Arizona shootings: time to reflect

Not many days ago I wrote a post on this blog pointing out the dangers to society when some people get easy access to firearms. It is terrible when this takes on more meaning than I had expected, but Saturday’s events in Tucson, Arizona, should make everyone in the United States think again, and much more seriously, about proper gun control.

But there are also other lessons. One of them is about the impact of excessively partisan and hate-filled speech in politics. As is now fairly well known, Gabrielle Giffords was one of the ‘targets’ identified by Sarah Palin on a US map identifying politicians to be removed from power because of their support for the healthcare Bill (her ‘map with gunsights’ has been taken down by her, but is still available on some websites). The rhetoric of some American politicians has become crazily extreme, to the point where people (as we now see) can be put physically at risk.

The United States is a country I admire very much for all sorts of reasons, but right now it needs to stop in its tracks to reflect on what has happened, and how it has allowed itself to become a place of unreasonableness, intolerance and violence.

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41 Comments on “Arizona shootings: time to reflect”

  1. Mark Dennehy Says:


    You made an ill-informed post about gun control that wasn’t backed up by any facts, the actual facts were pointed out to disprove your thesis, and now you almost gleefully use the murder of several people to try to “win” your argument?

    Why is it so hard to grasp that the problem is a lack of simple basic morality on the part of those doing the shooting and not the tools they use?

  2. Mark, I think your description of what I write as ‘gleeful’ is uncalled for and actually objectionable.

    As for your question, isn’t it both?

    • Mark Dennehy Says:

      I thought – and think – it perfectly appropriate to describe a post that says “hey, look at this, I said the US gave out guns too readily and now someone just shot and killed a nine-year-old girl while trying to assassinate a congresswoman!” as being gleeful in nature.

      And no, the morality is the problem. As every Dublin Garda who’s attended the scene of a stabbing, bludgeoning, strangulation, poisoning, rape or other such crime could tell you, the tools vary but the morality remains the same.

      • OK, so when the police try to get people to hand in knives and guns they are wrong, because the availability of these doesn’t matter?

        And sorry, your response is even more objectionable. What happened is horrific. Nobody ever wants to see such events taking place – or nobody at all decent – and there is nothing gleeful in writing about it.

        • Mark Dennehy Says:

          Where are you suggesting the police get people to hand in knives and guns?

          And if your intent was not to be gleeful, (a) why post at all, and (b) why was the very first thing you mention your recent post? Self-promotion is not an appropriate part of a genuine expression of sadness – it’s part of a gleeful “look at me, I was right!”

          • There are regular ‘weapons amnesty’ programmes. The Gardai frequently organise these for guns and knives.

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            The Gardai have administered precisely *one* such amnesty in Ireland in the last decade Ferdinand. It wasn’t their idea, we heard through every back channel that they thought it was a waste of manpower and resources because the people they worry about don’t bother with amnesties, and in the end it collected less than a dozen working firearms (not counting a lot of rusted-out, unsafe-to-fire single barrel shotguns and the like handed in). And at least one of the handed-in firearms was later used in a robbery. So:
            you’re talking about one amnesty, not several; the brainchild of Michael McDowell, not the Gardai (who it seems thought it a stupid waste of time everywhere below the rank of Commissioner); it wasn’t in any way effective (gun crime rates were unaffected because criminals don’t hand in firearms); and there are no extant plans to repeat it in the near future.

            Ferdinand, you need to check your facts because I think someone’s been misinforming you.

          • List of weapons surrendered under the Criminal Justice Act 2006 Weapons Amnesty
            2006 weapons amnesty outcome (Dept of Justice figures)

            Weapon Type Running Total
            Shotguns 77
            Rifles 46
            Pistols/revolvers/handguns 46
            Muskets 1
            Air pistols/rifles/guns 69
            Pellet guns 19
            Gas gun 1
            .177 repeater 1
            Starting pistols 13
            Theatre guns 1
            Replica firearms 17
            Stun guns 1
            Grenades 1
            Crossbows 13
            Various knives 54
            Swords 6
            Mace spray 1
            Humane killer 1
            Total 368

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            Those figures are quite hotly contested Ferdinand. First off, under the law, Stun guns, air pistols, some pellet guns, theatre guns, starter pistols and some replica firearms are all legally classed as pistols; and when you ask in the dail for the number left when you take away all of those from the overall pistols number, you’re told by the man who ordered the amnesty that such a number would be too hard to compute…

            Secondly, that wasn’t a regular amnesty programme, it’s a singular event.

