Firearms and Evil by David Montgomery

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School shootings are a moral problem, that cannot be solved by campaigning against firearms. These atrocities must be recognized for what they are – instances of evil that are becoming more common in our secular, individualistic society.

Instead of facing the problem of evil, elected officials and political activists are exploiting mass shootings to push for phony solutions that fit their social agendas. This should infuriate everyone sincerely concerned about the past, present and future victims – and perpetrators.

For example, a bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate (Senate Bill 1062) to criminalize the possession of magazines that allow a firearm to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. It is already illegal to buy or sell such magazines in Maryland, even though they are readily available in other states and were legal before Governor O’Malley pushed that legislation through. As a result many recreational shooters and hunters already own magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges. They are compatible with a number of rifles and pistols that are legal to purchase in Maryland, and some that are legal to own but may no longer be sold here.

The proposed legislation would make current owners of such magazines subject to as much as 3 years in prison. That is a more disruptive form of gun control than ever before attempted in Maryland, and it would do nothing to prevent mass shootings.

Nibbling away at the Second Amendment is a cause that many progressives support, and setting a precedent for confiscation of parts of firearms from their current owners is high on their list of milestones. The Florida shooting appears to have given those activists an incentive to give it a try.

But criminalizing possession of high-capacity magazines in Maryland cannot possible reduce the likelihood or magnitude of mass shootings – let alone the other ways that evil men find to inflict harm on others. If a young man in Easton or Frederick or Bowie wanted to open fire on a school, it would take him less than two hours to drive to a state where purchase of higher-capacity magazines is perfectly legal. Intending to commit a crime of far greater proportions, he would hardly be deterred by the illegality of possessing it on his way to mass murder.

As many have already pointed out, existing law was quite sufficient to prohibit the Florida shooter from purchasing any firearm, if law enforcement had followed existing rules. That was also the case in many past shootings. But better enforcement and further tightening of restrictions on legal firearms purchases will have little effect as long as an even shorter drive puts a would-be shooter in a neighborhood full of illegal firearms for sale. As terrorist attacks in Europe demonstrate, cars and knives are also effective instruments for killing when firearms not available.

The introduction of bills like Senate Bill 1062 is an outrage not because of their potential effects on law-abiding gun owners, but because it will produce only wasted effort devoted to the wrong questions, no matter how it turns out.

That is because the evil that leads to school shootings is in the individual, and we can see how it arises. All the school shootings were perpetrated by loners, social outcasts, from broken homes, who were subverted by some evil ideology or philosophy. One writer points out that “Shooters have problems at school, family issues, violent behavior, and police encounters. They take medications, lack communication skills and show strange, unpredictable behavior. They indulge in violent video games and send disturbing messages through social media.”

These shooters did not become entranced with killing because they stumbled across a firearm; they searched out a firearm to carry out an evil intention fully formed without any reference to how it would be accomplished.

None of the mass murderers grew up going to church every Sunday with their parents. None had supportive families that showed their love, taught the difference between right and wrong, and brought their children up to believe in a higher power. None attended schools that included moral and spiritual development in their teaching, nor has there been a mass shooting at that type of school.

Those clamoring for action to prevent future mass shootings seem unable to recognize this. When they take a break from blaming firearms, the liberal media repeat that “the red flags were all there” to identify the Florida shooter, and then call for law enforcement to take preventative measures, advocate more social programs for disturbed youth, and demand tighter surveillance of social media. Unfortunately, all of those suggestions amount to looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack of disturbed youth who would be turned up by such profiling.

In all this, the fingerprint of liberal society becomes clear. The shooters are but one or two in a far larger number who fit the profile of an isolated and disturbed youth, yet most remain relatively harmless. All of them are nonetheless damaged by growing up without bonds of love or trust in anything good that is greater than themselves. Thus they become prey to the external evil of neo-Nazi and similar creeds and the internal evil of wishing for their own death accompanied by the deaths of others for whom they can feel no empathy.

Many of us see this as a logical consequence of liberal society. All around, liberalism is driving faith out of the public square and inculcating in its place a belief that nothing matters but an individual’s desires and feelings. Society is then not a community in which stable and permanent relationships (earthly and heavenly) give meaning to life but a place where isolated individuals pursue their own satisfaction.

