The Corner

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Profile of a School Shooter

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A couple of days ago, the Washington Post ran a long profile of a school shooter. As you might expect, it is utterly chilling.

A few things stick out. First, that for a certain sort of person, this is a cognizant and uninterrupted game, not a momentary psychotic break. It is common for would-be school shooters to idolize the perpetrators of the massacre at Columbine — and to plan their attacks as assiduously as did they — and the person the Post features was no different. Moreover, he didn’t just admire the Columbine killers; he wanted to beat them, and the others that they inspired, as if he were playing a video game. This idea came from somewhere, and it will be difficult to rid ourselves of it now that it’s out of the bag. We have a copycat problem in this country — and worldwide — and it’ll be tough to stop with laws.

The second thing: The shooter reveals that he thought seriously about whether his target would be a “gun free zone.” I mention this not to endorse any particular policy, but to make it clear that it is by no means rare for those who would do harm to first scope out their destinations and to make sure that they won’t encounter much resistance. The shooter openly explains that he chose the local elementary school, rather than the school he was really angry with (his own), because it lacked an armed guard. He also admits to having researched how long it took cops to respond in the area (15 minutes), and how long it would be before SWAT was on site (45 minutes). This echoes comments made by the shooter at Isla Vista, who considered carrying out his attack on Halloween, but decided against it because there’d be “too many cops walking around during an event like Halloween, and cops are the only ones who can hinder my plans.”

The third is that the shooting in question ended when the gun jammed, rather than because the perpetrator was finished. Mercifully, this happened to the Post‘s shooter just 12 seconds after he had started, the result being that he killed one person, and not the 150 he hoped to kill. In Parkland, alas, the gun jammed later, and the casualty count reflected that. The Post strongly implies that things would have been much worse had its profiled shooter had the Mini-14 “assault weapon” he coveted but couldn’t find, but I’m not sure that follows. The worst school shooting in American history, at Virginia Tech, was carried out with handguns, not a rifle; and  besides, “high-capacity” magazines of the sort often put into modern sporting rifles are in fact more likely to jam than are smaller variants. Either way, the interview should remind us all what we’re up against. Rare as they may be, these are not crimes of passion. They are carefully planned attacks, with their own rules and internal logic. They will not be stopped by waiting periods, age limits, or background checks. They will not be prevented by tinkering around the edges with the gun laws (which, rhetoric notwithstanding, is the only option in a country with almost 400 million privately owned guns). They will not be stopped by marches. This is going to require a lot of thought.

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