The recent proliferation of mass shootings suggests a deeper malady than gun laws can fix. Firearm laws were few and weak before the 1970s. Yet only in recent decades have young men entered schools and supermarkets for the purpose of killing the innocent. That a teenager could look at a nine-year-old, aim a gun, and pull the trigger signals some larger social and cultural breakdown.
It also suggests that society may have to adapt by rethinking our hands-off attitudes to antisocial behavior and mental illness. Security at schools and churches will need to be enhanced. Big Data may help law enforcement identify potential risks, and we may need to give them freer rein to intervene in borderline cases. A return to more social sanction and intervention for antisocial behavior would also help the vulnerable and lost who most need help.
The modern welfare state is adept at writing checks, but not much else. Today’s young killers aren’t motivated by material deprivation. They are typically from middle-class families with access to smartphones and X-boxes. Their deficit is social and spiritual. The rise of family dysfunction and the decline of mediating institutions such as churches and social clubs have consequences.
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