Giving hatred a deadly voice, part 1

After a gun-related mass murder, the inane babbling of right-wing politicos and pundits is as certain as day following night.

Candice Keller, a Republican state representative from Ohio, stated that “transgender, homosexual and drag queen advocates” along with video games “are to blame for the killings.” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also mentioned violent video games as well as the lack of school prayer as explanations for the El Paso and Dayton slaughters. He didn’t say why there are so few (and far between) mass shooting murders in Europe, where young people also play violent video games and organized religion is in decline.

In spite of the El Paso shooters anti-immigrant manifesto, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson said “white supremacy” in this country is a “hoax.” Apparently Carlson has never heard of the KKK, the American Nazi Party or Christian Identity, the latter an anti-Semitic and racist theology stating that Caucasians are the true Israelites and Jewish people are the offspring of Satan. Apparently for Carlson, hate-spewing Nazis marching in Virginia two years ago was fake news.

The other sure thing after a gun mass murder is the NRA and its like-minded political endorsers telling us ad nauseam the problem isn’t the proliferation of guns in this country (estimates range from 320 million to 393 million such weapons in the hands of private citizens) but mental illness. A study by the National Center for Health Statistics concluded that fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related crimes in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010 were committed by individuals diagnosed with mental illness. Numerous mental health conditions (but not all), including anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder, have no correlation whatsoever with violent behavior. 

After the El Paso and Dayton slaughters, President Donald Trump predictably stated the shooters “are very, very seriously mentally ill.” If this simplistic interpretation was in any way plausible, why did Trump sign a measure in 2017 ending a regulation to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people? The NRA “applauded” Trump’s action, stating that scrapping the Obama directive (enacted shortly after the December 2012 Sandy Hook slaughter of 20 young school children and six adult staff members) “marks a new era for law-abiding gun owners, as we now have a president who respects and supports our arms.”

Based on their research, criminologists James Alan Fox and Jack Levin state that most serial killers know right from wrong, know what they are doing, can control their desire to kill but “choose” not to do so. These individuals, they note, are “more cruel than crazy.” I would argue that mass murderers are significantly more hateful than crazy. They are cold, calculating killers, with the vast majority having no underlying mental health defects. 

Criminologists note three conditions must be present if a crime — anything from misdemeanor vandalism to mass murder — is to occur: 

¯ A person must have “deviant motivation,” that is, a desire and willingness to commit an offense.

¯ The individual must have the skill to commit the crime. This skill can range from the simple (knowing how to load a weapon and pull the trigger, for example) to sophisticated high-tech computer skills required to hack into protected government or private sector data banks. 

¯ The individual must have an opportunity to commit the intended crime. Most people are incapable of embezzling not only because they lack accounting skills but because they do not have the opportunity to commit this offense. They lack employment wherein they can manipulate the “books” to embezzle money entrusted to them.

Denying individuals with the motivation and necessary skills the opportunity to a commit a crime is called “target hardening.” Make the target sufficiently difficult to penetrate, and the crime will not occur, at least not at the “hardened” location. 

Herein lies the problem. Just as residential burglars will bypass homes that have burglar alarms, would-be mass murderers will rule out targets they view as sufficiently hard in favor of softer targets. It’s impossible to sufficiently target-harden the entire country, as gun-related mass murders have occurred at schools, churches, concerts, festivals, playgrounds, nightclubs, theaters, parking lots, house parties and work sites. Anywhere people congregate, indoors or outdoors is a potential mass murder venue. 

At the annual Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, there was a strong police presence and metal detectors at points of entry. The assault-weapon-bearing shooter cut through the fence, then killed three people before being shot by police and turning his gun on himself. Had the festival been enclosed by a fence or wall impossible to breach, the shooter could have gunned down people in the parking lot.

The shooter who murdered nine people in Dayton was killed by officers within a minute after he fired the first shot. This extremely quick response (that saved countless lives) can’t be expected in all mass shootings, as the El Paso slaughter demonstrated. As near-perfect as Dayton police officers performed, the shooter was able to fire at least 41 rounds from a 100-round high-capacity magazine. (Both the assault weapon and the magazine were legally purchased.)

A man in Odessa, Texas, killed seven people and wounded 22 others firing an assault-rifle from vehicles. How do you target-harden to prevent a fast-moving killing rampage? Imagine if the killer had commenced firing from a vehicle at students who were arriving or departing a school. 

In Texas last year, a student armed with a pistol and shotgun walked into his high school, killed 10 people and wounded 10 others. The school had an active shooter plan, two armed officers walking the halls and, prior to the massacre, won a statewide award for its safety program.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stated there were too many entrances and exists in the state’s 8,000 schools to put a guard at every door and suggested retrofitting the buildings to have fewer points of entry and exit. (Sounds like a new NRA slogan: “Guns don’t kill people — buildings with too many entrances and exits kill people.”) Patrick didn’t address what might happen if students, faculty and staff had to quickly exit such a building in case of an emergency, a fire, for example.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego. A list of sources will accompany part 2 of this commentary tomorrow.