Armageddon, Guns, and Walking Away from Omelas

They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas. –Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”


I’ve been to Armageddon, and it’s not as bad as they say. It’s actually called Har Megiddo, and it is a major archaeological site in Israel. It is the highest place for miles, so you can always see what is coming. It has an ingenious tunnel to its water source, which shows that its inhabitants were willing to do extraordinary things to keep its people safe. And it is in a country that strictly controls access to guns for non-military use.

So when people use the language of Armageddon to talk about recent school shootings like the one that happened yesterday in Florida, I have to dissent. It’s worse than that. The Battle of Armageddon will at least be a fair fight, and we will be able to see what is coming. We are not dealing with Armageddon here. We are dealing with Omelas.

Omelas is the fictional city in Ursula Le Guin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In this story (which is based upon a thought experiment that Ivan proposes to Alyosha in the fifth book of The Brother’s Karamazov), Le Guin asks us to imagine a perfect society—a social and economic utopia in which everybody is happy and content except for one small child who must be imprisoned and tortured in order for the utopia to exist.

Before entering adolescence, every citizen of Omelas must be told about this wretched child. They are all disturbed to learn that their society is built on the suffering of a child, but most people eventually accept it, reasoning that this one person’s pain must be weighed against all of the good that the society produces. They feel for the child. They may even send “thoughts and prayers” to the child’s family. They are good and decent people who enjoy the pleasures of a civilized society, and, though they regret the sacrifice that their comfort demands, they are not willing to upend their world by demanding a change.

I think of Omelas every time that I read about another horrific mass murder in a school or public gathering place. We have perfected our reactions because we have had so many opportunities to practice them: we are outraged, we demand change, a pro-gun senator says “stop trying to politicize the massacre,” somebody says that this wouldn’t have happened if the teachers were armed, cynical politicians say “they’re coming for our guns,” the grief dissipates, and we shrug our shoulders and agree that the gun problem is just to hard for us to do anything about.

Because we live in Omelas. Because we have houses and cars and boats and all kinds of other nice things. Because the problem seems too hard to deal with. Because more people die in swimming pools. Because the guns don’t shoot people. Because we have to have guns in case the president becomes a tyrant. Because we are afraid to walk away. We have collectively decided that the murder of children in their schools is the unfortunate price that we have to pay to have nice things.

Gun violence really is a hard problem,  but we have the tools we need to solve hard problems. Since 1980, for example, we have reduced drunk driving deaths by 75% through a combination of new laws, better enforcement of old laws, and safety requirements on vehicles. This happened because enough people decided that alcohol-related deaths were a serious enough problem to warrant a concentrated effort to change our culture.

But we don’t have to go that far back for examples. Since 2001, we have effectively eliminated the risk of shoe bombs on planes by having everybody who travels by air take off their shoes. This is a huge inconvenience. But we endure it because we have collectively decided that we cannot tolerate even a small risk of somebody wearing exploding shoes on an airplane.

Could we do something like this with guns? Of course we could. We can’t do it by passing one or two laws. We have to make a concerted effort to change a culture in which the virtually unlimited ability of any person to take any gun anywhere is considered an aspect of freedom. But we have some models to work from, such as every other developed nation on earth–none of which endure mass shootings on a regular basis or consider them the price they must pay for civilization.

But that’s not how we think in Omelas. Here, we have been taught that our way of life requires us to assent to the suffering of children. When will we have the strength to walk away?


  1. When will we have the strength to walk away?

    Well, while destroying the Republican party as currently constituted at the polls wouldn’t be sufficient to give ourselves the strength, collectively, as a political body, to walk away from this horror, but it is, I think, a necessary first step.

  2. Donald Lawrence says:

    I fail
    To understand the validity of your argument and for that matter, the arguments of any others for most gun bans. I have no particular inherent love for guns, per se. Nor do I think that all citizens should have the right to possess anything they can afford to buy without any restriction. Facing the horrific mass deaths and how to curb these is the real question I believe most moral people are facing.
    Let me preface my suggestion with an important understanding. I do love societies agency more than my own or other’s lives. Let me also state that I am not inclined to kill for I am a moral human being. Let me further state that I’m certain that my “comfortable life” is not the source of my happiness nor is it directly the reason for other’s unhappiness.

