The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

How America Stops Mass Shooters — Poorly

A police officer secures the area with a police cordon after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, August 3, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The El Paso shooter’s mom called the police well before the shooting . . . but left out some important details; mass shooters may be terrorists, but that doesn’t mean the usual tools used against Islamist terror will necessarily work against them; and a thrilling author calls our attention to a serious health problem among U.S. war veterans.

If You See Something, Say Something — Specific

There are times when it feels like the slogan and instruction to the public, “if you see something, say something,” is a cynical joke. We heard about police and the FBI ignoring warnings about the Parkland shooter. Mass shooters at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Isla Vista, and Sandy Hook all had one thing in common: Before the shootings, concerned and frightened people who had encountered the future shooter told various non-police authorities about what they had seen and heard — in some cases, campus police; in other cases, college and school administrators.

The El Paso situation is not quite one of these. The shooter’s mother was concerned enough to call the police . . . but not concerned enough to give his name.

The El Paso shooting suspect’s mother called the Allen, Texas, Police Department weeks before the shooting because she was concerned about her son owning an “AK” type firearm, lawyers for the family confirmed to CNN.

The mother contacted police because she was worried about her son owning the weapon given his age, maturity level and lack of experience handling such a firearm, attorneys Chris Ayres and R. Jack Ayres said.

During the call, the mother was transferred to a public safety officer who told her that — based on her description of the situation — her son, 21, was legally allowed to purchase the weapon, the attorneys said. The mother did not provide her name or her son’s name, and police did not seek any additional information from her before the call concluded, they added.

According to the family’s attorneys, the mother’s inquiry was “informational” in nature and was not motivated out of a concern that her son posed a threat to anybody.

Mass Shooters Are De Facto Terrorists. Now What?

Kevin Williamson offers a really smart assessment that while we can accurately label the recent spate of mass shootings driven by angry young men with manifestos “terrorism,” that doesn’t necessarily offer a good roadmap a for a response:

It is not clear that the “terrorism” designation, appropriate though it is, will do us very much good in working to prevent these crimes. As far as we can tell, there isn’t really much of a White Boy al-Qaeda out there. What we have instead is a tribe of Richard Reids — you remember, the feckless would-be “shoe bomber” at whom we feel comfortable laughing because he failed to make his boots go boom. We probably would consider him less a figure of fun if he had managed to kill 197 people.

Terrorist organizations, like mafias, are powerful because of their complexity and vulnerable because of their complexity. A single maladjusted man sitting in his parents’ basement does not on a whim pull off a 9/11 or begin successfully to build a caliphate.

I have a slight quibble. Kevin is right that there is no “white boy al-Qaeda” in the sense of having a bin Laden figure, a structure, organization, funding networks, etc. But what we do have is a situation like those “lone wolf” terror attacks, where somebody is out there creating the message that inspires the desire to lash out through violence and a variety of obscure angry young men absorb the message, believe in it, and reach a point where they act upon it. It’s closer to the al-Qaeda propaganda that inspired the Boston marathon bombers. Some guys propagate the idea that these sorts of attacks are justified, and other guys buy into it and carry out the attacks.

The El Paso shooter believed in the “great replacement,” but he also believed in the sinister power of corporations and impending catastrophes from climate change. These guys don’t have one particular issue or grievance that motivates them. They are, as we’ve discussed before, grievance collectors. For incels, it’s the unacceptable injustice that women don’t like them. For some school shooters, it might be anger at their classmates. It’s never hard to find reasons to be angry, particularly when you seek out reasons to be angry. What a variety of online voices do – perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not — is formulate a narrative to young men that they’ve been victimized on an epic scale by society as a whole and that they have no path to a better future. The only option is to lash out with a gun.

(One of the questions that spurred the recent novel was wondering where you draw the lines between threatening people like a terrorist, a school shooter, and a serial killer. Their methods differ, but their goals and end results are roughly the same: a lot of dead innocent people. Apparently, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was just a general violent thug before he joined up with al-Qaeda in Iraq. He just gravitated to a group that would give him a religious justification for his preexisting brutal impulses. Once someone who seeks to do harm finds other people who have a similar appetite, how hard would it be to organize them into a more dangerous, organized structure? No link to the Amazon page today; I don’t want anyone accusing me of attempting to profit from tragedy.)

President Sweetness and Light

President Trump has tweeted quite a bit since declaring at the White House on Monday that “now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love.”

After visiting Dayton and aboard Air Force One on his way to El Paso, Trump tweeted, “Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring! The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy. It will be over for them, not to mention the fact that our Country will do poorly with him. It will be one big crash, but at least China will be happy!”

Also yesterday afternoon, Trump tweeted, “Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love. Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally….. misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with. They were all amazing! ” (For what it’s worth, after saying he was thinking about running for president for several months, Brown chose not to run.)

Trump went on to slam Shephard Smith of Fox News and Joaquin Castro (although oddly, Trump didn’t mention Castro posting the list of Trump donors on Twitter).

Trump is “a fighter,” he and his campaign constantly remind us. And the president is free to spend the day lashing out at anyone he saw on television criticizing him. But if Trump wonders why his personal approval rating is consistently lower than his job approval, and why his job approval is consistently lower than his approval of how he’s handling the economy, he ought to examine days like yesterday. “He fights,” even on days when he’s supposed to be playing the healing figure who is rising above petty and partisan politics. Consoling the nation after a terrible shock is an inevitable part of the modern presidency: Ronald Reagan had the Challenger disaster, Bill Clinton had Oklahoma City, George W. Bush had 9/11, and Obama had Sandy Hook and the Charleston church shootings. There are certain days where the President of the United states is supposed to put aside whatever is irritating him and reassure an American public that has just witnessed something horrific. Millions of Americans right now are asking, “what if that had been my family at that Walmart? What if my friends had been out on a Saturday night like those people in Dayton? How do I explain this to my children? When’s the next isolated nut job going to go into a public place with a desire to commit mass murder?”

There are issues and problems that are much bigger than whatever some Democratic politician said about Trump that day. But we can all see what sets off Trump the most.

ADDENDA: Today is a terrific day, for many reasons, including the fact that my friend Matthew Betley, author of the awesome Logan West thriller series, has his first article on NationalReview.com, a detailed examination of burn pits used on or near U.S. military bases in Iraq, the Department of Veterans Affairs mishandling of those health problems stemming from those pits, and the effort to update VA regulations and rules regarding this problem.

Betley writes, “It is infuriating when I hear stories of healthy men and women who suddenly contracted illnesses — in some cases, cancer — for which they had no preexisting symptoms or family history. The common thread for them all was a call to serve in a combat zone in defense of our great nation. Unfortunately, the combat zone followed them home, and for many, their battle is not over.”

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