Rare Events, Gun Violence, and the Nefarious Large Organization

Suppose you are the Nefarious Large Organization (NLO) and you want to kill lots of random Americans but you do not want your fingerprints on the trigger weapons.

How might you go about doing this? Having a long time frame helps. You're going to need a large political arm that can help with loosening laws to create the conditions you need. You'll need to grow your NLO organization.

A two prong approach can work wonders. You need to get large numbers of weapons into the hands of lots and lots of people.

First, which weapons? Knives don't kill many people, are very personal, and are hard to work with. You might get hurt trying to use a knife, especially if someone fights back. Bombs are difficult to make and have a habit of blowing up their amateur makers as much as blowing up the intended targets. Plus they need to be hidden. There is a military complex that makes bombs, and there is a cottage industry in bomb making in parts of the third world, but in the first world, bombs perhaps aren't optimal. You would need better bomb training and if your NLO started marketing bomb making courses, people might catch on when bombs with your designs started killing lots of people. Guns would be better, as other companies make them. Your NLO doesn't need to make guns, just advocate for their use and acquisition. Although guns take some skill, that skill is easily acquired. Or you can shoot into large crowds where it is hard to miss. But Saturday night specials and revolvers have a limited number of bullets. Having guns with lots of bullets that shoot quickly in the hands of many people is paramount for achieving your goal of killing lots of Americans. Thus the need for automatic firearms.

This is where your NLO political operation becomes paramount. It takes a long time frame and plenty of cash to get politicians to set the stage where you can get these automatic firearms into the hands of lots of people. This may take you decades. Advertising can induce a cachet to owning automatic firearms and after the population of owners gets large enough, network effects will work to spread their availability and ownership.

If you can get enough weapons into enough hands, the 'which people' part will solve itself as there are always some people willing to work with you in your goal of wanting to kill lots of Americans without your fingerprints on the weapons. You won't even need to communicate directly with those people.

Humans do not classify neatly into 'good people' or 'bad people'. We're all good some of the time and we're all bad at least occasionally. The fractions of good/bad vary from person to person and over time within a person. Toss in a rare event (what people call 'bad luck' or 'an accident') and something terrible can happen. You speed, you drink and drive, you walk atop a wall, you clamber up a steep cliff. People can be immature, then they grow up, get a job, get married and settle down. People can be fine, then get depressed or desperate. Your spouse or mother dies and you have no one caring for you, keeping you safe and on an even keel, keeping those mental demons quiet. You suddenly are isolated, alone. You have difficulty in school, get teased a lot.

It's a fiction that we just have to keep the guns out of the hands of the 'bad people'. Truth is that most of our killers are 'good people', legally speaking, right up until they actually start killing people. Medically, it's virtually impossible to distinguish people at risk of doing bad things some time in the future and those who are not. Certainly before they bought or inherited that first gun, before their friend or neighbor or local advertising circular introduced them to that gun, they were fine, legally speaking. They buy that first gun, they still classify as 'good people'. Before something bad happened to them, before they lost their job, before their last parent died, before they were picked on, before they became depressed or suicidal, people were 'good people'.

You the NLO need to get those guns into the hands of millions of people. Some of those people are going to have problems. They become sick. They may get depressed. They get in a car accident. Socially they are isolated, or they become isolated. They don't fit in. They get teased. They feel like they are teased, even if they are not. Mild paranoia may set in. They think strangers and foreigners are going to take what is rightfully theirs. They may not have been raised with a full set of social skills to handle modern society. These people aren't all that common, they're not the majority. Most of us humans are doing fine, are decent people and aren't teased so badly that we think about becoming killers or drug addicts. That's why you need millions of gun owners. Not all of those millions of gun owners are going to have good sense. They may give or sell their guns to some troubled soul. They may encourage some troubled soul to buy guns as a way to self-worth. They themselves may grow to have psychological problems themselves even though they've been fine for decades. Take millions of people, and some of them are just going to be 'off'.

You make things easy, those bad things you want to have happen will happen more often. Make it easy to commit suicide, more people will commit suicide. Make it easier to commit mass murder, more people will commit mass murder. We are not talking about making the average person commit suicide or mass murder. Just those in the extremes. Just loosen the laws enough so that one person in a million has the ability to shoot someone else or to shoot themselves.

Similarly, reduce health care, screw up schools, reduce social services, make lives more miserable, increase access to drugs, do what you can to cause more difficulties for more people. This will provide a lush environment to grow people with the potential to have further problems.

