Megyn Kelly: The NRA is too powerful and our politicians are too weak

A rant befitting the occasion in that she’s all over the place and ultimately offers no solution. It sounds like she’s building to a “grab those guns” call to arms — no doubt that’s what she’d like to do — but she admits that’s impossible. There are too many in circulation. Most gun-control regulations wouldn’t have prevented the shooting anyway, she goes on to say, in which case why’s she grumbling about the NRA? She bemoans Congress slow-walking efforts to increase funding for mental health, then somehow ends up complaining about prayer in public schools being unconstitutional. What? She’s a mess. But so is everyone today who isn’t ideologically doctrinaire, I assume.

The direction we’re heading in trying to solve our national mass-shooter problem, I think, is towards greater surveillance of kooks. Greater surveillance is the trend in all facets of modern life. Why should this facet, where monitoring of certain people might save lives, be any different? The FBI said this morning that it didn’t act on Cruz’s “school shooter” YouTube comment from last year because it couldn’t identify him, but that seems hard to believe. He used his real name in leaving the comment; it couldn’t have been difficult to obtain his IP from Google. More likely, they flagged his comment in a database somewhere and then let it go on grounds that YouTube comment sections are degraded even by usual Internet standards. The site is a playground for cranks and very few of them are actually dangerous. If you want to chase every nut on YouTube on the off-chance that he might kill someone, you’d better be prepared to create a new, very large federal agency.

But what if you didn’t have to chase every nut? What if law enforcement had an NSA-style database of the public that synthesized information across public and private platforms and then used algorithms to identify which ones were (probably) dangerous? What’s noteworthy about Cruz isn’t that he left a clue on YouTube, it’s that he left lots of clues everywhere:

As Cruz transitioned into high school, he “started progressively getting a little more weird,” Mutchler told The Washington Post. Cruz, he said, was selling knives out of a lunchbox, posting on Instagram about guns and killing animals, and eventually “going after one of my friends, threatening her.”…

Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told CNN that Cruz had been receiving treatment at a mental health clinic for a while but that he had not been to the clinic for more than a year. “It wasn’t like there wasn’t concern for him,” Furr told CNN. “We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren’t connected. … In this case, we didn’t find a way to connect with this kid.”…

Neighbors told the Sun-Sentinel that police were called out repeatedly to deal with complaints about Cruz. Shelby Speno said he was seen shooting at chickens owned by a resident. Malcolm Roxburgh told the Sun-Sentinel that Cruz took a dislike to the pigs another family kept as pets. “He sent over his dog … to try to attack them.”…

An Instagram account that appeared to belong to the suspect showed several photos of guns. And one appeared to show a gun’s holographic laser sight pointed at a neighborhood street. A second showed at least six rifles and handguns laid out on a bed with the caption “arsenal.” Other pictures showed a box of large-caliber rounds with the caption “cost me $30.” One appeared to show a dead frog’s bloodied body. Most of the photos were posted in July.

Violent social media posts, police visits to his home, mental health treatment that was known very quickly to officials after the shooting. All of those are things the feds could have tracked as they happened in building a file on Cruz. He was suspended from school too, partly for fighting and partly because school administrators found bullets in his backpack. Eventually he went and bought an AR-15. A single YouTube comment about becoming a school shooter probably might not warrant surveilling someone, but the YouTube comment plus everything else I mentioned?

If you worry that people’s privacy will be devoured by this “Minority Report” scenario, you should, but Americans have been conditioned by the digital age to be comfortable with losing their privacy. They won’t let you take their guns; they won’t let you force them into mental health treatment; but if you want to build a federal database of crackpots for the purposes of preventing future Parklands and Newtowns? I think they’ll go for that eventually. And the culture will shift because of it too, with people tacitly encouraged to report creepy yet legal behavior by the eccentrics in their midst just in case he’s planning the next killing spree. I wonder what would happen if lawmakers pitched this idea right now to voters — not for the entire population, maybe, just for troubled kids, in the name of preventing school shootings in particular. Let the feds build an information clearinghouse on America’s students where reports of strange and violent behavior can be centralized, so that the state knows who’s a priority to monitor and who isn’t. It would mine social media data too for “troubling” postings. How would that poll? How would it poll if the same lawmakers proposed letting the feds block the purchase of firearms by teens in the database of legal age who meet to-be-developed criteria for “dangerous persons”?

It’ll only get easier to build files on people as time wears on and social media usage becomes more ubiquitous in the population. We can’t be many years away right now from virtually everyone operating a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and/or other social media account to be monitored for evidence of ungood tendencies developing. Note that the man who posted the YouTube video on which Cruz commented last year said the FBI was awfully quick to contact him yesterday, suggesting that Cruz’s name and his comment were somewhere in their files. If they had known all the rest of what he’s been accused of — the violence towards animals, the trouble at school, the weirdo Instagram posts — would he have made it through the front door of the school yesterday?