Monday, December 17, 2012


Let's perform a thought experiment. You want to kill as many people as possible with very little chance of being stopped. Do you go to (a) a gun range; (b) a police station; (c) a hunting camp; (d) a place where people are forbidden to carry weapons? One of the common denominators of recent mass murders is that the killer has gone to a place where weapons are forbidden. This suggests one preventive measure that is relatively easy to take to reduce these types of crimes. Have highly visible armed guards at weapons-free locations.


We don't really need more gun control laws. Stringent gun control laws are like Prohibition. They may make the self-righteous feel better, but they do nothing to stop the illegal traffic in the prohibited item. Many factors contribute to the tragedy of mass murder, and I'm no smart enough name them all or know what to do about them if I could. I do, however, think I see two largely overlooked contributing factors to the enabling of such tragedies. One contributing factor can be solved relatively easily. The second contributing factor is built into the case law interpreting our Constitution.


CONTRIBUTING FACTOR # 1: It may sound counterintuitive, and it certainly isn't politically correct to say this, but gun control laws actually enable mass murders. If the law says "don't have a gun," then most people won't. But people who want to kill people will arm themselves despite the law. Gun control laws simply produce large gun-free zones where a mass murderer can run amok and kill large numbers of people before law enforcement can respond. If we are going to disarm people and make them vulnerable, then we must do something proactive to protect them. We can counteract this contributing factor easily. Place highly visible armed guards in these gun-free zones, and we will reduce the number of mass murders. Don't arm them with Uzi's, M-16's or AK-47's. Arm them with pump shotguns. These mass murders appear to me to be committed at close range, usually by people who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn at any distance. Shotguns have the range to deal with such people, and they don't have the distant lethality of a high powered rifle. You're not going to miss and accidentally kill someone 300 yards away with a shotgun.


CONTRIBUTING FACTOR # 2: Now for another politically incorrect statement. Mass murders are facilitated by a Supreme Court decision: O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486 (U.S.Fla. 1975). O'Connor severely limited the states' ability to involuntarily commit the mentally ill. The gist of this opinion was that mentally ill people cannot be locked up unless they are shown to be dangerous. To put it crudely, just acting weird is not enough for involuntary hospitalization. The Supreme Court put it more delicately, but they were saying the same thing: “May the State fence in the harmless mentally ill solely to save its citizens from exposure to those whose ways are different?” Before 1975 we regularly locked up people who were acting weird but who had never harmed anyone. And I believe at that time we had fewer mass murders. Most of the mass killers of recent vintage ( I’m thinking particularly about the man who ran amok at Virginia Tech) acted weird long before they killed anyone. Under O’Connor, they couldn’t be locked up because they hadn’t harmed anyone, or if they had harmed someone, there was a mental health professional who testified that they were all better now and weren't dangerous any more. I vividly remember one case we had where a man kept committing arsons. He'd get arrested, the doctors would say he was mentally ill, but he didn't need hospitalization, and under O'Connor he'd get put back on the street where--you guessed it, he set something else on fire. He finally "burned out" on his hobby of setting fires, and thankfully he never hurt anyone.
Now, I’m not in favor of locking people up merely because they act weird. Most people who act weird don’t commit mass murders. Just as most people who own guns don’t commit mass murders.