            Thirdly, most of the firearms handed in weren’t safe to be used, and many were antiques (I know of at least one RIC pistol handed in, for example).

            Basicly, the entire amnesty was an ill-conceived PR exercise. Actually effective operations to reduce gun crime are things like Operation Anvil, which has had a major effect on the number of firearms in criminal hands; but that was a garda operation, not new legislation, and the laws it was enforcing date back to 1925.

            In other words, what is effective in reducing gun crime is more policing of existing laws; and public safety is still unconnected with firearms legislation because all the new changes that have been brought in do not affect accident statistics or crime statistics in this country.

          • Mark, here you yourself just give general statements without any backing evidence. Pistols and air pistols are recorded separately in this table. Also, your allegation that there were ‘less than a dozen working firearms’ is clearly nonsense.

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            I know they’re recorded seperately Ferdinand, I’m saying that that’s why the figures are contested – because while they’re listed seperately, there’s only the one category in PULSE for them to be entered under. And before you call my assertions nonsense, would you care to explain why you think they’re nonsense? I’ve been involved in firearms legislation since 2003, hell, I’ve drafted parts of the Firearms Act. I’m making my statement based on eight years of direct dealings with the DoJ and AGS; on what are you basing your refutation of those statements?

  3. Victor Says:

    The killer has a long history of drug use which either caused his psychosis or was a futile attempt at self medication.
    The US Military turned him down as a recruit because of his history, his college banned him because others felt threatened by his behaviour—his is mentally ill and evil–killing a 9 year old girl is evil.
    The case has nothing to do with politics–he gave lots of indications that he was a dangerous psychotic on the Web–his parents must have known he was crazy and there are probably therapists who were incompetent in dealing with him.
    In Switzerland every male of military age has an assault rifle and lethal ammunition their home and carrying concealed weapons is legal.
    The killer had multiple run ins with the police–this was a failure of vigilance and judgment–it had nothing to do with politics.

    • anna notaro Says:

      The Arizona shootings has all to do with politics, the killer in fact, regardless of his mental status, is the product of that ‘rethoric of hate’ that has pervaded American politics since Obama took office and that has expressed itself via various TV network preachers and tea party leaders. Politics, as an entity, has never neen something restricted to Parliaments and Senates, it flourished in the agora, in the squares, most recently replaced by TV & virtual agoras. it is not a great surprise that vulnerable minds are more exposed to the deleterious effects of such hate rethoric, it’s not the fist time (see the ‘mad’ killer of Lincoln or Harvey Oswald who shot Kennedy)and won’t be the last unless the rethoric of hate is replaced by some more civilized idiom.

  4. Perry Share Says:

    Unfortunately Ferdinand, inevitably when you stray into the poisonous blogosphere of US politics (not to mention gun control), you will inevitably call down on yourself the sort of invective that you have already started to attract here. While there are of course numerous Americans who can discuss politics in a civil and civilised manner, they tend not to be reflected on the web, as even a cursory trawl will reveal. If I was you, and for the benefit of all who like to read this blog, I would leave the field of US politics to the obsessive nutters who dominate it.

    • Perry, I agree that there are Americans (as there are people from other countries) who find dispassionate debate problematic. However, I am on two American-based political discussion lists, and I find the US contributions really interesting and constructive a lot of the time. You also get used to the flame-throwers. It’s part of the rich fabric of life.

  5. Cormac Says:

    Great post Ferdinand, I couldn’t agree more. Perry, I share your concern, but as someone currently living in the US, I think outside views can help those in the US see how poisoned their politics has become.

    Re ‘both’, this imple argument seems self-evident to me. Every society has its exremists – but easy access to guns doesn’t help in a country where hate politics is the norm

    • Mark Dennehy Says:

      Just to set the record straight, I’m Irish, living in Ireland. I found this post objectionable because it was unseemly, and the earlier post objectionable because it was wrong and correct data was available from a readily accessible source. When someone in the author’s position makes public statements on public policy, he should expect robust debate and should bear this in mind when making public statements. When people make off-hand comments over a pint in the pub, that’s one thing; but making a speech or posting on a public blog like this? That’s something else entirely, and you do have to pay more attention to what you say. Just ask Larry Summers.