    In the law, and religion it is intent that matters. The killing of another or many others can be done in at least a 1000 other ways. Basic biology let alone modern science makes this irrefutable. Americans, indeed humans should be focus on the “Why do people Kill, “ not the “How do people kill.”

    This then comes round to changing hearts and minds, addressing mental illness and taking better care of all children in their infancy and youth so that they don’t grow up to feel the need to take the lives of, or cause anguish (Me Too, for example ) to others to alleviate their own spiritual or psychiatric suffering.

    We have understood Christianity for a very long time and self
    actualization for over a century yet we seem loathe to actively cultivate it in our society. Perhaps these great and terrible atrocities will spur us to do what we know in our hearts to be the correct action. I don’t believe that taking guns away or restricting any other constitutionally guaranteed rights is the real solution for the long run. Although I very much agree with well executed plans for restrictions on virtually all dangerous or misused products until one can prove ones basis for need and a rudementray understanding and qualification to possess such items. I don’t believe that the presence of guns in America is the real basis for our absurd violent crimes. I believe the root cause is behavioral. Therefore in an age of science and technology ( to be used for good or ill) we must dedicate ourselves to a behavioral advancement of our society just as we must more fervently pursue the education and evaluation of All people in our society.

  3. It’s really very simple. No other country on earth experiences mass gun slaughters like we do. No civilized country (and I don’t include America in this list) allows millions of its people to go without health care or to go bankrupt over medical bills. No other country has made human-caused climate change a political issue. We just need to stop voting into office the Republican know-nothings who think simplistic ideological bromides are more important than human life.

  4. Lauren Arrington says:

    My step-dad has been adding to his collection of guns over the years. One Christmas while we were in town visiting, he had his newest gun sitting out on the stair landing to show it off. In spite of us telling him repeatedly that our son who has Autism is obsessed with guns, and that he cannot keep his hands off of them no matter how much we warn him, and that he does not have the ability to discern the danger present, my step-dad refused to put it away. So when my husband forcefully insisted that he put it away, he finally did. But my Mom admitted to me later that they both nearly kicked us out of their house right then and there. I realized that their right to own guns is more important to them that the safety of their grandchildren. We don’t visit as much anymore.

  5. Paul Ritchey says:

    For us to do anything like what other developed nations do about gun violence in any reasonable amount of time, we’re going to need a constitutional amendment. I don’t think we’re even progressing toward that kind of political will, let alone coming close to it. My heart breaks to think how many more children must die to persuade us.

    And Michael, Omelas is a provocative metaphor for this problem: The same consequentialist considerations that underlie Western gun legislation could easily find Omelas optimific, and thus morally unobjecitonable – indeed, morally required. Is there some principle that avoids that contradiction?

  6. ameliahworth says:

    I am a mama. I’ve spent the entire morning sobbing. Because there are too many mamas who lost their babies because of gun violence. I was able to hug and kiss my darlings before they went off to school this morning. Other mama’s don’t get to do that anymore. I’m morning with them. And I’m still sobbing. I looked on this morning, desperate to find something that I could hold on to. Something of comfort. We believe in defending the family, right? Could my church defend my family against gun violence? Could they support life saving, common sense laws to prevent gun violence? Or does the NRA own my church too? And don’t give me that bit about how they don’t get politically involved (Prop 8, legalizing marijuana, amicus briefs about gay marriage, statements about Dreamers).

    And Paul Ritchey you are incorrect. In California we passed a Safety for All Act in 2016 with a voter referendum. So much can be done on the state and municipal level. is a good resource to see what your state can do to improve. You’re statement is not good enough, this morning. Sit with me as I’m sobbing. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

  7. Paul Ritchey says:


    I am sorry. I mourn with you. And I want our nation and our states to do everything they can do. Without real constitutional change, however, our options are considerably limited. Limiting ammunition sales and magazine capacities (as the Safety for All Act did) may save lives, but it will not save enough lives. As in Omelas, even one is too many. We should pass such laws, but we should also pass better laws.

