Editorial: A solution to mass shootings

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

The Aaron Alexis story is depressingly familiar. Someone with mental problems has a few run-ins with the law, reaches out for help, doesn’t get help, or not enough help. Twelve people (13, if you want to look at Alexis as a victim as well) pay with their lives. Next time, it could be you or me.

Americans used to be all about getting the impossible done. The transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal, landing on the moon, defeating fascism — they all appeared to be daunting, but our forefathers and foremothers did not take no for an answer and showed the world we were a people who achieved, dammit.

But we can’t seem to lick this mass shootings thing. Not because it is beyond our ability, but because we don’t seem to want to. Or more precisely, we as a collective society aren’t willing to take some radical steps to change our relationship to guns so as to more effectively keep them away from the mentally ill.


Clearly, the resistance to any sort of enhanced gun control is nothing short of fanatical. If 20 dead kids and six dead teachers shot up in an elementary school can’t even get a boost in background checks through Congress, I feel safe in saying that resistance is in fact fanatical. Fine, then. Handle the problem from the other end. (Caveat: If you are the kind of person who thinks government is too big as it is, just stop reading now. The plan presupposes some kind of belief that we as a people can positively influence life in our own country through our own republic.) I propose a massive program to conscript, train and deploy tens of thousands of mental health workers all over the country. They will be tasked with the mission of monitoring, detecting and intervening on any and all people exhibiting signs of gun-related violence, getting them the help they need before, not after, they melt down and open fire.

Conscript? Are you mad, Dan? No. This is a national emergency, this mass-shooting plague, and needs to be treated as such. Look at it this way: If every other month or so, some kind of terrorist attack killed anywhere from one to a dozen or more people, we’d be invading everywhere from Syria to Iran to Pakistan, and the kinds of things we imposed on Japanese Americans in World War II would be on the table for Muslim Americans, if not already happening. So, yeah, it’s an emergency.

Under this plan, all non-mentally ill adults will be administered aptitude tests and if they score high enough, they will be inducted into the National Mental Health Corps and given adequate training to do their job. (Five-year hitch oughtta be enough.) An appropriate infrastructure will have to be built, but perhaps money can be saved here by utilizing vacant office space for the National Therapy Centers, which will stretch from sea to shining sea.

But, how in the name of Sigmund Freud are we to pay for this? I propose a whole new range of taxes, starting with a new $1-a-round tax on all forms of lethal ammunition. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 10-12 billion rounds of ammo are manufactured each year in the U.S., with billions more imported. As we know, ammunition is flying off the shelves because of the constant fear that Obama is taking the guns away, so we can expect probably $15 billion a year from that tax alone. Then add in a $100 tax on all gun sales, new and used, and a 10 percent sales tax on first-person-shooter videogames — Grand Theft Auto 5 generated $800 million in sales in its first 24 hours of release, so you know there’s a lot of money there — and you start to have the kind of budget you need to really tackle this problem. So conservatives won’t feel especially vilified, there should be some taxes on things liberals like too. Maybe a $5 admission fee to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or having to pay a buck for each viewing of the Daily Show or Colbert Report, or perhaps a $500-per-car tax on new Subarus and hybrids of any make. We can refine this idea as we go.

Sound crazy, all of this? Tell me — is it more crazy or less crazy than throwing up our hands and accepting random, senseless massacres as a regrettable, but unstoppable, part of American life?

There are 5 comments

  1. Derek

    Tragic as they are, “mass shootings” are a statistical rounding error in the national homicide rate.

    Why on earth should we sacrifice our hard won civil rights to make not even a dent in the problem of violence in this country?

    Blunt objects, knives and body parts are responsible (individually, not even collectively) for more killings than ALL rifles (let alone the subset of evil nasty so-called “assault rifles” that has the left outraged on a regular basis). Why aren’t you calling for the tax you want to implement to be inflicted on those who are doing *real* harm to society? The people who buy baseball bats, knives, and who have fists and feet?

  2. TS

    That is such a simplistic way of thinking about it. Really? Do you really, really think a mass killing could be accomplished by someone branding, say.. a baseball bat? A knife? Do you realize how ridiculous that premise is? Our hard won civil rights.. give me a f’in break. When I think of “hard won civil rights”… I don’t think of the right to bear arms. I think of ..hmmm…the right to vote no matter what color or sex, the right NOT to be considered someone’s chattel, things like that. The Constitution has to be a living document, something that adapts.. otherwise, let’s see…where would we be right now? Oh yeah. I wouldn’t be able to vote. And YOU could own another human being. See how that works. So very tired of this simple mindedness and simplistic view of, “the Constitution says I can have a weapon and ammunition capable of taking out scores of people at once.” B’shit.. do you really, really believe that if our forefathers were around they would stand by that premise after considering the technology available now? If you do, you are a fool. “The Constitution says I can” … hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.

