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Mass shootings: An American security crisis

By Cameron Grieves

The Arts and Ideas Committee hosted a special discussion on mass shootings as part of its “Duty and Disobedience” series on Oct. 26.

The talk, “Treating Mass Shootings for What They Really Are: Threats to American Security,” was presented by professor Joseph Coelho of the political science department and featured Louis Klarevas.

Klarevas, author of “Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings,” sought to defend his view that mass shootings constitute the deadliest security threat in America today.

A mass shooting may fall into one of three categories – nonfatal (meaning four or more people shot with no deaths), fatal (meaning at least one person died from a gunshot wound) and high fatality (meaning more than five people died from gunshot wounds), Klarevas said.

“This is not a new phenomenon in American society. I can think of cases from the early 1900s where a soldier returning from World War I or the Spanish American War, who might have been suffering from what we now call PTSD, went on a rampage and killed nine people with a shotgun,” Klarevas said.

However, the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings have increased over the past few decades – the past decade alone accounting for a third of all mass shootings in the past 50 years, Klarevas said.

The past decade has also seen 40 percent of deaths from mass shootings, meaning the likelihood of being killed in a mass shooting has increased exponentially in recent years. Which begs the question, according to Klarevas – who goes on mass killing sprees and why?

There are three steps in the process of mass murder that an individual must attain, according to Klarevas – predisposition, provocation and priming, which he refers to as the “3P Framework.”

Those who are predisposed to go on mass shooting sprees tend to be men of working age with mental health issues, Klarevas said.

In fact, all gun massacre perpetrators have been of working age (between 16 and 64), and

overwhelmingly male. Out of 128 cases he studied, 122 perpetrators were men and only six were women, with just one of those women acting alone, Klarevas said.

Now that our perps have been prepped, they must also be provoked. Ego threats against those with unstable yet high self-esteem are most attributable to mass shootings, according to Klarevas.

In his book, Klarevas references a psychological study known as the “Noise Punishment Experiment.” In it, subjects who were surveyed to have both high and unstable self-esteem were the only ones who were eager to punish their fellow test subjects when a threat to their ego had been perceivably made – in this case, being told the other person had graded them poorly on an essay they were required to write ahead of time.

Mass murder is largely premeditated. People rarely just snap and go on killing sprees – first they acquire weapons, practice their use of force, survey targets and leave some sort of communiqué on their motives, according to Klarevas.

This access to and use of guns mentally primes the perpetrator to commit mass murder – in other words, “The gun helps pull the trigger,” Klarevas said.

There is also a biological component, known as the “weapons effect.” Testosterone spikes in the presence of weapons, and increased testosterone leads to increased acts of aggression. As long as an object can be perceived as a weapon, this sort of mental priming can take place, Klarevas said.

James Holmes, the perpetrator of the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado is an example of one such person that Klarevas sees as being primed by the presence of firearms.

Holmes bought a gun for self-defense, but the weapon primed him for a more sinister purpose. Holmes claimed he began to see the gun as an opportunity to get rid of “those despicable humans,” in an interview with police after the shooting, Klarevas said.

The high availability of guns in the United States, coupled with the other factors present in the 3P Framework, makes the potential for mass killings by firearm the most significant security threat to the country, Klarevas said.

Not only are guns plentiful in the United States, but they are also more dangerous due to being largely unregulated. The increase in the deadliness of firearms directly correlates with a lack of regulatory government responses to mass shootings, according to Klarevas.

One way in which guns have become deadlier is in the use of LCMs or “large capacity magazines,” Klarevas said.

“About half of mass shootings involve large capacity magazines and you can see the difference in the death toll. The average gun massacre that didn’t involve large capacity magazines killed 7.1 people. Those that involved large capacity magazines killed 11 people – that’s an increase in death rate of 55 percent,” Klarevas said.

Between 1994 and 1998, there was a significant lack of gun massacres. Klarevas attributes this to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which went into effect for 10 years but failed to be renewed under the Bush administration.

When legislation is passed that controls dangerous aspects of a weapon, deaths caused by the use of that weapon decrease significantly like in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. These events caused significant legislative change surrounding the use of materials in the making of weapons-grade explosives and airport security, but when it comes to guns, Americans have yet to pass any such meaningful restrictions, Klarevas said.

“There have been zero mass-fatality bombings in the United States since Oklahoma City because the United States implemented regulations to stop them. You could bring box cutters onto planes before 9/11, nowadays, forget it. ... But we still have mass-fatality killings in America, and they’re all done using the same thing – a firearm,” Klarevas said.

“If you want to know what the most significant national security threat to the United States is right now – it comes out of the barrel of a gun.”


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