  8. I truly loathe the “we’re violent. removing guns won’t reduce violent acts” argument. it’s akin to the “people who are determined commit suicide will find a way” argument against doing anything about that issue. Neither is true. We’ve many studies and real world examples of them not being true.

    We cannot let our fatalistic apathy or our fear of others keep us from even trying to make a change. The Scientific American article given in the twitter feed gives some good, concrete steps we can take.

  9. ameliahworth says:

    Paul, you don’t need to tell a mama that even one is too many. I put my life on the line, not once but twice, to carry that one. It’s something that is written into my heart and soul. It’s the way God made me and my sisters. I feel this so profoundly that it hurts.

    The Safety for All Act isn’t the final solution to gun violence, but it is a place to start. And don’t tell me that it doesn’t matter. Don’t tell me that because I can’t save them ALL that I can’t start catching as many as I can. I’m not going to sit and wait for a perfect solution (like a constitutional amendment) to fall out of the sky. I’m going to start in my tears, with my piddly donations to Moms Demand and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, with my prayers, and with my letters to my reps that I want more regulations and more background checks. I’m going to try everything I can, and I’m going to fight and scratch and sob my way through the system that keeps sacrificing the one or the 17 or the 58.

    The Safety For all Act also closed the gap on criminal relinquishment of firearms. It mandated reporting of lost and stolen firearms. It requires licences for ammunition sale, in addition to prohibiting the sale of large-capacity magazines. Don’t dismiss the first steps of an effort as not enough.

  10. We should pass such laws, but we should also pass better laws.

    Passing better laws, under our system as presently constituted, will require those who read this site, and everyone they know, and everyone they know, to start donating money to, organizing and phone calling on behalf of, speaking out in favor of, and recruiting candidates supportive of, the pro-gun control wing of the Democratic party, particularly on the state level (there is no longer, not in any real sense, a pro-gun control wing of the Republican party). This is hardly a satisfactory solution, but absent larger and more disruptive socio-economic, political, and constitutional changes in our present system, this is the only route for walking away that exists.

  11. At the outset, I have to disclose that I shoot guns. I like them. It’s my sport. I’ve never been remotely tempted to shoot anyone. Like many of you, I react negatively when violent, bloody shootings or torture is depicted in media. I avoid that stuff. And the majority of shooters are just like me.

    I doubt that Michael Austin or many of the other thinkers on CB would lose much sleep if they witnessed me loading multiple cased guns into my vehicle as I embark to the range for a day of shooting. That likely proves that the root of the problem isn’t guns per se. It is a warped cultural fallacy about guns that majorities on both sides of the debate embrace as true. Here it is: Guns are power. Not people. Not speech. And certainly not God. Guns are the real power. If some people feel dis-empowered, they don’t seek to educate their minds, they don’t seek God or friends or a therapist. They seek power OVER other people, and guns/weapons miraculously grant that power to them. Or at least they believe that if they are weak-minded. Is that not the message of so many films, novels and crime dramas; the topic of so many diatribes across the political spectrum?

    And look at how we are treating these shootings. We are proving the perpetrators of the crimes are right. We are gathering around to worship at the altar of his powerful gun. The perpetrators’ gun has given them everything they desired. Fame. Notoriety. Empowerment. We moan with pain at the losses and wring our hands at how powerful guns are, not how damaging a broken human mind can be. Some are so agitated that they don’t realize they are worshiping at the same altar as the perpetrator when they suggest that perhaps guns are so powerful that no one should possess them. Others are suggesting that guns are a powerful means of personal protection, which they may be in limited ways, but they fail to realize that one of our greatest protections would be to establish a society that does not idealize violence. Parties on both sides worship those chunks of wood and metal, those pieces of 19th century technology, just in different ways. Radical voices on both sides of the debate are guilty of idolatry.

    I’m not sure how we can address the problem of American violence. But I am absolutely sure the answer does not lie in the continued idolatry of guns seated in the minds of so many on the Left and Right.

