Friday, October 02, 2015


(Source: Vox; see also CNN.)

I'm throwing this out strictly as a thought exercise.

We know that America has far more deaths from gun violence than from terrorism. We know that America has far more deaths just from mass shootings than from terrorism -- it's been reported that we have more than one mass shooting per day now.

We say we don't know what to do about the shootings. But we think we know what to do about terrorism: Among other things, we engage in mass surveillance, collecting information on a staggering number of electronic communications.

Well, many mass shooters seem to use electronic communications to telegraph their intentions. It's being reported that the Oregon shooter did that on 4chan. (Yes, it was only the day before he shooting took place, but that would seem to be what, in a terrorism context, we refer to as "the ticking-bomb scenario.")

Would we reduce gun violence if we devoted massive amounts of resources to tracking electronic communications for signs of impending interpersonal violence that wouldn't normally be defined as terrorism? And if we did that, wouldn't we be addressing a much more significant and persistent threat to Americans' safety than terrorism?

Think of all the snazzy techniques that are supposed to allow the government to identify keywords hinting at terrorist intent -- shouldn't we be developing similar lists of keywords hinting at the intent to commit mass murder for thrills, or even garden-variety domestic violence? And if we want to have a layer of oversight, shouldn't the interpersonal-violence equivalent of a FISA court be ready at all times to rubber-stamp warrants?

I'm not proposing that we actually do any of this. But isn't it something we'd do if we actually cared about what really threatens Americans?


Never Ben Better said...

Now, now, Steve, you know as well as I do nothing will come of this massacre other than a round-robin of recriminations, obfuscations, jeremiads and lamentations. Then it'll be on to the next three-day wonderment (used to be nine, but everything's so much faster these days, doncha know -- unless it's a right-wing obsession, in which case it never dies).

Me, I'm going to go read Jim Wright's umpteenth update of "The Seven Stages of Gun Violence", though I may not proceed then to his "Bang Bang Crazy" series, as it's up to ten parts by now and I am just too fucking numbed and depressed about the whole topic by now.

mlbxxxxxx said...

Maybe we should waterboard everyone who buys a gun just in case they, themselves, are a "ticking timebomb."

aldabe said...

The president said we spent a trillion dollars when America was attacked by foreign terrorists and created a new federal dept with thousands of new employees. But we can't even do research on domestic gun violence. I think there's a law preventing that which is crazy. I think there should be a way to look for threats on social media. It would not violate anyone's privacy if people are posting it themselves.