    1. Derek

      I think that — statistically — more people are killed with knives, blunt objects and people’s hands-and-feet (1694, 496, and 726 respectively) than with ANY type of rifle (323).

      If you’re discounting everyone who died in the Revolutionary War — a war that literally got its start when the British tried to take our powder supplies at Lexington and Concord — then you need a history lesson, badly.

      If you want the Constitution to adapt to allow you to infringe on people’s right to keep and bear arms, then do it — ADAPT the Constitution. Amend it, like it was amended to free the slaves and give everyone the right to vote… Article V explains the process in excruciating detail. But I warn you not to hold your breath waiting for 3/4 of the states to ratify your change.

  3. endrun

    As usual, you mindlessly bandy about the term “the mentally ill” as the given premise Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz insisted it was not to be accepted as such. From there anyone can proceed to any policy proposal. As such you are a hopeless extremist liberal stuck in this notion, which is inexplicably inconsistent with anti-corporatist views, by the way, because all of those who benefit the most from this exploitation of the masses in the mental illness system(which is what it is because by definition it is defined as a hopeless condition out of which not only can you not recover, but the system will never designate you as having recovered). Leaving that “small” item aside, let’s consider for a moment if anger or stress has anything to do with being human–oh, I mean one can be angry at anything–high taxes, your boss, your spouse, or your significant other, or your auto mechanic to parse a rather good example of a scenario which may elicit such an emotion. (In other words, and I know this is anathema to the press especially in the most political state in the nation where politics seems to be involved in relatively trivial matters such as coughs and sneezes, it does not have to be a conjured up scenario in which someone who is disgruntled at an elected official is then accused of wanting that person dead–absent any in depth reporting on background on such, and absent reportage on the threats that person made which reflected poorly upon that person–you know, and that is all aside from anyone throwing a drink in anyone’s face as well). Now we come to the basic fact of the matter, stripped of all unnecessary baggage, of the fact there are too many guns, too much ammo, too much stress generally in modern life, and too much carnage as a result, measured against the incessant stupidity of the cries over the 2nd amendment(which history is that it was to be a mechanism of buttress only against a relatively runaway government, which it cannot be today with the feds having nuclear weapons, tanks, etc. as was on display in a place called Waco). To implement the task and desire of the second amendment today would necessitate the construction of a citizen militia which is also given nuclear weaponry. Period. Anyone who argues otherwise does not understand the history there. And of course we ignore all the remaining Bill of Rights, and the industry most responsible for that fact is–yup, you guessed it–the mental illness industry. While so called liberals like Chuck Schumer were appointing Federal judges like Mae D-Agostino of the Northern District of NY on the basis of “well let’s have a female judge here shall we?”, he forgot to analyze that Judge D-Agostino came from working on behalf of the hospital industry–and so our chances of having any civil rights affirmed by her would naturally be below par(which is exactly what I found to be the case, I have the papers to prove it!!). So, honestly, Dan Barton going on about “the mentally ill” is simply much more crazy-making in our society. We already had the Jews to do this for us, such as Woody Allen, and all Manhattanites, Queensites, Brooklynites, and Bronxites to parrot his incessant “Mishegaas”–not to mention the Woodstockites–yet another if more localized breed of crazy-makers-on-perennial-display-as-such. We could do so much better if we got Mel Brooks who, as the two thousand year old man who appeared on an episode of “Jeopardy” with Art Fleming in the early 1970’s, to explain to us that history repeats itself and the history of the world whatever part—is exactly the same in many respects as any other part. Or, in this case, simply a remake of his film “Blazing Saddles”, in which he tackles the issue of bigotry, and here, instead, decides to branch out this time to tackle the issue of crazy-making, by playing himself: “I’ve been around for two thousand years and I say let’s let in the “[Editor’s note: poster had a racial epithet here and in several other places below, which I have redacted]”, the “Irish”, The “[racial epithet]”, The “[racial epithet]”, The “[racial epithet]”,The “[racial epithet]”, The “[racial epithet]”, The “[racial epithet]”, and even The “[racial epithet]”–but no “mentally ill”!!!”

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