder aloud whether the Navy Yard shooting was “terrorism”. When a lone gunman wanders the halls of an office building, shooting randomly at innocent people, that pretty much fits the dictionary definition. I think they were differentiating between “foreign/Qaeda” or Qaeda-inspired terrorism versus Sandy Hook / Aurora lone insane person. But the combination of poor mental health care, with easy access to guns is only going to bring about more random mass shootings. There is no doubt that these events are terrorism, in that they are random, senseless, and kill innocent victims. But this is terrorism we will tolerate. We won’t bomb anyone, Republicans will vote a 43rd time to repeal universal health care, and nothing will happen with gun laws. Because this is doubtlessly terrorism, but it’s the kind we have, as a society, decided we can live with. 

We have decided to live with it because we have decided that the right of people to bear unlimited arms is greater than the right of average people not to be shot. 


  • It does a disservice to assume that any time someone perpetrates a heinous crime like this that it is because of an untreated mental health issue. By immediately writing off a person as “insane,” you’re almost excusing their crime. Murdering people is not a sufficient condition for mental illness by any diagnostic standard, even in the most recent DSMs, which have come under fire for their overdiagnoses. Automatically ascribing the cause of violence to mental illness perpetuates stigma against the actually mentally ill as well as conjuring shades of a society where people showing any kind of aberrant behavior or mental processes are confined and/or drugged as a prophylactic against mass murder. I’m not saying that’s what you’re advocating and perhaps the circumstances here will, in fact, indicate that Alexis did in fact suffer from some kind of mental illness; however, this kind of rhetoric pops up every time something like this happens, and it’s just as likely, if not moreso, that this was a person capable of doing the mental and moral calculus who still decided to kill.

    • Do you think people who are doing just fine mentally generally suit up and go on random shooting sprees?

    • Mental illness != insane. It’s patently offensive that you equate the two.

      • “Insane”, as far as I can tell, is at this point 1) a vernacular term people use to mean “mentally ill” and 2) a legal term of art meaning unable to distinguish right from wrong.

        I didn’t equate insanity with mental illness, the terms were used interchangeably by the author.

        • For the record, I used the word “insane” as an adjective for the Sandy Hook and Aurora shooters. Pretty sure their acts were insane, and that they, too, were insane; i.e., not of sound mind.

          I have no idea whether they were mentally ill or able to distinguish right from wrong, as I’m not giving a legal or medical commentary here. What I do know is that people who are of sound mind do not arbitrarily decide to go on shooting sprees on random Monday mornings.

          • I disagreed with your use of insane in the Sandy Hook and Aurora cases, too. My point is that it diminishes the actual import of what these shooters did to write them off as insane, or mentally ill, or not of sound mind. It’s a coping mechanism intended to assuage the guilt that we feel every time the society that we routinely hold up as the standard for good in this world fails to stop a tragedy.

            I realize that your post is a plea for stronger gun laws (which I agree with for all important parts), but for all you know, these people didn’t act arbitrarily or randomly. It certainly didn’t seem arbitrary or random in Sandy Hook. I don’t think that the 9/11 hijackers were insane just because they killed 3,000 people. I don’t think Michael Dorner was insane just because of the circumstances of his crime spree. Perhaps the shooter here was legitimately crazy, but automatically jumping to that conclusion because you can’t imagine a person in their right mind doing such a thing is dangerous and unproductive.

  • The Navy Yard shootings do not, on the basis of current information, appear to fit any commonly accepted definition of terrorism. See the National Institute of Justice (

    “Title 22 of the U.S. Code, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as ‘premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.’ The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as ‘the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.'”

    What purpose is served by redefining this tragic crime as terrorism?

  • In a surprising ironic twist, Slick Willie demanded that military bases be “Gun Free Zones” during his term. So where did this person strike? Where he knew nobody would be able to shoot back—GUN FREE ZONE. Fort Hood? GUN FREE ZONE. It’s a target rich environment where both Foreign and domestic terrorists AND the lone lunatics read the sign as “Nobody’s going to shoot back”.

  • Unfortunately, we have no ability in this country to have an intelligent discussion on the issue. People are so hell bent set in their ways. Personally, I see no reason for anyone to own a gun other than to hunt, and that can be done with a weapon that doesn’t need more than a couple bullets at a time. BUT – I’m willing to listen to where others stand on it. There probably is some merit for balance, I just have yet to have that conversation.

    Shortly after Sandy Hook, I got one of Carl Paladino’s famous email blasts, this one about the 2nd Amendment. He started it off with:

    “We don’t need more gun control. Lanza could have killed all those people with a screwdriver. Are we going to ban screwdrivers next? We need armed and trained teachers.”

    This is such a ridiculous statement, you can’t have a conversation with someone who thinks this? Really – are you really stating that he could have killed all those kids with a screwdriver, before someone stopped him and hit him in the head with a heavy book… Apparently we need teachers to have guns so they can blow away anyone who comes into school with a screwdriver. Its idiots like this that prevent a meaningful, productive discussion on the issue.

    Its so frustrating, because its a real problem. No matter what side you’re on, there needs to be a solution, that there is absolutely no question that part of the solution has to be figuring out how we better handle people’s access to guns. But we just can’t even get there, because of the “my way or the highway” attitude.

  • So far, I’ve got:

    1. Criticism of my supposition that a person who commits mass murder is not of sound mind;
    2. Criticism of my use of the word “terrorism” because I did not use the definition set forth in a particular statute; and
    3. A completely nonsensical and fact-avoiding non-sequitur into Clinton-era politics.

    Let’s get bogged down in semantics and idiocy and completely miss every available point.

    I give up.

