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Tags: Tucson Shooting

Don’t Count on Universities to Stop Dangerous People



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From the final Morning Jolt of the week, delayed due to winter bugs on my end . . .

So What Should We Do After the Unthinkable Happens?

After yesterday’s Jolt item skeptical about the usefulness of the legislation pushed since the Newtown shootings, someone asked on Twitter what I would recommend in response to that abomination.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that any particular piece of legislation can prevent evil people from doing evil things, any more than we think a law banning the use of airliners as flying missiles by suicidal jihadist pilots could have prevented 9/11. Having said that . . .

We certainly feel we have a profile of the shooters in these awful massacres, don’t we? I described the inevitable description the day after Newtown: “Young men alienated from their peers and society at large. They don’t have many friends, they don’t have girlfriends, they feel denied some sort of recognition or appreciation they deserve. They respond to this with an emotion so far beyond the garden-variety frustration, depression, or anger that it’s hard to comprehend. Oftentimes they leave some sort of note or e-mail detailing their grievances against the world. They decide that they’re going to become famous and well-known in death in the way they never could achieve in life – and then a world that never seemed to care about their troubles or how they felt will spend a lot of time thinking about them.” I’d also throw in that we often later hear that they were diagnosed as having some sort of intense mental or emotional problems, and may have been on medication.

As I mentioned yesterday, aside from having some criminal record that bars them from owning a gun, the only way to get someone listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is for them to be ruled mentally ill or a danger to themselves or others by a judge.

The lesson of the Virginia Tech shooter and the Tucson shooter is that there is no point in reporting odd or threatening behavior to school or workplace authorities. (My suspicion is that fear of lawsuits prevents most non-governmental authorities from taking real action against individuals whose behavior suggests they could get violent. We see that even the U.S. military hesitated to take action against the Fort Hood shooter, despite the warning signs in that case.)

Don’t count on a university official, a company human-resources staffer, a therapist, or a family member to be the one who makes sure a ticking time-bomb gets defused. The only way to get the ball rolling on this is with law enforcement. If you tell your local police department that somebody’s behaving in a vaguely or explicitly threatening manner, most police will have the good sense to check it out, just to be safe. Perhaps you’re making too much out of a guy having a bad day, or an eccentric personality. But in all too many of these cases, we hear people describing increasingly odd and menacing behavior, and wonder why no one intervened, or why all of these red flags could be ignored or explained away.

One other thing — you notice I rarely if ever name the shooters in cases like these. As mentioned above, I think one of the motives of these shooters — at least to the point we can ever understand the motives of people like this — is infamy, a certain fame, a certain sense of empowerment from knowing that everyone who ignored them or mocked them will suddenly care a great deal about what they thought and how they felt, even if it occurs after they’re dead or behind bars. So if everyone in the media would learn to stop writing extensive profiles of these mass murderers, looking at every detail of their pre-massacre lives as if there were something the whole public deserved to know (as opposed to, say, criminologists), we would probably have fewer of them. I know the media doesn’t think they’re glamorizing and celebrating the killers in their coverage, but in the mindset of the deeply troubled, they are; they’re turning them into celebrities. And if there’s anything our modern society values, it’s being famous.

By the way, this is what legislating in haste gets you:

It appears someone forgot to exempt police officers from the ban of ammunition clips with more than 7 bullets in New York State’s new gun control law.

It’s a big oversight that apparently happened in the haste by the Cuomo Administration to get a tough package of gun-control measures signed into law.

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the sweeping gun measure, the nation’s toughest. It includes a ban on the possession of high-capacity magazines.

Specifically, magazines with more than 7 rounds will be illegal under the new law.

The problem as the statute is currently written does NOT exempt law enforcement officers.

The NYPD, the State Police and virtually every law enforcement agency in the state carry 9-milli-meter guns, which have a 15-round capacity.

Unless an exemption is added by the time the law takes effect in March, police would technically be in violation of the new gun measure.

Way to go, lawmakers.

Tags: Guns , Tucson Shooting

Motes, Beams, and Calls for Civility



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A striking and disturbing factor in our entire discussion of civility and political rhetoric is the lack of anyone citing or practicing the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Calls for civility that come from a partisan and focus on the opposition amount to,Hey, you guys should be more civil when arguing with me, or those who agree with me.”

A call for civility that explicitly includes the speaker’s allies is better, but even that approach carries an element of “everyone else should be less like themselves and more like me.”  For a call for civility to carry any weight, it should preferably come with a bit of contrition for the speaker’s past rhetorical excesses.  (Is there anyone on Earth who does not look back and regret something they said or wrote, or wish they had chosen their words carefully?*)

Otherwise, it amounts to a call for unilateral disarmament: “We could have a civil discourse if you unhinged losers would stop saying nasty things about all of the noble, sophisticated geniuses on my side.”

Of course, many of the least civil and most incendiary voices in our political and media worlds achieved their high stature specifically because of their tone. If the most fiery talk-show hosts on the right, like Michael Savage, agreed to be warm and conciliatory and kind to every caller, would their audiences still listen? Would their shows even be entertaining? Could MSNBC’s lineup thrive without seething and fuming and denouncing? Having established their identity and built their viewership that way, is it realistic to expect them to be polite, amiable, and fair to the opposing side?

Beyond that, do the uncivil even recognize that they’re uncivil? Don’t they pat themselves on the back for being authentic, unvarnished, and passionate, and providing real perspective instead of the watered-down, bland pablum of the other voices? Wouldn’t they perceive “civility” as a code word for selling out?

I suspect that the uncivil voices on the other side probably stopped at the first paragraph and began writing about my effort to “exploit the shooting with Christianist propaganda” or something.

* It’s unfair for me to call on others to do this without doing it myself, so here’s my start. Of everything I’ve written for NRO, nothing garnered as much reaction as this 2005 piece about Anne Rice, New Orleans, and the reaction to Hurricane Katrina. I read it today and cringe — too snide, too snippy, too callous when thousands of people were still enduring great hardship, coping with the loss of their homes and mourning their dead. For whatever her flaws, Rice was writing about watching her friends and neighbors suffer, and if her New York Times op-ed was too heated and incendiary, lashing out at the rest of the country for perceived indifference . . . well, there are worse sins. Even if her conclusions were wrong, her sense of abandonment was real, and my belittling tone was the wrong response. There was a time to examine whether bad decisions by the residents of New Orleans and Louisiana had exacerbated the problems of responding to the hurricane, but my piece was too early and in completely the wrong tone.

Tags: Tucson Shooting

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