I bet you know someone, or of someone, who you’d call a genuine nutjob. I mean someone you wouldn’t trust with your dog, never mind your kids. How about someone who makes some really creepy comments, not once, but every time you see them? How about the loner at school, the weird kid?
You really never know what’s going through other people’s heads. There’s no mind-reading device, and anyone who says they can read minds is lying.
But you can observe people and see who is nutted-up (as we say in Georgia, or plain crazy for everyone else), and who’s just a redneck. Here’s a question: if you ran into the nutjob in Wal-Mart looking at the shotgun section, or at the sporting goods store browsing the pistols, would it disturb you?
Maybe you’d have a thought like “that person should not be buying a gun”. But what could you do about it? You might be having paranoid thoughts, or maybe you’re looking at the next spree-killer. There’s no positive way to know, apart from asking them “hey, are you planning to go out and kill a bunch of folks with that gun?” Probably not a very useful question.
The Feds don’t ask that question on the form you fill out to buy a gun, but they do ask such things like: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” and “Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective OR have you haver been committed to a mental institution?”. These in addition to asking if you’re a fugitive from justice, an illegal alien, or a felon.
Excellent questions. They don’t ask if you’re a liar, though. They really should ask “Are you planning to use this firearm to randomly kill strangers or murder people who’ve wronged you?” They do a background check on you too, some computer in Washington DC churns out your arrest record. I bet that computer doesn’t have your high school classmates comments in there “this dude’s weird” or the girl you asked out who said “go out with you? eww, you’re nuts”.
Nutjobs go out and buy guns, legally, answering every question truthfully, and passing with flying colors the government’s stringent requirements of an upright and decent citizen. Some very small percentage then go out and kill a bunch of innocent people, and frequently themselves. We spend far too much time hand-wringing over them, the reasons they do the awful things they do, and ask stupid questions like “how in the world did they get their hands on a gun?”
The media and blogosphere (I hate that word, can we change it to the blogsmos or something less creepy?) can keep itself busy with spree-killings every few months. Each episode generates weeks of incessant bleating on the same subjects, over and over again.
Gun control, mental health, hate speech, violence in movies and video games, and privileged youth are the topic-trend leaders. Like the daily parade down Main Street in Disneyland, the same set piece floats roll out every time, predictably, with the same characters portrayed, then put away until the next episode. Each float has its own theme and agenda, making its point using some detail of the killing or the killer. It’s dehumanizing and desensitizing. People die, and we endlessly tweet and post about the killer’s motivation, and how to prevent that trigger from causing other nutjobs from committing another atrocity.
Jonah Goldberg’s take on this “ban everything” mentality,
So what? I don’t mean to trivialize these heinous tragedies, but what, exactly, do people propose? Should we police film, politics, novels, video games, and every other type of communication and discourse for words and ideas that might set off a statistically microscopic minority of crazy people? What would that effort look like? How many censors would it require? How many hundreds of millions of people would be inconvenienced? Could free speech and artistic expression possibly survive?
No sane person argues against trying to reduce spree-killings.
The question we have to answer is: what can we reasonably do to keep guns, cars, and knives out of the hands of the truly nutted-up?
Should we ban all knives, cars, guns, and pointy objects? Should we require licenses for box cutters, nail clippers, and ice picks?
The spree-killer, Elliott Rodger (insert whatever name in here you find in the news in the last two years), was a truly disturbed individual. This was no secret to anyone who knew him. He was one of those people, a loner, weird kid in high school. His own parents were so concerned about his mental state just before the killings that they called his therapist, who called the police, who couldn’t do anything when they visited him and asked “are you planning to harm anyone or yourself?” He simply replied “no, officer, this must be a misunderstanding, I am just fine” and they said “have a nice day!”.
No matter what solution imperfect humans craft, there will be nutjobs who are intelligent enough to avoid the various warning signs we associate with killers, and those who simply fall through the cracks. We could devise a system where parents, siblings, or friends could report someone they feel is about to nut up, and a special nut police squad could come to evaluate him and then search or hold him based on their findings. Then you’d need a special nut court to handle those cases, staffed by psychologists and psychiatrists (nut-pickers?) whose opinions would carry the force of law, with the power to commit people to go “away” for long periods of “treatment”.
