The Second Key Thought on Mass Shootings

Part 2 of 2.

To follow on from Part 1 of this post, I want to focus on what I think is a second very important element of our mass shooting crisis.

The Cultural/Racial Element.

I am struck by how events like El Paso and Dayton underscore the cultural/racial lenses through which the public views mass violence. If anyone doubts that such lenses exist (and are relevant in other parts of our discourse, despite frequently glib and disingenuous argument otherwise)* then I would suggest stepping back and looking at this present moment.

The shooters in both El Paso and Dayton are, as best as I can tell at these early stages, unambiguously white. Forget anything else (such as the seemingly likely connection of the El Paso shooter to white supremacist propaganda). The fact these shootings were perpetrated by white US citizens means that we can shift into, and stay in, the “crime” paradigm and not the “terrorism” paradigm (which quickly can degenerate into a “war” paradigm).**

The crime paradigm allows citizens to shake their heads, shed a few tears, and talk about “for the grace of God” and the like. The terrorism paradigm leads to mass panic, and often a series of legal overreactions (having flown several times of late, I was reminded how much one action by one individual led to millions taking off their shoes in public).

Imagine the news coverage if these two events were both from men named Ahmed or Mohammed. Imagine the panic if we were talking not about 8chan, but about jihadist web sites. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to generate an idea of what two mass shootings in twenty-four hours by ISIS-linked gunmen would have created.

We would not have GOP politicians on FNC talking about video games and mental health, of that I am quite certain.

Don’t get me wrong: I am glad we are not panicking. But I think it is telling that the reason we are not panicking is largely predicated on the race/perceived religion of the shooters.

Still, the basic dynamic is still the same: disaffected young men being radicalized by politicians, the media they consume, and especially the dark corners of the internet/social media they inhabit coupled with ready access to weaponry.

So, I draw three basic conclusions.

First, there is a broad illustration in these events that the country, in the aggregate, is very much influenced by skin color and other cultural markers in terms of how it reacts to these types of events.

Second, we need to understand that there is a real problem with white males being radicalized online. And that the process is not different that similar problems with radicalized Islam.

Third, while we need a heightened response to radicalized white supremacists, we should also recognize that when there are examples of radicalized Islamists that they, too, are limited in number and scope and that jumping to mass fear, panic, and massive policy changes there is not the appropriate response.

Update: To clarify my point: we, as a country, as more prone to panic (and to engage in policy responses) when violence is defined as linked to “radical Islam” or to the Middle East in general. We are less prone to such panic and response when the perpetrators are white–when our response is to talk about loners and mental illness.


*This piece I read in the WSJ comes to mind: What Would We Do Without the Word ‘Racism’?

**Reports are popping on my phone as I write this, that the El Paso case is being treated as “domestic terrorism” by the FBI, which is appropriate. It is still telling that “domestic terrorism” is not received with the same fear and response by the broader public as “Islamic terrorism” is–and I expect the general public attitude, and especially that of the GOP, to be one of the crime paradigm/these things happen, what can you really do? Some president, however, is going to have to take this problem seriously–of course it won’t be the current occupant of the WH, as his own rhetoric fuels, rather than quells, the flames in question.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Second Amendment, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Modulo Myself says:

    From what I’ve observed, a lot of the Islamic terrorist arrested by the FBI seem to be unbalanced loners who were set-up by the feds and almost coaxed into being terrorists. Maybe this makes sense, I don’t know.

    But imagine what would happen if the FBI started going into conservative social media with the intention of encouraging white conservatives to conspire into committing acts of terror. There would be 70 year old grandmothers being arrested for plotting to bomb mosques. It would be insane.

    10
  2. michael reynolds says:

    Third, while we need a heightened response to radicalized white supremacists, we should also recognize that when there are examples of radicalized Islamists that they, too, are limited in number and scope and that jumping to mass fear, panic, and massive policy changes there is not the appropriate response.

    When it’s a hot day, it’s foolish to say we need ‘massive policy changes.’ When year after year is the hottest on record, it’s absolutely time for ‘massive policy changes.’

    What is the number of mass shootings required before it is time for ‘massive policy changes?’ Is one a day not enough? Ten a day? One every five minutes?

    10
    2
  3. @michael reynolds: I think you are misreading my point.

    Note that paragraph is about our past reactions to radical Islam, not to mass shooting in general.

  4. @michael reynolds: I have added a clarifying paragraph. If my meaning remains muddy, please let me know.