For those children lacking a permanent community and belief in a power greater than themselves, the social group in school or neighborhood may seem a solution. But that simply makes the pain and isolation of being excluded from such an apparent source of meaning more intense. And exclusion does occur, because none of the members of the group see it as a community, but rather a playground for their own desires.

No wonder some succumb to a sense of loneliness so great that they only desire to kill and die. Firearms do not create that feeling, nor would some minor annoyances in obtaining firearms be sufficient to deter the very few who do become killers.

There are communities within this liberal realm of radical individualism that do provide the kind of upbringing and hope that give a child a reason to do good and avoid evil. They are almost all centered around churches, and despite all the attempts of liberalism to marginalize faith-based communities, they are saving their children from the evils of nihilism and despair. That is why it is worth continuing the battle to restore a core of faith to American democracy. And it is the only proven way to save as many as possible from the fate of the victims and the shooter in Florida.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Letters to Editor

  1. David Lloyd says:

    Mr. Montgomery, you should be ashamed of yourself. Did the NRA write this for you?

  2. Rod Coleman says:

    These columns used to bother me for their utterly dreadful lack of insight. I’ve gotten over that. I’ve come to believe Mr Montgomery either (a) lives in St Petersburg and works for the IRA or (b) is hoping to get a second career working for InfoWars. Of course it’s entirely possible those are one and the same.

  3. A letter with discretion and food for thought. Well written Mr. Montgomery.

  4. “Logical consequence of a liberal society?” Waving seductive tax cuts, the Republican Revolution has ushered in an era of increased levels of Republican leadership accompanied by the industrialized world’s highest level of income disparity. Families are healthier with Democratic leadership.
    If we truly want healthy, functioning families, we will reduce our level of income disparity and promote a society of, by and for the People – not of, by, and for Money. Citizens United must go, for starters.
    So let’s get started.

  5. Doug Jurrius says:

    David, I would have to strongly dispute your assertion that gun violence can be laid at the feet of a “liberal society”. It is convenient to find a single scapegoat, but rarely accurate. And the data doesn’t match your assertion either. Compared to Canada, Britain, France & Germany we are a very faith-based society. The percentage of citizens regularly attending service is between 75% and 250% greater than in those countries. Most of those countries would be considered wildly more liberal by the definition you seem to imply. And yet gun violence is a uniquely American tragedy. Where we are distinctly different than those societies is our lack of any reasonable strategy for gun management. You have made no case for why you feel large capacity magazines have legitimate place in civilian society (if you haven’t hit that deer by the 3rd shot, you probably aren’t going to), whereas there is quite a bit of evidence to support the idea that by reducing the speed at which a shooter can kill others results in saving lives. This can come in the form of removing guns that have the ability to, or be modified to, fire quickly. It can also be done by making it difficult to obtain large capacity clips. Guns are clearly just a tool, but a deadly one. Eliminating the extreme versions, those that you never saw in your grandfather’s gun cabinet, is a small price to pay to reduce the epidemic of death we have visited upon ourselves. I don’t expect that guns are the only thing we need to address. Mental health, portrayal of violence in movies & TV, and finding a means to proactively (and within the 1st amendment) intercede with those at great risk of committing heinous acts, are all things to consider. But just as we do when faced with any complicated and difficult challenge, we break it down and start looking at which changes can we make first that will have the largest impact with the least cost. I am certainly willing to give up my “right” to bear a weapon equipped in such a way as to cause maximum harm if it saves even one child’s life. And in the meantime my friends will still laugh at what a lousy shot i am while we all enjoy the experience of goose and deer hunting on the Eastern Shore.

    • Doug
      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I did not intend to get into a debate about whether high capacity magazines or semiautomatic rifles are useful, and leave that to others. I am convinced, as a recent Institute of Justice study concluded, that past bans have had no effect and that is what matters. But my real reason for this reply is to point out a comment on my article in the Chestertown Spy that addresses your claim that Europe has had no mass shootings. They have, and the worst of all was in Norway not the US. The editor should think about merging comments across the Spies. Generally those from Chestertown are more amusing and a shame for Talbot readers to miss.

      • Deirdre LaMotte says:

        How clever of you, Mr. Montgomery. We in Chestertown are glad you find our comments “amusing” ; as you know, we have often referred to you that way.

