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Shots Fired. Madness in Progress.

Michael Winship   |   June 2, 2014    8:03 AM ET

This is the way it goes, because this is the way it always goes.

First, another horrific spree of violence and mass murder as we saw just last Friday in Santa Barbara, California, fueled by irrational fury, much of it perpetrated with guns obtained legally in the hands of someone who should never have been allowed one.

Then there's mourning, the makeshift memorials of flowers and stuffed animals, candlelit processions and vigils, funerals. The families and friends cry out in despair and condemn a society that permits such things. They attack the National Rifle Association for preaching a libertine philosophy of unregulated firearms. This time, most prominent was Richard Martinez, grief-stricken father of victim Chris Martinez. "Why did Chris die?" he asked. "Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights -- what about Chris' right to live?"

The NRA observes radio silence for a few days, out of respect for the dead, they'll say, but in reality just keeping a low profile until the coast is clear and they can reemerge with statements from Wayne LaPierre and the like saying that they're shocked, just shocked by this tragedy but don't you dare blame it on guns. We might need tighter mental health guidelines but keep away from my right to own my personal weapons of mass destruction and carry them wherever I want.

Noise and promises will be made, some legislation will be introduced and, at the state level at least, maybe even passed. (Since Santa Barbara, a bill is now in the California legislature that would allow restraining orders to keep "people with a potential propensity for violence from buying or owning a gun." Yet The New York Times reported that while in the year after the Sandy Hook/Newtown killings almost every state passed at least one new gun law, "Nearly two-thirds of the new laws ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners.")

And forget about Congress. Although the House did approve some more cash for the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System this week, there are no changes in the rules or regulations; any attempt is squelched by the gun lobby. So nothing much happens. Until the next time there's a killing spree and the maddening cycle begins all over again. It's like beating our heads against a wall over and over because it feels so good when we stop. Only it never stops. Because we keep letting ourselves be bullied into submission by loudmouths with guns.

As if on cue, here's Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher of election '08 fame: "I am sorry you lost your child," he wrote to the parents of the Santa Barbara dead. "I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: As harsh as this sounds -- your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights." Yes, if brave Joe the Plumber had been there last Friday night, he would have shot it out with Elliot Rodger in Santa Barbara, or, more likely, offered to unclog his sink.

And check this out -- just a couple of days before the Santa Barbara murders, Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, went after the pro-gun control group Doctors for America. He wrote, "... While doctors know medicine, as a group they don't have any specialized knowledge of firearms or firearm policy."

This is rich. First, any doctor who has ever spent any time in an ER and tried to help a gunshot victim who's bleeding and near death, could be said to have a certain "specialized knowledge of firearms." Second, the NRA has done its damnedest to prevent doctors and scientists from getting hold of the research necessary to evaluate just how much harm guns are doing. As Lois Beckett reported in April for the independent, investigative news agency ProPublica, "For nearly 20 years, Congress has pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to steer clear of firearms violence research... As gun violence spiked in the early 1990s, the CDC ramped up its funding of firearms violence research. Then, in 1996, it backed off under pressure from Congress and the National Rifle Association. Funding for firearms injury prevention activities dropped from more than $2.7 million in 1995 to barely $100,000 by 2012, according to CDC figures."

As for FY 2014: $0.

Yes, the Justice Department spent $2 million last year and is offering $1.5 million for gun violence research this year. And the National Institutes of Health have put out a call for new research, although it's still uncertain how much money is involved. But for the NRA to oppose such work -- dismissing it as "propaganda" and describing increased funding as "unethical," while at the same time saying doctors don't know enough to judge -- is reminiscent of the proverbial kids who murder their parents and then beg for leniency because they're orphans.

Cox and his associates say the ultimate goal of gun control advocates is "civilian disarmament." Please. We've said it over and over: Go ahead and keep your rifles for hunting and your handguns for target practice and home security, even though, as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence repeatedly reports, "A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense." Just explain why you have a need to possess an arsenal similar to that of an emerging nation-state -- and give me a good reason that ultimately doesn't have to do with insecurity about your manhood.

The NRA, which has the nerve to call itself "America's longest-standing civil rights organization," says it's about freedom. Wrong. The bottom line is that it really is the bottom line: money. The NRA and its gun lobby pals keep the market jumping. So firearms and ammunition manufacturers, including Remington Outdoor, Smith & Wesson, Sturm Rugar, and Olin (Winchester Ammunition), give the NRA millions. Depending on the company, this includes direct contributions, percentages of sales and sometimes even free NRA memberships with a purchase.

According to a report early last year by Walter Hickey in Business Insider, "Since 2005, the gun industry and its corporate allies have given between $20 million and $52.6 million to it through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program... The NRA also made $20.9 million -- about 10 percent of its revenue -- from selling advertising to industry companies marketing products in its many publications in 2010, according to the IRS Form 990."

Charlie Pierce, prodigious political blogger over at Esquire magazine put it well:

This is a country at war with itself for profit. This is a country at war with itself because its ruling elite is too cowed, or too well-bribed, or too cowardly to recognize that there are people who are getting rich arming both sides, because the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, so you make sure that it's easy for the bad guys to get guns in order to make millions selling the guns to the good guys.

