Can We Prevent Mass Shootings By Preventing Suicide? | FiveThirtyEight

Regular readers know that Ye Olde Blogge has a deep and abiding concern for gun violence. Guns provide the best of both worlds, murder and suicide, because they are so deadly. And, just for an added bit of fun, they make for dandy mass killing machines so we can all be entertained as much by the news as we are by our favorite movies and TV shows. After all, aren’t mass shootings riveting drama? They may not account for even a large percentage of annual gun-related deaths, but when they happen — and they happen every day — they are spectacular, especially the ones that make national news.

Many of these mass shootings are angry suicides

Unfortunately, for fans of mass shootings, they can’t compete with the multitude of shootings that don’t make the threshold of mass shootings. You know, the shootings that only kill one, two, or three people. Even with a mass shooting every day, they probably only average just over four killings a day, which means that they’ll never catch the 96 that are distributed over the one, two, or three killing shootings. See? It’s simple math.

Okay, but now here come some “researchers” — I KNOW, right? Like, what do “researchers” know that my own right good common sense what god give me honest lie don’t? — that give us this rich quote, “Many of these mass shootings are angry suicides, says James Densley, professor of criminal justice at Minnesota’s Metropolitan State University.” Yeah, you read it, now suicides and mass shootings are linked! Apparently, their “studies” of mass shooters suggest that many of them were suicidal and even botched an attempt or two before embarking on an elaborate suicide by cop plan.

Other researchers say the same things about school mass shooters and lone-wolf terrorists.

Their suggestion is that the so-called “red flag” laws might could stop some mass shootings, too. Apparently, states like Indiana and Connecticut that have red flag laws have seen dramatic drops in suicides by 7.5 and 13.7 per cent, respectively. Theoretically, if one of them sumbitches were inclined to mass shootings, when their guns were snatched from them to prevent their suicide, it prolly prevented the mass shooting as well.

Frequently, suicide is an impulsive event that takes place in the depth of crisis. Once the crisis passes, the person isn’t likely to commit suicide. In the parlance and lingo of those who know, means matter. Take away the means, you’re not likely to have a suicide. It turns out, like everything else, suicides like to use the tools that they are familiar and comfortable with. Nothing mucks up a good suicide like being stressed over how to do it, amirite?

While the article dithers over whether red flag laws are effective at preventing suicide but maybe violate personal liberty and maybe are sweeping up too many “innocent” people — after all, how do you prove prevention? — and laments that we aren’t likely to prevent all mass shootings and suicides even with red flag laws. And complains that red flag laws are still to “blunt” of an instrument to use in trying to address suicide and mass shootings — really, what the fuck Nate? — it does conclude that red flag laws can contribute to preventing both suicides and mass shootings. They give another tool for acting when someone is threatening to do the unspeakable.


Can We Prevent Mass Shootings By Preventing Suicide?

By Maggie Koerth-Baker 22 August 2019

Imagine a doctor who wanted to treat a broken leg with chemotherapy. Or treat cancer with a cast.

Just because cancer and broken legs are both things that happen to the body doesn’t mean they call for the same treatment. These are the kinds of issues policymakers face every day. Take gun violence. It feels like one big problem, but it’s actually a bunch of different problems that don’t necessarily have a single cause. So when somebody wants to, say, prevent mass shootings with a policy that originated as a suicide-prevention tool, it’s reasonable to have some questions about whether that makes any sense.

And that’s exactly what’s happening with “red flag laws,” the gun legislation model of the moment, which even many gun-control-averse Republicans have supported in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Studies have shown that state-level versions of these laws have been effective at preventing suicide. But can they actually address the separate issue of mass shootings? Surprisingly, experts think they could. And that’s because — just like a fragile, cracked bone could be a symptom of certain kinds of cancers — researchers are finding evidence that suicides and mass shootings can often be different expressions of the same problem.


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5 comments

  1. In America, it is the mass shooter. In other parts of the world, it is the Suicide Bomber. This can’t be a coincidence. They are the same (mostly) guys. It should also be noted that some percentage of mass shooters take their own lives rather than be captured.

    I have some experience with assessment of Danger To Self Or Others in the psychiatric context. I had the power (with the concurrence of Psychiatrists) to subject a person to involuntary hospitalization without adjudication until after the fact. It is hard, precisely because it is a prediction. A difference between that and most of the Red Flag Laws as I understand them is that the process I was in required a diagnosis of a “Treatable Mental Illness” (which excluded intoxication, dementia, delirium, brain injury, intellectual disability, and, of course, politics and religion) and the RFLs don’t. Still, removing means does matter, especially when someone is thinking to not go out alone. The other hugely consistent common factor among mass shooters (and shooters of just 1 or 2 others) is domestic violence history, but that IMO should preclude gun ownership ever and permanently.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Howdy Bob!
      One of the differences between the suicide bomber and the mass shooter is the recruitment. I’m no expert, so maybe I’m wrong, but my impression is that suicide bombers are explicitly recruited and groomed for their “job.” Mass shooters need no such support. They need a nudge and guns and ammo, all of which, in our current society, are all amply available. So, it is no wonder that we have on average one a day.

      However, I bet there are personality similarities between the type of person who is a mass shooter and the type that gets recruited as a suicide bomber. I figure one of them is authoritarian personality features. That’s interesting. It is too far afield from my knowledge base for me to get to before Christmas. I’ll need some sustained research and reading time to do it justice.

      The thing about taking someone’s guns is the same as curtailing any individual right. The state has to demonstrate a vested interest and a reasonable cause in this case. While we’re figuring out the balance, there are bound to be some mistakes. Unfortunately, in our highly partisan and argumentative atmosphere, any error is touted as a reason to get rid of the entire program. There will be no honest effort to balance the needs of the state with the needs of the individual.

      And, I agree. A history of violence domestic or otherwise, pretty much precludes any right to firearms.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree about the recruitment differences. The suicide bombing is much less of a DIY project and needs more of an active organization, especially an expert bomb maker. The authoritarian orientation, strong feelings of aggrieved loss, and certainty that “somebody has to do something” are common factors. There is little functional difference between the white supremacist’s “Race War” fantasy and the Jihadist’s “Final Battle” (which is identical to the Christian idea of the Apocalypse and Armageddon).

        The advantage of the Red Flag Laws over other schemes of gun control is that the action is defined a temporary, which somewhat mitigates the Slippery Slope arguments from the “No Regulation Of Guns, Ever” side.

        Liked by 1 person

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