What kind of a country would we become to have that kind of je t’accuse culture? I could point my finger at you and say “I denounce you!” three times, pay off the nut-pickers and you’d be hauled away forever without recourse. Of course you’re insane and a danger to yourself and others (and you’re also my political rival or my business competitor, or both).
The positive thing about our laws is anything resembling that arrangement would likely fail a Fourth Amendment challenge, since it’s not a crime to be nutted-up (or is it?). For a comparison, let’s look at the climate on college campuses, where the Federal Title IX law is being used to prosecute alleged rape without due process. There’s even a website with “how to” instructions. Why would someone use a Federal law intended to give women equal rights in college admissions to prosecute a felony, when a simple call to the local police could result in a case?
The reason is that Title IX investigations give a whole lot more latitude to the college to take administrative action without anything resembling due process. It’s a way to expand the “rights” of the accuser, broaden the definition of “rape” without actually passing a law to do it, and take action in the face of a perceived problem (“date rape on campus”) without having actual facts to back it up.
Could this same approach be used to round up nutjobs? I can see it happening. Some Federal law that governs workplaces or commerce or highways could be pretzeled and assigned FBI resources, a website to train accusers on how to make their target nutjobs go away, and some non-judicial way of administering forcible “healthcare” on the person being carted into the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Justina Pelletier is an example of how the Nanny State gets too full of itself and drunk on power. Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) snatched Justina from her parents at the behest of Boston Children’s Hospital, simply because the ER doctor there disagreed with the diagnosis from a Tufts Medical Center doctor. There was no due process here, just the presumption that the parents must be guilty of “medical abuse” because the doctor said je t’accuse.
Josh Duggar, although himself a creep, a cad, and a failed husband, wrote in conclusion of his Fox News piece with this:
As DCF has shown, the government is not always adept at decision-making, and it really does make a terrible parent.
If government makes a terrible parent, it makes a worse doctor or psychologist.
The simplest solution, according to our “soft and gentle” society, is simply to ban firearms and be done with it. England did it years ago, and it’s not like they have beheadings with swords in the street. Wait, never mind. But it’s not amusing, it’s terribly, terribly tragic. England’s “bobbies” never used to carry guns, now they have semi-automatic assault rifles (the real, military kind) in the boot of most of their patrol cars. Life has not gotten more “soft and gentle” in England.
The fact is that most spree-killings occur in places where firearms are already banned. Schools, movie theaters (in some states), malls with no weapons policies; these are the places crazy people choose to act out their denouement and take as many as possible with them. The anti-gun crowd says that if those individuals couldn’t buy firearms, then they couldn’t shoot anyone. Yes, I suppose if all 270 to 350 million guns in the USA were somehow confiscated and destroyed, then there would be no way for such a person to come into possession with a firearm.
Turning our entire society upside down, repealing the Second Amendment, and likely taking at gunpoint (with violence) every firearm in the country, to prevent a few dozen nutjobs from getting a gun is insanity defined. Unless, of course, the goal is the turn the entire society upside down and ridding the country of firearms for some other reason.
Returning to the original conundrum:
I think spree-killing is a fad in our country, brought on as much by our “we have to be a gentle, inclusive society” culture as much as anything else. People nut up for all kinds of reasons, everything from Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver to a girl’s rejection. Policing every possible reason is not only impossible, but also tyrannical to attempt.
Policing every person’s mental health leads to a Super-Nanny State, which is more tyrannical still. C.S. Lewis put it best:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Perhaps the movies provide us with a better answer. Maybe a bit of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood isn’t so bad after all. Possibly some small amount of threats and violence by “real men”—manly men who are not so sensitive not to tell someone off with a knuckle sandwich.
Maybe we need more men like Buzz Aldrin.
Maybe the answer is training up a generation who are capable of saying to a nut job “look buster, I’ll beat the living snot out of you if you say one more word” and then do it. Or having parents who don’t send their damaged goods out into the world with a therapist’s phone number on a card and a thorazine prescription, but have the courage to commit their budding Charles Manson to an institution where they can either be cured or given the proper attention to ensure they are not unleashed on an unsuspecting public (ooh, but that’s a stigma).
Maybe if we all manned-up a bit in our culture, then people who would commit spree-killings would find themselves beat up in a ditch and penniless rather than planning elaborate retribution events, driving BMW’s and buying firearms with daddy’s credit cards.
I don’t think that’s asking too much.
This was originally published in May 2014 and lightly edited to bring it up to current events.