You've no doubt heard that this doesn't happen in countries like Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada where the gun rules are strict and lives are saved. But here the cycle of death, denial, resistance and madness goes on. Leave it to The Onion, the satirical news site, to speak the truth. Its headline, after the heartbreak in Santa Barbara:

"'No Way to Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens."

South Sudan: The Risk of Becoming a Child Soldier

World Vision   |   May 30, 2014    1:00 PM ET

By James East

Conflict damages children in so many ways but one of the most injurious is when the very conditions created by war then lead to their recruitment into armed groups and the perpetuation of harm.

In South Sudan today, it is estimated by the U.N. that nine thousand children are serving in some form of armed force or group. Amidst all the warnings of a humanitarian food crisis brought about by conflict, these kinds of violations facing children should not be forgotten.

Akom, 14, a South Sudanese teenager is one of these recruits. He joined a militia only in the last few weeks. Revenge fueled his desire to sign up and fight after what he witnessed following the invasion of his hometown of Malakal, in Upper Nile state.

Malakal is now a ghost town of looted, trashed and burned buildings. In the face of mass killings, rapes and terrible brutality its entire population evacuated en masse and fled in various directions, with thousands of citizens fleeing to the protection of a U.N. base just outside town.

As Akom tells the story, he and a neighbor had returned to the town only to recover goods from their homes. "My neighbor was carrying food and flour. We were stopped by men who thought we were looting. They made us sit on the ground while two of them argued about whether they should kill the boy I was with. Then a third man came over and just shot him. I was crying. They told me, 'Get out of here.' They killed him because he was bigger than me. I want to get my revenge."

Even though Akom's mother and older brother are still living on the U.N. base, he left them to sign up with the militia. He has since received basic military training, including how to use a gun.

Fellow trainee, Awer, 15, says he joined the militia because his school has not functioned since January when it was occupied by families displaced from the various towns and villages invaded by the opposition forces. He'd much rather be in school now, but says he had hoped to join the army after getting an education to become an officer. This is a common career path for children whose own parents have often fought and where there are few other career opportunities. This is especially true in South Sudan where the role of the armed groups was central to the creation of an independent state in 2011.

As Awer and his relatives fled the invading forces he says they became separated. He believes his family went north to Khartoum in Sudan, leaving him behind with his uncle. Awer has only been in the militia a few weeks but says he has already fired a gun in combat. "I wasn't scared," he says.

A militia insider agrees children should be getting an education but defends the use of children.

"They are not in frontline roles. They don't have their own guns. They help with things like giving water to the wounded or washing utensils. They volunteer to join us and as you have heard they are not afraid to be soldiers."

But he acknowledges that in the melee of war and as opposition forces advance sometimes the children at the rear of operations find themselves in the combat zone and using guns, even if they don't own them.

International law is clear: children cannot be recruited as soldiers.

World Vision's experience of working with children in conflict zones has found that youth and adolescents are especially vulnerable to conscription by armed groups. This is also the case in South Sudan where World Vision is responding to the needs of tens of thousands of children who have been displaced.

Mass displacements of people away from the fighting destroy family incomes making the armed groups, an attractive place to turn to when the money runs out, even if the wages are basic or come in the form of food and shelter.

Displacement camps themselves are often breeding grounds for despair and boredom. There is nothing to do and little hope. To adolescents, armed groups can appear an attractive alternative.

Armed groups also offer a sense of protection. They provide a feeling of collective security to communities that feel very threatened, as well as, access to personal weaponry. There is often community pressure on adolescents to help protect the clan or tribe, especially when manhood is perceived to start earlier than 18 years of age.

In order to reduce the risks of recruitment World Vision is organizing adolescent activities within the displacement camp just outside Malakal in an attempt to keep young men occupied. It is a small effort in a sea of vulnerability.

"We are providing sports, including football, volleyball and netball. These are outlets for adolescent energies and frustrations that have been building up. We also offer study groups in math and English as a way to engage youth in something constructive that keeps them learning when there is no sign of schools reopening", said Makiba Yamano, Word Vision's Child Protection in Emergencies Specialist.

South Sudan is already on a U.N. watch list for the recruitment of children and has to provide regular reporting to the U.N. Security Council on how it is tackling the problem. But the current conflict is setting back efforts and a comprehensive and lasting peace is required to ensure children are back, being schooled in class and not in war.

James East is Emergency Communications Director at World Vision reporting from South Sudan.

Bullets, Ballots and Bullies

David Katz, M.D.   |   May 29, 2014   10:12 AM ET

This video of a father who lost his son in the recent California massacre is riveting and heart-wrenching. But since it wasn't our son or daughter -- this time -- we will doubtless well up, and move on. We always do, much to our shame.

But yet another high-profile massacre does invite a question for those favoring the free flow of personal "arms" in our society. Let's consider "X" all the times such arms, in the hands of private citizens, are used to subordinate tyranny, foreign or domestic. And let's be generous and even extend the definition of "X" to all effective use of a gun by a civilian for fully justified self defense. Let's consider "Y" the times readily accessible guns in our culture are used to harm others unjustifiably, or for self-harm, either intentional or inadvertently.

What, exactly, would the ratio of X:Y need to be to justify our current hands-off-my-arms approach? What would the ratio need to be to justify change?