Maybe these troubled individuals are only one in a million. This is the problem and the issue of rare events. This is where you, the NLO can hide behind the problem of rare events. How could we foresee some random, rare event occurring? Who us? How could we have figured out that lone individual in Las Vegas or Parkland or Orlando or Sandy Hook might be that one individual who feels so aggrieved that we wish we could have seen them coming? Gee, not my fault you say.

If an event is one in a million, then you need millions of attempts to get a 'success'. If you're the NLO, you need millions of gun owners, so that your guns end up in the hands of that one person who decides that killing a lot of others is the solution to their problems. Low probability events happen when you have lots of chances. Someone always wins the lottery. Your NLO political arm has been working tirelessly for years. Loosening laws, fighting hard, fighting dirty, making glib arguments, buying off amenable politicians. You can tolerate rare events, because you've gotten your guns into the hands of millions of people. You've got millions of chances to hit the jackpot.

You make things easy, those bad things you want to have happen will happen more often. Make it easy to commit suicide, more people will commit suicide. Make it easier to commit mass murder, more people will commit mass murder. We are not talking about making the average person commit suicide or mass murder. Just those in the extremes. Loosen the laws enough so that one person in a million has the ability to shoot someone or to shoot themselves. Eliminate health care, screw up schools, reduce social services, make lives more miserable, do what you can to cause more difficulties for more people. This will provide a warm environment to grow people with the potential to have further problems. You don't need everyone to want to do your bidding, you just need one person. One person in a million.

Modeling is important and useful. Having killers getting lots of press attention in the popular media is very helpful to your NLO plan. More and more of your automatic rifle owners see that killing lots of people is a really neat way to get some attention. The media is on your side, NLO, because the media will spread around the how-to and the what-to and the fame of these killers.

And when you've done your job right, your NLO fingerprints aren't on the trigger. When the killing is over, there is no obvious link between killers. But you've achieved your purpose. Setting many many small probability events in motion, incubating, waiting to see who cracks next, who decides to shoot next.

As the smoke settles, as survivors decide whether to tear down or rebuild the building, as survivors make memorials and attend funerals, your spokespeople say: don't politicize this, don't make decisions in the heat of the moment, don't do something you'll regret later. Your political arm materials just write themselves, don't they?

Sadly the memorials need to be written too. She wanted to be a scientist. He was everyone's friend. They just wanted to watch a good movie. She was an inspiring teacher. He was a great football coach. He was here on vacation. She was in 1st grade. I don't suppose, NLO, that you'd like to contribute to writing the memorials for the people killed today? How about the people killed yesterday? Your machinations are working NLO, congratulations. Maybe you'll work on the future memorials for those killed tomorrow? We appreciate your assistance.

Guns and Rare Events

Seems that people with severe mental illness are able to easily purchase guns in this country. Seems like people (whether actually mentally ill or not) who are upset and angry and want to hurt someone also can purchase a gun easily.

Often we hear that gun advocates think that more guns is the solution. This seems to revolve on a world view where most all of us have our hands on our guns, all of us with guns are ready to take appropriate defensive action, all of us with guns can read a scene perfectly and all of us will come to a correct decision at all times and every time about how to react.

Hypothesize many many people walking and driving around every day carrying their gun with them. Suppose (just for supposes sake) that half the people wandering around have a gun within reach. Think about what is required here. No one with a gun should be angry. No one carrying a gun should have hormones raging out of control. No one carrying a gun has mental illness. No one carrying a gun had too little sleep last night. No one carrying a gun has depression, schizophrenia, mania or delusions. No one carrying a gun is temporarily irrational. Nothing bad happens to anyone carrying a gun that gets them mentally out of joint: a bump in the crowd, loud truck sounds, a boss with an unreasonable demand just before quitting time, missing the green light, a mentally ill homeless person smelling bad standing on the street corner asking for handouts.

Have you ever done something stupid that you later regretted, even though you didn't suffer consequences? Would having access to a gun made that situation better? Think of all the stupid things everyone else has ever done. Ever seen someone in a fender bender get out of their car and start screaming at the other person, no matter who was at fault?

Those of us in academia worry a lot about our students, both generally and specifically. Every now and again, someone with access to a gun or guns comes to campus or to the area near campus with intent, sometimes to shoot a specific person such as an adviser, colleague, competitor or department chair. Sometimes they come to campus or the area near campus with the intent to kill just any random person they can find.

