I ask this question as I prepare for another Monday morning radio show. Let's recount recent misery:
a Baton Rouge cop kills a black man
a Minnesota cop kills a black man
a black man kills several Dallas cops in a rampage
a crazed truck driver kills 88 people in Nice, France
a crazed gunman kills three cops in Baton Rouge
Coup killings in Turkey
Where does it stop? We are all hurting. I can feel it in the calls on the air. I can feel it in the Pokemon people flooding Wicker Park just now (I did a Facebook video - where do all of these people come from?) Sometimes it's tough to turn on the microphone.
But forget radio for a moment. I wanna go back to my days as a Sociology undergrad at Berkeley. I walked around a good portion of the time thinking about human group behavior. And one of the things that I was most curious about was predicting human behavior as a group. I was once involved in a study in which we could film people in an elevator, and you could tell by how many people were in the elevator where they were gonna look. Remember, this was before cellphones. People couldn't just look down at their phones. Mostly they looked up, but only if there were two or more people in the elevator.
I also worked for a time in downtown Oakland at a place called the Institute for Labor and Mental Health. That's where I interviewed a young black woman, Oakland-bred, divorced... whose son had just been lost in gang violence the week before. About halfway through what became a counseling session, she broke down crying.
At one point, however, this woman stopped crying and said, calm as could be - "If you got that many guns around, a certain number of people is just gonna get killed."
That got me thinking then, more than 30 years ago, and every time I watch CNN or MSNBC about a mass shooting or a crazed gunman targeting cops... or all of the killings every weekend on the south side of Chicago and in Gary - maybe that woman was right. Her son had been visiting his friend's house when some people burst in and started shooting. Her son was 14. He was there to hang out with the younger brother of what turned out later to be a gang member. An innocent bystander, not so innocent violence.
If you accept that a percentage can be figured out about how many people are, for one reason or another, gonna pick up a gun and start shooting people... then you might even be able to calculate how many innocent bystanders may be killed. It's something to think about and had I gone on to be a Sociology professor like I wanted to instead of a pit trader and then a radio host, I might have the resources to try to figure this out.
Start with this - what is the percentage of adults in America who own a gun or have access to a gun? How many of these people own multiple guns? How many are handguns? How many have guns but don't hunt animals? How many are former military?
This last question is important in that the guy who allegedly killed the cops in Dallas and the guy who allegedly shot the cops in Baton Rouge today were both former military. That would be a further algorhythm to figure out - if you start with the premise that every American has relatively easy access to a gun or guns, how many former military members will pick them up and start shooting people, for whatever reason?
You might think that I'm being callous in a time of sadness and horror. True, this is a time of sadness and horror... but I wonder why no one has analyzed the data on how shootings in America... and compared that to how many guns there are. You might even be able to say something like for every 100,000 guns, there's one mass shooting and 100 other shootings. Or something like that.
I'm sure someone out there is doing this research. And if they're not, it's probably because of political reasons. If you were able to show with statistics that for every 100,000 guns produced and distributed in America, you can expect X number of people shot and killed, then a lotta people would take that as a political, probably anti-gun, statement.
But I don't mean it like that. I just want to know for every 100,000 guns in America, how many people get shot? How's that for simplifying the research. You can call it the JED quotient for all I care. Right now, it's a Sunday night and the three or four of you who read my blog are probably doing what I'm doing - you're sitting on your bed shaking your head.
What the hell is happening in America? How much bad news can we take?
But maybe that's the point - how much can we take? Or, better yet, how much can we expect? Several times in the past couple of weeks I have had to come into the WJOB studios to take on sad, horrific killings. It brings me down. I'm guessing it's the same for the three or four of you.
But would it make it any easier if we were to have some expectation that every so often we're gonna wake up and there was another mass shooting in America? Or that so many people were killed overnight in Chicago?
Really, would it make it any easier to know that these murders were statistically going to occur at such and such rate... and that the rate was related to the number of guns?
I don't know. I just keep thinking of that woman from 30 years ago. Her son was over at a friend's house. A shooting broke out involving some older siblings, and her only child was killed. Amidst sniffling and sobbing, she had a moment of lucidity. She predicted the future. Thirty years ago, she predicted the future.