Port: Post-shooting hysteria ignores the reality of what really keeps us safe

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Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. — What keeps you from being murdered on any given day?

It’s a serious question, and one we should be asking as we grapple with what to do in the wake of mass murder attacks in Texas and Ohio.

In the hysterical environment after one of these attacks — one inflamed by posturing politicians and insipid incitements from celebrity commentators — we talk a lot about what freedoms we need to give up to prevent more attacks.

Gun rights are the most obvious target, then come the attacks on free speech.

The “do something” crowd (a group of people from across the ideological spectrum) see violent video games, violent television shows and movies, and the more awful backwaters of the internet as the problem.


The “do something” crowd wants laws which let government authorities, like characters in a Philip K. Dick novel, take rights away from people who haven’t committed a crime but might.

The problem with these supposed solutions is they assume we can actually stop people from committing crimes.

We can’t.

Not really.

Not these type of crimes, anyway.

If we were talking about some criminal enterprise — organized narcotics traffickers, for instance, or an ideological network such as the Ku Klux Klan or ISIS — there are tactics which work.

We can intercept communications. Infiltrate meetings. Disrupt funding.

Those things can stop crime. But the mass shootings driving this debate are perpetrated by people who are usually acting on their own.


Which brings me back to the question I started this column with: What is keeping you from being murdered today?

Is it the police? They react to crimes. They show up after the crime has been committed.

Is it gun control laws? They wouldn’t do anything to stop someone from driving their pickup truck into a downtown crowd or a busy park.

It’s something so obvious it gets overlooked in public policy debates, but what keeps us safe on a day-to-day basis is the forbearance of our neighbors who have opportunities every day to hurt and kill others but don’t.

Because almost none of us are monsters.

It’s a good thing, too. There is little we can do to stop someone who wishes to harm others and does not care about the consequences.

Not even history’s most controlling and authoritarian regimes — governments that cared little for civil rights, and implemented vast police states to spy on and control their citizenry — have been able to stop random acts of violence.

There are a lot of new laws we could pass in the wake of mass shootings. Laws to control access to weapons. Laws to control extreme, hateful speech. Laws to regulate violence in entertainment mediums, and to clamp down on the freedoms of individuals deemed dangerous.


None of them can stop an individual bent on mayhem.

We’re better off addressing the ways in which mass shooters inspire one another — much like serial killers do, copying one another’s crimes — than trying to solve this problem with broad new public policies.

Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

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