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What factors enable mass murderers?

THE pitiless slaughter of 20 first-graders and seven teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is an offense so heinous that society recoils.

Understandably, people demand a way to avert such atrocities. Naturally, the focus falls on the guns the deranged man used to defile sweetness and dedication.

But blind rage is no better a basis for public policy than it is for mass murder.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said this week: "Everything should be on the table."

Let's get it right this time. Let's focus on everything that would really make a difference.

As economist and columnist Thomas Sowell points out on this page, there is little correlation between gun ownership, gun control laws and murder rates.

David Kopel of the Independence Institute and author of a law school textbook on firearms law, notes in the Wall Street Journal that the rise of mass murders parallels several societal developments.

There were 18 shootings involving at least two casualties in the 1980s. In the 1990s, there were 54. In the 2000s, there were 87.

The increased incidence of mass murder occurred:

 

  • Not because of increased availability of what some  call "assault weapons." Such weapons have been available for decades, and they work like any other firearm. They fire only one bullet when the trigger is pressed.
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  • Not because gun control laws got weaker, but despite the fact that they have been strengthened.
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    Semi-automatics may be purchased today only if the store gets permission from the FBI or a state agency, and may not be sold to people who fit into one of nine categories - felons, domestic-violence offenders, persons found mentally ill or alcoholic, etc.

    Instead, the rise in mass murders parallels the rise:

     

  • Of mass media, which magnifies celebrity. "We know that many would-be mass killers obsessively study their predecessors," Kopel wrote.
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  • Of the deinstitutionalization of violently mentally ill people. The Treatment Advocacy Center has said that on a per capita basis, the number of state hospital beds in America has fallen to the level of the 1850s.
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  • Of what Kopel calls "pretend gun-free zones" like schools, theaters and malls, where no one is likely to present effective resistance.
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    "People who are serious about preventing the next Newtown should embrace greater funding for mental health, strong laws for civil commitment of the vio-lently mentally ill - and stop kidding themselves that pretend gun-free zones will stop killers," he writes.

    Maybe so. Certainly, focusing solely on disarming the law-abiding has not produced the desired results.


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