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Banning Guns Isn’t the Answer

Stricter gun-control laws won’t prevent the next mass shooting, but better mental-health policies might

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A makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at Century 16 movie theater, on July 22, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

After a maniac shot up a packed movie theater in Colorado last week, the prognoses were quick to arrive: Ban guns. Don’t ban guns, but ban assault rifles. Ban violent movies. Ban midnight screenings of popular movies. It is ungentlemanly to censure anyone’s reactions to such a painful tragedy, but it is in times of crisis that we most need sound ideas, and what we got after the Aurora shooting has been utter drivel.

To prove the point, here’s a thought experiment: Let’s assume that one year before James Holmes stepped into the Century 16 multiplex and fired off hundreds of rounds, killing at least 12 people and wounding 58 others, the United States had banned all guns. In that scenario, Holmes is still a budding psychopath, his mind gradually consumed by violent visions. He still wants to make a name for himself by taking the lives of innocent people. But he can no longer step into a store or go online and buy himself an AR15, a Glock .40, a Remington 870, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

What does Holmes do now? One of two scenarios. In the first, with weapons now unavailable, Holmes abandons the whole massacre thing as just too darn difficult and channels his bad vibes into other pastimes, like mountain biking or Zumba. In the second scenario, Holmes remains just as committed to planning and executing an attack on this scale and finds a way to carry out it, regardless of legalities. Drugs, after all, are against the law, and they are easier to procure in some New York neighborhoods than fresh fruit. Even without access to assault rifles, how easy would it have been for Holmes to simply build a makeshift bomb and blow up the whole movie theater, killing many more than he did?

But even before police sappers cleared Holmes’ apartment of its devious explosive devices, our national newspapers, politicians, and religious movements were ready with their requisite illogic: Guns did it, guns are bad, guns must go.

Those, sadly, were the thoughtful responses. It takes a second reading to realize that Anthony Lane, The New Yorker’s film critic, wasn’t writing satire when he called for a moratorium on midnight screenings. “Those screenings,” he wrote, “starting when most people are in bed, often have a crazed and hallucinated air, which is all part of the game to those who enjoy them.” So do high-school and college parties; we might as well argue that an effective way of protecting our kids from school shootings is to ban schools altogether.

Let’s be more serious than this. Rather than be distracted by piffles, we should take concrete steps that might actually solve our problems. Providing readily accessible mental-health services is one good first step—as underscored by another absurd reaction to the shooting.

On a radio interview on Friday, Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert, from Texas, opined that the shooting was the result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” Gohmert’s reasoning was too muddled to follow, so allow me to offer some interpretive help the congressman will probably find most unwelcome. We can soundly say that the Aurora shooting happened as a result of ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs if by ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs we mean our ongoing refusal to provide the sort of access to health-care professionals who might be able to do something about the fact that while 9,484 people were shot to death in homicides in 2008, 18,735 turned the gun on themselves that year. Rather than suggesting that they might not have done so had they been denied access to guns, the real Judeo-Christian thing to do would be to make sure these troubled souls always have someone they could talk to, no matter what their financial situation.

Indeed, a day after the shooting, a chart began making the rounds on Facebook, citing the statistic that while the United States lost 9,484 people to gun violence in 2008 (the last year for which comprehensive data are available), Finland—where, by the way, guns are easy enough to come by, with 32 privately owned firearms per every 100 civilians—lost only 17. In Finland, there are inpatient and outpatient programs designed to accommodate anyone feeling anxiety or distress, as well as 24-hour emergency services provided free of charge. The government also provides occupational health care, which, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health’s website, “supports the maintenance of mental health, prevention of problems and early identification of problems among the working-age population.” Visit the website of the Colorado Department of Human Services, and you’re told that if you happen to be uninsured, you should seek “family members or close friends who can provide financial assistance.” Which approach do you think is more effective if we’re trying to stop a deranged young man from reaching the point of no return?

The other Judeo-Christian thing to do would be to dramatically revise our drug policies. With drug-related homicides currently accounting for nearly half of all murders, it is time we realize—as virtually everyone who seriously considered this issue has—that our buffoonish “war on drugs” is a miserable failure. If you want to reduce gun fatalities, change the drug climate that produces so many of them. Rather than pass draconian laws that snuff the futures of so many underprivileged and desperate users and do absolutely nothing to weaken the thriving drug cartels, we should exercise common sense and compassion, legalize those drugs that are absolutely harmless—if you’re in the mood for a trip, compare the potential dangers marijuana poses as opposed to, say, the risks posed by alcohol—and invest in helping those people who are most prone to falling prey to drugs to enjoy the sort of life in which drugs aren’t seen as the only refuge. How Judeo-Christian would that be?