Having a lot of people wandering around with guns, I now have to worry about the sanity and training and general level-headedness of each and every one of them. And we can't tolerate a situation where any one of these gun toting people anywhere in the country are temporarily off-balance, temporarily ill-tempered, temporarily irritated, or temporarily over-stressed.

In academia, we do put people under stress. There's paperwork and bureaucracy, bad food and traffic. We give tests. Sometimes hard ones. We have deadlines. We demand a lot from our students. We teach, and we expect them to learn. We deliver bad news: you didn't get the grade you hoped for, or the grade you thought you deserved or thought you needed. You didn't get admitted to the school, the major, the program, graduate school. All this puts stress on an individual. Some people cope fine, some learn coping mechanisms, some cope sufficiently, some grow as a person and rise to the occasion. Little of this is done without stress.

What about the stresses of interpersonal relationships? Students at college are meeting many new people, from many different walks of life and this can be a fresh challenge. Students are away from their comfort zone for the first, or if in grad school, second time; many students travel and some travel great distances to attend college. One develops boy/girl friends, close friends and people you can't stand, though they share a bathroom with you. Sometimes friendships fall apart, sometimes they go lax. A support group can grow and it can shrink suddenly at holiday time or at the end of the school year. People get isolated, sometimes for long periods of calendar time, some for shorter periods. All of us are isolated for hours in a given day.

Some students press themselves very hard. Some students expect more from themselves than they are able to deliver. Some have expectations out of sync with their abilities and interests. And just about everyone learns how to adjust to reality when reality bites back. People naturally get stressed in life and in academia. And this pushes some folks a bit far, and for a while they can break, until they mend and come back, hopefully stronger, ready to try new things. Or they change their goals and their objectives, and move to a different sphere in their lives.

And people less capable of handling limits, instructions, social interactions, deadlines are more likely to be stressed by these situations.

And into this vital, vibrant personal and academic stew, full of growth and challenge, despair, growth and success, you want to mix lethal weapons too?

I suspect that people who want freely available lethal gun weapons are also those who seem to think that illness stops at the neck, that mental illness doesn't exist, or doesn't happen. Mental illness is something that can strike most anybody. It may not strike you. But you'll want to be insured for it, just in case. Someone can be healthy, and mentally well balanced one day and go buy a gun. And pass any check on mental illness. And that person, at that time, I'm not worried about them going out and shooting someone. But that person can live for another 50 years with that gun. And in all that time, you want to guarantee me that they will never be stressed? Never depressed or despondent? Never make a stupid decision? Never be trod upon by life? By life, by a boss, by a spouse, by bureaucracy, by a neighbor, by politics, by money worries? By kids or parents? Never get in a bad way? Never suicidal, never angry, never unhappy, never mad, never irate? Never mentally ill? Never get Alzheimer's?

You want to assure me that this healthy, mentally stable person will never mis-use that gun for the rest of their life?

And their spouse, their kids, their parents, and their kid's friends will never mis-use that gun for the rest of their lives as well? And everyone that might accidentally or purposefully gain access to that gun?

What training is required to properly use a gun? Cleaning, handling, safe storage, target practice, accuracy, reading a scene, what else? Do you want to assure me that everyone who might ever come into contact with that gun will have the proper training to use that gun? That they remember their training? That they own a gun safe? That their weapons are stored in that gun safe? That the combo to the safe isn't written on a piece of paper in the kitchen drawer with the spare car keys?

Now multiply this by the estimated 100,000,000 people in the United States who own a gun. I don't think people understand what happens when you multiply a small problem, a small probability of a bad outcome by 100 million.

You want to guarantee me that all 100,000,000 people are not having such a bad day that they won't mis-use that gun? You want to guarantee me that all 100,000,000 people know how to use a gun properly, that they'll safely store it away from their kids and any other kids? You want to guarantee me that all 100,000,000 people won't have their house burgled and the gun stolen where it disappears into the underground economy? Not one person in those 100,000,000 won't get furious at someone or something in the next week?

You want to guarantee me that all 100,000,000 people won't commit suicide, tomorrow, this year, sometime in the next fifty years? In any given day, 58 of those 100,000,000 nice US citizens commit suicide using a gun. About 30 people use a gun to kill someone else each day. In the US.

So, can you guarantee me that out of those 100 million people, that all 100 million of them are going to behave properly? Right now, about 88 of them per day on average are killing themselves or someone else. But that adds up to quite a lot of dead Americans by December 31st.

Have a nice day. And please don't shoot me.

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