First of all, the perpetrators of most mass shootings are not criminals. In fact, almost none of them are. Think about it — the profile is a quiet, anti-social loner, maybe with anger issues, maybe not, usually works at a menial job, maybe lives with his mom, maybe plays a lot of video games, maybe goes to university or high school… does that sound like some freaking street level drug dealer or gang banger to you? How about the part where it’s invariably reported that the shooter had no criminal record? Someone should do a study to determine why criminals don’t take the guns they have, walk into a school and start killing people before turning the guns on themselves, because they don’t. Criminals (and I’ve known a lot of them) are generally a short sighted, self-centred bunch. The last thing they’re going to do is commit a crime that doesn’t get them anything. The only thing they’re less likely to do is shoot themselves in the face after committing it.
But what if you’re not an actual ‘criminal’ and you want to get something illegal, like heroin, compared to something legal, like a gun? I don’t know if you’ve ever woken up one day and decided to go out there and pick up a flap of H, but let me give you a little tour of how that might go. You get in your nice little normal person car and you go downtown, because everybody knows that’s where you by drugs, right? What part of downtown? The bad part? When? At night? Okay. How much money should you bring? Wait a minute, this is starting to sound dangerous.
So there you are, a regular non-felonious guy with a regular haircut and glasses, driving around in your mom’s maroon 4-door Camry in the worst part of town at night, looking for some kind of criminal person. How do you know who’s a criminal? Putting aside the fact that it’s likely to be everybody you come across in this particular scenario, the smart money says that it’s definitely that fucking shady guy standing in that doorway and staring at you. Okay. So is he the drug selling kind of criminal, or the robbing you kind of criminal, or the stabbing you kind of criminal? I’ll give you a hint: they’re usually all three. Almost nobody who sells drugs on the streets is somehow morally unwilling to rob you. In fact, they’d much rather rob you than sell to you because the likelihood of getting caught is far less and the profit margin is infinitely greater. So there’s that.
But let’s say you’re not a quitter and you’ve come this far so you decide to go for it. Remember, after all of this the only thing you’ve actually managed to do is to find a sketchy guy in a bad neighbourhood to stare you down. So now what? Do you get out of the car? That seems like a bad idea. Do you pull over to him? Obviously he’s going to want to get into the car, and that seems like an even worse idea. He may lean in through a rolled down window like they do in The Wire, but you know what? This isn’t The Wire. This is some dude on some street trying to do crime without getting arrested, so if he does lean in the window it’s only going to be for long enough to tell you to open the door, because if you’re not really a drug customer willing to let him into your car to do a deal, he doesn’t want anything to do with you. And the longer he stays out of the car, the more exposed he is. In fact, he probably won’t even walk up to the car. So, you’ll have to get out.
Which means you have to park your car at night in a bad neighbourhood where criminals are watching you and walk away from it. But that’s the least of your worries. Because now it’s you that’s exposed. And guess what? If it hasn’t occurred to you already, it will occur to you now that it is absolutely clear to anybody watching that you’re there to buy something. With cash. And that you’re carrying it with you right now, as you walk up to the sketchy guy in the shadows that you have already determined is a criminal. And you’re about tell him not only that you have cash on you, but how much.
So let’s say that he’s not a drug dealer, but he is a drug user. Uh oh. In this case, one of two things is about to happen: He is about to rob you, or he is about to con you. There is no third scenario here. Unless you just run away, but you’re here to by heroin, remember? And if you run away you’re just going to have to circle the block and find another guy exactly like him to walk up to and announce that you’re carrying a whack of cash. So, let’s give you a break and say that he actually is a drug dealer. It’s your lucky day.
But he’s not going to sell to you. Because although guys who stand on the street and sell drugs aren’t particularly smart, they’re also not out and out stupid. If they were, they’d be in jail already, not standing out here talking to you. It’s a survival of the least stupid kind of thing.
He’s not going to sell to you for two reasons: he doesn’t know you and you don’t look like a junkie. So now you have to convince him that you’re not a cop (good luck) and that you’re not a junkie, true, but you really want to buy some heroin, presumably because you want to become a junkie. The shear outlandishness of this second assertion may intrigue a dude like this enough to stick with it for a moment.
