Monday, January 17, 2011


It's been long enough since the shooting last Saturday that I want to delve into this a little bit.  I'm trying to be as sensitive as possible

Assuming the shooter in Arizona was crazy, but had not had enough contact with the mental health system and courts to be adjudicated a prohibited person, how would we stop a future tragedy of this sort?

What can a legislature DO that would effectively address this problem. 

The anti-civil-rights instinct is to ban AKs again or give every politician a 1000 foot radius mobile Gun Free Zone around them.  Laughably useless knee jerk reaction on an issue unrelated to this problem.

The problem is not the weapon, we know, it is the mentally unhinged actor.

We COULD go back to a system of institutions that we had before the insane asylums were emptied out.  When erratic people were encountered, law enforcement could take them in for observation, committing them involuntarily to the wards if professional psychiatrists noted the potential for harm and thus sequestering these ill people from the general public for their own good and theirs.

That is something that could be done.  But should it be done?  Do we want to enact such a regime of Reinstitutionalization?

To DO something, the impulse for busybody lawmakers to DO something, is huge.  But perhaps doing nothing but maybe tightening up the system we already have as best we can is the way to go.  Note the 'maybe.'

Ideally, the insane would be taken care of with their basic needs of food and shelter provided for, and treated medically and humanely with as much dignity as possible considering, and hence have a life better than the one they had on the street as a homeless person. 

But we don't live in the ideal world.  We live in the real. 

Those asylums were expensive back in the 50's.  We don't have the money now, either.  Medicare and Medicaid is stretched past the breaking point, and there are other things to spend money on, too, you know.

Locking someone up involuntarily is a significant intrusion on their civil rights, and all for the potential of causing harm.  For every Arizona shooter their are dozens of just as crazy people out there that won't hurt anyone else.  The level of justice, or lack thereof, to the individual is suspect right out of the gate.

Those asylums, some of them, were hell holes of squalor in the 50's.  You'd end up with good ones and bad ones today, too.  The good ones would be a credit, the bad ones would be a stain on all of us to allow them to exist.  But exist they will, even if you threw tremendous funding at them to make sure they were decent.

There is a potential for tremendous abuses if you expand asylums.  People would get committed in larger numbers, not because they were crazy or a danger to themselves or others but to be put away by someone with more power and connections than them.  This certainly happens now, but if you expand the system it will happen much more.  Discharged soldiers, loudmouth political opponents, inconvenient relatives, ALL will get put in the booby hatch for no reason.

So what's the answer?  I don't have one.  Both choices are significantly bad.  This question is incredibly hard, either way.  My conservative side's instinct is not to monkey with what we have now and to try harder in the future.  To make a big change opens up unintended but not unpredictable consequences that are worse than the remedy.  Especially a remedy that expands the power of bureaucrats further.

So what would have stopped the Arizona shooter?  Police contact that he had prior could have led to more intervention and we may have gotten that guy made into a prohibited person for firearms purchase.  But how would that have helped, if the man was determined to cause mayhem, spurred by his delusions?  So he doesn't buy a gun at a gunstore legally, he could get a gun elsewhere illegally, he could buy a can of gasoline and a lighter, he could drive a car into a crowd.  We are discussing him because he killed 6 strangers in a spectacular manner, but I wouldn't want him or someone like him to kill one person that no one ever hears about except for a blurb on a local TV channel.  Putting him on a list so he can't buy guns doesn't solve the issue.  He clearly needed an effective custodian 24/7.  People involved in this sort of thing DO need to be more cautious in future for our current mental health safety net to function, but know that people are fallible and the safety net will fail again even if people resolve to try 110% harder, darnit. 

I just don't know.  I don't think there IS an answer.  So, what, we have to accept incidences like this in the future?  As though it's an acceptable part of life to have a crazed spree killer do something like this and just try to minimize it when he's already gone on a rampage?  Yes, we do have to.  I don't think there is anything effective and new that CAN be done, sadly.  And doing something, trying to thread the needle, is nigh impossible and will almost certainly make stuff worse.  But do something we will, almost assuredly.  It's a bit depressing.


Anonymous said...

Family is the solution not government. Those closest to him were the main point of failure here. They had the ability and insights to get this asshole some mental help and stopping this before it got started.

F#@king hippies.

Bubblehead Les. said...

In the spirit of Civil Discourse ("Yes, old chum, I think you are full of shit. Care for a spot of tea?"), the Anti-Gunners seem to be assuming the mere existence of firearms will bring about the Apocalypse. However, shifting quickly like the snakes they are, now this weeks topic looks like mandatory incarceration if THEY (and we all know how Evil THEY are) if THEY suspect you are "Mentally Unstable" (by THEIR terms and definitions, of course). Remember, during the Brezhnev Era of the Soviet Union, people were sent to the Gulags, not for their Political Dissent, but for their being "Psychologically Ill".

You're right, there may not be an answer that doesn't cover all the bases to PREVENT this kind of stuff from happening, but there has been an answer to RESPOND to these occurrences for over a hundred years. It was a device made by Col. Colt. Of course, one has to know how to use it, practice with it on a frequent basis, and every time one steps outside the confines of one's domicile, CARRY THE DAMN PISTOL!

If anyone thinks that calling 911 is the end all and be-all to Life's security issues, then would all such people please flock together, eat your grass, and QUIT FUCKING WITH THE SHEEPDOGS WHEN WE ARE TRYING TO STOP THE WOLVES FROM EATING THEM!

Ooops. Sorry if I was wasn't Civil in my Discourse. Hope no one spilled their Tea. Also, my rant wasn't directed at you T-Bolt, but at the Sheep. But what do you expect when Commies and Hippies are voted into Political Power.

Old NFO said...

But remember the ACLU sued the state of Louisiana for 'holding' mentally unstable people in asylums...

Michael said...

The Volokh Conspiracy had an eye-opening graph a couple of years ago showing that we have apparently shifted most people from mental institutes to prisons over the past few decades.

Anonymous said...

He is a prohibited person. His use of drugs prohibited him from lawfully purchasing firearms.

As importantly, his mother worked for Pima County. Pima country has great health benefits (google them for yourself). He had access to all the mental health care he wanted, at Pima county expense.