How should society deal with mass shootings?

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy
Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy

By Bill Rauch

As the tolls from mass shootings in the U.S. escalate (the death toll is twice in 2017 what it was in 2016) the proposed remedies from lawmakers continue to fall tediously into two categories. 

Republicans focus on the mental health problems from which the shooters are said to suffer, and Democrats focus on stricter gun control measures. 

There is today no consensus on what to do to confront what has become a national epidemic.

Our local law enforcement professionals are an exquisite case in point. Last week I sent an eight yes/no-question questionnaire to the five men we count most upon to keep our community safe: Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, Jasper County Sheriff Christopher Malphrus, Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy, Bluffton Police Chief Joseph Manning and Port Royal Police Chief of Police Col. T. Alan Beach.

Only one — Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy — would go on the record with his responses.

Why?

Because this is controversial stuff and — like the lawmakers in Washington, Columbia and elsewhere — in the absence of a clear way forward they prefer to avoid the controversy.

So what were the eight questions four out of five of the pros chose to duck?

Here they are:

1. Several of those who have recently engaged in mass shootings told psychologists that they have regular “homicidal thoughts,” but the psychologists didn’t tell anyone in law enforcement. Should it be required that such information be shared with law enforcement?

Chief Clancy answered YES, observing that “psychological issues are the one common factor in these crimes.” Clearly in my view to prevent future occurrences the medical and law enforcement communities must work together more closely. I have no problem with professional consequences for those who fail to cooperate with law enforcement. Government has already placed way too much mental health work in the laps of our police officers and those in the corrections community. The relationship should be a two-way street.

2. Had the Air Force notified the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of the Texas shooter’s criminal background, he’d have been prevented from purchasing legally the firearm he used in the church. Should there be criminal penalties for those failing to make such notifications?

Chief Clancy chose the word “oversight” over “criminal penalties.” My experience in government causes me to believe there’s a paper trail that leads to the desk of the person in the Air Force who should have made the notification that instead “slipped through the cracks.” A little jail time for a couple of bureaucrats who let the wrong one slip, and there’ll be a lot less slipping. Let’s not forget, the lives of innocent women and children have been lost because someone somewhere neglected to file the proper paper. The Texas church was not the first time. 

The Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in which our Clemente Pinckney lost his life was also conducted with a military style fully automatic firearm that the shooter would have been forbidden from purchasing had the proper papers been filed. 

Last week, providing a glimmer of hope in the area of a bi-partisan approach to the epidemic, Sen. Tim Scott and seven of his colleagues (four of them Democrats) introduced a bill that would do some of this. I favor it, but am under few illusions it will become law. 

3. Should the sale and use of assault weapons be banned except for their use by law enforcement and the military? 

Chief Clancy believes fully automatic rifles are sufficiently regulated. I say until the reporting side gets better about notifications slipping through the cracks (what lawyers call “negligent entrustment”) the stakes are too high. In 2014, one in five of the police officers who were killed in the line of duty was shot with an assault rifle. 

Having used automatic weapons on the target range, I freely admit they’re a kick to use, and tens of thousands of responsible Americans use them responsibly every weekend. Bring back their sale when the system works better.

4. Should high capacity magazines be banned except for use by law enforcement and the military? 

Chief Clancy says NO. I respectfully disagree. Bring them back when the system works better.

5. Should bump stocks be illegal?

 Chief Clancy says they should be regulated under the National Firearms Act. That would be a good start.

6. Should Muslim extremist groups be more closely monitored and their sympathizers be banned from entering the U.S.? 

Chief Clancy says YES, adding that he would expand the ban to “all terrorist groups of foreign or domestic origin.” 

I agree, and appreciate the chief’s religious sensitivity. We end up in pretty much the same place. To quote a recent story in The Orange County Register: “… let’s not pretend we don’t know who attacked the Pulse nightclub, Fort Hood, two Chattanooga military bases, the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino or who drove the deadly truck in New York City. The answer is Muslim immigrants or first-generation Muslims radicalized by Islamist extremist groups.”

7. Should the entertainment studios and video game manufacturers that portray for-profit gun violence be held criminally liable when it can be shown that their message contributed materially to a shooter’s decision to kill? 

Chief Clancy says YES, adding that these prosecutions have to date all failed. I say, take heart, plaintiff lawyers. Remember Big Tobacco!

8. Should we celebrate news organizations that at the expense of lower ratings neither profile nor even use the names of mass murderers? 

This is a tough one for both Chief Clancy and me. The chief notes that “giving these killers attention is counterproductive.” Everyone with any sense agrees with him.  

But in a free society with a free press, how can reporting on events such as mass killings — events with which the public is clearly fascinated — be curtailed? 

The only idea I have heard that addresses this obvious need is that there be a “gentleman’s agreement” among news organizations not to use the names, nor do profiles of the individuals, who commit these crimes. Reporters would instead refer to these individuals as, for example, “The alleged Mother Emanuel AME church shooter” when reporting on the tragedy.

Reporters, gentlemen? I can say this because I got my first job as a newspaper reporter when I was 17. Did you ever eat with one?

But Beaufort Police Chief Matthew J. Clancy?

Yes.

And a stand-up guy too.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.