The Omaha Shooting

First, I want to say that we should not forget that this was a horrific event, and that I’m sure we all mourn for the dead and their families.

A fellow blogger in the science and technology world lost a close friend in this shooting, and has written about it here.

Now, I want to ask two difficult questions.


Before I ask the questions, though, I want to say something else. Yesterday, I had the idea of writing this post (this one, the one you are reading now). Didn’t get to it right away. Then, I read Webs’ post about the loss of his friend. It made me think: I’m thinking about writing a post about an event in which several people were senselessly murdered, and the purpose of that post is political. Now, I have no problem with doing that. This is how life works, this is how the world (occasionally) changes. But at the same time, I realized that there is a human side to this tragedy that needs to be acknowledged, and that it is so easy to forget that when commenting on events by which one is not directly affected.

Here are my questions:

It is often said, sometimes by gun-fanatics, sometimes by governors, that tragedies like this would be avoided if people were generally packing. Jesse Ventura made this comment in relation to school shootings. Even if only a few teachers would actually carry guns, students who might follow in the footsteps of the Columbine shooters would think twice and likely not come to school armed to the teeth with the intention of killing as many people as possible. And if they did, the chances are pretty good that someone would shoot them before they killed as many people as they might otherwise. This discussion was heavy on the airwaves and in the blogosphere following the Virginia Tech shootings.

Why did this not work in Omaha? Are we to believe that no one at that mall was packing? Are we to believe that this deranged young man, who did the shooting, would have believed that very few people in Nebraska carry weapons?

Nebraska has no handgun registration requirements, but they do (as to many states, if not all) have background checks. Locking devices are not required in Nebraska. You can own any kind of gun you want in Nebraska (machine guns, whatever). According to some sources, gun ownership in Nebraska is about in the middle of the pack, although sources vary as to how many people own guns there (probably just under 40%). It is hard to say how many people in this shopping mall would have been carrying a handgun. But at the same time, it would be hard for a potential shooter to know as well.

But more to the point, would it have mattered if this shooter had heard a news story the day before about the extraordinary number of Omaha residents doing their christmas shopping while carrying a handgun? I think not. Asked and answered.

The second question is this: Why is it that the press seems to be unconcerned with where a gun that is used in a horrific crime such as this comes from? Eventually, this is usually reported. But I listened to some of the reporting and one press conference in this case, and I did not hear the question raised. What is the reason that reporters do not seem to ask this question?

Comments

  1. #1 RNB
    December 7, 2007

    A difficult subject, but just yesterday I wrote about this too (more concisely:) Broadly the same conclusion. These occasional major tragedies do little to encourage or discourage gun legislation, and it is the wrong time to even discuss this.

    But the thing that (I think) does encourage legislation is the innate variability of human nature. The steady drip of little incidents that escalate to violence. There will always be a small percentage of people who are triggered to this by random events, and the greater the number of guns in society, the more likely that the nutter will have one.

  2. #2 Karl
    December 7, 2007

    To the point of whether people carrying guns would have deterred him or at least stopped him sooner:
    There were armed mall cops watching the mall on closed circuit tv. They saw him, thought that he looked suspicious. How come they weren’t there to deter him. How come they weren’t out in the mall walking around with non-concealed weapons, being a visible deterrence? It seems that to someone who has gone totally mad (in both meanings), just wants to get even with the world, and plans to kill himself at the end, no knowledge or evidence of other people having guns is a deterrent.

  3. #3 Moopheus
    December 7, 2007

    “What is the reason that reporters do not seem to ask this question?”

    Reporters don’t ask questions. It doesn’t really seem to be part of their job description anymore. And they wonder why everyone is reading blogs instead.

  4. #4 Moopheus
    December 7, 2007

    “It seems that to someone who has gone totally mad (in both meanings), just wants to get even with the world, and plans to kill himself at the end, no knowledge or evidence of other people having guns is a deterrent.”

    Right, the whole notion is based on the idea that the bad guy is going to be making rational risk assessments, only it turns out that they either don’t care about the risk or are not very good at doing the math.

  5. #5 Grackle
    December 7, 2007

    Arming faculty at schools is as useless as arming security guards anywhere: they immediately start acting like cops. When the violence erupts, their first action is to exert authority over the helpless, to ‘lock-down’ the facility as if it is a prison and their wards are convicts, thus preventing free escape, keeping the innocents captive where the troublemakers can get to them.