For those slain in Aurora, we can offer nothing but prayers. But to those who are dying every day because of our negligence, narrow-mindedness, bad policies, heartless and misguided interpretations of religion, and childish adherence to empty catchphrases, we owe much, much more.


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Was he another JEW?

This was a Black Operation by Mossad working for Obama.

Arthur Rosenblum says:

I have to say that I was repulsed by Leibovitz’s arrogance and smugness. He seems to have done little more than add to the “drivel” and “piffle” he so haughtily dismisses. Does he really believe that those who advocate for a ban on assault rifles view that measure as the ONLY measure that needs to be taken to address the problem of mass murder? Of course there are those who would find other ways to kill if these weapons were not available. And there are those who would kill far fewer victims or none. Does he really believe that making mental health services is THE solution to the problem? Of course there are those who are violence-prone who would benefit from mental health services and that would save lives. And, sadly, there are many who would never seek out those services and would go on to kill. Neither step is THE sole solution to the problem, but few if any would say that banning assault rifles and making mental health services wouldn’t have a meaningful impact. Both of the these would be, as Leibovitz states, concrete steps to solve the problem.

Moshan says:

The author is absolutely right.

This country has had the right to bear arms enshrined in it’s founding documents since forever.

Actually, if you look at crime rates 200 years ago, or even in the 1930s and 1940s, you’ll notice that they were very low.

It got up much higher in the 50s and especially 60s as the New Left tried to ‘spiritually heal’ the criminals. Race riots didn’t help either, nor did the increasing amount of racially motivated race crime(according to FBI stats, some 80 % of all victims of race crime were actually white in the 1980s, the last time they offered such statistics).

The main problem is the culture of violence. Shooting someone is seen as almost trivial. Almost all heroes today use violence as a legitimate means to an end.

This, together with the breakdown of the American family have broken down the family links which keeps communities together.
Still, I don’t think we should allow assault rifles. Nobody should need that.
But those who think that gun crime would end with gun control are just wrong.

The gangs from Mexico and in the inner city would continue regardless. The incident in Aurora is an exception, but those kind of senseless mass shootings are rare. Most gun crime happens between criminal gangs or when robbing innocent people.

If we want to reduce gun crime, get the organized gangs. Because the criminals will always have guns. And this spike in violence is a new phenomenom. While the right to carry guns is as ancient as the Republic itself.

It’s easy to be lured into a place to demand easy answers for hard problems.

    It’s a rather bizarre ‘right’ that has no basis in traditional theories of rights. Edmund Burke in his “Reflections on the French Revolution” pointed out that rights are based on previous experiences and traditions, not made up out of thin air. The 2nd has no comparison in any other western country. And, incidentally, murder rates in the US peaked around 1933.

    It’s bizarre to credit the ‘breakdown’ of the family given the huge economic and structural changes in the US, including massive urbanization, population growth, etc. Certainly family issues are a cause, but when you have 300M people and 200M guns, it doesn’t take much to allow anyone with a gripe to do unspeakable harm.

    The 2nd is obsolete and no contemporary theorist has been able to justify its existence, save some paranoid ramblings about black helicopters, etc. It’s time to repeal it.

Eych omrim “horsefeathers”? The guy bought 6000 rounds of ammo over the internet. Can you do that in Israel? I totally agree with Moshan about the culture of violence, but at the same time, assault weapons are not needed to protect our 2nd amendment rights. By the way, those rights have been re-interpreted over the ages. Originally they related to the formation of a well-regulated militia, not to individuals. Our current gun culture is a direct outgrowth of the post Civil War era when everybody had a gun, everybody had suffered through years of terrible war and the west was still lawless (as we pushed Native Americans out of their homelands). America needs rational gun control, not unfettered gun libertarianism – just like every other nation on earth, with the exception of our shoot ‘em up Wild West America.

    lenny46 says:

    There has been no reinterpretations of the 2nd Amndt. It stands so that America can raise a militia in case of attack by anybody. What exactly is an “assault rifle”?
    It is nothing more than a regular semi-automatic firearm. It can kill you with one shot, the same as any other weapon (Knife, bat, rock, or even a fist). Your argument holds no water, and is counter intuitive to lowering crime rates.

