As the Emanuel AME Church reopens this morning, the media conversation continues to swerve all over the figurative road as various interest groups strive to lay claim to Dylann Roof’s brutal attack and bend it to their own purposes. But we didn’t have to wait all weekend for that to happen. The reading of the tea leaves had begun less than twelve hours after the shooting, well before all the facts were close to being discovered. Last night I was reading one article at Joe Scarborough’s web site, containing a summary of the debate which took place on the show Friday morning.
In fairness, some of the errors in the coverage here are understandable because there were early, conflicting reports flying across the cable news networks and – as is always the case – some of the early reports turned out to be completely wrong. But still, the “analysis” taking place was revealing. The first and most predictable one was the argument over gun control and background checks.
But background checks, while vitally important, would not have saved the children at Newtown, argued Joe. Neither would they have saved the nine victims at Emanuel AME.
“After all the smoke clears, what do you do about a mom that gives access to guns to a mentally ill son? What do you do here where a dad gives a .45 handgun… to a troubled son?”
Many states require background checks when you gift a gun to someone, pointed out Eugene Robinson. While laws can’t stop everyone, they can stop some people in the future from committing these acts. That’s a reason to move forward with them.
Still, if we’re going to talk about gun violence and gun control, we need to also be talking about mental health in America.
As we learned later in the day, Roof did not get the gun as a gift from his father. He purchased it himself in accordance with applicable laws. But what if it had been a gift? Would more or different background check laws have made any difference? Roof had been accused, but never convicted of one felony. His only known conviction was on a misdemeanor. And while he clearly was “crazy” in terms of being a murderous, racist bastard, (pardon my language) he wasn’t the kind of crazy which triggers any alarms in the system. He had not been adjudicated in court as being dangerously insane and likely would have prevailed in any challenge claiming that he was.
The only people who could have stopped such a gift transfer would have been his parents, assuming they recognized the malice in their own child. But that’s not a function of any legal process which can be regulated… it’s just good parenting. It doesn’t stop there, either. Even if Roof’s father had decided that his boy was just too nuts to be given a weapon, Dylann could have gone out and purchased one anyway… just as he did. Background checks don’t stop determined criminals, sadly.
But let’s move on to the last comment from the quoted material above. “[W]e need to also be talking about mental health in America.” No doubt we do, but I’m going to tackle this from a different angle. Yes, more help for the mentally disturbed would be a positive thing, but at the same time we need to stop using that as a crutch when actual criminals commit real crimes. There were people speculating about Roof’s mental health from the moment the news broke. (Rick Perry was one of them who suggested Roof may have been “medicated” and presumably suffering from mental illness.)
There’s a very real chance that Roof’s attorney will be latching on to this idea in court. At some point we need to do away with (or at least severely limit) these insanity defense schemes. There is, no doubt, a small percentage of the population, relatively speaking, who are so mentally ill that they can no longer even understand the world around them, their own actions and the consequences thereof. Those people need help which includes restricting and monitoring their movements so they can’t inadvertently harm themselves or others. But let’s be crystal clear on this one… Dylann Roof does not fall into that category. If you are capable of launching a web site, writing a manifesto, going to a store to fill out all the appropriate paperwork and purchase a weapon, plan out an attack and execute that plan, you know what you’re doing.
Sure, on some meta level we might wish to say that anyone who would walk into a building and shoot down nine people who are posing absolutely no threat to them is “crazy” when compared to general population pool. I would point out again, however, as I noted above, that Roof is obviously a racist, murderous bastard. But you don’t need to look very far back in history to find a whole host of murderous bastards who did quite well for themselves and often rose to positions of great power. That doesn’t make you “crazy” to the point where we hold you excusable for your actions.
So, returning to the question which has been batted around since Friday morning, what do we do now? Rather than trying to hoist Roof up on the shoulders of any group seeking to use him as a totem in the political arena, perhaps the answer is a bit more simple. Roof is a very evil man who did a very evil thing. He’s not “symbolic” of anything other than the fact that our collective gene pool kicks out some murderous bastards from time to time, each with their own “reasons” for breaking the social compact in the most horrific ways possible. You try to keep an eye out for them as best you can, but when one is discovered after the fact you unleash law enforcement to bring him to bay and make him stand against the wheel for his actions. That’s what’s already happening here, and unless the system completely melts down into a pool of political correctness, Roof will pay with for this with his life. The system is working as best it can when dealing with the complex and frequently frightening creatures known as man, and there doesn’t need to be any “deeper meaning” to Dylann Roof.