    And to be ever clearer: we need a massive policy response to the number of guns in the US (which was the point of Part 1).

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    The problem is the same: nuts with guns. We lack the ability to stop people being nuts. We have the ability to stop nuts having guns. That would be a massive policy change. The fact that white terrorists (or Islamist terrorists) are few in number is beside the point: one man with an automatic rifle has infinitely more power than 100 people without, rendering the relative numbers irrelevant.

    Our response to 911 was to greatly increase security at airports and ramp up counter-terror efforts more broadly. A massive policy change. Since then we’ve had no more 911’s. Passenger jets were used as weapons so we sensibly did everything we could to keep terrorists from getting their hands on those weapons. And it worked. US terrorist deaths by airplane since 911? I believe it’s zero unless I missed some smaller incident.

    Guns are being used as weapons by white terrorists in the US. It’s time for a massive policy change.

    19
    2
  6. CSK says:

    The Daily Beast is reporting that Bett’s sister Megan and an unidentified male were found shot in a car nearby. I haven’t seen this reported elsewhere yet.

    1
    1
  7. Todd says:

    While I agree that panic is unwarranted in any case, the irony is that for any of us, especially those who don’t live in major American cities, domestic terrorists are almost certainly a much greater (albeit still very low) daily threat than anyone from the Middle East. Yet we spend billions of dollars a year prosecuting the “war on terror” overseas (I personally spent a couple years in my life in Iraq and Afghanistan), while simultaneously shutting down programs focused on countering white nationalist extremism ( https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/trump-shut-countering-violent-extremism-program/574237/ )

    We really are living in some pretty dark times right now. I am an optimist by nature, so I hope the tide will shift again in the future. But most days here lately I really do wonder what kind of country we’re leaving for our kids.

    14
  8. @michael reynolds: I think we are in basic agreement.

    I will think about how I can better express my position.

    But are you really going to argue that all we don’t overreact to Islamist-based terrorism versus that perpetrated by whites? I would raise you two wars and mass surveillance…

  9. @Todd: Exactly.

  10. @Todd:

    Yet we spend billions of dollars a year prosecuting the “war on terror” overseas

    Let me emphasize this. This is fundamental to my point.

    We need a lot less “war on terror” and much more focus on gun violence (and the radicalization of makes, regardless of their backgrounds).

  11. Monala says:

    I must point out that even the crime paradigm results in overreaction if the presumed criminals are African-American or undocumented immigrants.

    6
    1
  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will think about how I can better express my position.

    Heh. Or as I call it: another day at work.

    I think we are in basic agreement. Yes, Iraq was an overreaction, or more to the point a case of dishonest politicians exploiting public overreaction.

    This is very dangerous stuff. Terror groups once formed are hard to stamp out. Particularly so when the Chief Executive and the Justice Department are in sympathy with the terrorists. Trump is to white terror what Pakistan is to Islamist terror: at best ambiguous.

  13. @Monala: Quite true.

  14. mattbernius says:

    Even if you accept the “mental health” framework, the politicians who typically use that are also the ones who typically vote against improving health care (including mental health) funding/safety nets.

    5
    1
  15. Mister Bluster says:

    “it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in ****, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

    ****
    a) White Power
    b) Jihad
    c) AK-47s

  16. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The problem is the same: nuts with guns. We lack the ability to stop people being nuts. We have the ability to stop nuts having guns.

    Nuts with guns who are being radicalized.

    And, we have seen that people will use their cars and trucks to kill a bunch of people, if they don’t have easy access to guns or if they just suck at shooting. (My time with first person shooters shows me that I would make a bad shooter… if I wanted to go on a killing spree, I would choose a different weapon)

    Attempting to restrict guns, when we are already awash in guns, may cut the total impact among those radicalized nuts who don’t already have the best guns. But, it would take a long time to have an effect.

    Maybe we need to ponder the radicalization?

    The one shooter was radicalized online — 8chan or reddit or something, in a subgroup that was particularly vicious and stupid. Should the people who make this possible — the owners of reddit and 8chan — be held financially liable for the actions that they have enabled? I don’t know.

    Our free speech laws are as out of line with the rest of the world as our gun laws. But it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that social networks allowed the nutjobs to connect and reinforce their nuttiness.

    I think that the benefits of our radical free speech laws outweigh the drawbacks, but maybe we need to look at that.

    Facebook was used to help agitate for the Rohinga genocide. The Rohinga probably have a different view.

