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Numbers Game
blaisepascal
According to Wikipedia, in the US since 2000, there have been 8 rampage murder incidents in schools, 7 in the workplace (including Fort Hood), 6 cases of home intrusion rampage murders, 13 cases of rampage killers killing their own family, and 19 other cases of rampage murder. That's 53 people over the last 12 years -- or about 4.5 a year -- who have decided it would be a good idea to go out and kill a large number of people, and most cases, go out in a blaze of glory while doing so.

4.5 a year, in a population of 300,000,000. If the outcomes weren't so tragic, it would almost be a rounding error.

Finding, and stopping, 4.5 people from committing these horrible acts is hard, especially if you want to minimize the impact on the 99.9999% of Americans who aren't going to commit a rampage murder in 12 years.

Any observation that you can make about the 53 rampage killers are going to be true for large numbers of others who will never become rampage killers. Mentally ill? There are 23,000 psychiatrists in the US alone, treating (or have treated) who knows how many patients. Gun owners? So are over a third of the US. Male? Young?

Any filter we can think of is going to have a large number of false positives. So what can we do, if anything?

Try to take away the guns? There are (at least) two constitutional issues with that: the 2nd Amendment and the Takings Clause. Aside from that, the sheer number makes the task unfeasible. When the State of New Jersey looked into banning hand guns a few years ago, they discovered that the number of licensed, legal private handgun owners was larger than the number of law enforcement agents who would be tasked with confiscating them. They backed down from that plan. In most states, there is no registry of long arms (rifles, shotguns, etc), so finding who owns them is problematic.

Crack down harder on the mentally ill? The most likely result of that are simply to drive people away from seeking help.

So what can be done about these 4.5 people a year without hurting a good portion of the remaining 300 million? I dunno.

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NJ does have the right to bear arms only by approval.

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Wikipedia maintains listings of all "rampage murders" worldwide, broken down into workplace, school, domestic, and other categories. I got the 53 figure by going to each list, sorting by date, and counting those in the US going down until I hit the 1900's. I didn't closely try to weed out duplicates.

I was inspired to write this post by seeing an attempt to analyze the effect of the "assault weapons" ban on these incidents. In the middle of the ban was 1999, the year of Columbine, and a distinct outlier in the data. The post mentioned that 1999 was a particularly bad year with 5 incidents.

It seemed to me that 5 being a high number of incidents for one year over 30 years made it likely that too little data existed in order to derive any useful statistical conclusions. It also highlighted how rare these incidents really are, despite each one being a tragedy that takes over the news cycle for days or weeks.

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