The tragic shootings in El Paso and Dayton sent all of us wishing we knew a way to solve this problem and prevent mass killings in the future. Economics may be able to help.
Unfortunately, these tragedies have already been politicized, clumsily in most cases. There is little we can do about that except to remember that perpetual politics isn’t helpful and may even block the path to a solution.
We should also remember that the El Paso and Dayton shootings have some characteristics in common but are not identical events. In fact, that is generally true of mass killings. There is no “standard model” for these events; the only thing they all have in common is the depth of sorrow they leave in their wake.
In the aftermath of the most recent events, we are again thinking of possible ways to keep this kind of mass killing from happening again.
When politics is left behind for a few moments, it seems that there are two legislative paths to a helpful, if only partial, solution. and each starts with a question. In their simplest form, the questions are: “Who;” and “How.” And the people favoring actions to prevent mass shootings can be usefully categorizes as the Who group and the How group.
The Who group, for example, wants to know how this deranged individual got his hands on a firearm of any sort. They would support the so-called “red flag” proposals that would make it more difficult for “high risk” people to purchase or even possess a firearm.
The “How” group, on the other hand, wants to know more about the weapon used to kill so many people so that its distribution, and perhaps its manufacture, could be prohibited.
The “red flag” proposal for changes in sales and possession regulations requires some wisdom in its drafting as well as good faith in its implementation. Wisdom requires care in defining what these “red flags” indicating dangerous derangement are. The lack of a standard model for the perpetrators is not going to be helpful in this.
The inherent complexity of the “red flag” path is illustrated by at least one factor. Despite the missing standard model, many of the perpetrators do share one characteristic: they are loners. Many of the killers have no friends.
Using that characteristic as a “red flag,” though, illustrates a problem: us. According to surveys, significant numbers of us, especially the younger people of Generation Y (millennials), are lonely and have no friends. Are they all going to be declared “high-risk” individuals and be denied some of their rights as citizens? Worse, a recent psychological experiment demonstrated that social media use promoted loneliness and depression, suggesting that the problem is going to be self-sustaining for a while.
The “How group faces a difficult task, also. The weaponry used can be difficult to define in an effective way. One way that might be promising is the magazine capacity. Reducing the number of rounds that can be fired without reloading might open opportunities for people to escape, take cover, or rush the shooter during the reloading process. The logic behind a ban is that it would not significantly impede weapons used for either hunting or self-defense. There had been a federal ban on high-capacity magazines, but it lapsed in 1994 and only a few states have chosen to replace it with their own laws.
Economics cannot solve the mass killings problem, but it could help. The surveys of growing loneliness and shrinking numbers of friends indicate that outside of families, most friends are made at work. That raises the likelihood that there is a societal, as well as economic, value to the highest level of employment possible, even if it entails costs. The more people that are in workplaces, the more likely they are to be making friends being part of our society.
Workplaces will never take the place of religion and family as positive moral and behavioral influences on individuals, but they are a good source of learning to depend on, care about and trust others; important factors in friendships and behavior. Good management helps, too, in its building of teamwork.
At its best, teamwork fosters a sense of self-worth because it builds on the individual’s knowledge that he or she is needed. Without feeling needed, our lives lose purpose and seem less worthwhile – a petri dish for antisocial behavior.
It isn’t likely that there is a single, magic solution to the mass killings; not in economics or anywhere else. But there are things we can do to help. We are all going to need some patience as we stumble to solve the mass killing dilemma. A little wisdom wouldn’t hurt, either.