Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses…
-- George Washington Carver
It began, as it often does these days, as a series of tweets.
Another school shooting.
Another all too familiar day in America.
Another mad scramble by gun fanatics to dismiss the tools of mass murder, to deflect and deny, to make excuses for why nothing can be done. To avoid responsibility.
One of these excuses in particular caught my eye.
So, I ....
Shooter? School shooting?
Oh, right. Riiiiight. Sorry. You’re right. You’re right. I got ahead of myself. The school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. That’s the one. Given there was more than one school shooting yesterday, or attempted school shooting, and given the increasing frequency of these events, I should have been more specific…
You again, what now?
Yes, you may expect that to continue throughout the article.
Good? OK, then let’s continue.
Starbuck is a modestly well known writer, producer, and director who has done some interesting work – and lot of less than interesting work. His tweets often slide by in my social media feeds without leaving much of a ripple, but his comments yesterday caught my attention.
The shooter did not legally possess the guns he used or the pipe bombs he had so what makes anyone think that any law would’ve stopped him from this evil act? Obviously he was not concerned with following the law. He’s a determined killer willing to use any means to do so. The real questions we need to be asking are: • How can we better identify, report and act before evil people commit these mass shootings? • Can we make teaching empathy and kindness a part of nationwide curriculum? • How can we safeguard the entry and interior of schools?
I think the questions Starbuck asks are valid: How can we better identify, report and act before evil people commit these mass shootings? Can we make teaching empathy and kindness a part of nationwide curriculum? How can we safeguard the entry and interior of schools? Sure. Those are reasonable questions, worthy of further exploration on the national stage. Absolutely.
But I don’t think they’re the “real questions we need to be asking.”
No, it’s the first part, that bit about laws.
Laws don’t stop crime.
No shit, right?
This comes up every time. Laws don’t stop crime. No law we can pass will totally eliminate gun violence. So, we shouldn’t talk about more laws, or new laws, or even fixing the existing laws. Criminals don’t obey the law, see? So laws only “punish” law abiding citizens.
You don’t see this … reasoning, I guess I have to call it, in any other area. You don’t see conservatives saying, hey, illegal immigrants, they don’t follow the law! So we shouldn’t even talk about more immigration laws!
You don’t see conservatives saying, hey, you know who doesn’t obey the law? Women. Yeah. Women. So there’s no point in passing any more abortion laws…
No, it’s only guns where this “laws don’t work” argument comes up routinely.
And so I wrote a long response, which on Twitter became a fifteen part thread of related thoughts chained together.
And that became a longer and more detailed Facebook post (if you’ve already read it, feel free to skip over the comments in blue):
Laws don't stop crime.
The killer is in custody.
If there weren't any laws against shooting people, we couldn't prosecute him. We'd have to let him go.
Laws don't stop crime and never have.
We have laws regarding murder, theft, rape, fraud, etc.
And yet, we still have murder, theft, rape, fraud, etc.
We pass new laws to address evolving problems, such as electronic crimes. Or things some folks wish were crimes, like abortion.
But, laws don't stop crime.
Laws don't stop crime. It would be nice if they did, but that's not the law's function.
Laws give society legal recourse when its members engage in anti-social actions. If you didn't have law against murder, you couldn't do anything (legally) about it when murders happen.
The shooter did not legally possess the guns he used. This is true. But that doesn't mean laws don't work.
The question is: How did the shooter get those guns?
Somebody has to be legally responsible for those weapons. So how did the shooter get them?
If the shooter got his weapons from his father as rumored, then the father should be legally responsible for failure to properly secure the guns. But that only works if there are enforceable laws in place regarding storage and access in the home.
If that law doesn't exist, then it should.
Such a law would not prevent any responsible citizen from owning a gun. It doesn't infringe on 2nd Amendment rights. It simply requires that the gun owner be held legally responsible for his or her guns. If Adam Lanza's mother had properly secured her weapons, she'd be alive today, along with the children murdered at Sandy Hook. Adam Lanza was mentally ill. He could not be legally responsible. She knew that. Her own irresponsibility cost 28 people their lives.