      • The earlier post was not ‘wrong’, and it used correct data. Your original response – while I strongly disagreed with it – was perfectly appropriate. Your response to this post was and is unacceptable, as it imputed all sorts of totally incorrect motives. I may (and do) disagree strongly with your views, but I never claimed there was anything reprehensible about them. You need to be able to accept that views other than your own may be acceptable contributions to a debate.

        • Mark Dennehy Says:

          Hold up a moment there – you’re now saying that your post, which contained no references, no citations, and no actual data, was more accurate than the Center for Disease Control???

          • I used a whole raft of statistics from the United Nations.

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            No, you didn’t. Here’s the post:

            I am a great admirer of the United States of America, but one of the things that distinguishes the US from Europe – and not in a good way – is the American attachment to the private ownership of firearms. Where this can lead is shown in this wholly weird news story.

            Yesterday, December 30, two men walked into a shopping centre at 5 am and started shooting with rifles. Given the tragic incidents that take place from time to time involving unbalanced citizens with guns, it might have seemed to those present (who were forced to scatter and flee) that this was another such occasion. It wasn’t. Rather, the two men had simply decided to ‘have some fun’, and their concept of fun as they planned it was to shoot at some street lights at a time when, they believed, there would be nobody around. In fact one of the shops in the area had just opened, and so there were people present.

            I cannot even begin to understand how the ownership of guns can be seen as a human right. Crazy events such as this, involving crazy people, ought to persuade reasonable citizens that gun control is a necessity. You’d think.

            There’s not one statistic in there. Not one fact or figure and the only reference is to a news media story (and they’re already cited as being a cause of such shootings, if not the proximate one).

          • Mark, you’re just messing here. You know well enough that I quoted loads of stats in follow-up comments – and I had looked at these stats before writing the original post.

            And that’s the end of this exchange for me. Feel free to comment further if you wish.

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            Ferdinand, I’ve lived with these numbers and studies for the guts of an active decade now in liason with the DoJ as they drafted new firearms legislation acting as an expert group representative. You penned a blog post on a whim, got called on it by someone who’d put in the ten thousand hours in the field, and went hunting for numbers on wikipedia to defend it.

            What you *should* have done reevaluate whether or not your intuition was a better source for public policy changes than hard data – unless you agreed with Dev’s method of looking into his heart to see what Ireland wanted, of course.

            As a high-ranking academic making a public statement on a forum which was afforded its publicity by the nature of your role with DCU, this has not been your finest hour.

  6. anna notaro Says:

    can’t we have ‘robust debate’ on this forum without necessarily sliding into an acrimonious tone? Refuting what we don’t agree with on the basis of arguments without telling each other what we ‘should’ have done or not done and above all without expressing moral judgements? Sorry, maybe it’s just me having too highly an opinion of what a dialectics method of argument sounds like…

    • Mark Dennehy Says:

      It’s hard to have robust debate without acrimony when the opening thesis is that an earlier assertion is correct (despite evidence to the contrary) because of the murder of a child and several adults, especially when those people have not even been buried yet. That’s argument from emotion, and it’s one of the most unpleasant forms of debating ‘tricks’ encountered when you examine the history of this long-running debate in all the forums it has taken place in.

  7. Vincent Says:

    The Arms argument from an Irishman is somewhat difficult for while legal gun ownership for someone living in a council estate would be close to impossible. Our friend Mark from the university gun club would have very little difficulty. And in the 70’s while the FG/Labour administration had a hissy fit about the available arms held within the State. Held for the most part legally, but which were seized by a sneaky subterfuge. However, did anyone ever ask whether the arsenals held by Anglo/Irish are now sitting in the Magazine Fort under the Thomas’ Hill.

  8. Dan Says:

    Ferdinand, I did not find your post ‘gleeful’ and your reference to your earlier post was entirely appropriate ( it would have been most odd to have ignored it). Mark, you are passionate, articulate and well-informed on your arguments – but you’re off the mark in your criticism of him on this.