  12. Jack Hughes says:

    I’ve been perplexed by this as well. I grew up in California and was raised active LDS, but my somewhat-progressive parents were staunchly anti-gun, and we never had guns in the house. Being in a church that bears the name of Jesus Christ, I just assumed all Mormon families felt the same way about guns. That is, until I visited Utah for the first time as an adult, and saw gun culture proudly on display at every turn. I heard church members touting the U.S. Constitution (with special emphasis on the 2nd Amendment) as being an inspired document. My Utah-born wife has endless stories of childhood friends and acquaintances who were seriously injured or killed in hunting accidents, curiosity with firearms, suicide and other gun-related misfortunes. I’ve encountered numerous individuals (including Church members) who believe owning military-style assault rifles is a God-given right. And don’t get me started about the Bundys and their ilk.

    It would do my heart a lot of good for the FP to issue an official statement decrying American gun culture and kindly advising members to get rid of their unnecessary firearms. And it would be so easy for them to do.

  13. ameliahworth says:

    God bless you, Jack.

  14. I disagree that a constitutional amendment is necessary for stricter gun control. Sure, the Supreme Court has held that the second amendment gives an individual, not collective right, but in that same decision it also said that gun ownership is still subject to reasonable regulation, just like other constitutional rights are. Banning guns outright (or functionally banning them outright, like making it legal to possess them, but not to load them) violates the second amendment, but there’s a lot that can be done short of that that’s consistent with the Court’s decisions.

  15. Nothing will change until we as a culture decide that a man with a gun is not a hero. A gun is not a way to prove how strong you are. A gun does not equate to superiority or making a small person feel big.

    Let’s change our culture so that a man with a gun is the biggest wimp of all. A man with a gun( or a woman for that matter) is a failure. A man with a gun is too stupid to solve his problems any other way.

    If we want to solve this problem, we have to change the story around what guns are symbolic of. The place to start is our media and entertainment.

  16. “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” — District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

    This is what the current controlling Supreme Court ruling says about restricting firearms. Can we ban guns entirely? No. Can we place limitations on who can buy them? What kinds of guns they can buy? And where people can carry them? Absolutely. All of this is completely permissible under the current judicial understanding of the 2nd Amendment.

    And there is a difference between saying that gun control laws will solve the problem of mass shootings and saying that a comprehensive solution to the problems of mass shootings must have something to do with our laws. Nobody is pretending that solving problems of this magnitude is as easy as passing a couple of laws. What many of us are saying is that we cannot automatically take all legislative action off of the table as we try to address the problem. We have to decide whether or not we are ultimately comfortable with children being murdered in their schools. If we decide that we are not, then there are a lot of things that we can try to do to address mass shootings. This includes, but is not limited to, laws that constrain unlimited access to some kinds of firearms.

  17. James Stone says:

    “I heard church members touting the U.S. Constitution (with special emphasis on the 2nd Amendment) as being an inspired document. ”

    Uh, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, it IS an inspired document. See D&C 101:77,80.

  18. Russell

    We’re just two drops in the bucket, but my wife and I are joining the effort today. Enough is enough.

  19. I also disagree a constitutional amendment is necessary for improved regulations around gun ownership.

  20. I believe the U.S. Constitution was inspired insofar as it established certain rights and protections. I also believe that it was a covenant with hell insofar as it perpetuated slavery (among other evils). Saying that God “suffered [the constitution] to be established” or even that he “established” it by raising up “wise men” doesn’t mean that it’s inerrant or that it’s sacred scripture.

  21. Jack Hughes says:

    James Stone, to clarify, I’ve heard on several occasions church members justifying their excessive gun ownership as being sanctioned by God; they reason that the 2nd Amendment is part of the Constitution, and is thus divinely inspired. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t agree with using the scriptures to justify the amassing of private arsenals, especially with military-style assault rifles–devices that are specifically designed to allow a single operator to end human lives quickly and efficiently.

  22. Paul Ritchey says:

    Thanks, Michael.

    Really, everyone, all I mean is that it’s disingenuous to compare the US to other developed nations when it comes to gun policy because the constitutional playing field is not equal. Of course that doesn’t imply that we can’t have any gun control. Clearly we can, and we do. But what we do have isn’t solving the problem, and the bipartisan effort required to pass a network of laws that are constitutional and still effective isn’t materializing.

