Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Navy Yard shooting -- and mental health

To my profound lack of surprise, it now appears that  the Navy Yard shooter had mental health problems of a serious nature and an obsessive interest in violent video games. As I blogged previously, this country's high profile, big headline mass shootings have  a common denominator in the mental infirmities of the perps. A possible exception is the crime of Maj. Nidal Hasan; his motive may have been religious. Or crazy. You decide.

Following the Navy Yard shooting there was a rush in the news media to blame the AR-15, the 'evil gun' scapegoat du jour of the gun ban chorus, though at this point it is highly doubtful whether such a  weapon was used; if it was, it was obtained by the killer from a victim. No matter, Dianne Feinstein decried the "military-style assault rifle." These shootings form  a convenient pretext on which to hang calls for gun bans and other infringements. But what we need here is not more gun control laws, of which we have more than enough, but more nut control. The Navy Yard shooter previously showed abundant signs of being unhinged, but nothing was done to get him off the street.

There is a fine line here and we must tread it carefully. Efforts to protect society from the dangerously insane must not become pretexts to oppress the harmlessly insane or the merely peculiar. But we may have gone too far in the other direction. Some high-minded politicians thought they were doing a fine thing to all but do away with mental hospital institutionalization, decrying the hospitals as snake pits and putting people into them as a grievous violation of human rights. Now, though, when someone has a serious mental problem, society's response is often nothing very substantial or useful, until he ends up in jail, or the morgue.

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