The latest shooting in Buffalo has prompted cries for the government to do something to prevent further events like the one now in everyone’s mind. The problem is that there is no ready solution. Predicting violent behavior is almost impossible. There was a study, now more than 30 years old, that presented case histories of subjects some of whom went on to commit violent acts. A group of psychiatrists and psychologists were asked to identify which of the subject were those who subsequently were violent. Their responses were compared to a control group of secretaries. The secretaries did better, though neither did very well.
The Buffalo shooter is likely a paranoid schizophrenic. I’m just going with the odds. I have no special knowledge of his psychiatric condition. If this diagnosis is correct, he might have been identified and treated. Of course, he might have gone off his meds or not responded. He was most unlikely to be locked up. We don’t do that anymore. Also, most paranoids schizophrenics don’t become mass shooters.
Then there are psychopaths who appear normal until they’re not. The government along with the medical profession is still back in the dark ages when it comes to mental illness. Look at all the homeless people being encouraged to act against their well being by “enlightened” governments.
Is there anything we can do besides throwing up our hands? Some would like gun ownership restricted. First, we could enforce the laws we already have. The Buffalo shooter was hospitalized prior to legally buying the gun he used to kill 10 people. This psychiatric encounter with the medical profession should have been reported to the gun registry such that he could not have purchased the weapon. But it wasn’t. Why don’t we enforce the laws we already have? The answer likely is that the enforcement regime is a vast bureaucracy that has the mobility of a continental plate. When the plate finally does move we have an earthquake.
Some are blaming the internet which is full of all sort of bizarre stuff. Censorship is not likely to have much of an effect on someone who has murder in his heart. We could reopen the psychiatric hospitals that used to warehouse those whom nobody wanted. But the potential for abuse in deciding who get locked up without a trial is more than society should bear. The Soviet Union incarcerated political dissidents in psychiatric hospitals. The potential for abuse, especially in today’s polarized environment, is too great to allow mass hospitalizations on “psychiatric” grounds.
Then there’s the white supremacy explanation, sure to be invoked by the woke as a societal explanation for an attack aimed at black people. Those who go in this direction will ignore the murder of whites by a black man driving a car into a crowd. Mass murder by a crazed assailant should be labeled with lunacy rather than deranged politics.
In a country with more than 330 million people (and growing rapidly), if just 0.01% of the population has murderous urges that’s 33,000 potential killers. Identifying them before they act is beyond the capacity of medicine in particular and society in general. Furthermore, most of them will not act on their urges. Some problems are beyond solution. Until this one is somehow resolved we’ll have to muddle through as best we can realizing that we’re not going to do very well. Not a satisfying conclusion, but one that should keep politicians at a remove.