    If you really think (as I do) that the only reason we have this problem is that our laws deal with firearms inappropriately, then you should want to change those laws. And incremental, peripheral, on-again-off-again state legislative change isn’t good enough. The 2nd Amendment, on which the existence of our firearms crisis is ultimately founded, must be altered somehow.

  23. I believe the root cause is behavioral. Therefore in an age of science and technology (to be used for good or ill) we must dedicate ourselves to a behavioral advancement of our society. –Donald Lawrence

    If we want to solve this problem, we have to change the story around what guns are symbolic of. The place to start is our media and entertainment. –ReTx

    I’m not sure how we can address the problem of American violence. But I am absolutely sure the answer does not lie in the continued idolatry of guns seated in the minds of so many on the Left and Right. –Old Man

    I’m so tired of reading these kinds of comments, which spread blame everywhere and suggest no practical action at all. Ruminating about how our “culture” has to be different is useless by itself.

    The problem is a practical one, first of all. When killing is easy, killing happens more often. Free access to guns makes killing easy. Therefore, we should make guns less available. Contra Old Man, there’s nothing weirdly ideological about that line of reasoning. It’s simple sense. Acting on it takes the political effort that RAF describes. Cultural change will follow.

  24. Paul, I agree with you that it’s failure of political will, but I guess I still disagree that the second amendment needs to change to do something effective. Unless what you’re saying is that the only effective measure would be an outright ban?

  25. The 2nd Amendment, on which the existence of our firearms crisis is ultimately founded, must be altered somehow.

    I don’t disagree Paul; if nothing else, the 2nd Amendment–or at least the way it has come to be interpreted as party polarization and socio-economic sorting has entrenched in the minds of one part of the electorate a kind of cultural absolutism about it–places a limit on our ability to engage in discussions about guns, the same way (I think unfortunately) the 1st amendment warps our ability to engage in reasonable discourse about the nature and consequences of speech. So, yes, it must be altered (preferably by getting rid of it entirely). But since we are light-years away from that, donate to and vote for Democrats, and get involved in organizing on behalf of ” incremental, peripheral, on-again-off-again state legislative change[s].” That’s a necessary step for all of us, I think.

  26. I agree with Loursat. It’s like using the argument “the poor will always be with us” as an excuse to do nothing. Yes, the culture needs to change, but in the mean time we need to try short term solutions.

  27. Re changing culture vs changing law: I don’t see these as all that different. Our laws go where our culture goes. And our laws guide our culture. Using culture as an excuse to not legislate is stupid.

  28. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    I understand the a Supreme Court has twisted and expanded the 2nd Amendment, but if you look at the actual language (above), there is nothing about individuals protecting themselves. Its clearly about the STATE being able to call up an army.

  29. Paul Ritchey says:

    JKC: It depends on what you mean by “effective.” Certainly, much constitutional legislation can curtail gun violence, and I hope we pass more of those laws. But it seems to me that we’re after more than that: we want America, like the rest of the world, to have virtually no mass shootings, and only insular circles of gun-related crime. For that to happen, we need much more than the Court of Heller fame would allow: licensure, registration, import limits, production limits, amnesty/surrender drives, and above all, a rebuttable presumption against an ownership right.

    Russell: What you’re talking about is called cultural cognition. It is increasingly studied, and it is increasing. It’s also a huge problem with climate science, BTW.

    Lily: I agree, but let me know if you can convince five Justices.

  30. it's a series of tubes says:

    I understand the a Supreme Court has twisted and expanded the 2nd Amendment, but if you look at the actual language (above), there is nothing about individuals protecting themselves. Its clearly about the STATE being able to call up an army.

    Lily, have a look at 10 U.S.C. 246. You might be surprised.

  31. Michael,

    As I’ve pondered over this problem today, my mind was drawn to this language from section 89: “Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”

    As I understand the scripture, it’s quite possible that wine and other prohibited substances could be used appropriately by many saints, but the Lord’s instruction is directly for the protection of all saints. Because we are to be one body, we must account for the weakest among us. In the calculus, avoiding one ward member’s alcoholism is worth the price of many ward members temporarily foregoing the joy of wine in moderation.