Laws don't prevent crime, not all of it anyway.
But they can reduce crime by modifying society's behavior over the long term. See Drunk Driving laws. Obviously, those laws don't stop drunk driving, but they did drastically reduce it by changing irresponsible behavior.
Now, Making driving while intoxicated illegal does not keep anyone from drinking if they want to. But we prosecute irresponsible intoxication. We hold those who enable it responsible, even bartenders and liquor store owners. Those we catch violating the law go to jail.
And we are draconian about enforcing these laws. We had to be. We have campaigns about how draconian we are. We put up signs along the highways and we have cops go to schools and lecture kids about it. And as a result people have become significantly more responsible about their behavior when they otherwise wouldn't be.
If gun laws addressed specific irresponsibility, such as failure to secure your weapons, and we held those responsible to the same degree as drinking, and we promoted gun responsibility the same way we do responsible drinking, then you'd see a marked reduction in cases like this one. We know this works, because it works in every other area that it’s been tried in.
Where'd the shooter get his guns? Excellent question.
The answer isn't: Laws don't work.
The answer is a law that specifically addresses the problem identified by the question and holds those responsible to strict and mandatory account. Every time.
If we started holding guns owners responsible for their guns to a degree no more stringent than gun manufacturer guidelines and the NRA's own rules for safe gun handling, then you'd see gun owners start properly securing their guns. As they should.
I'm NOT talking about taking your guns away.
I'm a gun owner too. I'm sitting right now within three feet of two gun safes. MY weapons are secure when not on my person. Period. No exceptions. Ever. They are my guns. I am responsible. No one else. Because I was trained that way.
Laws don't stop crime.
But then neither do guns.
Laws don't stop crime and never have.
But the right laws make crime far less likely by modifying irresponsible behavior and by giving society legal recourse to hold its members accountable for their actions.
We'll prosecute the shooter, sure enough.
But we must also prosecute those who enabled him.
Now, nothing I’ve said above is a new thought. I’ve written about this ridiculous “laws don’t stop crime” argument here before, in this very series. You can find the links at the bottom of this article.
But, you know, my comments really weren’t even about the law.
They were about responsibility.
That’s what laws are ultimately about: Responsibility.
Responsibility, by definition, requires accountability. If you’re not ever held accountable, well, then you’re not really responsible, are you? I mean, if there is no mechanism holding you accountable, then what’s the price for irresponsibility? Nothing. You screwed up, people died, oops. Shrug and move on, right?
Responsibility is about accountability.
We used to teach that to Navy leaders when I was in uniform. Authority. Responsibility. Accountability. When that ideal declined, so did Navy leadership.
You can’t have responsibility without accountability, to yourself, to authority (whatever that may be), to society (however you define it). That’s what law is.
But … well, it’s funny, isn’t it? Whenever you mention accountability, the gun fetishists – the very people who angrily rush to assure you just how responsible they are – begin screaming that you’re trying to take their guns away.
And why is that?
Why is it that they always, every time, equate “responsibility” to “confiscation?”
Why is it that whenever you talk about personal accountability, they always – every time – attempt to deflect that responsibility onto somebody else?
Case in point:
This guy was more coherent than most – which is why I chose him to use an example.
And he managed to get most of the predictable talking points arguing against responsibility all in one place.
So, let's walk it through, shall we? Point by point.
My response to your most recent post since I am unable to respond on the actual post itself for some reason.
My Facebook page is fairly popular, as such things go. Roughly 150,000 people read what I post there every day. Often it’s a much larger audience, depending on how widely my posts are shared – and that’s what social media and in particular platforms like Facebook are for. Because of the size of that audience, and because of the things I write about, and because of the nature of the average social media user, I limit commenting to “friends” (as defined by Facebook). That’s about 5000 vetted people, give or take, on my personal page. This way, I don’t have to daily deal with the trolls, lunatics, moochers, shit-stirrers, and the various other unsavory and non-housebroken denizens who inhabit the bowels of social media. Why just 5000? Because that’s the limit set by Facebook. If I was allowed more friends, I’d allow more commenters. (Note: I also run a closed Facebook Group called “Stonekettle Station,” where most of my material is reposted and far more people (a bit over 30,000 right now) can join in the conversation). I mention all of this here as a convenience to myself, since I get literally dozens of questions about this every single day.
