The tragic mass shooting at a Florida high school has unfortunately brought out many of the same debates which always surround such things, ranging from the humorously absurd to cases of obvious denial. We’ve seen people at MSNBC claiming that handguns are ineffective in deterring violence because the bullets are too slow. Eugene Robinson looked at the obviously insane shooter and quickly determined that mental health issues have nothing to do with this debate.
But there’s a ray of hope yet to be found if we can scrape away all of that sort of nonsense and wrestle with the true, underlying challenge. While they arrive at an already failed conclusion, the Washington Post editorial board at least starts us in the right direction this week by asking, what are we going to do about all of these angry young men?
Before tackling the tough question, they first do an admirable job of listing all of the things which went horribly wrong in the case of the Florida shooter. They cover many of the “interactions” that people had with the suspect, both in the community and in law enforcement. Some blame is assigned there, but those aspects are quickly discarded in favor of the real objective. I’m sure you can guess what it is.
The law enforcement agencies that interacted with this suspect — or should have, as was the case with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which completely botched a detailed tip — must also face a reckoning. After-action reports are needed with full public disclosure. Questions about the Broward County Sheriff’s Office’s interactions with the suspect before the mass shooting and its conduct the day of the shooting prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to order an outside review.
But when all those reviews are completed, this much will remain true: There will always be an element of human error and unpredictability in these difficult cases. That is why an additional reform is so logical: banning weapons of war. An angry young man who might or not suffer from mental illness and who might or might not pose a threat could be dangerous if he possessed a knife. But he would put many more lives at risk if he were carrying a semiautomatic rifle.
So, yes. As with virtually everyone else in the organization, the editors are arriving at the conclusion torn straight from the script which the DNC is passing around. We need to ban “assault rifles” and then things like this won’t happen. Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that there’s no such things as an “assault rifle” available to civilians and the AR-15 style firearm was produced for private use before any version of it was looked at by the military. We can also ignore the reality that a shooter with a reasonable amount of practice and a supply of replacement magazines can do pretty much the same amount of damage with a Glock 17 as was done in Florida. Instead, let’s focus on that other question for a moment. Why are there so many “angry young men” shooting up schools and other venues?
The WaPo editors describe them as people “who might or might not suffer from mental illness and who might or might not pose a threat.” That’s really the crux of it right there. It’s always going to be nearly impossible to tell for sure. Was Cruz insane? Shooting up a school certainly fits at least one description which would argue that he is. But he was also coherent enough to make a plan, obtain the required firearms and do the deed. He’s not detached from reality. He’s evil and unhinged, but he knows what he’s doing. But for every person like the shooter there are dozens of other unhinged individuals in any given area who give off all sorts of similar, alarming signals but never act on them.
So what do we do? Well, in the first place, we actually have a system for dealing with them. That system was in place in Florida but it completely broke down. We always hear about “see something, say something.” Well, a lot of people saw things and they said things. The problem is that they were ignored. Law enforcement has actually been stopping a lot of these plots, but the only ones you hear about are the times when they fail. We have plenty of laws governing everything that happened leading up to the Florida shooting, but we don’t consistently enforce them. And even when we’re trying to there are going to be occasions where the “crazy” person is too clever by half and gets away with it. (Who saw the Las Vegas shooter coming? Nobody.)
Perhaps the real question shouldn’t be why the shooter pulled it off but rather why he wanted to try in the first place. We’ve had schools in this country since its founding and guns for just as long. Much more efficient weapons than muskets have been around for the past century. But it’s really only since the 90s (and they were still relatively rare then) that we’ve seen truly high numbers of students being killed, seemingly at random. There were shooting incidents at schools before then, but they were almost entirely people settling scores, gang violence, or at least somebody with a motive. Not the random, massive evil we see now.
Why? If we can figure out what motivates these monsters to do this we might be able to fine tune our precautions and do a better job of staving more of them off. Unfortunately, not only don’t I have an answer to that part, I suspect that it may be different in every case. The human mind is still a mystery in many ways. A warped mind, considerably more so.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll include this editorial video which is being attached to nearly every story at the WaPo related to the shooting. It also misses the mark entirely but gives you the general flavor of their strategy.