Before turning back to that, we should note that these questions may suggest some others. The first and most obvious is: do we know what these numbers are? To the extent the answer is "yes," the available data indicate that guns are used far more commonly for ill than for good. Gun ownership is associated with a markedly higher rate of gun-related injury to the gun owner and his or her household. But to a large extent the answer is "no," because the same groups that oppose any kind of gun control oppose any funding of research to establish what the real-world effects are of the virtually unhindered flow of guns.

Now back to the question: what would the ratio of X:Y need to be to justify changes to the status quo?

All of the balloting on the issue of gun control indicates that an overwhelming majority of us favor reforms, including at the very least rigorous background checks, and the banning of high-capacity semi-automatic weapons for other than military and paramilitary uses. So, presumably, that same overwhelming majority of us has the impression that the ratio of X:Y is already far too low to justify the status quo.

Those who disagree either think that the ratio of X:Y is high enough to argue for business as usual, or just don't care what the ratio is. For some, the "right to bear arms" is an ideological absolute.

But of course, the right to bear arms never was, and cannot be absolute. None would suggest that the right extends to prison inmates, psychiatric inpatients, or 2 year olds. None would suggest that it extends to all arms. Personal use of nuclear or biological "arms," for instance, is presumably objectionable to all.

But even if we limit ourselves to reasonable interpretations of "absolute," what does it indicate if the ratio of X:Y just doesn't matter? It means that even if private gun ownership often resulted in intentional or unintentional harm of the "good guys," and NEVER resulted in effective self-defense let alone defense against tyranny, it wouldn't matter. It would mean that the ideological absolute would always prevail over the epidemiological data.

Taken to the extreme, this could mean that every argument any of us ever has with anyone would be settled at the point of a gun. At this absurd extreme, X is 0, and Y is all of us, and the ratio of benefit to harm is nonexistent because there is no benefit and the harm is universal.

If there is anyone who would still advocate for unimpeded access to guns for all on the basis of ideology despite such an extreme (and admittedly absurd) epidemiology, there are names for it. The kinder designation is fanaticism. The more useful appellation for beliefs and perceptions completely dissociated from reality is: insanity.

I am not necessarily saying that anyone out there is that crazy, although I wouldn't be shocked to learn some are. What I am saying is that if zero benefit and infinite harm is unacceptable, then we might all agree that there is a line somewhere. And that means we can agree.

A ratio of benefit to harm above the line could justify our current situation. A ratio below the line would argue for change. All we have to do is agree that there must be a line somewhere, and then we might meet on common ground, and engage in the challenging, but manageable job of deciding where exactly to draw the line.

Why don't we do even that? Why don't we take even the modest step of agreeing there must be a line somewhere, and determining which side of it our guns and bullets are on at present?

It clearly has nothing to do with ballots, since a majority favor reforms and the flow of information that would inform them. And it has little to do with extreme ideologues, since they are a trivial influence in a democracy of 300 million people.

It's not the hot but scattered flames of ideology that matter here -- it's the fuel for that fire, and the fan. The fuel, of course, is money, and the fan is BS. The entanglements of the NRA with gun manufacturers and sellers are well publicized. The status quo is making some people very rich. Some small portion of those funds is allocated to bully cowards in government, fuel and fan the flames of fanaticism, and disseminate the propaganda that Constitutional rights are threatened if we can't all have whatever arms we want whenever we want them.

Frankly, there is a name for it when a small group of wealthy people subvert the will of the majority: tyranny.

I feel obligated to point out that those who believe that our one reliable defense against tyranny is high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilian ideologues seem to be ignoring the possibility that we have high-capacity semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilian ideologues because of tyranny. I would also suggest that those who see those guns as our best defense must have a very low view of the rest of our Constitution, which was of course brilliantly drafted with checks and balances far more effective than bullets.

As for defense against foreign tyrants, that's the job of our military -- and there is nothing in the history of our nation since it was founded and a standing military established to suggest that they will invite gun-toting civilians along to help. Those wanting arms for this purpose should enlist.

When ideology prevails and epidemiology doesn't matter, it's not because of the ideologues. They have no real influence. It's because of bullies with money.

Money in the hands of few to subvert the will of many is more than bullying; it is tyranny. Who out there is defending the Martinez family, and those who will inevitably follow, from such tyranny?


Dr. David L. Katz has co-authored multiple editions of a leading epidemiology textbook. More importantly, he has 5 children he loves very much- and would like them to live in a safe and rational world.

Leaders Reassure Public in Wake of Santa Barbara Shooting: We Will Continue to Do Nothing About Guns

Floyd Elliot   |   May 29, 2014   12:09 AM ET

In an attempt to calm fears after the senseless shooting carried out by psychopathic misogynist shitbag Elliot Rodgers in Santa Barbara this past weekend, legislators are racing to assure the American public that they will not initiate even the tiniest move toward making the American public safer.

"We Americans want to die in a hail of gunfire," declared House Speaker and Ooompa-Loompa-American John Boehner. "As long as there is breath in my body -- which is to say, as long as no one shoots up Congress or a mall I happen to be shopping at -- we will not interfere with the American people's right to have their lives tragically cut short by a crazed gunman."

After this statement, National Rifle Association Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre reattached a leash to Boehner's collar and took him for a nice walk.

