The Editorial Board of the Appeal-Democrat recently engaged in a bit of navel-gazing with its article about gun control arguments following the latest of America’s all-too-common mass shootings.
The writers expressed dismay that folks continue to react to these violent murders by focusing on how the terrible act was accomplished. Instead, they argue, we should “put in as much effort addressing why someone would want to shoot a lot of people.” As a citizen who would love to see these mass atrocities come to an end, I can’t think of a bigger waste of our collective time.
There’s a simple and logical explanation for why so many people advocate for more effective controls on the weapons that help produce the staggering body counts we see in these events. We observe that the United States has more guns than people, that guns are relatively easy to acquire, that many of these guns are capable of high rates of fire and/or large magazine capacities, and that a potential shooter need not travel far in this country to find a dense concentration of soft targets on which to unleash their fury.
We therefore conclude that, in order to protect potential victims of a would-be mass killer, it is prudent to address the availability of these weapons and their capacity to do harm to unsuspecting, innocent victims. In other words, asking “how” a terrible act like mass murder was accomplished is the first logical step we can take to address and mitigate the impacts of someone’s decision to inflict as much damage as possible on an unwitting populace.
But if our intention is to protect potential victims of mass murder at the point of attack, then asking “why” someone would want to kill a lot of people is a totally useless exercise. We know this because we have known for some time, thanks to the numerous American case studies of mass violence available to us, what the motivations behind these attacks generally are. They include, in no particular order: hatred towards a perceived inferior group, belief in extreme religious doctrines, and/or some form of mental illness.
But these motivations and beliefs are not unique to mass shooters in America. Every culture and society in the world has its share of bigotry, religious extremism, and mental illness. However, none of the countries who have successfully dealt with mass violence have done so simply by leaning on their knowledge of what drives these people to kill. They have, smartly and rightfully, determined that an innocent crowd of people in the path of a would-be killer is far less concerned with what is motivating that person than with how many bullets that person can send their way in the next thirty seconds.
There’s no question that arguing about gun control won’t address the “why” behind mass shootings. But since such arguments are the best and only chance we have of reducing the damage wrought during these attacks, they’re the right arguments to be having.