So, so this guy, let’s call him “Tony,” couldn’t respond directly to my post on Facebook because we are not Facebook friends (and given the rest of Tony’s missive, we are unlikely ever to be such). Thus, he emailed it to me via Facebook’s messenger system.
Good so far?
I assume he cut and pasted this from elsewhere, given that he switched to the third person on the second line.
"I agree with some of the things he says."
Well, that's good. That’s good.
Their are also some flaws in some of the points he's trying to make [Sic]
Oh boy. I can't "weight" to "here" about my flaws (You may, if you like, picture me pouring myself a fresh one at this point).
If someone takes my car without permission and runs someone over with it, am I liable? The same answer applies to if someone took one of my guns without permission to murder someone else.
Yes. You can be held liable depending on circumstance.
Tony might want to check the laws of his state.
You see, in many states failure to properly secure your vehicle does make you liable under the law – not to mention, being grounds for claim denial by your insurance company.
For example: In nearly every state it is illegal to leave a running car unattended, even on private property, even if the the door is locked, and in some states even if you use a remote starting system with anti-theft lockout capability.
If you leave your car unsecured, with the keys in the ignition, you can be held liable for its theft and subsequent use in a crime.
Likewise, if you loan your vehicle to somebody unauthorized to operate it, or who is impaired, or who is not covered under your insurance, then you are liable for whatever happens with that vehicle. You are most certainly liable if your kids take your car and kill somebody because you left the keys where they could get them. You’re responsible for both the kids and the car.
However, if you take reasonable steps to secure your vehicle and to keep it out of the hands of unauthorized users, then the law generally does not hold you accountable if someone steals your car.
This is no different whatsoever from what I suggested.
Hell, I didn't even suggest a particular method of securing your weapons, though I personally prefer a purpose-manufactured gun safe. No, I left it up to you to decide the best method for your own situation, just as the law does with cars (i.e. the law does not require you to have a secure locking garage, or a fenced driveway, or a car alarm, or even a working lock on your car. You decide).
The person liable is the person that took the item without permission and harmed someone else with it.
I think we all agree.
Who suggested otherwise?
Go back up there and read what I wrote. Look at the penultimate line. Did I in any way whatsoever suggest that the murderer was not liable? Did I? If you're not capable of that basic level of reading comprehension, then you're (or in Tony’s case, "your") not cognitively advanced enough to be in this conversation in the first goddamned place. So either step up or stop wasting my time.
I mean, more than one person can be held liable in a crime, you all know this, right? You must know this.
Look here, if I'm too intoxicated to drive, if I am obviously too intoxicated to drive, then obviously I’m liable if I drive. But, if the bartender continues to serve me alcohol knowing there's a reasonable chance I'm going to go out and get in a car, well, then the law also holds that bartender liable. Likewise, if the bartender doesn't check my ID and make reasonably sure I'm old enough to drink in her establishment then the law again holds not only me liable, and the bartender liable, but also the business itself.
Goddamn, man, how do you not know this?
"Everyone has moments where they are irresponsible or could have been more responsible."
Always, it comes to this argument.
Always, every time. They always arrive here: you just can’t expect someone to be responsible all of the time.
And yet, that’s exactly what we do expect, from the guy driving your kid’s school bus, from surgeons, from airline pilots, from the military, from the courts, from our leaders, from the guy who operates the Staten Island Ferry and the cook who’s supposed to wash his goddamned hands after taking a shit. We not only expect these people to be responsible every single time, we demand it under penalty of law. Every single time. Because failure of responsibility for even a second can have serious consequences. And you’re going to try and tell me that guns should be regarded as any less of a responsibility?