President Obama pledged to continue to push for common-sense gun-safety legislation such as background checks to prevent criminals and the mentally-imbalanced from purchasing guns while simultaneously accomplishing absolutely nothing along those lines. "Hey, listen," said the leader of the most powerful country on earth of a measure favored by 93% of the American people, "I can't make people do what they don't want to do, but I'll say I'm in favor of background checks 24/7, and I plan to do just that, and nothing more. Also, to be clear, by 'people' I mean Congress, so, okay, that's not strictly accurate." Fox News condemned this declaration as "socialist" and "a blatant and unwarranted expansion of presidential power".

LaPierre issued a statement on behalf of the NRA condemning the idea of any action to limit the right of any individual to own any armament up to and including an intercontinental ballistic missile because freedom! "The Founding Fathers clearly intended that all Americans -- black or white, man or woman, chunky or creamy, sane or crazy -- have the right to bear arms; we don't care how the bears feel about it. And remember: the only way to stop a bad loonie with a gun is a good loony with a gun. Jesus died for the right to own guns -- and he wasn't shot, either. Should we require background checks for crosses and nails?" LaPierre's words, lovingly transcribed by a group of Southern governors costumed as AK-47s, as if by magic then became part of several Supreme Court decisions written by Antonin Scalia, as well as the comments section of every pro-gun-control article on the Internet, after the addition of inappropriate "lol"s and unnecessary exclamation points.

"Open-carry" proponents, who often brazenly carry automatic weapons into crowded public spaces to allay the public's fear of guns, heaved sighs of relief upon hearing the lack of news. "I won't lie," said Butch "Butchie" Glock, leader of Alabama open-carry group Batshit Crazy Gun Nuts and, according to his MedAlert bracelet, a sufferer from SPD (small-penis disorder). "I was worried there. I kept thinking, 'Is this the shooting that makes our leaders give a shit about gun violence?' Thank God, the American system did not let us down. Also, we're frequently mistaken for psychos just because we often brazenly carry loaded weapons into crowded public spaces like a crazy person might just before shooting up those crowded public places, so we feel great empathy for those people if for no one else. If you take away their guns, they -- and we -- might have nothing at all, other than an abnormally small penis."

Reached for comment in the afterlife, the approximately 10,000 people killed this past year by gun violence responded to lawmakers' assurances of continued inaction: "Yeah, seems legit."

Samantha Lachman   |   May 28, 2014    6:09 PM ET

Conservatives have said President Barack Obama is "coming for your guns" and had a "strategy" to get reelected and then "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."

But with gun policy again in the news after the Isla Vista shooting, it's worth considering that Obama's legacy on gun control may ultimately be defined by the executive orders he issued in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. And absent any concerted effort by Congress, the fear that encouraged a spike in gun sales after Obama's election and reelection may have all been for naught.

Indeed, the president said after last September's massacre at the Washington Navy Yard that voters should pressure Congress to initiate gun control legislation, since he had already "taken steps that are within my control" after Newtown. In an election year in which Republicans need to pick up only six seats to retake the Senate, the prospects for a push on guns may seem dim to even the most optimistic supporter of reform.

And with that, a list of all the actions Obama has taken on guns. You'll notice he hasn't done much to restrict access:

That time he signed a bill allowing concealed loaded firearms in national parks.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment in 2009 permitting concealed, loaded guns in national parks to a bill about credit cards, saying differences in state and federal laws inhibited gun owners from travel between state and federal lands.

And signed a bill allowing Amtrak passengers to store handguns in their checked baggage.

Advocates of the bill, also introduced in 2009, said it gave train riders rights comparable to those possessed by plane passengers. Amtrak had allowed firearms to be carried on trains before 9/11, so the bill represented a victory for gun rights activists.

After Newtown, Obama assembled a task force to address gun violence.

Obama charged Vice President Joe Biden in December 2012 with overseeing an administration-wide process to develop proposals for Congress to take up. He urged lawmakers to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, close loopholes that allow buyers to avoid background checks and restrict high-capacity ammunition clips.

Then unveiled proposals to combat gun violence…

Obama's legislative proposals, released in January 2013, touched upon not just access to firearms and ammunition but school safety and mental health care.

And issued 23 executive actions.

A high point for the the White House on gun control was when Obama announced a flurry of executive actions accompanying his legislative proposals. The actions included requiring federal agencies to hand over relevant data for a background check system, providing more training for responders in shooting situations and restarting research on gun violence.

Only to see Congress take up just one of those proposals... and quickly shoot it down.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey's (R-Pa.) legislation on background checks fell short by five votes in April that year, even though nearly 90 percent of Americans favored strengthening such measures. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last month that he'd need more support from senators to revisit the bill.

But he did get to sign a renewal of an existing bill banning plastic firearms.

It appears that all Congress is capable of doing when it comes to gun control is authorizing an extension of a prohibition against guns that can avoid detection by metal detectors and X-ray machines. Republicans went along with renewing the ban in December, but resisted tightening the restrictions.

Elliot Rodger's Imagined Rejection

Joe Lauria   |   May 28, 2014    3:04 PM ET

In the 141-page manifesto/memoir of Elliot Rodger we find a motive so rarely and so clearly laid out, and it must be said, so well-written, that it gives us a unique insight into evil, and not necessarily mental illness. He appears to be a coldly rational murderer, extremely aware of his reason to kill. He explains it in excruciating detail on nearly every page.