    We shut down backpages.com and the casual encounters areas on Craigslist because of human trafficking concerns (and apparently made life for sex workers much worse by making it harder to screen clients, etc.). If we can restrict sites for that, maybe we should also be able to restrict sites for promoting violence?

  17. Hal_10000 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We have the ability to stop nuts having guns.

    This is where I disagree. I don’t think we do. At least a couple of these nuts should not have had guns and yet they did. And let’s say you pass a ban on AR-15s, with a buyback like Australia. Assuming similar compliance rates, that leaves 8 million AR-15s out there. What are you going to do about them? And are the nuts going to be the ones turning in their guns?

    And even if you did … what’s next? One of the most deadly right-wing terrorist attacks in history — Oklahoma City — didn’t use a single gun. The most deadly school attack in history — the Bath Disaster — didn’t use a single gun.

    I wish I had a solution here but I don’t. I think the mass shootings are a form of social contagion with each one inspiring the next. Right now, there may be a bunch of future mass shooters there who already have their guns. What do we do about them?

    5
    3
  18. Jc says:

    The fact that I can go buy a gun in VA right now and all the ammo I want is nuts. If we annexed Pakistan or Mexico, you could guarantee there would be an amendment to #2. Would state *except for those two. The excuses and blame is pathetic as outlined by Mr. Taylor. It’s so obvious yet we do nothing. Sad

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Hal_10000: @Gustopher:

    1) Yes, we should deal with radicalization. But following the same logic as applied to gun buy-backs, we’d still have millions already radicalized. Right? So this, too, would take a long time to work.

    2) As Stephen shows clearly in his other post, it is the concentration of guns that makes mass murder possible. So reducing the concentration of guns, even if not eliminating it, would have a positive effect.

    3) Combine anti-radicalization with a reduction in the number and availability of guns would have an even better effect than either approach separately. No need for either/or, let’s do both.

    4) The idea that shooters would be replaced by bombers doesn’t fly. One requires zero training or knowledge or access to special materials, the other requires all three. Making bombs is very dangerous business – bomb-makers tend to get blowed up. Bombing is much harder, shooting much easier.

    5) Psychologically you have two different types. There’s Bakunin with a bomb blowing things up to make his point, but that is different than committing suicide by cop in a mass shooting. Stealth vs. blaze of glory. Anonymity vs. notoriety.

    6) You know what’s even easier to control than guns? Ammunition. Outlaw self-loading equipment. There are far, far fewer people with bullet presses than with guns. Outlaw sales of gunpowder. What gunpowder is sold should have markers – available technology. Outlaw sales of brass – damn few hobbyists can reliably produce usable cases. If you tell me some nut can make his own powder, machine his own brass and his own percussion caps well, OK, I think we can deal with that.

    You are not making disinterested arguments, they are tailored to serve a pre-determined conclusion in support of private gun ownership. Logical, disinterested arguments all fall on the side of doing everything we can to drastically reduce the number and availability of guns. And yes, radicalization, too.

    12
  20. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s another thought: have the government buy all domestic gun manufacturers, shut them down, refuse any future licensing requests, and ban all importation.

    3
    2
  21. Chip Daniels says:

    It isn’t really accurate to call them “nuts” as if their violence had no logic or reason behind it, like one of these guys who hears voices telling him to kill people.

    The voices that these killers hear are not imaginary; they are very real, blaring from Fox News 24/7, fanning the flames of their paranoia and hatred.

    Yes, the killers have mental issues, but there is a very clear, coldly rational logic to their actions.

  22. Modulo Myself says:

    The next race war will come not from racist whites, but from racist blacks and Hispanics who feel empowered to act on their racism by an administration that excuses all minority misbehavior.

    That’s Ben Shapiro in 2010. Why do we have so many guns in this country? Because people who live in the right-wing swamp love fantasizing about a race war. Shapiro sells his product and the gun manufacturers sell theirs. They love it and they need it–it’s a Daddy fantasy where you can arm yourself with a gun that can shoot 30 people in a minute and kill the dark hordes who want to take your women and property, if such a difference exists. We would not have guns in America if it were not for racism.

    6
    2
  23. Teve says:

    Aussie newspapers aren’t afraid to call it like it is:

    US in the midst of a white nationalist terrorism crisis

    linky

  24. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You are not making disinterested arguments, they are tailored to serve a pre-determined conclusion in support of private gun ownership. Logical, disinterested arguments all fall on the side of doing everything we can to drastically reduce the number and availability of guns. And yes, radicalization, too.