    I love America; but I find gun-ownership (outside of sporting events) bizarre. I have no doubt that Irish crime gangs can easily source guns, but I am glad that in my country that it is impossible to walk into a shop and buy a hand-gun after only minimal checks. God forbid that it ever happens, but it probably makes it significantly less likely that someone can walk into my lecture theatre, workplace or any event and start shooting. As well as rights, we have responsibilities and those include a loss of some personal freedoms. Tonight, the families of a nine-year old girl, of an elderly husband who tried and was able to save his wife and of a democratically elected politician are in shock and grief. That might not have happened if that person was unable to buy a gun.

    You should be able to own a gun as a member of a shooting club or for controlled hunting. You should not be able to own a gun because you would like to shoot at another human being.

    • Vincent Says:

      I sorry but you are entirely wrong in your assertions about this State.
      Firearm ownership is reserved to certain people. And while we don’t have as open an access as in the USA, nonetheless such access is freely available. Land ownership is one method. Membership of a gun club is another. But there are others.

      • Mark Dennehy Says:

        Vincent, that’s not entirely true.
        Firearms ownership in Ireland is reserved to certain people; but they’re not determined by the criteria you list.

        The criteria are: have you a good reason for wanting the firearm? have you a place to safely use the firearm? have you a place to safely store the firearm? are you one of those who are not allowed apply for a licence (the criteria there are also spelled out and basicly cover those who are too young, who are mentally unstable, who have certain past convictions and so forth).

        The full process is covered here if anyone is interested in knowing more.

        • Dan Says:

          Mark, excellent criteria – and excellent news that this is the case. Who could disagree then, if these are the means by which one could procure a gun for sport, etc. But, you’re not arguing surely that it should be EASIER to own a legal gun in Ireland?

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            Actually, I believe it should be – if you read the current rules, you’ll find they were altered in 2006 to add many new sacrifices you have to make to get a licence, such as the right to privacy in the home (because having a firearms licence entitles the gardai to search your home to audit the firearm) and the right to medical confidentiality (as the gardai can now access your medical records – which wouldn’t be an issue if they were medical personnel, or if your inoculation record was an indicator of your mental status, or even if your GP was actually medically qualified to offer a professional opinion on that status…). Further, there are classes of firearm that have been ruled off-limits based on (basicly) hollywood films. I wish that was a joke, but there are actual Seanad debates on whether or not to outlaw .22 rifles because one was used in The Day of the Jackal (the original novel).

            There are many other such catches, and not enough space to do them justice here, so suffice to say: yes, I think they should be, for good reason, and without any risk to public safety. And the laws were that way from before 1925 up until around about the late 60s when we brought in firearms legislation to counter the IRA (utterly ineffectively as it turns out – north of the border, the entire thing was looked upon as daft by the RUC, who were far more worried by the people who didn’t look for licences for firearms…)

  9. Mark Dennehy Says:

    Dan, you’ve just argued that you should ban ownership of an item because people might misuse it; and somehow completely ignored the point that the problem is not the item but the person who thinks violence is acceptable.

    We’ve more than too many incidents of people causing violence and mayhem when the tools they use are very illegal (thus indicating that gun control is ineffective when it depends solely on the criminal involved obeying the law); and far more incidents of people causing violence and mayhem without using firearms. The World Trade Center attacks, all the bombings in the UK and Northern Ireland, to say nothing of all those in other nations, and every other crime from domestic abuse to rape to violent attacks on the streets, all done without firearms.

    The problem is not the tools these people use to commit their crimes; the problem is these people and their lack of morality. But fixing that problem is unsexy, long-term, undramatic and cannot get you elected by whipping up a frenzy of hatred against an easy target, so that problem never gets fixed and we see nothing but recurrence after recurrence after recurrence.

    This is why I get so irate at people who blame the tools used by criminals instead of the criminals themselves – because they’re contributing, in however small a way, to the perpetuation of the cycle.

  10. Dan Says:

    Vincent, point taken. But I’m still safer in my workplace, school or office because of restricted gun ownership and I don’t expect a farmer or olympic shooter to walk in and shoot me.

    Mark, I do respect your opinions, but really – your final paragraph? You seriously think that people who abhor easy gun availability are partly responsible for gun crime?