These do not seem to be the ravings of a lunatic but of a highly rational, self-aware man who committed an unspeakable act of conscious evil.

He tells us he doesn't want to do it, and is disgusted as he starts to take target practice. "As I fired my first few rounds, I felt so sick to the stomach. I questioned my whole life, and I looked at the gun in front of me and asked myself 'What am I doing here? How could things have led to this?'"

"I couldn't believe my life was actually turning out this way," he writes. "There I was, practicing shooting with real guns because I had a plan to carry out a massacre. Why did things have to be this way, I silently questioned myself as I looked at the handgun I was holding in front of me. I paid my fee and left the range within minutes, feeling as if I was going to be sick."

At another point he tells us: "A shiver ran through me, realizing how twisted my world had become, that I would have to resort to doing something that I would consider unthinkable a few years ago. I didn't want to do it. I wanted to live. Thinking about the Day of Retribution made me feel trapped. I wanted a way out."

What are the roots of this evil? There are some classic problems of a deeply troubled young person here: parents divorced at a young age, moving from one country to another and frequently changing houses, neighborhoods, schools and friends, leading to typical instability. And he was bullied in a typical way at American high schools.

But what makes him capable of this horrendous crime in my view are very sharply conflicting feelings of inferiority and superiority. He tells us repeatedly how unworthy he feels, how physically weak and unattractive he thinks he is to females. However, in this entire memoir he never once tells us of actually approaching a female and being rejected. He is too terrified of them to even do that.

He is bullied by one girl in high school who he secretly admires. But his rejection is almost totally in his own mind. On a holiday in France, where he finds young people more accommodating than bullying, materialistic American youth, he is introduced to several young women, former girlfriends of the French friend he is staying with. But he never mentions that he even tried to befriend these young French women. They don't reject him. He could never even try to get to know them.

"I wished I had the courage to go up to them and ask one on a date, but they would have seen me as a creep," he writes about seeing a group of pretty girls one day. "Girls are so cruel."

He has enough of this imagined rejection and plots his revenge against young people who are enjoying a life he is convinced he is being denied. He says life is unfair and that the world is cruel. True enough. "The most meanest and depraved of men come out on top, and women flock to these men. Their evil acts are rewarded by women; while the good, decent men are laughed at," he writes. But he's talking about himself here. He never talks about real suffering of others in the larger world that sometimes do result from mean and depraved men: poverty, injustice, war, repression, racism, etc. He cannot see beyond his very tiny world.

Not only doesn't he care about anyone else, but he thinks he's superior to others because he had a privileged childhood in England, went to movie premieres, and traveled to several foreign countries as a child. He is spoiled rotten by his parents, perhaps guilty for the effect of their divorce on him (though his mother loved him), and he gets a BMW because he needs an "upper-class car." He can't understand how guys with lesser cars are getting girls. He complains that he doesn't fly first-class with his parents. He is ashamed to tell anyone his mother has moved to a working-class neighborhood. He is openly racist and admits to having "fascist" political views. And he says if he was a dictator he'd put all women in concentration camps. Then, exhibiting behavior we wouldn't typically associate with an insane person, he realistically admits he has no chance of being a dictator.

Despite this feeling of superiority, he can't approach young women, so he blames all of them and the men they are with, and with easy access to guns, acted on his hatred. He wills to destroy his world in which his superiority is not recognized.

Sometimes we think we know what motivates someone like this. This document lays it all out, down to mapping out his diabolical plans, which fortunately didn't go completely as planned, producing fewer deaths than he wanted.

It's ironic that with American cops busting down doors and violently arresting or shooting people in their homes even on suspicion of non-violent crimes, that they did not enter Elliot Rodger's apartment when his mother reported her fears that he would commit a violent act. He was polite and the police left. He explains in the memoir what a close call it was because had they searched his place they would have found his weapons and his plan would have been foiled. Among those plans was to cut off the heads of his roommates and then roll them on the street in front of partying college students as he emerged from his car with guns blazing. "Once they see all of their friend's heads roll onto the street, everyone will fear me as the powerful god I am," he writes.

Rodger did not reject the culture that bullied him. He wanted to succeed in it. Because he couldn't, he wanted to destroy it. He appears to have been clinically rational. And cold-blooded. Had he lived through this he should not have been allowed an insanity defense. His memoir provides insight into evil rather than insanity.

We can restrict access to guns. We can teach high school students to respect their classmates even if they aren't the most popular and to stop bullying them, we can try to encourage parents to love their children more and not just satisfy their material cravings. We can try to change a superficial, me-first, materialistic, status-oriented, put-down culture. All that would help. But I do not know if we can ultimately stop someone like this who in his "twisted world," as the title of his memoir calls it, is determined to act.

Buy a Gun, Be a God

Mark Morford   |   May 28, 2014   11:24 AM ET

Again with the mad rush to explain. Again with the desperate need to try and figure out why an intelligent, privileged white kid from one of America's wealthiest areas, a young man with every advantage the culture has to offer, would instead deem himself sufficiently vilified and marginalized that the only obvious solution is to buy multiple semi-automatic handguns and several hundred rounds of ammunition, and calmly massacre as many people as possible. And then kill himself.

