Doctor Science Knows

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Insights into VA Tech shootings: Within the Pale

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a friend who at one point she feared was on the way to becoming a shooter, and talks with great insight and compassion about what it was like:
It should, I think, go without saying that there was something badly wrong with this person, above and beyond the fact that he wanted to go out and kill people. It manifested itself in ways that are similar, in some respects, to major depression. If you've ever talked to someone who is very, very depressed, you know that their thoughts tend increasingly to go round and round the same topics, as though they are trapped in some sort of horrible rut, which moreover tends to constrict with time.
...
It is for this reason that normal deterrence would not, I think, have had any effect. He just wasn't thinking in any such sane way. There was no particular effect he wanted to produce, other than: dead people.

This was a number of years ago, so *maybe* things would have improved, but at the time Hilzoy found basically no resources to help a non-professional deal with this situation
It seemed to me that if I could keep him from getting a gun license, I would make it much, much less likely that he'd end up killing people.

So I called the gun licensing board in his jurisdiction. ... Because I thought: while it would be awful if I could get them to deny someone a gun license just by making unsubstantiated claims about his sanity, surely there must be some provision for denying a gun license to someone who is demonstrably homicidal.

Guess what? There isn't. Or so that particular gun licensing board told me. If someone has committed a felony, they said, he can be denied a license. But if they are merely insane and homicidal, there's nothing anyone can do.

In the midst of the storm of comforting or angering generalizations, blame, rants, screaming, and cheap psychology, Hilzoy's piece keeps me focused on a profound ethical principle: you don't get to decide that anyone isn't human, no matter how bad they are. Any time you say, "he's a monster, he's an animal, he's inhuman" you are lying, making things easier on yourself. Even a mass murderer is within the human pale.

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