    I believe this same principle needs to underscore our approach to guns and power (probably also the media we consume and other things too). It’s not enough that X% of gun owners are responsible citizens. The types of guns that proliferate today are simply too powerful. We will always have “weak saints.” Yes, we must build up weak, but in the meantime our policies must reflect the reality that the power to kill dozens in a few minutes cannot be entrusted to the masses. As a people, we’re simply too weak.

  32. to be clear, I’m not against gun control. We could make owning guns 100% illegal, and I’d be fine with that.

    I don’t see gun control as being an effective solution. People make decisions based on the emotions and self stories in their heads. If we change those stories, we can change behavior. Or at least I see it as a place to start.

  33. Do any of y’all have wards where the young men, young women, high priest, or elders quorum have activities where they go to a shooting range and fire guns? How often do they happen? How do you feel about those?

  34. Gun control is absolutely an effective solution. It works in every other developed free market parliamentary democracy or constitutional republic, whether our peers in Europe or Asia. We stand far apart from those decent societies in our barbarism of not taking the necessary legislative action to enact appropriate regulations governing gun ownership.

  35. A shooting range is the most appropriate place to have fun shooting guns. Keep them under lock and key there — and heavily monitored and regulated. Like every other developed country.

  36. RxTx. Gun control will not end all violence (or mankind’s penchant for violence) but it will greatly reduce the power of men when they choose to be violent – whether that violence is imparted to others or (most often) imparted to the men themselves.

    Look at other societies that severely restrict gun ownership, including ones such as Australia that used to have gun ownership similar to the US. Those societies still have mental illness. They have anger and violence. But they don’t have routine mass murder of the scale we have in the US. The different is not the types of people. The difference is the amount of power to kill that is available to the common man.

  37. Amy,

    I’ll never have a gun in my house, but I encourage all my sons to take rifle and shot gun merit badges at camp. The instructors are NRA-certified, teach real safety and respect, and have zero tolerance for screwing around. It’s a wonderful situation in which boys (and we’ve offered it to the YW too) can learn about the proper use of firearms and where boys, such as mine, can experience the power of the tools and to not fear the tool itself.

    FWIW, if the church separates from scouting, I expect that handbook will be updated to prohibit firearms activities of any sort. There’s just too much liability if church members are running the show.

  38. My EQ would throw a fit if the handbook’s updated to prohibit shooting. That’s our default annual EQ activity.

    In reality, though, culture trumps religion and they’d continue doing it, regardless.

  39. “The different is not the types of people. The difference is the amount of power to kill that is available to the common man.”

    Is that accurate though? What kind of research has been done to prove or disprove? With the idea that “types of people” equates to cultural ideologies.

    I’m not entirely arguing that you are wrong, but in the back of my mind is always the correlation vs causation problem.

  40. I am just tired of reading the back and forth. People have made their decision a long time ago on this issue. The arguments never change….whether the vitriolic versions on Facebook or the pedantic versions on the bloggernacle.

  41. John Mansfield says:

    It is oft repeated that the United States has the highest homicide rate of any decent nation, but of course there are dozens of nations with higher rates, which I suppose is what qualifies them as indecent nations that it is no accomplishment to do better than, in which case it is a bit of a tautology that the U.S. has the highest homicide rate of any decent nation. This division of the world into desirable and undesirable peers is uncomfortably close to the current U.S. president wondering why there can’t be more immigrants from Norway and fewer from Haiti. It also touches on a difference between the U.S. and most European and Asian nations, specifically that the U.S. has much larger portions of its population whose ancestors came from the violent countries that we find no point in comparing the U.S. to, and that factor does show up in the U.S.’s homicide statistics. It wouldn’t be too surprising if a breakdown by race showed that the U.S. has Asians and whites that are a bit more homicidal than those in their ancestors’ homelands, and Hispanics and blacks who are a lot less homicidal than those in much of Latin America and Africa.

