Of Earthquakes and Mass Murderers

I haven’t blogged since a couple days after the tragedy in Sandy Hook. Unlike many writers I needed the whole thing to sink in and try to make sense of it. Others ran to their pens to begin the finger pointing and protecting their political agendas. I do have some pretty strong beliefs but I didn’t know if they were legitimate in this case.

I read the following quote while I was contemplating the whole situation:

“When catastrophe strikes, we look for a signal in the noise—anything that might explain the chaos that we see all around us and bring order to the world again.”

Excerpt From: Silver, Nate. “The Signal and the Noise.” Penguin Group, USA, 2012-09-05. iBooks.

The signal, according to Silver, is the data that creates a true prediction. The noise is the data that while seemingly important to the discussion only leads us away from a solid prediction. The book is fascinating in pointing out the noise in many relevant predictions.

Anyway, back to our point which is the noise surrounding the Sandy Hook school shooting. We all know what the noise was: principals carrying guns, armed security guards, eliminating assault rifles, banning large ammunition clips, bringing religion back into schools,etc. What is the answer? Without your political agenda, what do you really think would prevent the next mass shooting in the United States?

It’s just as easy to say that eliminating guns would prevent mass murders as it is to say that arming more people would. Those are just easy, politically charged responses. Easy to create your latest meme around but are either correct? It’s easy to surmise that “kicking God out of schools” is the problem.  Do any of those solutions drive out the signal that truly will be able to prevent future catastrophes?

1.  Principals with guns:  Anyone who thinks this is a good idea doesn’t know the job of a principal in the 21st Century.  We interact with kids on a daily basis.  We are an integral part of our students’ days.  We no longer sit in offices and react to problems.

2.  Armed security guards:  Schools are safe places for the majority of students.  The signal of a man with a gun at the door everyday doesn’t convey safety; it conveys fear.  Do we really want our children to group up in a culture of fear?

3.  Assault weapons ban:  This from Wikipedia; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied the “assault weapon” ban and other gun control attempts, and found “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence,” noting “that insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness.”[7] A 2004 critical review of research on firearms by a National Research Council panel also noted that academic studies of the assault weapon ban “did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence” and noted “due to the fact that the relative rarity with which the banned guns were used in crime before the ban … the maximum potential effect of the ban on gun violence outcomes would be very small….”[8]

4.  Banning large ammo clips:  Probably the most realistic option for eliminating mass produced mayhem but again if you look at the information from the Wikipedia article above, ARs are not used in that many incidences of gun violence so these two categories are interrelated.

5.  Put God back in schools:  Probably my favorite from the point of view that it is so shortsighted and exhibits a great lack of faith from the proclaimed faithful.  First, a faithful Christian believes that God is everywhere.  Second, we should not consider the imperfections of humans to reflect the imperfections of God.  Third, there have been just as many or more court cases that allow prayer in schools than ones that do not.  The only prayer not allowed in schools is prayer that is state-sanctioned.

All of it so far seems like noise.  One interesting story in Nate Silver’s book is about predicting earthquakes.  A much harder task than predicting hurricanes.  Predicting test score = hurricanes.  Predicting mass muderers shooting through your door for no apparent reason = earthquakes.

The reality is that no catastrophe is 100% preventable.  The best we can do is to be prepared.  The best we can do is to let our children know that we will do whatever we can to keep them safe.  The best we can do is all we can do.

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