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Self-Interested Heroes and Bureaucratic Screw-Ups

There was yet another American mass shooting on Sunday, this time at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville where a green-jacketed but otherwise naked man randomly fired shots from a semiautomatic rifle at the staff and customers. Four people were killed and two others were critically injured, but it could have been worse. This mass shooting featured a bona fide hero who limited the carnage, and the flaw in the system that allowed it to happen in the first place was quickly identified and might yet be corrected.
One of the customers was 29-year-old James Shaw Jr., who had passed up a more a crowded Waffle House to get a late-night meal with an old friend after a night of revelry. He instinctively dove for cover at the sound of the first shot fired. but when the shots briefly ceased for what he figured was either a gun jam or reloading some higher instinct caused the unarmed Shaw to leap at the gunman and wrestled the weapon from his hands. The gunman fled as soon as Shaw tossed the weapon behind the restaurant’s counter, with Shaw choosing not to give chase, and although a suspect has been identified he’s still on loose, but there’s no telling how many lives Shaw saved.
As is usually the case with bona fide heroes, Shaw insisted he wasn’t one. Although he was clearly relieved that lives had been spared by his action, he told bluntly told reporters that “I want everybody to know that I did that completely out of a selfish act. I was completely doing it just to save myself. I’m not a hero. I’m just a regular person, and I think anybody could have done what I did if they are pushed into that kind of cage. You have to either react of you’re going to fold, and I chose to react because I didn’t see any other way of living, and that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to live.”
Shaw further explained that “I kind of made up my mind, because there was no way to lock that door, that if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me.” Although he disavowed any heroic intent, he did describe himself as a college-educated AT&T employee and proud father of a four-year-old daughter, and said he considered himself “a pretty cool guy to be around.” He said he had no military or police training, other than his fights to get his daughter to bed on time, and attributed his actions to human nature.
Shaw’s disarming modesty — no pun intended — only enhances his heroism, as far as we’re concerned. The surviving Waffle House patrons have all expressed their heartfelt gratitude, including that longtime friend that Shaw freely admits he checked on only after the naked and unarmed gunman had run into into nearby woods, and the poor fellow will surely be overwhelmed today by the media’s interview requests and the nation’s admiration.
At least he won’t be made a political cause celebre, though, as he doesn’t fit the profile. The right’s argument about a good guy with a gun being the solution to a bad guy with a gun doesn’t apply here, as Shaw didn’t have a gun, yet Shaw’s admittedly self-interested heroism doesn’t fit well with the left’s arguments about anything. President Donald Trump recently boasted that even if unarmed he would have rushed into that mass shooting at a Florida high school that has reignited the gun debate, but it would be awkward for him to share a photo-op with a black man who’s obviously a pretty cool guy to be around and has more modestly demonstrated actual unarmed heroics, and if the left the tries to exploit that we expect this Shaw fellow will continue to insist he was just trying to his save his own black skin and try to get on with the rest of the life he so he richly deserves.
The suspected gunman has been identified as the same nutcase who had been arrested for an attempt last year to climb the White House gates in an attempt to meet with Trump to discuss something or other. The early news reports don’t make clear how those charges turned out, except that they did result in the confiscation of all the suspect’s guns and the revocation of his Illinois firearms license. Somehow or other the guns were eventually returned to the suspect’s father, who apparently returned them to his unlicensed son, and if not for a self-interested hero’s unlikely appearance it would have gone far worse. Another recent mass shooter had convictions for domestic abuse in military that would have prohibited him from owning a weapon if they had been reported to the civilian courts’ registers, and the kid who shot up that high school in Florida had promised to do so on Facebook and pretty much everyone who knew him didn’t doubt he’d actually do it, and that’s an all-too-common occurrence in these mass shootings.
We’re still steadfast defenders of the natural and constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but by now it’s clear that a few of our fellow citizens should be denied that right, just as a few of our fellow citizens are routinely and rightly denied other rights, and by now we’re getting better at identifying them, and we might yet start act accordingly and according to sensible laws.
In the meantime, we doff our caps to the self-interested but undeniably heroic Shaw, and wish the best for him and his four-year-old daughter.

