WHEN I FIRST INTERVIEWED Paul Barrett, author of Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, for this publication (“Happiness Is A Warm Glock”), the mass shootings in Aurora, CO and Oak Creek, WI were recent events. This time, Barrett and I met under the long shadow of the Newtown, CT massacre, where, on December 14, Adam Lanza fatally shot his own mother, 20 children and six school employees before taking his own life. The world mourned for the losses at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the wake of the country’s second deadliest mass shooting, the United States is once again forced to confront its aggrandized gun culture. The question is: will anything be different this time?
With 300 million-plus weapons in private hands, the United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the OECD countries, and the second highest number of homicides (second only to Mexico, which has a lot related to drug trafficking. See here for some interesting analysis of OECD and non-OECD gun ownership and deaths).
According to political scientist Patrick Egan, gun ownership, as measured by percentage of households with guns, is declining in the U.S. So are violent crime and murder rates. Mass shooting incidents, in contrast, are on the rise. Clearly this is not solely a “gun issue.” And yet the conversation over gun regulation and ownership continues to spin in place. What is to be done?
Paul Barrett and I met in the world headquarters of Bloomberg, LP, parent company of Bloomberg Businessweek, where he serves as assistant managing editor and senior writer. Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, comes out in paperback today.
Shaun Randol: Can we take the “mass” out of “mass shootings”?
Paul Barrett: The frequency of mass, random shootings has increased in recent decades, and I don’t think any serious social analysts or psychologists have a good explanation for that. Short of true police state security in public spaces, which we’re not likely to move toward outside of airports and federal government buildings, I don’t see how anyone can say we’ll never have another one of these events.
We have a large country with hundreds of millions of firearms in private hands and disturbed people in the population. With that combination you’re going to see these events.
SR: What defines a mass shooting?
PB: There’s a technical definition of it, which involves four or more victims, and the key variable is that it be random, rather than purposeful in some way. Random, meaning that the killer doesn’t know the individuals, hasn’t set out to rob a store and, in the course of committing that crime, kills people. Instead he goes to someplace where he knows there will be a lot of people and kills a lot of people. The randomness is the key variable.
I personally think of these things as random-killing-suicides, because these incidents, and all of the most egregious of them, with very few exceptions, end in suicide. And that’s another reason that makes these events so hard to stop once a disturbed person has decided to pull one off....read more