      • Doug Jurrius says:

        David please try and be an honest broker. Europe had only 17 episodes of school shootings in over 20 years, the worst of which was 17 killed. We had more in just 2016. And they have twice our population. As to the National Institute of Justice, that is NOT AT ALL what they say, though to be fair, it IS what they say, but only if you selectively black out words in their statements. Here is the verbatim text on their website:

        “Initially, firearms violence intervention and research focused on either reducing the demand for illegally obtained guns or reducing the supply. More than 20 years of intervention programs, however, have shown that a single approach is not likely to work. To reduce gun violence, a sustained program that addresses both demand and supply is needed. A successful intervention will have elements of federal-local law enforcement collaboration, community involvement, targeted intervention tactics and continuous program evaluation.”

        Very different from your misquote, yes? I realize it is far more profitable for commentators to take extreme views, but those of us who enjoy the Spy are really looking for an objective, nuanced, and thoughtful piece that doesn’t pander, or seek to demonize. Something that makes us think, and doesn’t embarrass us to quote from by being so easily refuted. I think we would all appreciate it if you would use your obvious intellect to provide that. I promise I will still read you even if you are “only” a seeker of truth. 😉

  6. Willard Engelskirchen says:

    I have not read anything quite this pompous in a very long time. If this is what conservatives have come to, there is not much hope for a bankrupt philosophy .

  7. stephen slack says:

    Good article! Gun control won’t cure human behavior. To those who disagree with Mr. Montgomery’s comments, please tell me how it will?
    Why do we keep looking to more legislation to correct wrongs which go far deeper than surface solutions? I am encouraged by student involvement with this issue. Maybe they can include the myriad issues which are causing this evil, not just the tools which are used to carry it out. BTW, I have to issue with some of the gun control issues. Just that they will NOT solve the problem!

  8. Richard Libby says:

    Excellent article…too bad we won’t see it in the Washington Post.

  9. Kevin Bookman says:

    150 opioid related deaths per day (per CDC).
    3000 teens killed per year while texting and driving (11 per day roughly per various resources – CDC, NSC)
    150k people die per year from diabetes (ADA)
    600k people die per year from heart disease (AHA)
    11k people die from drunk driving (FBI, CDC)
    9 people were shot and killed in Chicago this week (www.heyjackass.com)
    33 people were shot and wounded in Chicago this week (www.heyjackass.com)

    Heroin is illegal. Texting and driving is illegal. Eating snickers is not illegal – maybe it should be. Drinking and driving is illegal. Be intellectually honest if you’re going to bring frivolous and emotional illogical gun control talking points. Rather than lashing out at facts presented by DM, look to offering a viable solution to problems that exist elsewhere. Oh, right. Doesn’t fit the gun confiscation narrative. You’re not interested in solving opioid, diabetes, or texting deaths. Makes sense…..

    If guns were really a problem we’d look more like Somalia than we do the US. Stop comparing us to other countries. They don’t have a right to own and carry guns. They don’t have a Constitution and Bill of Rights. I lived in the EU for 1/4 of my life. Guns are banned there. Yet people still die there from gun homicides. Solve the black on black gang violence in Chicago (see above), Baltimore, DC, etc before you come and get my guns. Which haven’t killed anyone – because I care about humanity, not breaking the law, and my rights. All of them. Not just those that are convenient to cherry pick to fit your communist/socialist manifesto agenda. If my son hits your son with a stick, do you take it away? Do you ban just that one stick? Or do you ban all sticks? Do you ban all sticks so that no one can have one to play with? What if they need a stick to defend themself? Guess we all need to be victims according to your new world order. Are you so obtuse that if you think you confiscate my guns, criminals will give up their guns?

    You want to argue about magazine limits. Clearly you’ve never been in battle or confronted by people who want to rob you or take things from you. In some sad way I presume you magazine counters and gun grabbers love to be the victim. Sure, I don’t need a 20 round magazine to go deer hunting. But I do if my home or business is being broken into. Be honest to yourself and research why having larger magazines matter. Look at active shooter, police video, and youtube videos of businesses being robbed. You’re going to miss due to adrenaline. You don’t want fewer rounds, you want as many as you can hold. It’s simple math. But be honest about your counter argument. And while you’re being honest about gun control and the facts you need to bring back, please tell me how many people have been shot in MD with an AR15 or with a magazine greater than 10 by legal gun owners. I’ll wait……Ok. I can’t. The number is ZERO. “But we don’t want it to happen here.” No one does. But no one wants to die from heroin, texting, or drunk driving either. Which are also illegal and kill more people than guns. Let’s be honest and agree on that.

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