Monday, February 19, 2018

Gun Control? No. People Control? No. Tragedy Control? YES.

I've been getting a lot of mileage out of this post in the past week. I can't claim credit for it; my friend Matthew House came up with the concept. I only prettied up the words and have been posting it wherever it's relevant. 

In any crime, there are three components: Means, Motive, and Opportunity. In this case, the crime we are discussing is mass murder.
  • The Means could be anything from guns to bombs to poison gas to fire to running people over with a truck.
  • The Motive is complex, mostly non-rational, and very emotional: pain, hate, fear, isolation.
  • The Opportunity is access to an undefended area full of people.

Only looking to restrict or control guns is to only pay attention to a single Means of mass murder. This isn't productive, as the number of means of killing people is only limited by the human imagination: guns, knives, poison gas, fire, running people over with a truck. The Boston Bombers used a kitchen appliance, yet we can all agree that implementing controls on pressure cookers is a terrible idea.

Motive is also a tough one. Sure, there are the usual terrorists and people out for revenge, but there are also the mentally disturbed people who don't have a real motive; the voices in their heads just told them to do it. Then there are the spree shooters, of whom we can say that most, if not all, of them suffered from a profound sense of disconnection and isolation from society. A half-dozen psych papers could be written about this and it would barely scratch the surface. The sheer variety and complexity of motives is what makes this factor difficult to account for.

So, the only component we can work on with any certainty of success is Opportunity. We need to deny the shooter the opportunity to kill his victims. In this most recent occurrence of mass murder, we need to find ways to deny murderers access to our children, and we do that by securing our schools against violence in the same way that we secure them against fire: not by declaring the school a fire-free zone, or by passing regulations against matches and gasoline, but by designing the layout to prevent tragedy.

We need to make it harder for killers to get to our children. I guarantee you every gun owner in the country will be all for that.

Now I don't have any specific suggestions on how to harden our schools*, because I'm neither an architect nor a security expert, but I know there are people out there who are these things and who can make our schools secure without turning them into prisons. We just need to stop worrying about the means and the motives of these tragedies and instead concentrate on preventing the opportunity for them to happen.

* I like the ideas of bullet-resistant windows and classroom doors which are both armored and lockable, but there may be reasons why those are not feasible for schools.

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