    Aside from the shootings, the mass proliferation of guns has minimal effect. The likelihood that my life is going to be affected by gun violence is higher than it should be, but not that high.

    The radicalization is how we got Trump.

    We’ve also failed time and time again to go after guns, and I expect we will fail once again. Society as a whole is moving in our direction, but the efforts are also being used as fodder for radicalization of gun enthusiasts — “liberals are trying to take your guns away”, “liberals are trying to take your guns away so you can’t fight back against one world order under sharia law”…

    30,000 people die each year from guns, about the same as cars. It’s a lot, and we should try to reduce that number.

    How many people die each year because of poor access to healthcare, environmental pollution, or the other affects of a Republican administration? We are facing an existential threat from global warming, and half our political system has grafted batshit insane conspiracy theories and hate mongering onto deliberately doing nothing to protect ourselves or slow global warming. 30,000 a year is a lot of people, but it’s also not very many.

    Go after the radicalization. Sue the places where hate mongers sell their hate when it finally becomes violence. Let there be a little bit of a chilling effect on mainstream social networks, as they clamp down on hate and calls for violence. The existing nutjobs will start their own forums, but they won’t be interacting with your idiot cousin who is a normal loser but looking for someone to blame.

    When Facebook decides that maybe white supremacists aren’t a good risk, because when one of them goes and kills a couple of brown guys, then Facebook ends up in court, well, that skittish Facebook might be less worse.

    For about half of these shooters, we are finding online profiles of them threatening to do this in various levels of vagueness, with others egging them on. And, when we find that, we tend to focus on the content rather than the company that allowed that content, and has connected these people together.

    And, the “kill all brown people” shit is tied into the far right so deeply that going after it will hurt the rest of it.

  25. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: Or that’s a terrible thought that undermines the concept of free speech too much. Not sure. I wander back and forth on it.

    But, when people talk about removing the legal shield from gun manufacturers, I just think loosening legal shields on social networks should also be considered.

  26. @Hal_10000:

    This is where I disagree. I don’t think we do. At least a couple of these nuts should not have had guns and yet they did. And let’s say you pass a ban on AR-15s, with a buyback like Australia. Assuming similar compliance rates, that leaves 8 million AR-15s out there. What are you going to do about them? And are the nuts going to be the ones turning in their guns?

    But if it is harder (or impossible) to go down the street and arm oneself to the teeth, people like the El Paso shooter might not have been able to get the weapons he needed.

    Like I said in the other thread, I drive past “Family Firearms” on my way to and from work. Their sign has an AR-15 on it. This is low key insane, IMHO.

    I understand that people have a right to protect themselves, and to hunt, and to engage in target practice, etc. But why does that have to mean ready availability of firearms that are based on weapons designed for war?

    11
    2
  27. @michael reynolds:

    3) Combine anti-radicalization with a reduction in the number and availability of guns would have an even better effect than either approach separately. No need for either/or, let’s do both.

    This strikes me as the only rational policy choice. Alas, I do not expect much rationality…

    2
    1
  28. de stijl says:

    I grew up with a guy. We were in baby’s first band together. He was bass. I had to do vocals because between the three of us I was the least socially anxious and I’m really SAD. We were pretty simpatico.

    Time passes, stuff happens, and he moves to New Orleans. He’s in a band, It’s a cool scene – come check it out.

    Thanks to the fine folks of Greyhound I did. (I actually like bus / train travel.)

    I get down there and he’d hooked up with a Nazi punk crowd. Really Nazi not fake for shock effect. A dude told me about driving around and using a blow gun on black people at bus stops and just folks walking. He thought it was hilarious. He used a different word than “black folks”. It was spooky because in their world that was like a boss move. Edgy, but totally morally okay.

    I just bailed. I didn’t confront anyone or call them out. I just started walking towards where I thought the bus station was.

    If you’d asked me at 15 I would have said Tom was a good guy, smart. At 19 he was living with monsters impersonating human beings and he apparently was okay with that and wanted to belong and be accepted by them.

  29. Kari Q says:

    @Gustopher:

    Aside from the shootings, the mass proliferation of guns has minimal effect.

    Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

    Unfortunately, I think you’re right that nothing will be done about guns. I accepted that conclusion after Sandy Hook, when we saw 5 and 6 year old children shot and we, as a country, decided to do nothing.

    I have no real hopes that anything will be done to prevent radicalization, either.