Do you think you have one? A suitable explanation, that is?

Insanity is always convenient. And popular. This was "the work of a madman," said Santa Barbara's sheriff regarding Elliot Rodger's massacre of seven people, because it sounds right, because it seems so obvious, because really, what other reason could there be? Unless you're a cop or serve in the military, anyone who ever shoots another human must be at least somewhat mentally deranged, right?

Well, no. Not at all. Despite years of therapy, Rodger reportedly had no signs of madness or even serious instability. In truth, few killers do. But the insanity claim is popular because it neatly swallows up all the other possibilities and cultural mutations, which is why gun advocates love this excuse most of all -- they're instantly off the hook, when the hook is all theirs to begin with.

2014-05-28-flowers.jpgWhat about extreme misogyny? The feminist blogs, not to mention Twitter, are lit up with this discussion, and it's fascinating, sad and powerful all at once; most of the writers have a heart-wrenchingly valid point indeed, given how Rodger's disgustingly entitled, antagonistic attitude toward women is little different than the hostile, bitches-'n-hos, slut-shaming douchebaggery on display across much of bro culture, an undercurrent of sexism and potential violence women have to deal with every day.

Result: Women are scared. Perhaps more so than ever. Certainly far more than most men realize -- even the "good" men, the ones who feel they're being unjustly lumped in the sexist/entitlement debate. Have you followed the #YesAllWomen Twitter phenomenon? It's astonishing. No matter what kind of male you think you are, this is essential -- and humbling -- reading for all men (thanks Phil Plait at Slate for the most apt summary I've read so far).

Perhaps you prefer something less specific? Maybe you think mass shootings -- or even the "everyday" gun violence that's so common it barely registers on the media (example: three people were shot to death at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina the day after the Rodger massacre -- did you hear about that?) are always the result of a bizarre, unknowable mix of psychological and cultural forces no one can ever fully unpack.

I used to think this way, too. Sometimes I still do. But I've also come to realize this view misses the biggest, most overarching point of all.

The point is simple enough: It's the guns.

Wait, let me clarify: I don't mean the debate around access to guns, or the absurd fight over background checks, or even the failure to prevent the mentally ill from buying weapons in the first place. As pointed out everywhere, California already has the strictest laws in the land (a relative point: they're only strict by comparison to gun-worshipping states like Texas), and Rodger had no problem buying all the weaponry he wanted.

No, the larger issue is something even more nefarious, and more deeply embedded in the American (male) psyche: It's our cultural obsession with, and fetish for, guns and gun violence, our near-religious belief in firearms as salvation, cure, solution, defense, protection, the ultimate phallic symbol, the most shameful icon of American pseudo-cowboy patriotism and bogus virility.

Don't you know it already? More then 70 mass killings in the U.S. in three decades; more than a dozen in the past two years alone; an average of two mass shootings per month for the past five years; 20 children and six adults slaughtered at Sandy Hook; more than 12,000 dead (more likely twice that amount) from guns in 2013 alone, which is an average of 30 every day; upwards of 32,000 gun-related deaths every year; more than 100,000 people shot every year (including non-fatal and suicides) -- there is only one commonality: the gun.

Not just easy access to -- reliance upon, and fatal obsession with.

Put it this way: No matter his motivation, every shooter in America has concluded, in his own dark, sociopathic, or just plain stupid way, that the only way to solve his problem, to rectify the situation, to prove he's a "man," to properly "get back" at society, women, his boss, the world, is to buy a firearm and start shooting.

It's a distinctly male credo, too:...

Read the rest of this column by clicking here.

Mark Morford is an award-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate, the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, and the creator of the Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor at San Francisco's Yoga Tree, and the creator of the Yoga for Writers series of workshops and retreats. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...

Dancing on the Graves of Innocents

Robert L. Cavnar   |   May 28, 2014    9:41 AM ET

Yet another mass killing happened last Friday in Santa Barbara, where a deranged 22 year old man, Elliott Rodger, went on a rampage, killing 6 and injuring 13. During the shooting spree, he fired weapons likely dozens of times, sometimes randomly through the window of his speeding car before he finally crashed and took his own life. Of the victims, he killed 3 with a knife, killed 3 with guns, injured 3 with his car, and injured another 10 through random shooting. In all, there were 19 victims, 13 by gunfire. After he took his own life, police found over 400 rounds of ammunition in magazines in his car.

In the past, it's been traditional for the NRA and other pro-gun organizations to go underground for some days after a mass shooting, saying only that anyone who talks about gun violence is merely "politicizing a tragedy"; they would eventually emerge, reciting a few platitudes about praying for the families, blah, blah, before going back to business, pouring millions of dollars into politicians pockets, paying them to stand idly by, doing nothing. However, that stopped working after the Newtown tragedy, and they've changed tactics, becoming much more aggressive. Now gun culture surrogates emerge immediately after a mass shooting, downplaying the level of violence and emphasizing every possible factor that takes the focus off of guns, usually mental health, other weapons, political leanings, and failures of local officials rather than acknowledging the elephant in the room.