Go ahead. Convince him. How exactly are you going to do that? The more earnestly you try, the more you’re going to look like you’re trying to set him up. And the more laid back and cool you are to be about it, the more you’re going to look like a cop.
If this whole enterprise isn’t starting to feel like pushing an uncooperative boulder up a pointless mountain, then there may actually be something wrong with you. But I’m going to give you at least as much benefit of the doubt as this drug dealer is about to give you and see what happens. How much do you want? That depends, you say. How much does it cost?
I haven’t been counting mistakes up to now, but this is a big one. He will not tell you how much it costs. He will tell you what he thinks you might believe. After all, he’s taking a real risk here. You’re as unknown to him as he is to you. So he gives you a stupidly high number. One of the reasons he does this is to find out how much money you actually have on you, in order to gauge his next move. Because the one thing you have to start to understand at this point is that you are playing a game. And it’s a game you are completely unprepared to play. In fact, you have no game. But he does. And of course, he knows it. And he knows that you know it. Still think you’re walking away with heroin?
Okay, let’s see how this plays out. He tells you something like a hundred bucks, and all you know is that heroin’s expensive, so you believe it. What you don’t realize, of course, because you’re not a junkie, is that heroin, like crack and crystal meth, is incredibly cheap. It only gets expensive when you keep coming back. For the rest of your life. But this guy knows that you don’t know that, and you make the deal. And that’s when he tells you that he doesn’t have it on him.
This might be a lie, or it might be the truth if the part about him being a heroin dealer was a lie. Either way, you are fucked. Because he is going to tell you to give him the money and he’ll be right back (he won’t be), or to follow him to some more private location where he can stab you and take your money. Again, there is not a third scenario here, because he is a criminal and you are alone and you are carrying cash. He will not “go get” the heroin any more than the barista at Starbucks will “go get” your coffee. If he’s open for business, he’s open for business. If he’s not, he’s only talking to you to figure out the best way to take your money.
Actually, I’m wrong. There is a third scenario. And it’s not run away, because at this point he is not going to let you run away. No, the third scenario is you give him the money, watch him walk away and hope that your car is still there.
Now imagine that you’re not trying to buy heroin, arguably the most popular and easily attainable product for a criminal to obtain on the street, because it’s just about fucking impossible if you don’t know what you’re doing. No, imagine instead that what you’re trying to buy on the street is a fully loaded AR15 assault rifle. So this time you’re not carrying a hundred bucks, you’re carrying, what, five hundred? A thousand? And you’re handing it to a guy who has a gun. Only this guy isn’t standing on the street with it, he’s hidden away in some apartment somewhere, and you have to first find a guy who will take you to him, a guy who will get nothing out of helping you and who you’ve just told that you’re unarmed and carrying a bunch of cash. So guess what? You’re not walking away with that gun, either. You will be very lucky if you walk away at all.
This is all because criminals are not in the business of doing business with people who are not criminals. It’s too dangerous, and there’s no long term profit in it. I said that criminals are short sighted, but not when it comes to business. They know who their steady customers are. No one’s out there to sell one flap of heroin, or one assault rifle, because that’s not a business, that’s a favour. And if there’s one thing that criminals are not known for besides trusting guys with bad haircuts in 4-door sedans, it’s doing favours.
It’s time to look at this another way, and say that you want to buy that AR15 assault rifle, but it’s not illegal because you live in the United States and it’s today. You hop in your Camry, drive to Walmart and toss your credit card on the counter. If you have a valid drivers licence and no felonies, like nearly every other mass murderer in American history, you’ll walk out of there with a perfectly fine killing machine and as much ammo as you need in less than ten minutes. Now, go have fun.
So I say yes, make it difficult for law abiding citizens to buy a gun. You won’t be making it any easier for criminals, in fact you’ll be making it more difficult for them since mostly they buy guns stolen from law abiding citizens. But that quiet, disgruntled, radicalized or mentally unstable time bomb who lives in his mom’s basement and dreams of teaching the world a lesson will just have to make do with a bow and arrow or a kitchen knife if he wants to go out in a blaze of homicidal glory.
And wish him luck turning that bow and arrow on himself after he’s done.