Fort Hood Massacre

Many years ago, someone (perhaps even Neal Knox) made the observation that the only time that the gun control movement scores a victory, it is by “dancing in blood”—meaning that there has been some horrendous mass murder with a gun.  The Brady Campaign’s successes in the 1980s and 1990s, at both the state and federal levels, were largely driven by legislators responding emotionally to such disasters.  In some cases, those disasters revealed real deficiencies in our laws—but the Brady Campaign’s “solutions” were seldom the right fixes to these problems.

One of the positive changes in how legislators now respond to these disasters has been driven by the enormous amount of research done by criminologists concerning gun crime.  For example, after the Virginia Tech massacre, the primary change was not more gun control laws—but improvements in mental illness records.  The reason was simple: this massacre, like many others in the last few decades, was a failure of the public mental health system—not a failure of gun control laws.  Legislators in both Virginia and Congress were able to recognize the source of the problem, and make a precisely targeted correction to the mental illness record laws—not more restrictions on the vast majority of gun owners who are not a problem.

One of the consequences of this increasing unwillingness of legislators to respond emotionally is that the gun control movement’s responses to such massacres have become increasingly ineffective.  Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s attempt to wear crimson-colored ballet slippers on this issue was so absurd that one might be tempted to laugh—if the underlying incident wasn’t so tragic.  Daley claimed that the problem wasn’t that this was an Islamic terrorist attack, but that “America loves guns.”1

Before starting on the evidence, let me emphasize: the Fort Hood attack is not a sign that Muslim Americans can’t be trusted.  The evidence was readily available that this particular officer, because of his actions, needed more careful observation—if not separation from the U.S. Army.  The evidence strongly suggests that he was not crazy, and was highly motivated to take the actions that he did.  You will see why this matters later in this column.

That it was an Islamic terrorist attack is about as clear as it gets, without a signed confession.  The shooter (alleged to be Major Nidal M. Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist), shouted “Allahu Akhbar” just before opening fire, killing thirteen people, and wounding dozens more.2  For those who aren’t aware of this, “Allahu Akhbar” is Arabic for “God is great,” and is often shouted by al-Qaeda terrorists at the start of suicide attacks.  
In 2007, Major Hasan gave a presentation to his fellow Army psychiatrists about Islamic suicide bombers that included, “We love death more then [sic] you love life.”  While it is possible that Major Hasan was merely explaining the Islamic terrorist mindset, the rest of the PowerPoint presentation is truly disturbing—and not at all what you would expect of a dispassionate analysis.3  In addition, Major Hasan had been exchanging emails with a radical Islamic cleric who has a history of supporting terrorist actions.4  Hasan’s U.S. Army business cards also had an obscure abbreviation on them that means, “Soldier of Allah.”5

Are we clear enough on the motivations for this?  I suppose if there were not a history of such terrorist attacks on both U.S. civilians by Islamic terrorists, and even by other Muslim soldiers in the U.S. Army (as happened in Kuwait in 2003), you could argue that mentioning Major Hasan’s religion was a bit silly, weird, or prejudiced.  This pattern of terrorist attack is, unfortunately, part of a pattern.

If Mayor Daley argued that this was an attack involving Islamic terrorism and “America loves guns,” we could at least start the conversation by agreeing on one part of the problem, and then discuss the other part.  But denying that this was an Islamic terrorist attack to put full focus onto “America loves guns” is just absurd.

The second part of Mayor Daley’s argument seems to be that if Americans didn’t love guns so much, this attack wouldn’t have happened.  If this attack were the result of someone carrying a gun, losing his temper, and going on a rampage—okay, he might have a point.  However, this was a very carefully planned attack.  U.S. military bases have pretty strict gun control policies, and this wasn’t someone who just happened to wander onto base with two handguns.

Nor was this attack the result of lax gun control laws.  Proponents of the “guns cause crime” theory insist that if we made it even a little bit more difficult to legally get hold of a gun, murder rates would drop.  The argument is that lots of gun murderers are not highly motivated to get guns; it just sort of happens, because there are so few obstacles to getting a gun.  Once you have a gun, the theory goes, some minor dispute or argument leads to murder.  Call this the “undermotivated gun criminal” theory.

There is probably some truth to this claim, for some people.  There are a few people who buy guns to show off, or because they want to feel or look tough—and if there were some barriers to getting hold of a gun, there a few of these weekend gunslingers who might not commit a crime.  There is a tendency on our side to assert the exact opposite—that gun control laws are almost completely ineffective, and that serious criminals are just about never stopped from getting a gun.  Only their victims will be disarmed.  This is “highly motivated gun criminal” theory.  It is pretty clear to me that this opposite extreme is also incorrect, but it is closer to the truth than the “undermotivated gun criminal.”  Unfortunately, gang members in America’s biggest and most gun restrictive cities daily demonstrate that there are plenty of highly motivated gun criminals.

If the alleged Fort Hood shooter were a person with a history of mental illness, or some teenaged punk on the streets of Chicago trying to show everyone how tough he is by buying a gun, we could have a serious debate with Mayor Daley about his claim.  This isn’t the case.  The alleged shooter made more than $100,000 a year, had no criminal or mental illness history, had contacts with people that are prepared to commit and assist mass murder on a massive scale, and did not commit this crime on the spur of the moment.  He probably did not expect to survive the attack.  This is not someone that could be deterred by the threat of punishment, or anything but a ban on handgun ownership.  This is about as highly motivated a gun criminal as one can imagine.  

Short of a complete handgun ban, which is neither Constitutional nor practical, what happened at Fort Hood simply could not have been prevented by another gun control law.  If Mayor Daley wants to debate the question of gun control and violence, he better use a more realistic situation—or he is just trying to dance in blood, and he isn’t fooling anyone.

Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer and historian.  His sixth book, Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie (Nelson Current, 2006), is available in bookstores.  His web site is


1 Dave Workman, “Fort Hood aftermath: Daley blames guns, WA Times blames Clinton,”, November 11, 2009,, last accessed November 16, 2009.

2 Greg Jaffe and Dan Eggen, “Heroic civilian police officer ‘walked up and engaged’ shooter,” Washington Post, November 6, 2009,, last accessed November 16, 2009.

3 Major Nidal M. Hasan, “The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military,” available at, last accessed November 16, 2009.

4 Sebastian Rotella and Josh Meyer, “Fort Hood suspect's contact with cleric spelled trouble, experts say,” Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2009,,0,808357.story, last accessed November 16, 2009.

5 “Hasan Called Himself 'Soldier of Allah' on Business Cards,” Fox News, November 12, 2009,,2933,574546,00.html, last accessed November 16, 2009.