Everybody has moments where they are irresponsible, Tony says. Yes, and if you have a moment of irresponsibility that results in the death of another, we call that manslaughter. And it's illegal. And you're held accountable. And you go to jail. I mean, are you seriously suggesting to me that a parent who "has a moment of irresponsibility" and leaves their baby in a locked, sealed car on a hot day resulting in that child's death should be dismissed with a shrug and an "oh well, she didn't mean to kill the kid. Shit happens! People can’t be responsible all of the time." Hell, we'd hold that person responsible for their criminal irresponsibility if they left a fucking dog in the car.
And here you are trying to tell me that guns should be held to some lesser standard of responsibility?
Why is it that supposed "responsible" gun owners always – always, every goddamned time – argue so strenuously and so ridiculously against actual responsibility?
We’ll come back to that. Stick around.
Look here: you can't have responsibility without accountability.
You can't have responsibility without accountability.
If you're responsible, then you're accountable. It’s as simple as that.
And isn't that, accountability, the entire premise of your religion? Sure. Right? You've got free will, but if you don't follow your god's law, you go to your final judgement and get held accountable, so you'd better be good for goodness sake? Right?
No? No, I suppose not.
Be that as it may, don't try to tell me that you're a responsible gun owner if you're unwilling to be held accountable for that ownership, because you're just full of shit and you don't even understand what the words mean.
By this logic he is suggesting that we create criminals out of anyone who unintentionally or even involuntary created an opportunity for someone else who wants to do harm to exploit.
I don't even have to look at Tony’s Facebook timeline to know he wants opioid manufacturers and doctors to be held, at least in part, liable for the current drug epidemic. If it’s drugs, well, we want those who make and sell the drugs held to account, don’t we? We go after the drug makers and the drug dealers, right along with the drug users, don’t we? We’re even going after the doctors.
Hell, the only other institution in America equally free of responsibility is the banking industry. But, I digress.
Intention has nothing to do with it – or at least it's not the primary issue.
We're talking about responsibility, not intention.
If I leave my car running in the driveway, I likely didn't intend for it to be stolen. But I'm liable just the same.
If I leave my baby locked in the car on a hot summer day while I run into the store, I likely didn't intend for the kid to cook to death. But I'm criminally liable just the same.
Now to extend the analogy to something closer to Tony’s criticism: If I'm a surgeon and I don't follow procedure, I don't wash my hands correctly or sterilize my tools or I leave a sponge inside you, and you die, you can damned well bet I'll be held accountable.
And the Chief Surgeon will be held accountable.
And the hospital will be held accountable.
And the company who owns the hospital will be held accountable.
I’m responsible. But so are they.
My intentions be damned, it’s not about intention, it’s about responsibility. Irresponsibility – negligence – has consequences in nearly every field of endeavor. From bartender to car owner to airline pilot to doctor to lawyer to accountant to parent. Why should gun ownership be any different?
In short, you're simply making another argument to punish people that had nothing to do with crime committed by the actual person who committed the crime.
If you failed to secure your gun and that gun is taken by somebody unauthorized to have it and they then use it to commit a crime, you most certainly "had something to do with it." Your irresponsibility is a big part of the problem and, again, why is it that those who claim most strenuously that they are responsible gun owners always – always, every time – work so hard to avoid taking any actual responsibility?
If you have a swimming pool, you are required to have a fence around it. Tony is arguing that he can't even accept that pitiful amount of responsibility for his gun.
Let me make a counter suggestion. Instead of punishing people who did not make the conscious decision to murder someone. How about we increase the severity of the punishment to those who actually commit the crime?
Again, this bullshit. This idea that we don't actually punish people who commit crimes.
But the real money-shot is that part about "conscious decision."
We're talking about guns. Guns. Machines designed to kill people. Machines specifically designed to kill people. YOU SHOULD GODDAMNED WELL BE CONSCIOUS OF THAT ALL THE TIME, EVERY MINUTE, AND TAKE THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSIBILITY. If you're not conscious of that responsibility, every second, then you are not responsible enough to own or operate a fucking gun.
AR-15s have been for sale in the US for almost 60 years yet they've only been the weapon of choice in Mass Shootings for a little over a decade.
I never, not one time, mentioned "AR-15s" or any other specific weapon.
The subject is not the type of weapon. The subject is responsibility.
Stop trying to deflect and start taking responsibility.
