Facts are still few and far between where the murder perpetrated in Las Vegas last night is concerned. Most of what we’re hearing is speculation about motives, along with spurious claims of responsibility by pissant Middle Easterners and political pablum by people for whom, pace Clausewitz, politics is the continuation of sports by other means. Pardon my sarcasm when I say, please tell me more about how national background checks, national reciprocity, or the Hearing Protection Act would have/would not have made it harder/easier to prevent these murders.
In the interests of promoting sanity in what has started out as an utterly insane week, I’d like to ask all the ladies and gentlemen of open minds and goodwill to kindly consider the following three points:
(1) Watch the language being used to describe the murder
Nearly every headline about this murder has referred to the perpetrator as a “shooter” or a “gunman.” They’re terming this mass murder a “shooting” — suggesting that the gun or the act of shooting was, somehow, the most important part of the story here. Folks, if — God forbid — I had been a fatality at last night’s concert, I promise you that I would have no concern about the method in which I’d been shuffled off this mortal coil.
What took place last night was a mass murder. The person who committed this atrocity was a murderer. “Shooting” happens every day, at ranges and in fields across the nation, in the pursuit of target practice, clay birds, and, indeed, happiness. I align with Dave Grossman here — the use of the word “shooting” to describe a mass murder like last night’s atrocity, is the understatement of the year at best, and an act of intellectual cowardice at worst.
That said, I don’t mean to imply a political agenda in the minds of those who use the term (some of whom, I acknowledge, are friends of gun rights). I’d like to gently suggest, instead, that the word gets used because it’s…comfortable emotionally. Comfortable in a way that transcends partisanship. Comfortable in a way that lets us ignore unpleasant things.
“Shooter” and “gunman” are very cold terms. They focus our attention away from the person, away from the motive, and toward an object. This is comforting for us, I think, because it allows us to focus on the how rather than the why. We as Americans are, classically, a can-do people who solve problems. We can come up with all kinds of gadgets and gee-gaws, laws and regulations, that (we think) will allow us to solve the “how”. The problem is that, as Robert McNamara learned in Southeast Asia to the dismay of nigh-on 60,000 of his fellow citizens, trying to solve the “how” without understanding the “why” is baking failure into the design.
Daniel Kahneman described this phenomenon quite well in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. We like solving problems. We get a mental boost when we do. But when presented with a difficult problem, our minds will sometimes solve a different one — one that is easier…but not the actual problem at hand. It’s common. When talking about a mass murder, the use of the word “shooter” plays right into our unconscious biases.”
“Shooter” draws our attention to the object, not the murderer. If it’s a gun issue…well let’s pass more gun control laws! Or repeal them! Let’s impose more gun free-zones! No, let’s get rid of them! The arguments are the same tired ones you, I, and everyone else with an interest in the right to keep and bear arms have heard and made dozens of times over. By this point, we could all recite them in our sleep. And yet…there’s comfort here. We know the script. We know the role we’re supposed to play. If it’s all about guns…we know what we’re supposed to do. We can feel like we’re doing…something.
But what if it’s not?
What if the issue isn’t the “how”, but the “why”?
Hold on to that for a moment.
(2) Don’t dismiss the murderer as a “nut job” who “snapped”
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo called the Vegas murderer a “psychopath” in a press conference earlier today, and a lot of people voiced similar sentiments. With all due respect to the Sheriff– who today must be doing a miserable and thankless job — psychopathy is a medical diagnosis that he is ill-equipped to issue.
To be fair, the Sheriff probably just wanted to express his feeling that the murderer was acting on impulses that not only made no sense, but had horrific, terrible, unthinkable consequences for innocents. Actions that to a decent man with good values — which describes most law enforcement officers — are utterly abhorrent. President Trump expressed the same feeling with superior word choice when he called the attack “pure evil.” Of course the President is skilled at such things and had the luxury of reading from a prepared statement, unlike Sheriff Lombardo.
The problem is that using “psychopath” to describe this murderer encourages us to go to sleep — or, at least, move toward solving the wrong problem.