      Patriot493 says:

      “What exactly is an ‘assault rifle?'”

      Good question! According to Romney (2004):
      “These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

How about all of the above- ban guns, improve mental health facilities, humanize the drug laws, etc. None of these is mutually exclusive. I’m surprised that Liel Leibowitz’ poorly thought out argument was published. He could do better.

    Hershl says:

    Unfortunately, like many who have drunk the NRA koolade, he can’t do better.

meqmac says:

What is it about Americans that they just don’t get it about guns? Over here in the UK, we have always had strict (and now stricter) gun control laws. And in my lifetime (I’m 63) I can only recall a single mass killing, the shootings at Dunblane. We have lone gunmen from time to time, but seldom with more than one victim. The US has vastly more one-victim shootings and vastly more massacres. Add it together. Strict control of guns pays off. It is pure stupidity to argue that gun control is not the answer. Why isn’t that obvious?

41953 says:

Keeping a weapon in your house for self-defense is one thing. It is more likely than not that such weapon will be used in a fit of rage against a family member, but that is still a matter of choice.
Hunting for game is a legitimate sport and is already regulated.
But amassing arnenals of weapons and ammunition is another. How can a civilized society allow it? What legitimate purpose does it serve? How can anybody in their right mind defend this?
Making it illegal to purchase weapons arsenals, assault weapons, large amounts of ammunition etc. would not eliminate mass shootings, but would it certainly reduce reduce their occurance.
Fear of arrest, prosecution and jail time is certainly a deterrent to crime.
For a psychopath perhaps not, but that is where good law enforcement comes in. Such people could be stopped before they acquire the weapons.

Adam Herbst says:

Compare the murder statistics in our country with that of countries where guns are either banned or more tightly controlled – we have far more murders. In the US, we study blood splatter as part of studying a crime scene – in other countries they don’t bother because there isn’t enough splatter because there aren’t enough guns. The US has more guns than cars. Why not just regulate them as much as cars?

PhillipNagle says:

Have you ever noticed that these politicians and celebraties who advocate banning guns from the public travel with armed body guards. I guess their attitude is that only the rich and influencial deserve to protect themselves.

    Or, perhaps, they’re targets, unlike the rest of us. If you have to have a gun when you’re traveling around your own country then you’re not free. The 2nd is making us LESS safe

      PhillipNagle says:

      Or perhaps they don’t care about anyone but themselves. They’re safe, screw the public.

I don’t see the logic here. One need only plot the number of guns vs homicides and the relationship becomes robustly clear: easy availability of guns makes it easy to commit 9484 homicides and the occasional mass murder. The evidence is clear. The US, the most heavily armed nation on earth, has the highest homicide rate, by a factor of SEVEN compared to the OECD average. Banning guns isn’t the answer because of bombs? Then why aren’t people building bombs in other countries where guns are controlled?

I’m a chemical engineer. Building a bomb is no trivial task and it’s likely to bring you to the attention of people who would ask questions. Banning guns would do the same. But we’ve made it SO easy to commit murder that it’s a casual exercise. Guns are as available as a bottle of water. The US has over 200M guns. It’s preposterous to pretend this has no effect on the murder rate.

As to mental health, well the same folks who are making it easy to buy guns are fighting tooth and nail to ensure we have no national healthcare policy. They’ve got it both ways: lots of guns and no mental healthcare. Go figure.

The 2nd amendment was useful 220 years ago, but so was the Conestoga wagon. Both are technologies of their time. Neither is useful in today’s industrialized, urbanized, high population density society. It’s time to repeal the 2nd.

Marilyn Krone says:

We can offer nothing but prayers? Misguided interpretations of religion? Maybe misguided interpretations of the second amendment if you think banning assaults weapons is against our constitution. Really? Should we not instead ban assault weapons and still help the mental health, consider legalizing less harmless drugs and pray if you wish etc.

Lloyd Fruchtman says:

Very thoughtful, thank you. Mental health access would help, but one has to decide to take advantage of it, and that seems like it would be a stretch in this, and similar cases. We should think about making it a crime with very substantial penalties, to publicize the name of any individual involved in this type of activity, as some responsible journalists have done (Anderson Cooper, Mike Huckabee). If another motivation for such crimes was removed (as it would be with drug legalization) then we might see a decline. This abhorrent behavior won’t go away until it evolves out of human nature, which is going to take at least a few dozen generations. Consider these two tables: the first is per capita gun ownership in the world, and the second per capita homicide rates. There is no correlation. These are unconnected information sources. (shortened with

    More people would take advantage of it if it were more freely available and if there were not such a stigma attached to asking for the help.