Guess what else is pretty new? The leniency we show those who are incarcerated, including those who are imprisoned for harming, raping and/or killing others. If you kill someone maliciously, you die. Or at least never see freedom or be treated as a person again. You should suffer. Is it hard to believe the motivation to kill will decline substantially once people know if they are caught, they will no pain and suffering beyond what anyone can imagine?
Oh for fuck’s sake.
This is the end result of 30 years of mindless conservative talk-radio. Of angry pundits screaming conspiracy theories from TV sets. This is the mindset of an America run by religious fanatics, right here.
Torture. Dungeons. The Pit of Despair.
They must be made to suffer, you see. That’s right out of the Bible.
If I had to guess, I’d say Tony has never been to nations where they do exactly this. Iraq. Pakistan. Afghanistan. Mexico. Turkey. Venezuela. Russia. Thailand. Kenya. You go to prison there, believe me, you suffer. I once had to get an American serviceman out of prison in one of those countries. You really don’t want to know, but I’ll say this: Tony gets his wish because it was certainly beyond anything I could imagine.
You really want to turn America into that?
But, those countries where prisoners are executed or made to suffer "beyond what anyone can imagine?" Do you actually believe crime is somehow less there as a result? Really?
Because it’s not. It’s worse.
But you want to do that here?
No? Why not?
Because we're supposed to be better than that, you idiot.
Because those guns you love so much are supposed to defend the Constitution, which prohibits precisely the kind of cruel and unusual punishment you're suggesting. I mean you must see the irony, right?
I mean, right?
No, I suppose not. No, of course you don’t. Of course you don’t.
That would require a degree of self-awareness I doubt Tony and those like him are capable of.
Why have leniency on those actually committing the crime...
Not one surviving mass shooter in American history has been granted anything resembling leniency.
The closest you could come to making such a case is Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, who were among the youngest people to be formally charged with murder in the US. They were 13 and 11, respectively, in 1998, when they opened fire on a playground at Westside Middle School. They murdered four children and a teacher, and wounded ten more. They are the only surviving mass shooters currently not in prison. And they were only released (at age 21), because Arkansas law required such. Their case actually changed that requirement in Arkansas.
Every other surviving American mass shooter is in prison. Every one.
James Holmes was sentenced to twelve consecutive life sentences PLUS an additional 3318 years in prison. Hardly what you'd call leniency.
George Banks is on Death Row in Pennsylvania. No leniency for him.
Nidal Malik Hasan is on Death Row in a US military prison and I guaran-goddamn-tee you the Army will grant him no leniency whatsoever.
Howard Barton Unruh, the nation's first mass shooter, died in prison at age 88.
Dylann Roof was sentenced to death on federal hate crimes, and to life in prison for nine counts of murder. He's currently serving nine consecutive life sentences.
Do I need to go on here? Or can you do the rest for yourself?
This nonsense that we somehow grant mass murderers "leniency" is pure kark, the kind of unsubstantiated bullshit created whole cloth by likes of Rush Limbaugh and conservative politicians and hysterical fools such as Tony.
... but in return be willing to punish those who had nothing to do with it?
And so we come down to it.
I told you up above, we come back to it.
And here we are.
…punish those who had nothing to do with it.
That’s is your real fear, isn't it?
This right here.
Because you know you yourself aren't responsible, don't you, Tony? Yes you do. You spent a thousand words making excuses, telling me how you won’t, can’t, accept responsibility or be held accountable. And so, this is what you really fear, isn’t it? What you're really afraid of is that you will one day be held to account for your own cavalier attitude and your own lack of responsibility.
You can’t empathize with the victims of violence, instead you identify with those who are responsible for it and that’s goddamned telling. Yes, it is.
But this isn't about the killers at all, is it?
It's not even about guns.
No. It's about you.
A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.
-- Bob Dylan
Addendum 1: Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always.
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush
Part 12, Excuses, Excuses
Part 13, Stand and Teach
What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity
Addendum 2: As noted elsewhere, I’ve been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meijer’s Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun. I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family. Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve attended pretty much every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I spent much of my life in Alaska and I typically carry a gun in the bush on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.