Recently, though, even that tactic has taken a dark turn. Now gun cultists have begun attacking victims, their families and those who defend them. "Truthers" now vandalize memorials to victims, even confronting their families spouting nonsense about "false flags" and that their loved one never even existed. It's become especially bad in states like Texas, where zealots, who brandish loaded weapons in public, taunt and sometimes threaten perfectly innocent people, especially women, who dare to talk about gun safety and sane policy. Civility and simple common courtesy have gone out the window in favor of inflammatory rhetoric, fueled by talk radio and radical organizations who believe their "2A" rights trump all other rights and the rights of all other Americans. To add insult to injury, pseudo-celebrities often add their own voices to the din, usually with some inane comment about "liberty" with a little victim blaming thrown in.

It happened again after the Isla Vista rampage, where social media came alive with the usual gun memes and commenters focusing simply on the car and the knife that Elliott Rodger used, completely ignoring the gun violence. Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher then chimed in, with an open letter on conservative blog, BarbWire. It was the normal partisan screed that we've come to expect from Wurzelbacher since he was inflicted upon the American public by the McCain campaign in 2008, but this one was particularly heartless, where he poured salt into the wounds of the victims' families, saying:

"As harsh as this sounds -- your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights."

"Mr. Martinez and anyone calling for more restrictions on American's rights need to back off and stop playing into the hands of the folks who merely capitalize on these horrific events for their own political ends.

They don't care about your family or your dead children at all. They sound like they do, whereas I sound uncaring and like I say, harsh. Don't be fooled -- I care about your family and mine. The future of our very liberty lies in the balance of this fight.

In conclusion, I cannot begin to imagine the pain you are going through, having had your child taken away from you. However, any feelings you have toward my rights being taken away from me, lose those."

So, to be clear... while claiming the opposite, Wurzelbacher politicizes the deaths of these victims, ignoring the families' rights and grief in the process. Such is the state of the gun debate in the US today. The gun cult has radicalized in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and subsequent mass shootings, especially since our political leaders are silent, held hostage by the gun lobby. In that vacuum of leadership, the size of mass shootings increases and the lethality of weapons continue unabated. Emboldened by the utter lack of political leadership that has tied the hands of law enforcement, gun cultists now use social media to taunt, insult, threaten, and celebrate the gun culture, parade around with loaded assault weapons and use violence such as in Isla Vista as a catalyst to escalate their rhetoric, hate, and mis-information.

The problem here is obvious to everyone not blinded by the nonsense spouted by the NRA and other gun organizations promoting the notion of life in America as a running gun battle. Responsible gun owners like me want lethal weapons taken out of the hands of the untrained, the unstable, the criminal, and the terrorists. I thought Newtown would finally change the conversation. It has, but unfortunately for the worse.

Ed Mazza   |   May 27, 2014    9:57 PM ET

A woman pushing her newborn son in a shopping cart was injured in a freak shooting incident at a Walmart store in Columbus, Ind., according to local media reports.

Police say a .22-caliber pistol fell from the pants of Tony E. Ward on Saturday evening. When the gun hit the floor, it discharged. The bullet missed the baby, but hit a bottle of soda in the cart, then ricocheted and struck the woman in the upper arm -- and it all happened while the local chief of police was in the store, according to WBIW.

Police chief Jon Rohde called for help for Virginia Thompson, 26, who was treated at the scene but she did not wish to be taken to a hospital, WHAS11 reports.

Ward, 56, had a permit for the weapon and will not be charged with a crime, Columbus Police Department spokesman Lt. Matt Myers told The Republic newspaper.

It's at least the second accidental shooting in a Walmart this month. On May 17, a shopper at a Walmart in Phoenix accidentally shot himself in the leg.

His injuries were not life-threatening.

The Santa Barbara Shooter: That Guy Was in My Class

Kimberly Dark   |   May 27, 2014    5:13 PM ET

Oh. My. God. That guy's been in my class.

It was my first thought as I watched Elliott Rodger's youtube channel. All of those cry-for-help videos have now been seen by thousands since he went mad and took his legally purchased guns to try to prove what he thought was important: He was the "alpha-male."

No, I don't teach at UC Santa Barbara, and no, I've never met Elliott specifically, and yet, that guy's been in my classes on a few occasions over the years. And though he's a difficult student to teach, I'm always glad he's there because often, he's on the verge of doing horrible things -- maybe not murder, but things that show a sense of entitlement to what he perceives as "the good life." Usually that means finding a traditionally beautiful woman to adore him or have sex with him. He usually also want money and the respect of men like him. What else is there? He can't imagine that there's anything else worth wanting.

That guy's been in my class. And when the class starts talking about gender, he's usually baffled, incredulous at the fact that there are views other than his in the world. He reads and discusses with disbelief, and sometimes, I see him soften his bitterness a bit. Other times I don't see softening, but I know that at least now he knows: there are other ways to see the world. There are people who count human worth differently than the standards by which he judges himself.

I teach in sociology and women's studies and let me be clear: That guy is not usually in a gender or women's studies class. (Once I had that guy in such a class. Did you see that video Rodger's made where he is genuinely asking why women seem to hate him? Imagine having brought that question to a group of women in a college class, asking it in subtle ways, again and again, "Why do women hate me?" But with real people and a professor to explore answers to the question.)