— Bud Norman

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An Another Day, Another Mass Murder

America has a longstanding problem with troubled people committing mass murder, as you’ve probably noticed, and every time it happens there’s always plenty of political finger-pointing. This week alone featured the 17th school shooting of the year, as well as an accused serial bomber blowing himself up as the police attempted to arrest him, and both incidents provided plenty of fodder for partisans.
It’s not at all clear if the shootings Tuesday morning at Maryland’s Great Mills High School were intended to be another mass murder, as the first victim had an unhappy personal relationship with the shooter and the second victim  might well have been collateral damage, and the situation quickly ended when an armed security guard shot and killed the perpetrator. Neither of the first two shooting victims died, thank God, and although they suffered serious injuries they didn’t get the same notice as the victims of more record-setting shootings. The carnage was too relatively limited by recent standards to get a lot of national attention, but the obvious political implications provoked much comment on the right.
A tragic situation that might well have been far worse was halted by a good guy with a gun, and that does undeniably score a few points for the right in the ongoing debate about America’s every month or so problem with school shootings. The left’s position is that guns are the problem, the right’s response is that guns can be the solution, and in this case latter of the two seems to have the better argument. The idea of pistol-packing kindergarten teachers is as ridiculous as ever, but the right’s broader proposal to protect schools with the same armed attention as banks and sports arenas and other big businesses seems all the more reasonable.
The suspected serial-bomber who blew himself up down in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday provides better fodder for the left. He’s a fresh-faced 23-year-old white guy, and although he seems to have been tormented by peculiarly personal demons he had published opinions on the internet about ethnic and religious minorities and homosexuals that are by now associated with the right. All of his bombs were mailed to black or hispanic neighborhoods, too.
That guy who shot up the Republican softball practice last year was a self-proclaimed leftist Democrat, most mass shootings were apparently motivated by purely personal and nonpartisan reasons, and neither side of the political divide is immune to these once every month or so mass shootings America endures. Several mass shootings have been halted by good guys with guns, but in such record-setting circumstances as the Las Vegas massacre they were of no possible avail. In the case of that headline-grabbing mass shooting down in Florida, even the good guys with guns came up short.
Both the “Black Lives Matter” left and the Trumpian right have their unique complains with America’s law enforcement at the moment, for complicated reasons. So far the coppers are faring at least as well than we’d expect t0, though, and we think the problem lies somewhere in the peculiarly personal demons of the American soul. There must be some solution, be we don’t expect to find it on neither the right nor the left.

— Bud Norman

Another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

The horrific mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, which left at least 17 dead and at least another score injured, was the 18th school shooting in America in this young year by the American Broadcasting Company’s count. The Cable News Network counts it as only the 12th mass school shooting in the past month-and-a-half, but everyone seems to have lost count of how many there have been in the past few decades, not to mention all the mass shootings at gay night clubs and country-and-western concerts and post-game celebrations and other non-school events, and by now it’s almost numbingly routine.
Respectful mention must always be made, but it’s increasingly hard to think of anything new to say. At this point most of the media don’t bother to rerun all the familiar arguments for and against further gun control measures, or the similarly complicated arguments about dealing with the apparent pandemic of mental illness in America. One of the right wing talk radio talkers took a day off from blaming the “deep state” Democrats and Republicans for the whole “Russia thing” and instead railed against the bleeding heart public education types who don’t post armed guards in every school, which we have to admit is a reasonable suggestion, but the rest of the media coverage had a depressing feel of deja vu.
We have nothing new to say, just the same old heartfelt offer of thoughts and prayers. We well understand how insufficient and stale that sounds to an impatient secular society, but note that our impatient secular society has nothing more fresh and satisfying to offer. As long as we’re all at least talking about it, though, we’ll hold out prayerful hope that the conversation might lead us to some mutually agreed upon and at least slightly ameliorative solution to what everyone agrees is an intolerable problem.
The important thing is that we not come to regard it as normal and therefor tolerable. Human beings in general and Americans in particular have that unfortunate tendency. The left did it to the point that President Donald Trump was elected, now the the right is just as busily devoted to defining deviancy down, and the cynical center is more convinced than ever that both sides were a scam all along and there’s nothing to be done about it.. Which makes it hard to confront the uncomfortable but undeniable fact that an extraordinary and heartbreaking number of our nation’s  children get shot down in their schools by mid-February.

