Opinion | The Mental Health System Can’t Stop Mass Shooters; New York Times

Those who oppose further restrictions on gun ownership often set their sights on the mental health care system. Shouldn’t psychiatrists be able to identify as dangerous someone like Nikolas Cruz…? — Amy Barnhorst, New York Times

Binaries. You’re with us or against us.

As I prepared to post this New York Times op-ed article, I wondered how many readers would see it, and me, as anti-gun. And that reminded me of an article my blogging friend K.L. Allendoerfer had sent me on exactly that topic: false binaries, especially as applied to gun ownership and use.

Explaining that there’s no way to determine and treat the “dangerous mentally ill” is bound to inflame some opponents of gun control, but this article gives concrete examples of why that’s true. — MHP


  1. A couple of notes from someone who used to be very much anti-Gun (after all, the guys I work with—cops—are in danger of being shot):
    First: Any gun law you pass needs to be enforced. Far and away the most non-suicide casualties of gun violence are in the inner city. Don’t like Stop-and-Frisk? That was an attempt to enforce New York’s draconian gun laws. So if you picture dragnets sweeping through trailer parks in Mississippi, confiscating AR-15s from rednecks in wife beaters, forget it. The focus will be on inner cities, and the people whose apartments and houses will be searched by storm troopers will be black.

    Second: Maine (where I live) and Vermont (not far away) are states with a lot of guns and very little gun violence. Which means that it is at least possible that the problem isn’t guns per se, but guns in combination with other problems.

    Third: (and perhaps most important) school and other mass shootings are not impulse-crimes. Often they are planned weeks, months and even years in advance. The “troubled” young men who go in for this sort of thing consciously count themselves inheritors of the legacy of Columbine; they study previous mass shootings for inspiration and lessons learned, and they scout locations. Among other things, they actively look for places where they are unlikely to meet with armed resistance. Dylann Roof, for example, was originally planning to shoot up his local community college. (Just for the record, he used a handgun, not an “assault rifle” to murder his victims). But the local community college boasted, on its website, of being able to deploy law enforcement to any location on campus within minutes. So Roof went for a church because in South Carolina, churches were “gun-free zones” by law.

    In other words, until we have the mental health, family breakdown, violence in the media and whatever other problems are contributing to these nightmares, it appears that “hardening the target” actually works. At the very least, we should stop posting “Gun-Free Zone” signs on our soft targets.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my many brushes (or in some cases head-on collisions) with violent trauma came in 1977, about a year after I went to work for Mobil Oil at its HQ in NYC. This was also 22 years before Mobil and Exxon merged. A bomb went off six floors directly below my office. One man was killed.

    It was the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN. It sent a woman into an office in the lobby, where she left her pocket book, with a bomb inside, and walked out. But why did they select the Mobil Building to bomb? The previous day, Exxon had announced a plan to drill for oil off the coast of Puerto Rico. But Exxon had security, and at the time Mobil had none, with a subway stop directly accesses via our lobby.

    So I know what you mean, Kate, about people planning to do harm choosing the softest targets.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Exactly. And it’s worth noting that many of the recent mass-shooters were also researching bombs. Timothy McVeigh didn’t use an AR to kill 168 people.

    By the way, did you know that the United States does NOT have the highest rate of mass-shootings in the Western world?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I do, too. How we categorize events really affects what we imagine to be the solutions. If we decide that the conversation is about “gun violence” we don’t actually address other kinds of mass lethality, let alone the individual acts that, together, add up to appalling carnage (in Chicago or Baltimore, for example).

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Some definitions are the killing of three or more people, some four or more. I think the FBI definition is four or more. So someone killing four of his or her family members is in the same category as the Las Vegas massacre. That’s not significant or helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yes! When I started looking into this, I realized that, for example, the domestic violence murder I responded to would have “counted” in many of the statistics cited: four victims, for example. And also “you are more likely to be killed with a gun if you have a gun in your house;” what they don’t mention on that one is that the statistics do not show that gun-owners are killed with their own guns.

    The woman who was murdered by her ex in the example I’m thinking of had a gun. She specifically had a gun because she was—with what turned out to be good reason— afraid of her ex. When he attacked her with a gun, she couldn’t get to her own gun (sadly) in time to protect herself and her children.

    This turns out to be true of quite a lot of the “if you have a gun in the house…” shootings: people who feel threatened either specifically (as the poor woman I referenced) or generally, because they live in a bad neighborhood, tend to buy guns to protect themselves. And if they are attacked, it is entirely possible that they will lose the battle, and their death will be counted as “someone with a gun gets killed with a gun.”

    The vast majority of gun deaths in America are suicides, incidentally. Which isn’t good either, but it’s a slightly different problem from “kid goes berserk and shoots up school.”

    Indeed, one could put the ncident described above—the woman and her children, murdered by her ex-husband— into the same category as the woman who was strangled by her husband, or the one beaten to death with a frying pan. That is, those cases could be filed under “Domestic Violence” and addressed from that angle.

    Meanwhile, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting massacre could be placed in the same file as the Tsarnaev brothers’ bombing of the Boston Marathon and the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris—Islamist-inspired violence.

    And so on.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Another interesting definitional issue: When Islamic terrorists attack and kill civilians (for example, the Boston Marathon bombing) the response of President Obama was to remind us how much more likely we are to be killed in car accidents than by terrorists. After a school shooting, however horrific, the math remains the same. But the response is very different.

    This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I think either terrorist attacks or school shootings or, for that matter, the horrifying violence in Baltimore are unimportant. Quite the contrary. But I have learned to take pronouncements from presidents, politicians and pundits, not to mention weeping late night comics, with a heaping spoonful of salt. There are people who are actually trying to solve or at least ameliorate these problems, and even making some headway (violent crime has declined, even as gun ownership has skyrocketed) but Jimmy Kimmel is not among them.

    Liked by 2 people

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