After posting the previous note, I came across a quote (by way of Megan McArdle) that makes a similar point to the one I was making. It's a line of verse from Samuel Johnson:
How small, of all that human hearts endure That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!
That's not exactly my way of putting it—a little bit too much Old World fatalism—but it does remind us of the limits of government power.
Of the many, many, many articles on the Newtown massacre, most of which are worthless, I did find one last one that I thought was thought-provoking: an article on "Why Israel Has No Newtowns." It is mostly a debunking of claims that strict Israeli gun control prevents massacres from occurring there. The upshot: private gun ownership is narrowly controlled in theory, but a lot of Israelis have illegal guns, and someone in just about every family carries a government-issued gun as part of the country's extensive system of military service. The article is illustrated by a photo of a group of attractive young women out on the town with assault rifles slung across their backs. You see a lot of this sort of photo coming out of Israel, and I get them sent to me regularly on Facebook. I guess that indicates the kind of demographic I hang out with.
On positive points, the article is pretty weak. For one thing, it refutes its own premise by mentioning Baruch Goldstein, who massacred Palestinians in Hebron, and Eden Natan-Zada, "a soldier who shot up a bus full of Israeli Arabs." Israel may have fewer of these shooters than America, but then again, it has a much smaller population.
The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that a mentally disturbed killer often seeks to lash out at people he thinks of as his enemies—whether he blames society in general or his coworkers or some other group. Well, if you're an Israeli, the enemy is easy to identify: it is the Arabs.
And of course the problem is much worse in the other direction. That's the big reason Israel is different from America on this issue. They are better organized to stop this sort of mass killing because their society is prepared for this to happen every day at the hands of a committed terrorist enemy.
That leads me to an interesting comparison made by Adam Lankford between domestic mass killers and terrorist suicide attackers. "In fact," he writes, "we should think of many rampage shooters as nonideological suicide terrorists." This is a point that Jack Wakeland made to me many years ago (and which I believe I have published before in TIA Daily). At any rate, Lankford offers a thoughtful and interesting essay.
Max Boot contests the comparison, noting that the difference is that suicide terrorists in the Middle East are put into action by a whole network of logistical support, and they are subject to intensive ideological indoctrination to keep up their resolve to kill and die.
Those are worthwhile objections, but I still think Lankford has a point. For all of the blather about how the Newtown shooting shows that there is something wrong with our society, the fact is that if the shooter in that case had shared his plans with anyone else, they almost certainly would have tried to stop him. But if his Palestinian counterpart (or Pakistani, or Libyan, or Egyptian, etc.) shares his desire to kill indiscriminately—he will be recruited by a prominent social institution. Terror, in these societies, is an "ism." It is a system.
Yet our political leaders tell our society that "we will have to change."
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