— Bud Norman

“Bump Stocks” Take a Dive

Every mass shooting incident is inevitably followed by a renewed push for stricter gun control laws, but so far none of them have brought about any significant policy changes. Sunday’s record-setting massacre in Las Vegas, though, seems likely to result in some sort of ban on something called a “bump stock.”
Despite the public’s natural instinct to do something to after a mass shooting, gun control advocates have been unable to come up with anything short of a total ban on private ownership that would have averted or mitigated the tragedy. A total  ban on private gun ownership would require two-thirds of the states ratifying a constitutional amendment to repeal the Second Amendment, which isn’t going to happen in any living American’s lifetime, followed by a nationwide confiscation program, and you don’t have to be paranoid about your gun-owning neighbors to foresee how that would wind up with a lot of guns being pried out of a lot of cold, dead fingers, so the proposals have mostly been limited to background checks and waiting periods and limits on the number of bullets in a magazine and bans on certain types of guns, along with other assorted tweaks. Background checks and waiting periods are already law, though, magazines can be so quickly replaced that limits are ineffective, and the deadliest firearms have been banned for decades.
Partly because gun control advocates are proud they know nothing about guns, and gun enthusiasts pride themselves on knowing everything about them, the Second Amendment has largely survived all the debates, even when the Democrats were in charge. The longstanding attempts to re-ban “assault weapons” have faltered when the gun enthusiasts rightly noted that it’s a meaningless term, sometimes used to describe rifles that are no more deadly than your pop’s hunting rifle but have certain scary-and-military looking features, and the gun control advocates seemed not understand the difference between the now-common semi-automatic weapons and the long-banned fully automatic ones.
“Bump stocks” blur that distinction in a deadly way, though, and both sides of the debate seem to understand that. It’s news to us, as well as to many far more enthusiastic gun owners than ourselves, but a “bump stock” is a gizmo that allows one to alter a perfectly legal semi-automatic rifle so that with one pull of the trigger it fires bullets as rapidly one of those long-banned fully automatic rifles. As of now the sale and purchase of these gizmos is legal, and although actually using one is a felony the fellow who killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others in Las Vegas also decided to break that law. Such a deranged person would have broken any gun law you might have passed with any guns he could have gotten his hands on, of course, but it seems certain that he wouldn’t have killed and wounded quite so many people if a law had deterred someone from selling him those gizmos that he used on his armory of legally-acquired weapons.
The Democratic Party in general and its gun control advocates in particular sense a rare winning issue, and the Republican Party in general and its gun enthusiasts in particular don’t seem eager to fight this battle. The Speaker of the House has signaled his willingness to ban “bump stocks,” and even the National Rifle Association has agreed the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms should tweak their interpretations of existing law to stop people from selling the gizmos. In the past they’ve taken a never-give-an-inch stance on any gun control regulation, with a plausible argument that it might wind up with a police state confiscating guns from cold, dead fingers, but the starting point on slippery slope has been a ban on fully automatic weapons ever since they were first banned in the 1930[s after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and were more fully banned during the Reagan years, so they’re not giving much ground this time around.
Those sorts of gun enthusiasts who are preparing for a revolution against the better-armed “deep state” or the Zionist Occupying Government or a mass shooting on some public square will object that their Second Amendment rights are being violated, but we’d like to think that the vast majority of our gun-owning neighbors have no need for a “bump stock.” No one uses them for hunting, our more knowledgable gun-owning friends tell us that home defense is probably best handled with a semi-automatic hand gun with a full magazine, and for now we’re not ready to foment any armed revolution in the country. Let the gun-grabbers win this battle, as far as we’re concerned, and let a reasonably-interpreted Second Amendment win the war.