  • There’s already tons of info coming out about this guy being at least unstable with anger management issues and a firearm-related rap sheet nearing arms length. The fact that this guy still had access to ANY weapon is a atrocious failure of the system to protect ordinary citizens.
    The fact that he had access to military-grade automatic weapons is a failure on so many more levels and the sad reality is that the NRA and its anger-blind supporters people do not and will not care to take minor steps to stop this from happening again.
    Oh, and remember to Vote Howard for Sher-iff.

    • Uh, he did NOT have access to “military grade automatic weapons.” Virtually no one does. This is what annoys me about people having strong opinions on things they know absolutely nothing about. Despite common myths, so-called “assault weapons” are NOT automatic, and cannot be made so. They fire one bullet at a time, just like any other gun.

      Also, for that matter, he was NOT carrying an “assault weapon.” An ordinary shotgun and two pistols, which is actually why the death toll was so high–a shotgun blast is much more likely to kill you than a smaller, lower power rifle round.

  • Ever since the NRA was completely taken over by lobbyists from the gun manufacturing industry, there has been a radical shift away from any type of reasonable regulation. Huge surprise.

    The NRA now lobbies in favor of whatever firearms happen to be the most profitable (guess what – it’s the so-called assault weapons!) and the conservative sheep dutifully fall in line under the guise of protecting the Constitution.

    • Ignoring the problem that “reasonable regulation” seems to be defined by people who don’t like guns as “whatever I say it is,” virtually all of the NRA’s budget comes from members, with less than 5% coming from donations by firearm manufacturers.

      • Your numbers are complete bullshit, but I was talking about the individuals who call the shots on the NRA’s nominating board.

        The sad fact remains that the NRA used to actually care about keeping guns out of the hands of maniacs and away from places like schools. When they started ignoring the hunters and rational people that make up the vast majority of their ranks, and started instead allowing companies like Browning to dictate their policies, that is when they left the reservation.

        • If you go out and talk to the hunters and sportsman of NYS about the SAFEAct. Many of them felt the same way you do then they saw that how the SAFEAct is going to affect them as well they are none too happy about it either.

        • My numbers are simple facts, easily looked up. It’s amazing how little people want to believe facts that go against their beliefs, but the NRA is a non-profit group which by law has to report their funding sources. Even anti-NRA groups like the VPC acknowledge that contributions from manufacturers are less than 5% of the NRA’s budget–they estimate a maximum of $7.5 million in donations on average per year out of an NRA budget averaging $225 million, which would make it 3.3 percent. Roughly 50% of the NRA’s budget comes from membership dues, another quarter from voluntary contributions, and about 20% from advertising sold in the magazines they publish.

          You can see it right here on their 2010 IRS filing, page nine.

  • It appears that there were/are appropriate procedures in place to prevent this, including background checks. The Navy dropped the ball by granting him clearance.

    • No the Navy dropped the ball for not noting his history of mental problems. Had they done that he would have never received DoD clearance.

  • Actually, there is no scientific evidence, or statistical evidence, for the premise that “more guns equals more crime. (The study link you posted has numerous problems, not least of which is that it does not match reality.) Number of guns in the US, as well as private gun ownership, are at their highest rates since 1993, whereas since that time the murder rate has dropped by almost 50%, and the rate of violent crime overall has dropped even more. Despite the impression created by the media, you’re safer in America today than you have been at any point in half a century.

  • America doesn’t care. … absolutely nothing will be done to try and prevent it from happening again

    Absolutely nothing?

    At least one big thing already is done – background checks – which yesterday’s shooter passed at both federal and state levels. Not to mention also passing federal background checks for government security clearances.

    Aaron Alexis passed Federal Bureau Investigation and Virginia state background checks to purchase a shotgun from Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton, Va., over the weekend. Alexis did not attempt to purchase a rifle or handgun from the store, The Washington Times has learned exclusively. The retail store put the former Navy reservist’s name through both systems checks before selling him a shotgun and shotgun shells, a source familiar with the investigation said. The source characterized the amount of ammunition purchased as “not much.” …

    His weapon was a shotgun, which not even Cuomo wants to be banned and which Vice President Biden not only doesn’t favor banning but actually advocates that Americans should own and shoot them for self protection.,0,5976376.story

    Aaron Alexis, the gunman at the historic Washington Navy Yard, entered the base armed with only a shotgun then apparently “gained access” to a handgun after he began shooting, eventually killing 12 people, the FBI agent in charge of the investigation said Tuesday.

    It isn’t that Americans don’t care, but some of us would only favor changes that are substantive and effective not symbolic, and that would likely do more good than harm.

    I’ve yet to see any law changes suggested that would’ve been effective in preventing what happened yesterday.

    • One good start could be willingness to enforce existing laws against illegal hostile gun use no matter how many young men we’d end up with in jail, instead of declining to.

      For example, when Seattle’s justice system declined to even try convicting and imprisoning Alexis after he fired a gun into somebody’s car tires and into the air.

      Instead of excusing that as “mischief” not deserving of prosecution or prison, if they had convicted him, perhaps subsequent background checks for gun purchases and security clearances wouldn’t have been passed.

      … According to Seattle police, at 8 a.m. on May 6, 2004, two construction workers had parked their 1986 Honda Accord in the driveway of their worksite, next to Alexis’ home. The workers were at the construction site when a man, later identified as Alexis, walked out of the home, pulled a gun from his waistband and fired two rounds into the rear tires and a third into the air before slowly walking back home. Police collected three spent .45-caliber shell casings at the site.

      … Police said in a news release Monday they referred the case to Seattle Municipal Court — although it is the City Attorney’s Office, not the court, that handles misdemeanor charging decisions. The Seattle City Attorney’s Office said Monday that it never received a police report documenting the malicious mischief.

      … Alexis appeared in court again three days later but was released when no charges were referred by Seattle police to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which normally handles felony charging decisions.

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