    I’m totally pessimistic on this topic.

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Forests are easier to see from far away, too.

  31. CDW says:

    We need to stop dancing around the semantics and call it what it is: terrorism whether it’s from white supremacists or islamicists. And this president is encouraging terrorism.

    4
    1
  32. lynn says:

    @mattbernius: ” the “mental health” framework”

    And if you accept that framework, then what? I don’t believe that psychology/psychiatry is enough of a science that it can reliably predict who is going to become violent.

    I remember evaluating a man for competency to stand trial. I looked at his history, talked to him at length, assessed his IQ (roughly) and found no indication that he was likely to pose a danger to himself or others. Five months late he was arrested for beating up people at ATMs.

  33. Guarneri says:

    More black men were killed this weekend, in fact every weekend, by other black men than whites Muslims etc. I think leaving race or ethnicity out of it is best. In fact, the dramatically greater frequency of (mostly city dwelling) black men killing other black men runs counter to the argument that inanimate objects called guns should be the predominant focus.

    16
  34. de stijl says:

    @lynn:

    At least your dude was adaptive (if he was doing it for the money).

    My ex-friend was intentionally consorting with folks who hurt people for fun because they were black. Looking for acceptance or some weird definition of belonging.

  35. @Guarneri:

    think leaving race or ethnicity out of it is best.

    You might want to tell the president and his supporters.

    And, really, you are missing the point if you don’t think race matters.

    black men killing other black men runs counter to the argument that inanimate objects called guns should be the predominant focus.

    This is a deflection. And a typical one for someone who really doesn’t want to deal with the race.

    10
  36. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Guarneri: WTF do you care about black people. 88% of white homicide are killed by other whites. Why are White men hyper violent? Why do you and the media cover for the white on white crime and terrorism epidemic?

    Idiot

    14
  37. Gustopher says:

    @Jim Brown 32: He doesn’t care, he’s just trying to score points in his game of life, by pissing off the libtards. He’s not worth bothering with, unless you want to score easy points in the game of your life.

  38. Gustopher says:

    https://twitter.com/ericbradner/status/1158196171451576321?s=21

    Beto O’Rourke on his way to his car was asked if there’s anything Trump can do now to make this better.

    “What do you think? You know the shit he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the fuck?”

    Beto has always kind of represented the bare minimum that we should accept in a Democratic candidate, and I hope he is raising that bare minimum.

    What the fuck, indeed.

  39. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s inarticulate, but’s a real response. We hold high public officials and candidates to weirdly high standards.

    I’m okay with that response. It makes me like him a bit more. He shouldn’t be President. But it’s okay and even healthy that He’s running. It wasn’t pre-packaged bullshit about thoughts and prayers.

  40. An Interested Party says:

    It’s inarticulate, but’s a real response. We hold high public officials and candidates to weirdly high standards.

    It’s nice when politicians tell the truth…and the press could use more responses like that…maybe some day they’ll get their shit together…

  41. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: I think it was the best response to this that I have seen — honest and heartfelt.

    I’d like him to run for Senate, before his failing Presidential campaign paints him with too much loser stink. Or maybe hold off and run for Governor.

    But, he would be a perfectly adequate President. And if Biden had a heart attack tomorrow, he would surge.

    Honestly, I’d like Biden to have gas, go to the hospital for weird chest pains, and then retire, or be a Secretary of State or something and spend the next thirty years telling his great grandkids that if he were president, things would have been better…

  42. mattbernius says:

    @Guarneri:
    How does it feel to know that you support hate crimes, not to mention racism, for tax cuts and the tingling feeling you get when you think you are owning libs?

  43. SC_Birdflyte says:

    I’ve undergone several security clearance investigations. For the highest level clearance at a former job, it cost my employer about $ 5,000. Imagine if we required a similar level of rigor for anyone who attempted to purchase a firearm. When Second Amendment absolutists squawked about infringement of their rights, the response would simply, “We aren’t banning you from owning a firearm. All you need to do is to pay for the clearance investigation and you’re good to go.”

  44. @Jim Brown 32: Thanks for noting this. I thought about it later after I had left my initial comment.

  45. Tyrell says:

    @michael reynolds: What is your criteria for someone being classified as a nut? Who would decide that? Homeland Security?
    How do you know if I am a nut or not? I have no criminal history. I would never buy a real gun (possibly a flintlock). This sounds somewhat like the No Fly List. Some people got their names on there by mistake and it took the prophet Isaiah to get them off.