— Bud Norman

Spinning Another Mass Shooting

As we write this there is still no explanation for why three heavily-armed people entered a southern California social services agency on Wednesday and killed 14 people and seriously wounded ten others, but the predictable cocksure speculations started as soon as the afternoon’s carnage first interrupted the regularly scheduled programming. By now it’s an all too familiar ritual of these all too frequent mass shootings for both sides of the political divide to skip past the mournful prayers for the victims and their families, or even a respectful moment of silence by the more secular sorts, and immediately proceed with the more important matter of spinning the dreadful facts for the debates that inevitably follow.
The horrible events in San Bernardino follow shortly after a mass shooting in Colorado Springs, which turned out to be a white male who chose to commit his murders at a Planned Parenthood clinic, which the leftward side of the political divide found useful for tarring white males in general and Planned Parenthood’s more principled critics in particular, but despite the hopefulness of countless “tweeters” and cable news contributors this will require a different narrative. Our policy is to not mention the names of killers, but suffice to say that the only suspect thus far identified by the authorities has a name most Americans would by now immediately recognize as Middle Eastern, and the suspicions that raises for even the most tolerant and nonjudgmental and up-to-date Americans has been been confirmed by interviews with the suspects’ family and friends who describe him as a Muslim who had become conspicuously more devout in recent years, all of which is not so useful to the leftward side of political divide. Any connection to the Tea Party or the Koch brothers or evangelical Christianity seems unlikely, so the big story over the next couple of days will be about not painting with too broad a brush or drawing any conclusions or resorting to rank demagoguery. There were guns involved, though, which  the president and others were quick to note, so of course that debate will continue as usual.
Someone with the same Middle Eastern name as the suspect was employed by the same San Bernardino city government department that was having a Christmas party at the social services agency, and it seems likely although yet unconfirmed that they are the same person, so there will be the ready explanation that it was just another case of “workplace violence” that occasionally occurs with white male postal workers and Army psychiatrists with Middle Eastern names, but it’s going to be a tough sale. There were two other people involved, making this the first mass shooting with multiple killers since two high school losers teamed up for the Columbine massacre, and one was reportedly a woman, another odd twist to the incident, and it’s highly unlikely that all three were motivated by the same animus against the San Bernardino County Health Department. The shootings also follow shortly after coordinated attacks on Paris, not so long after the murder of a satirical magazine staff in that same city, and also in the wake of attacks by armed gunmen in Mumbai and numerous cities around the world, as well as that Army psychiatrist with the Middle Eastern name shouting “Allahu Akbar” during his “workplace violence” in another memorable mass shooting, and the leftward side of the political divide will be hard-pressed to convince the rest of the country that it has nothing to do with Islam.
A shrewd friend of ours suggests it might be a case of what he calls “workplace jihad,” where the killers take out their generalized religious rage on a particular personalized target, which strikes us as the most probable explanation for the facts as they are tentatively understood, but that is also mere speculation, and we are ashamed to admit that it serves our political purposes. The debates about various kinds of guns and what to call to them and what to do about them, and about radical Islamic terrorism and what to call it and what to do about it, and about white males and men with Middle Eastern names and almost every other ongoing debate that will be tied to this tragedy all matter, though, so we will reluctantly take sides.
Those 14 dead and 10 wounded also matter, though, and so do their families and friends and all their traumatized neighbors, and so do the relatives of the killers who are revulsed by the tragedy but might be judged guilty by association, and so does everyone trying to get all along in a world that was already so dangerously complicated, so if you’re not inclined to mournful prayers we urge at least a respectful moment of silence.

— Bud Norman