No, that guy usually ends up in one of my other classes. At my university, we offer degrees in criminal justice and sociology and when that guy is in my class, most often he is a criminal justice major. I teach a Sociology of Education course, for instance, and it becomes clear that he's "that guy" when he starts to relive painful moments of his own schooling, of feeling inadequate, being targeted for abuse. It becomes clear when we start to talk about gendered expectations in schools and the way privilege is organized in school systems. That's when that guy reveals himself. And often, he realizes he's not alone and that systems have actually made it more likely that he he'll feel the terrible loneliness that Rodgers expressed in those videos.

Yes, that guy who feels entitled to attention from certain types of women is often a little scary. As much as he exhausts me and makes me want extra pay, it's a good thing that guy shows up in classes like mine. It's a good thing because reading and discussing views with which we don't agree can broaden our thinking. Coming into meaningful dialogue with people we wouldn't normally spend time with, over topics we wouldn't normally discuss can expand how we see the world. It can even make us more content with our small human lives because we come to take pleasure in learning. We feel power in our abilities to connect with and change one another.

Taking a women's studies class will never make that guy more sane. It can possibly change how he focuses his obsessions though. It may prompt him to seek help. And that might make him less likely to murder people as a way to teach women a lesson for not loving him.

The fact is, we live in a country where access to guns is super-easy. We could change that, but we haven't. So, every Elliott Rodgers who wants guns should be assumed to have them. We also live in a culture where people stay pretty segregated. We spend time with people who share similar views, are of similar social class and want similar things -- so every Elliott Rodgers likely has his feelings of inadequacy reinforced daily. Rather than meeting people who could help him see his life differently, he's likely to meet people who share his view that he is a social failure. He also has media telling him that if he doesn't have status himself, he can get it through his girlfriend's/lover's/wife's beauty. People who cross the line into violence can always slip through the cracks, but we also live in a nation where there is no clear system though which people can get help for mental illness. It's hit and miss whether a person will get help. Just like in a drive by shooting. Hit and miss.

I wouldn't dream of suggesting that guys like Elliott Rodgers just need an excellent professor in a women's studies class to sort them out. They just need to hang out with some feminists. That would be ridiculous. And wow, guys like Elliot have been in my classes. I'm glad they were because they seriously need to have their delusions interrupted and no one else seems to be doing it.

Chris Gentilviso   |   May 27, 2014    2:07 PM ET

Months after a federal judge ruled its ban on handgun sales was unconstitutional, Chicago has responded with a sweeping ordinance loaded with strict regulations.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) is proposing rules that would require videotaping of all gun sales -- a move designed to warn buyers against transferring firearms into the hands of criminals. The ordinance would also include special-use zoning that limits gun stores to only 0.5 percent of the city.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., who represents the city's 27th ward was among the supporters, telling WBBM newsradio that the plan sends a "very serious" message.

“This is just letting everyone know that we here in the city of Chicago are very serious about gun trafficking going on in the city of Chicago,” he told the radio station. “So we want to make sure if a person is proposing to do some gun trafficking here, we want to limit them as much as possible.”

Emanuel's move arrives ahead of schedule. After U.S. District Court Judge Edmond E. Chang ruled the ban went "too far," the city chose against fighting it, and instead opted for a six-month period to craft the new ordinance that emerged Tuesday. The city asked for that time period to put together the "many detailed components, including zoning, licensing, and operational requirements for gun dealers, as well as robust regulations targeting illegal sales and transfer practices."

Paige Lavender   |   May 27, 2014   12:03 PM ET

Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, insisted the deaths of innocent people "don't trump" his constitutional rights in an open letter to the families of victims in Friday's shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Wurzelbacher's letter was published on Barbwire Monday, days after one shooting victim's father blamed "craven, irresponsible politicians" and the National Rifle Association for his son's death.

Wurzelbacher said the words of Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher Martinez was a victim in Friday's incident, "will be exploited by gun-grab extremists as are all tragedies involving gun violence and the mentally ill by the anti-Second Amendment Left." The former Congressional candidate told Martinez to "back off."

Wurzelbacher said his letter is directed "only to the families of the gunshot victims in Santa Barbara" and not to the families of three who were stabbed ahead of the shooting spree.

"I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: As harsh as this sounds -- your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights," Wurzelbacher wrote.

Wurzelbacher acknowledged his comments are "harsh" but claimed pro-gun control activists "don't care about your family or your dead children at all."

"They sound like they do, whereas I sound uncaring and like I say, harsh," Wurzelbacher wrote. "Don’t be fooled – I care about your family and mine. The future of our very liberty lies in the balance of this fight."

Read Wurzelbacher's entire letter here.

(h/t TPM)

  |   May 24, 2014    4:13 PM ET

Yet another massacre occurred last night at an institution of learning, this time the University of California, Santa Barbara. The price we paid for the National Rifle Association’s “freedom” was seven people murdered and seven injured at nine different crime scenes.

CANDICE CHOI   |   May 19, 2014    7:42 PM ET

NEW YORK (AP) — Chipotle is asking customers not to bring firearms into its stores after it says gun rights advocates brought military-style assault rifles into one of its restaurants in Texas.

The Denver-based company notes that it has traditionally complied with local laws regarding open and concealed firearms.