I don't really have a strong disagreement with what David Brooks is saying today about spree killers:
People who commit spree killings are usually suffering from severe mental disorders. The response, and the way to prevent future episodes, has to start with psychiatry, too.What bothers me is that, although Brooks says he's in favor of tighter gun laws, he doesn't want us talking about guns after spree killings, which makes him just like his fellow right-wingers who unswervingly oppose tighter gun laws. He makes the case for dismissing the impact of weapon availability by mischaracterizing what a lot of us are saying and thinking:
The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships -- when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control. But there also has to be a more aggressive system of treatment options, especially for men in their 20s.
The crucial point is that the dynamics are internal, not external. These killers are primarily the product of psychological derangements, not sociological ones.I'm not advocating stricter gun laws because I'm looking for an excuse to talk about a pet peeve. I agree with Brooks that spree killers need help, and if we could get them that help, they wouldn't shoot people. (I'm ignoring Brooks's support for a party that advocates severe cuts in mental health funding.)
Yet, after every rampage, there are always people who want to use these events to indict whatever they don't like about society. A few years ago, some writers tried to blame violent video games for a rash of killings.
I don't blame gun culture for what's going on in James Holmes's head. I don't blame gun culture for what was going on in the head of Jared Lee Loughner or Seung-Hui Cho. They all needed help.
I blame gun culture for the fact that, since we can't successfully intercede in every case of incipient mass-homicidal madness, because we don't have the resources and don't have perfect foresight, the gun culture doesn't permit us to intercede in another way that might prevent the shedding of innocent blood. We can't flag mass purchases of firepower that could be signs of a massacre in the making, the way we can flag mass purchases of Sudafed or huge money transfers. We can't place even low barriers between unidentified crazy people and huge arsenals. It's like running a prison and not being certain whether a new inmate is a suicide risk, but not being allowed to take his belt away except under extraordinary circumstances, because the pro-belt lobby is so powerful.
Yes -- absolutely we should get more of these people help. But why does that preclude any other measures to reduce the risk posed by their madness?