    The police, along with the courts and the rest of the government, have conditioned the public to limit their own self defense to running, hiding, and hoping for luck. We all know that any citizen who uses violence to defend himself or others runs the risk of being railroaded into prison. Cops can defend themselves, to include preemptive manslaughter, but any citizen who imitates the police is a threat to their hegemony and must be made an example of.

    The government will never allow an armed citizenry, so my idea is we should strip our police of all weapons — including truncheons, pepper spray, and incendiary devices (CS and flashbangs). Put the police on an even footing with the public and in time they’ll start coming around. Eventually they may come over to our side.

  6. #6 G Felis
    December 7, 2007

    According to a Faux News story (read here, for what it’s worth), “Nebraska allows people to carry permitted concealed handguns, but it allows property owners, such as the Westroads Mall, to post signs banning permit holders from legally carrying guns on their property.”

    I think the obvious questions here are the ones you ask. The Faux News twist adds only a few more questions that ought to be asked: What is the likelihood that someone who regularly carries a concealed weapon is going to bother paying heed to such signs? (The off-duty police officer mentioned in the story ignored it as a matter of course.) And what is the likelihood that a homicidal/suicidal lunatic is going to care?

    I think it’s very clear that this is a difference that makes no difference, and that the NRA spin Fox News puts on this story tells us rather more about their political allegiences than about the incident itself: “There are plenty of cases every year where permit holders stop what would have been multiple victim shootings every year, but they rarely receive any news coverage…” The editorialist goes on to describe one incident, but could he name a second and a third in that weasel-worded “plenty”? And do the gun nuts count up the bodies of all the individual murders when they calculate the purported life-saving benefits of America’s gun culture?

    The article also uses this stunning bit of non-argument: “Despite the lack of news coverage, people are beginning to notice what research has shown for years: Multiple-victim public shootings keep occurring in places where guns already are banned. Forty states have broad right-to-carry laws, but even within these states it is the ‘gun-free zones,’ not other public places, where the attacks happen.”

    Duh. “Gun-free zones” are generally places like schools and malls where there is wide-open access (unlike amusement parks, which have controlled access) and lots of people. Where else are multiple-victim public shootings going to take place? Also, I wonder if this little bit of statistical legerdemain acknowledges that nightclubs and such are gun-free zones by law in almost every state, and those are the places where the overwhelming majority of multiple-victim shootings take place? Does even the NRA argue that drinking venues and handguns are a good mix? I think they don’t. Not publicly, at any rate.

    *sigh*

  7. #7 G Felis
    December 7, 2007

    FYI follow-up: The “research” cited in the part of the editorial I quoted last is a paper co-authored by the editorialist, well-known dishonest pro-gun “researcher” John Lott. The paper’s definition of multiple victim shootings in “public” places explicitly includes bars – but does not in any way differentiate them from other public places, just totting up incidents based on Lexis-Nexus searches. So all subsequent statistical manipulations on that data set are just as empty as I suspected, since the data and statistics do not in any way control for the fact that NO state allows or should allow concealed weapons to be carried in drinking establishments.

    And, I should note, this is just one of the many, many obvious confounding factors that Lott ignores in this paper, as he does in all his gun-related work. (I don’t know if Lott even publishes papers on any other topic, but I wouldn’t trust them either if he did, given his habit of such transparent agenda-driven rationalization.) This is why he’s well-known as a dishonest hack who richly deserves the scare quotes I placed around “researcher.”

  8. #8 Lassi Hippeläinen
    December 8, 2007

    Good teachers wouldn’t arm themselves to kill their pupils.

  9. #9 Webs
    December 27, 2007

    Thanks for your kind words Greg!

    The problem with events like these is that we can’t see them for what they are, senseless acts of violence with no point. As humans we continually search for answers and will go to any end to find them.

    The religious will look at an event like this and say it must be part of God’s plan. Yes, because I’m sure God wanted a beautiful human being to die by a gunshot to the back of the head at a young age.

    The right will look at this and say we need less gun control. The left will look and say we need more gun control. Others still will search for at no end for a scapegoat (be it guns, music, video games, movies, etc).

    When everyone misses the whole point entirely. This is one asshole, with obvious mental issues that society just made worse, whom was able to get a gun. It was a senseless act of violence. I think Chris Rock got it right when he said, “What ever happened to kids just being crazy!”

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