    Does anyone know what the story is behind Indonesia’s extremely low homicide rate? Is violence there not a social norm?

  42. Have not gun death rates been dropping quite a bit since the 1990s?

  43. Gun deaths have dropped quite a bit. Mass shootings have increased.

  44. So what caused the massive decline in gun deaths since the 90s? Was it restrictive gun laws or something else?

  45. Bbell – the Freakonomics guys did a great podcast on some of the reasons for the gun violence drop. Very interesting stuff. It’s pretty easy to find Googling.

  46. Bbell – the reduction of gun deaths has paralleled the reduction in violent crime.

    John Mansfield – I don’t know who you’re arguing against, but I’d certainly push back against anyone who compared the US to other “civilized” nations. Making a comparison to any nation isn’t terribly useful, as both “it could be worse” and “why can’t we be as good as X” do nothing but prompt inaction.

    For those who have the go-to of “mental illness” as a reason for the rising mass shootings, the data shows that it’s only a factor in about 4% of all gun violence. it’s an easy scapegoat, but doesn’t fit the data.

    And I absolutely reject any of the arguments of “it’s just too hard”. We just have to decide that we care and it’ll get done. It’s practically the story of how the US works. It’s getting people to care that’s the hard part.

  47. It seems like there’s been a huge increase in murders committed by the far right (white supremacists, white nationalists, etc.) during the last ten years or so. Is that accurate? If so, what needs to be done to stop them?

  48. Dave K., I like your idea… start with banning alcohol as the CDC says it’s responsible for 2.5X as many annual gun deaths (including gun accidents and suicide).

  49. Unlike complaints about car crashes causing more deaths, alcohol is strictly recreational and a better comparison.

  50. Jenny Harrison says:

    My comments will not be appreciated here. First, let me state that I hate guns. Always have. But did my parents have guns, yes. Do I own guns, yes. Do I know how to use one safely, yes. Do my sons,(grown adults) know how to safely handle guns, yes. I would never, ever, use a gun to harm another human being unless it was in self defense. I would have to say that neither would the other gun owners I know. The truth and reality of it is that if you take all guns out of the hands of decent citizens, then the only people who would be armed would be the government and the ‘bad guys’, neither of whom I trust. That is why I think the way to stop gun violence is to arm more people. Imagine if just one teacher at the school had been carrying a gun, they could have taken out the shooter with less lose of life.

  51. I grew up in a very pro-gun household and I enjoy the sport. But I would trade every good experience I’ve ever had or will have with a gun to prevent another school shooting. It is a hard decision, because it is part of who I am, but I don’t think I can buy that revolver I always wanted, or buy ammunition, or go to a range and pay to shoot ever again. Not until gun and ammunition manufacturer’s stop trading my kid’s safety for their profit.

  52. Jenny, data from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Canada, Luxemburg, Belgium, and Switzerland contradict your belief. Not that it will make a difference.

  53. Jenny, the reality in all — ALL — other developed free market democracies and republics in the world (i.e. countries that should be our peers based on political systems and levels of development) directly disproves your assertion.

  54. christiankimball says:

    I think I’ve heard every argument here, and more, on every occasion of a school shooting. Including the wrenching Omelas story. I have long ago concluded that there’s nothing more to say, little purpose to the argument, and few minds open to change. And that in the United States, in our current real position, the only practical, doable, possibly effective way forward is to take the current Republican party out of power everywhere, federal and state. I understand there are individual Democrats on both sides. I understand there are individual Republicans on both sides. I understand that the broad brush party politics statement may seem unfair and probably is unfair to some individuals. That’s the world we live in.

    (Without naming names, I appreciate that there are a number of comments here saying something close enough that I am happy to endorse.)

  55. “Imagine if just one teacher at the school had been carrying a gun, they could have taken out the shooter with less lose of life.”

    Reports are that the school had an armed officer who never actually encountered the student. Arming an adult–a trained adult, even–to protect kids didn’t actually work in this situation.