Bravo, Liel. I agree that our nation’s continuous denial of the power of mental illness is one of the reasons for so much violence. I also find it fascinating that most of the comments to your piece so far address gun control and not the true subject you wrote about. Hence, the problem. It’s easier to discuss guns than the truth: patients and their victims are dying of shame.

Great! Let’s lock everyone up in institutions until we can certify that we can all be trusted with guns or until we all have sufficient psychiatric care to resolve the mental and emotional issues that feed our demand to shoot.

Of course we should improve mental health care and treatment in this country, but in the meantime let’s confiscate the guns and melt them into ploughshares. As a first step let’s once again assault weapons. Yes there are ways to get illegal guns .. But let’s make it difficult.

Thr comparison with other countries with other countries with entirely different cultures relevant to guns is irrelevant.

Aren’t you the fellow who not that long ago waxed enthusiastically that a lot more American Jews should own guns, that Jewish summer camps and Jewish educational institutions – Hebrew Schools and Jewish day schools – should incorporate education on how to use and shoot guns, etc.? I may be paraphrasing your argument poorly – best read in its entirety here: – but it seems to me that your bias in this regard colors your analysis above quite significantly. As to your statement about “our national newspapers, politicians, and religious movements” being “ready with their requisite illogic: Guns did it, guns are bad, guns must go,” I think you are simplifying more than is warranted. No, most newspapers, politicians and religious movements [sic] understand that a deranged individual “did it,” but they also understand that the relative ease by which such people have access to weapons more powerful than simple handguns is not at all helpful.

    liel_leibovitz says:

    Mr. Lebowitz,
    I make no secret of my stand concerning firearms. I am a gun enthusiast, and believe the right to own them — whichever sort, and as many as I want — should go unfettered. But that does not preclude me from observing that the call to ban guns, made loudly and vociferously in the aftermath of Aurora, is deeply misguided. The purpose of this article was two-fold: to disprove the idea that gun control could have somehow prevented this tragedy, and to offer obvious measures that might have had accomplished just that.
    Thank you for your note,

Hershl says:

Those who choose to purchase assault rifles and other such devices meant to kill humans are not doing it to hunt deer and pheasant.

These weapons must be limited to those who provide the police with proof that they need them for a legitimate use which will not include self-defense.

The revulsion that is coming from the mass murders perpetrated by gun enthusiasts will do more than anything to bring major gun reform than anything else.

This is both a generational ( younger more anti-gun) and regional ( urban more anti-gun) than anything.

The time is coming when the second amendment will be understood in a way that protects the majority of our citizens and reigns in the insanity and criminality of the NRA and its goons.

Real men don’t need assault weapons.

Even if you accept the absurd conclusion that the Constitution guarantees the right of anyone to own as many weapons as he or she wants, you have to accept that there are limits to this “right.” It excludes tanks, missiles, weapons of mass destruction. Where one draws the line is therefore arbitrary. It is perfectly reasonable to agree that the Constitution is speaking only of the kinds of arms available at the time of its writing–rifles, muskets, etc. Clips that hold 100 bullets were never imagined by Thomas Jefferson nor may we assume that he’d sanction such a thing.

    Marilyn Krone says:

    Agree! Ban assault weapons and have a system reporting abuses of purchasing many guns and ammunition. Is that too much to ask?

If honest people had weapons in theater it would have saved lives
states that where honest citizen can carry a gun have less gun violence. Look at state of Illinois good old nonviolent democratic Chicago and look at Texas I will take Texas any day over Illinois

    jcarpenter says:

    so you have a weapon in a public place—and so does a dozen other people—how do you sort out who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy? You don’t, and everyone starts blazing away, and unless someone get’s the bad guy immediately, there’s mass chaos and just as many if not more killed and wounded.

Liel is right – we need to arm all theater patrons and everyone else who goes into a public space; and don’t forget to use the correct ammo loaders; I mean, Liel likes guns and he wants guns, so guns need to remain available and plentiful.

Most of the gun-killed are low-value black and brown kids. And such kids are being produced faster than guns are killing them, so there isn’t any real problem.


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Banning Guns Isn’t the Answer

Stricter gun-control laws won’t prevent the next mass shooting, but better mental-health policies might

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