Here, “psychopath,” “nut job.” “snapped”…they all express a similar idea. Some ordinary guy was walking down the street one day, minding his own business, then suddenly “went nuts” and decided he needed to murder a lot of people.
I suspect this idea is comforting to a lot of people, even if they wouldn’t describe it that way. Because once you start thinking of the murderer as just some kind of “nut job”, you pair that with the mental image of the cast of characters from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…and, suddenly, you’re not as inclined to think too hard about the problem.
You shrug your shoulders, say to yourself, “well, some people are just crazy” and move on. Maybe you go back to solving the “how” problem with a McNamarian devotion to data analysis…or maybe you just go for a tasty frozen coffee drink and call it day. Just another wack-o who snapped.
But look at what the Mandalay Bay murderer did. He carefully selected a soft target that would be populated by the sort of people he presumably wanted to kill. He booked a room that would give him a perfect vantage over his field of fire. He acquired equipment such as rifles, ammunition and (allegedly) a webcam system that was set up to let him see when first responders were coming for him. And he either obtained at least one full-auto rifle (which are very hard to come by) or altered a semi-automatic one to make it a machine gun. Then he smuggled all of that into the hotel to execute his plan. These actions…might be rather difficult for the proverbial drooling denizen of the asylum rubber room to carry out.
One other thing: this guy was sixty-four years old. And, as of this writing, no one has turned up significant information about previous encounters with police or mental health professionals.
When someone who’s generally lived a “normal” life gets to sixty-four and then does something horrible, my bias is to assume it’s because he really wanted to do it. And that the decision was made rationally. If he knows that his actions will result in hundreds of casualties and likely his own death — and he’s still okay with that — well, my default assumption, until I see facts that prove otherwise, is that he thinks he’s serving some sort of higher purpose.
That purpose may be bizarre, twisted, terrible and evil. It may be religious in nature. It may be secular. It may be selfish. It may be for the “greater good” (and I’d bet on the latter — evil only comes about when men wrongly think they’re doing good; we’re all the hero of the movie playing in our own minds, after all.) But he had a purpose in mind.
And that brings us to another unpleasant question: what is wrong with our society that we’re doing such a bad job selling good values to people? I’m not talking about being polite to your neighbor despite the fact he had an all-night party at his new pool cabana and didn’t invite you. I’m saying something as fundamental as: “Going on a mass murder spree is something fundamentally evil and wrong.”
Excuse me, but what the [email protected] is wrong with our society that we can’t seem to sell that idea to people? We really haven’t had this problem before. Now we do. And these mass murders are happening more and more often, both here and in other outposts of Western Civilization. What’s changed?
That’s a difficult question. It will lead to places that are uncomfortable. The answer(s) will inevitably weave its way through things such as postmodern American popular culture, the decline of American Judeo-Christianity, politics, and even the Constitution. But I am convinced, more than ever, that this is the correct path to investigate and, eventually, solve the “why” problem.
3.) Stay away from public events
If you’ve stayed with me this long, you get a piece of solid, practical advice for your perseverance: don’t bother with public gatherings for the near future.
The old saw offered to newly-minted concealed carriers used to be: avoid stupid people in stupid places doing stupid things. I’m afraid in light of recent events, of which last night’s mass murder is simply the latest example, going to a concert, sporting event, or any other venue with a large amount of people is simply a soft target for someone who wants to emulate what happened last night.
Do I go too far here? No. The people who perpetrate these sorts of mass murders are looking for lots of soft targets, and these sorts of venues are made to order — all the more so when the law-abiding are required to be disarmed by act of property owner policy or the force of law. Is your life worth the chance to see a live concert, when the music can be had for under $20 online? Is your life worth watching a live ballgame, when it can be seen at home for a $150/season subscription? Is your life worth going to a crowded nightclub for a romantic encounter when — let’s be honest here — you usually meet a better class of people through friends or online?
Speaking personally, I feel much safer walking down the streets of Detroit at night with my sidearm strapped to my hip than going to a concert, a game, or a nightclub. Armed or otherwise.
That’s enough for now. A lot of verbal and possibly legislative defecation is about to hit the oscillation — to borrow from the late Louis Awerbuck. Keep your powder dry, and focus on what’s important.