I see that CNN is touting a poll showing support for new national restrictions on firearms. This is not surprising considering the large amount of publicity recent mass shootings have been given. Each one of them is a tragedy, and I grieve not just for the victims, but that we are being shaped into the kind of society in which such senseless violence is manifesting itself. While over-all murder rates have reached a 30 year low, the perception is that mass shootings by mentally unstable people are on the increase.
The largest mass-killings of civilians in historical terms have been perpetrated not by any particular type of private citizen, but by government itself. If you have any doubt at all about what central governments with a monopoly on firepower tend to do to their own people then have a look at the figures from R.J. Rummel who wrote the book "Death by Government." Or I will save you the trouble- governments with a monopoly on firepower have a very strong tendency to butcher large segments of their own populations. The 20th century is known for its exceptionally bloody wars, but governments in that same time span actually murdered six times as many of their own citizens as were killed in war.
If civilian mass shootings are in fact higher than they were previously, and we wish to reduce them to at or below their previous levels, then the sensible thing to do is to find out what changes caused them to increase. That way, we at least have a valid idea of what to correct. This would allow us to construct effective policies to reduce mass shootings instead of imposing ineffective policies as a reflex response just so we can feel better about "doing something". Such emotion-driven non-solutions may have ghastly unintended consequence later.
Up until the 1960s, mass shootings were very rare and when they occurred they tended to be a deranged family member attacking other members of their own family. Going to a public place and murdering people that were either strangers or that you did not know well was unusual. The increase in mass shootings that we see is due to an increase in attacks on the larger society.
I think it is pretty clear that unstable people lash out at what they feel has let them down or what they are uncomfortable with. If they feel alienated by their family when their expectation is acceptance and support, then they lash out at their family. If they feel alienated in their society, especially when that society makes a large outward show of accepting and tolerating almost everybody, then they lash out at society.
For some time now the ruling elites in the west have been imposing policies on their populations which virtually guarantee there will be an increase in resentment and alienation among the various sub-groups in our society. Policies which undermine family, faith, and community reduce our ties to one another. At the same time that the state has been pushing policies which reduce our ties to each other it has supported programs which increase our ties to itself. This has resulted in a nation full of people who feel alienated, isolated, and unconnected. Man does not live by government social guarantees alone. A large proportion of the mass shooters are either people whose families are recent immigrants from alien cultures or from sub-cultures which have been most alienated from society by government programs which replace traditional families with a case-worker and a government check.
Access to guns is not what has changed. Americans have had access to guns for a long time. We have had semi-automatic handguns since at least 1911. We had "assault rifles" in the 1950s. And if our weapons then lacked some features available to us today then understand that last week in France an individual fitting the profile I described killed scores of people with a truck. Yesterday in Japan, a man with a knife murdered 19 people and wounded at least that many. In 1966 Charles Whitman murdered 14 people and wounded 32 others, mostly with a bolt-action rifle. And he would have killed many more people if armed civilians had not assisted police with covering fire, forcing him to retreat to positions which limited his own field of fire.
Access to guns is not what has changed in society. Nor are guns necessary in order to kill or maim large numbers of people. What has changed is our sense of connection to one another. Consider the weakening of these connections as the (possibly) unintended consequence of government programs which replace family and community with central state mediation. Consider also the (possibly) unintended consequences of subsidizing day care at the expense of children who are raised in their own homes by their own families. Further consider the cheapening of life and family through state-subsidized abortion, and divorce laws which discourage marriage but not co-habitation. Consider the lessening of connection when community schools become federally-directed schools.
Consider the (possibly) unintended consequences of a society which is forced by the ruling class to absorb waves of people from cultures whose mores are sharply contrasting with our own. This is also isolating and tension-creating. It has created pockets of alienated sub-groups within immigrant communities and simmering resentment in the formerly dominant culture. Different groups of people can have very different ways of looking at the world. Perhaps throwing these different groups together at a high rate of speed and attempting to dictate from the top what the population's attitudes and values to such cultural interaction should be is a bad idea- unless one is cultivating a "divide and conqueror" strategy in which government creates its own market for mediation services between hostile groups.
I have not even touched on the over-prescription of powerful psychotropic drugs. Many of the mass shooters were on such drugs which masked rather than treated underlying problems of social deficits in their lives. Indeed, the long term effect of such drugs is to make the problem worse since the state of mind produced by many of them is not conducive to making and building new social connections. Young people can walk around in a "zoned-out" mental state for years only to wake up and realize they have no true friends, and a dysfunctional family. They feel no connection to a society which has done nothing for them but drug them so that they won't be "a problem" for the authorities.
Firearms are not the problem and more central government mandates concerning the ownership of firearms are not going to solve the problem. The problem is a loss of family, community and connection. This precipitates a commensurate increase in isolation, alienation, and hostility. Firearms are simply the tools by which a few individuals pushed past the edge sometimes manifest the true problem. Were they not as readily available, other tools, perhaps deadlier tools, would be sought out.
Federal government policy has done nothing to address the real problem, other than make it worse. They have undermined families, communities, and other institutions such as churches. Government policies have systematically reduced the effectiveness of all competitive institutions in favor of strengthening its own hands. Reckless immigration policies have increased people's anxiety while the centrally mandated politically correct attitudes which they have attempted to impose from the top down are driving people apart instead making space for the natural process of their coming together over time.
Because the true nature of the problem is an artifact of the central government's policies, the solution cannot be found by that government taking up more authority for itself. By its very nature, a vast central government cannot provide connection, community, and family. It can only undermine them or not undermine them. It has chosen to undermine them, and as a result individuals on the fringe of various sub-groups are lashing out at the culture they feel has not provided them what every human being needs.
Therefore the solution to this problem must be that the governments which have been creating the conditions which precipitate mass murder should change their policies and quit creating those conditions. Repeal laws which substitute government in place of family, in place of community, and in place of faith. Stop deliberately throwing together groups of people who do not wish to be around each other and demanding that they express the "proper" attitude for one another. Allow quarrels to be resolved at a lower level rather than Washington- even if Washington does not always like the resolution. Stop trying to do so much and stop trying to prevent others from doing it instead.
Unfortunately there is no serious possibility that the central government will do this any time soon. The negative societal consequences of central control and supplanting of other institutions will be suppressed by yet more controls and rules and policies which will result in yet more tension, isolation, and eventually lashing out. I fear they will even violate the principle of the Rule of Law and impose even more restrictions which are beyond their legitimate constitutional powers to impose. While they may manufacture a temporary fake political approval of their actions, in the long run when government and those at the highest rungs of it are clearly acting above their own laws it only fosters more resentment and anger. When it comes to building a stable society, suppression is no substitute for justice.