The Gist

The Most Dangerous Belief Is Not Believing in Gun Control

We’ll never know what killers are really thinking. But we can make them less deadly.

Suspect Robert Dear is led away by police after three were shot dead and many wounded at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Nov. 27, 2015.

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Fourteen people are dead after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday. This comes less than a week after a shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs left three dead. On Monday, The Gist host Mike Pesca used a segment of the show to argue that we will never truly understand the motivations of mass killers. What we should focus on is gun control. A lightly edited transcript of the segment is below:

The killings in Colorado Springs that took three lives last Friday prompted President Obama to say, “Enough is enough,” adding, “This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal.” Less than two months ago after the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Obama said, “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. “

In that statement he also referenced an interview with the BBC a few months earlier where he said, “We can’t let mass shootings become routine.” And he noted that a few hours after he gave that interview there was a mass shooting at a Louisiana movie theater. Let’s go back two months before that Louisiana mass shooting and here’s the president talking about the shooting at the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina*:

I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.

It’s an endless stream of statements about having to make statements about having to make statements. And the statement is never made, or is never made strong enough, to actually pass a law, or maybe even to change one mind, as far as I can tell.

Still, in the immediate wake of the Planned Parenthood killings the question went out of why no Republican candidate had made a statement. Why? Because we see the Kevlar-like properties of a strongly worded statement. So, not exactly unbidden, but as a condition of their appearances on the Sunday shows, various Republicans did weigh in. There was Ben Carson on ABC:

You know any hate crime is a horrible thing no matter from where it comes and should be condemned very strongly.

And here’s Carly Fiorina on Fox:

Well this is a tragedy, it’s obviously a tragedy. Nothing justifies this. And presumably this man who appears deranged if nothing else will be tried for murder as he should be. But it’s a tragedy especially on a holiday weekend.

Both of these candidates went on to decry extremism on the left and to separate the actions of the shooter from what they saw as the valid criticisms of Planned Parenthood. Ted Cruz tried a different tack. In this audio, captured by the Texas Tribune, he glommed onto a report that the shooter had once listed his gender as female on a voter registration form:

We don’t fully know the motivations of this deranged individual. We know that he was registered as an independent and as a woman and as a transgendered, leftist, activist if that’s what he is.

All right, that comment was a bizarre outlier. But the positions of all the Republicans were aptly described by the Washington Post:

Several Republican presidential candidates on Sunday condemned the attack on a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, but stopped short of agreeing with liberal critics who say that fiery anti-abortion rhetoric contributed to the shooting.

Know what? I actually agree with that. I can’t say what did or didn’t motivate the shooter. I can say that it is a fool’s errand to parse the motivations of a mad man and to say “but for these dangerous ideas in his head those people would be alive.” It is much truer that but for the dangerous weapon in his hands the people would be alive.

The anti–Planned Parenthood videos were misleading. They conflated legal reimbursements, which are only allowed in a few states, with selling baby parts. They made Planned Parenthood officials look bad because they talked about abortion procedures matter-of-factly as they were chomping down salads, and all the videos were unethically obtained.

Also, I want to note that there does seem to have been an uptick in abortion clinic vandalism and arson since the videos came out, though it should be noted that Clinton-era safeguards have worked really well in keeping abortion providers generally safe.

Now many Republican candidates, and conservatives in general, compare the Black Lives Matter movement to the anti-abortion movement. Their motivation is to deflect, but I think there’s a point to be made. Because, in fact, there have been self-professed followers of the Black Lives Matter movement who have killed cops. Late last year a deranged man killed his girlfriend in Baltimore, took a bus to New York, posted his intention to kill police officers on Instagram, and then killed two NYPD officers. He said he was going to do it. He said why he was going to do it. He made reference to a high profile victim of police violence, and then he killed two policemen.

Other killers of cops may have less clear motivations, but it’s plausible that a few police officers are dead because a few broken individuals mistook or twisted the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement for their own ill will.

And because, of course, guns. All of these would-be killers became actual killers because of guns. So let me also circle back to that sentence in the Washington Post: “Stopped short of agreeing with liberal critics who say that anti-abortion rhetoric contributed to the shooting.”

I actually think that there was some rhetoric that contributed to the shooting. Rhetoric like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Did you know that less than a month before the Planned Parenthood shooting, there was another mass killing in the town of Colorado Springs? One woman was witness to both, by the way, and her boyfriend said she cried the first time but not this time because quote, “She’s a veteran now.”

Well in that first shooting the shooter was walking down the street with his rifle—an AR-15, in fact. Concerned citizens saw him and called the authorities and said, “There’s a man walking down the street with a rifle.” And the dispatcher told these citizens, “Well there’s nothing we can do about that because Colorado is an open carry state and the only thing that’s going to stop a bad guy with a gun is—” Oh too late, three innocent people are now dead.

That was Halloween day. In between that mass shooting and the Planned Parenthood Black Friday mass shooting, the website Shooting Tracker chronicled 31 additional mass shootings. Forty-seven dead and scores more wounded. Now these were just the mass shootings. These were not the one-off accidents, the suicides, the targeted slayings, the gangland beefs. No presidential candidates of either party were called on to make statements decrying the Ohio man who killed his neighbors and their 7-year-old son; the quadruple murderer in Kentucky who shot a family then burned their house; the Texas man who shot six at a campsite; the Jacksonville, Florida, man who made the mother of his 5-month-old twins hold their babies as he shot her, and them, and then himself.

Guns. A lot of people have a lot of terrible ideas: Sometimes it’s getting revenge on an ideology, sometimes it’s getting revenge on the police, sometimes it’s getting revenge on people you personally know. But without guns, the death toll would be much lower. I’m not saying that all the hateful rhetoric around Planned Parenthood didn’t unfairly nudge them closer to the crosshairs. But it’s not just bad ideas and angry men that lead to these obscene death tolls. It’s that the ill heads with these twisted ideas can so easily access a means of lethality uncommon in the civilized world. We are an aggrieved, worked up, angry people. But an American who is aggrieved or enraged or unmoored is more deadly that an Englishman or an Australian not because of the extremes of our discourse, or the extent of our aggrievement. The bad idea that people are most dying from is not an anti-abortion idea or an anti-cop idea or anti-Western, anti-Christian. It’s anti–gun control. That’s the deadliest and most ignorant idea of all.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the San Bernardino, California, shooting.

*Correction, Dec. 3, 2015: This article originally misidentified the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, as the AMC church. (Return.)