    Anyway, I simply don’t get the argument ad absurdam about guns being in themselves, harmless objects. Yes, I could be attacked with a biro, a knife or a broom handle, but I’m glad the man on the street is LESS likely to be armed. Some members of my society – many innocent- are more in danger of gun death than I am. However, our children are also less likely to be messing with the family glock and shoot each other, because I live in a country where gun ownership is minimalised

    • Mark Dennehy Says:

      No Dan, I think people who don’t examine the actual evidence dispassionately and seek easy solutions contribute to the cycle by not preventing the next incident.

      For example, there was a shooting in Hungerford some years back. There was public outcry and many changes in firearms legislation, including banning the specific firearms that Ryan had used.

      However, what was ignored was that Ryan had been witnessed breaking the existing firearms legislation by several people who hadn’t reported it – including the company he worked for, who actually held disciplinary proceedings because he showed up for work with a firearm; and his neighbours, who he actually shot at with an airgun before the shooting.

      Had this been the focus rather than the firearms he used, Dunblane would have been prevented, and we know this because Hamilton was thrown out of several gun clubs in short succession because people felt he was a paedophile and of questionable character – but when he went to renew his firearms licence, he lied about his membership status and the police never called the club to verify it (a phone call that would have led to an arrest as falsifying that kind of information is an offence).

      The problem wasn’t with the tools. It was elsewhere; with the people involved. But that wasn’t easy to mount a political campaign with and so it wasn’t addressed and a second tragedy occurred despite all the changes to the legislation and the elimination of the tools Ryan had used.

      The disturbing element is that after Dunblane the problem remained unaddressed and the same failed approach was used as before (this time to get Labour elected in the UK). And after the recent shooting in Cumbria, the problem was also left unaddressed, and the same failed tactics tried. Which means that the original problem is still out there, waiting to resurface in a new incident.

      The people who supported the failed tactics after Hungerford and after Dunblane and after Cumbria do share a degree of responsibility for future incidents. Nowhere near as much as whomever carries them out, but their hands are not clean either. That’s the price they pay for deciding on public policy, and it’s why it’s so important that those who take on that role do so dispassionately and looking at the actual data rather than the sensationalism of the news media.

    • Vincent Says:

      Granted, but then you are not a Tinker walking away from a farmers door.

  11. Perry Share Says:

    This has actually turned into quite an interesting discussion. I presume the logic of Mark’s position is that no attempts to control the use of any non-human object (eg guns, heroin, cars, alcohol, fast food &c) are of any value, indeed are counter-productive inasmuch as such attempts distract attention from the correct strategy, which is to seek to influence human’s individual and social attitudes and behaviour. Furthermore such attitudes and behaviour cannot be influenced through legislation, as the issue is personal morality. Am I reading this right? (Its been a long day)

    • Perry Share Says:

      which is why I put my apostrophe in the wrong place – sorry!

    • Mark Dennehy Says:

      That’s a gross oversimplification Perry, to the point of distortion.

      My position is this:
      – Private ownership of firearms is demonstratably not a significant public safety hazard (as shown by the CDC’s data)

      – Crime and suicide cannot be considered when considering public safety hazards. Suicide, because removing the means for suicide does not prevent the suicide, but merely changes the nature of the final act. Crime, for the following reasons:

      – Criminal acts using firearms cannot be controlled by banning firearms outright (because criminals ignore such bans as the crimes they use the firearms for carry heavier penalties than possession of the banned firearms does)

      – Criminal acts using firearms are not strongly retarded by gun control legislation; in fact no evidence exists that proves a causative relation in either sense between crime rates and gun control legislation (as judged by the NAS and demonstrated by comparisons between different nations worldwide)

      – The strongest driving factor on crime rates using firearms are social in nature. Emphasising such factors over mere throw-away legislation put forward by politicians for political self-promotion would be a sensible course of action

      – Likewise, ignoring causative factors and engaging in political rhetoric to create a form of mass hysteria in the aftermath of a tragedy in order to facilitate political self-promotion by passing legislation that panders to that hysteria is not only highly unethical and immoral, but ultimately ineffectual in combating gun crime and leads to recurrence after recurrence ad nauseum.

      That, I think, is relatively clear.

      • Perry Share Says:

        Clear enough, OK. So, is there (in your view) any reason for the state seeking to influence the possession of any object? Say, for example, heroin, anthrax, radioactive material?

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