  56. Paul Ritchey says:


    Jenny makes a sincere expression of her belief, and *even hedges* about how she knows it’ll be unpopular, and you respond with – what, (i) a half-argument and (ii) a snide jab at what you imagine to be her closed-mindedness? At least john f. had decency enough to avoid accusing Jenny of imagined idiocy.

    This is why we can’t agree. I happen to disagree vehemently with Jenny’s argument and conclusion, and I regret that they’re so prevalent, but writing individuals off as beyond reasoning *merely* because of their viewpoints is a sure sign of just how far we’ve fallen.


    Like I said, I disagree with you almost entirely, but I’m happy to talk anytime, and I’m glad you’re willing to speak up.

  57. Fair point, Paul. I am all jagged edges right now, but it isn’t an excuse to be snide.

  58. Nothing will change. Obama lamented 15 times while president when these massacres happened. Trump? Fat chance. Just look at what I found on wiki. USA way too many deaths by guns for a western prosperous country. And look at the guns/100,000. We out do the entire earth by way too much!
    Look here: (List of countries by firearm-related death rate)

  59. Amanda in France says:

    Michael, I just want to take a minute to say that I always appreciate your posts. Thank you. I’ll be going back to re-read “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

    I’d like to comment on this idea of arming teachers so they can “take out the shooter.” Even if the armed teacher is confronted with the shooter, are we sure that they would be effective? I grew up in Oregon and have shot guns, including some that I now believe shouldn’t be available to the private citizen, but I don’t think that I would feel confident using a gun in a crisis situation. Could I actually point one at a person and pull the trigger? Would I feel confident in my abilities to be calm enough to effectively load and aim the gun without hurting myself or others (assuming a panicked, adrenaline-fueled situation)? And what would being armed at school look like? Wearing a loaded gun on my person, hidden by my clothing as well as possible? Hidden in my desk? Wouldn’t that pose a different safety (and liability!) situation on a normal school day? Perhaps I underestimate my ability to react in a crisis situation (or perhaps I would be exactly the wrong person to arm!), but I admit that this argument puzzles me as a feasible solution to the school shooting problem.

  60. John Mansfield says:

    Homicide rates in America vary tremendously from state to state. Following is a list of U.S. states where the rate is half or even a quarter of the U.S. national rate (4.9 per 100,000 per year), along with a few nations with comparable rates.

    Denmark (1.0), New Hampshire (1.1), Sweden (1.2), Hawaii (1.3), France (1.6), Finland (1.6), Vermont (1.6), Canada (1.7), Maine (1.7), Utah (1.8), Massachusetts (1.9), Idaho (1.9), Belgium (2.0), Iowa (2.3)

  61. JM. I dont think a look at the data actually is as clear cut as the liberals upthread think it is. California and Texas have roughly the same firearm murder rate. Both are similar demographically. Gun laws are dramatically different. Guns are honestly everywhere here in Texas. In vehicles in pockets. Why would the data be the same for both states? I held a yms meeting with about 10 families in my ward here in Texas. Every family in attendance had an ar15 at home. 6 of the Dads held chl licenses. At least 4 were carrying in the meeting. Yet the firearm murder rate is roughly the same in both states.

    Look at your list. Most of those states with low firearm murder rates have permissive gun laws. Vermont is a blue state with extremely permissive gun laws. No need for a license to conceal carry!

  62. Paul Ritchey says:

    BBell: Interesting. It may be that there’s some interaction going on between the variables. That is, maybe a state only moderately prone to gun violence becomes less violent when laws are less restrictive. It doesn’t follow, however, that the effect would be the same in places profoundly at risk for gun violence. There, liberalizing gun laws might have the opposite effect.

    Also, Public Service Announcement: The Church prohibits firearms in Church buildings unless they must be carried by law. See Handbook 2 at 21.2.4.

  63. I came across something that related to Michael’s example of establishing airport screening of people’s shoes, and it points to the way that “it’s complicated; there’s really nothing we can do” generally obscures other messages, including things like “it’s not worth it to us to do what you suggest.” It’s very sobering to think of people making such calculations when lives are being lost, but I don’t think such conclusions can be ruled out. This is the story of hijackings that really couldn’t be prevented, until they were, because suddenly it became worth doing.

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