Saturday, February 16, 2008

NIU Shooter: Media, Politicians, and Gun Control Advocates

The reaction of the media, politicians, and gun control advocates to these events is so predictable, and so stupid.

Today's media stories are all about the background of the shooter:  searching for either "blame" or "answers" (as if answers usually exist in these senseless killings, which they don't).  So we have useless information about the shooter washing out of the army, and leaving a correctiions job after a month.  We have the information that he had been in a mental health facility, where he resisted takng his medication.  We have the information that he LEGALLY purchased gunes from a federally licensed gun dealer, and even had an Illinois gun ownership card (a card necessary to purchase a gun in Illinois), with the utterly stupid assertioni by Illinois "authorities" that you ordinarily can't get such a card with previous "mental problems" (as if psychologists and psychirtrists are required to report everyone with "mental problems").  And you have the usual guff about how friends and acquaintances were "baffled" that such a quiet, ordinary guy would do this (AOL headline:  "Gunman Wore Mask of Frienliness"--or words to that effect).  The most recent story is even more irrelevant:  that the gunman stayed at a hotel/motel in the days before the shooting. 

The media acts like all we have to do is delve into a person's past, and we will know WHY.  Give me a break.  If asked (especially if sued for FAILING to do it), psychiatrists will admit that they do not know how to accurately predict "dangerousness".  Here, the person had mental health treatment--without "curing" his problems, because we do not know how to "cure" most mental illnesses.

The earlier version of this story said that the shooter had a "disturbing" past.  He left a "corrections" job after only a month, and washed out of the army after six months.   And he was not convinced he needed medication (a SYMPTOM of mental disease).   "Disturbing"?   Are we going to LOCK UP everyone that has a mental illness with resistance to taking medication?  Register them? 

Real lesson here (disregarding the usual "quiet guy who you would never guess.." quotes):   Eliminate the insanity defense.  People with "mental disease" should KNOW that they are going to have just as much responsibility for what they do as anybody else.   Alcohol is no defense (even though alcoholism is a disease).  Mental illness should be no dfense.  How can you say a person is not "at fault" for not taking his medication, or not getting help?

Beyond that, we have to face that there is little to be done about these periodic cases of people going berserk for no apparent reason, or for inadequate reason.

Despite Obama's crass opportunism (see yesterday's entries), politicians can certalinly do nothing to stop these isolated events.  Gun control advocates are even more cynically willing to try to USE this sort of tragedy to advance their agenda--wihout any logic behind their appeal to the emotion of the moment.

There is NO proposed gun control bill out there that would have prevented this shooting.  No one that I am aware of is proposing to require all mental health professionals to report ALL people who receive mental health treatment, with such people being prohibited from buying a gun (shotguns too?). 

Thre was a criminal background check here. The shooter had what amounts to a permit to own guns.  Short of abolishing ALL guns (Obama says he is NOT for that), there is NO law that would even have arguably stopped this shooting (short of the alternative of locking up people with mental problems, or REGISTERING them--stigma anyone?).

Q.E.D.  The reaction to this shooting is not useful.  MY suggestion of eliminating the insanity defense, although not helping to prevent this sort of thing directly (indirectly I think it helps to let people KNOW that we regard them as responsible for their actions), at least is a USEFUL response to the obvious fact that we don't know why one person with mental illness never kills anyone while another does.


slapinions said...

I think you botched an otherwise great entry with the 'insanity' paragraph.

Alchohol isn't a defense because you ram it down your own throat and begin the day in a coherent state of mind (skip the whole 'alcohol is a disease' argument; I have opinions of my own on that.)

Mental illness is a VASTLY different thing. I think one of the great follies of our medical system is that a mentally ill person must have the cognizance, energy, and diligence to seek out and retain treatment, often while jumping through hoops, somehow purchase medicine and be trusted with its precise doseage and intake WHILE SUFFERING FROM MENTAL ILLNESSES that by definition impair thought and memory.

That or ignore their disease until they become a danger to themselves or others. Then, with luck, someone will step in.

I know there's not much of an alternative, as I don't want the government or someone's A-hole of a brother deciding X is sick and needs mandatory treatment. But it's a crap means of treating the disease either way.

And if you ask me, the problem here isn't gun control or even insanity, it's the 'Glory' attached to 'going collegiate'.

If the media was to withold the name of a killer; just give us sex, age, background, but with no name, then the number of incidents would drop to nothing.

Everyone wants their moment in the sun, and these ba**ards are willing to kill to get it.


skip3366 said...

"If the media was to withold the name of a killer; just give us sex, age, background, but with no name, then the number of incidents would drop to nothing."

I agree totally that the media pays too much attention to the KILLERS (giving them the fame/attention they obviously crave).

While I appreciate the reasoned, well written comment, I don't agree that the insanity defense serves any function.  I, too, have some problem with alcoholism as a "disease".   But I also have some problem with "mental illness" as the same type of "disease" as a physical disease (see Thomas Szasz, although I would not go so far as he does, in claiming that mental illness is not ever a disease at all).

Can we possibly know whether a person with mental illness is "at fault" in committing a crime.  I don't think so.  As I have said (and I was a lawyer), "insanity" is a LEGAL term--essentially nonsense in mental health terms.  So we are asking juries to decide something that has no real existence (medically).   I can see mental condition being considered on punishment, and evaluated as to whether to provide treatment after conviction.  I stand by my position that it should not be a defense to crime.  It is one of my fundamental convictioins that we must send the message to everyone that they are responsible for their own actions.   I tend to think it is a self-fulfilling expectation.

slapinions said...

I apppreciate the response.  

I am a firm believer in the existence of mental illness as a physical disease. That aside, I realize (having lived through the Dahmer trial here in the early '90's) that 'insanity' is strictly a legal definition.

Given how rarely an insanity defense is used successfuly, I don't think its existence as a legal concept contributes to the crime rate.

I would not be philosophically adverse to a concept of 'guilty but insane', with the defendant receiving treatment but with a permanent criminal record and restrictions upon release.

But to deny that some - some rare, almost unheard of - person acts criminally soley because they lack the mental reasoning to judge their actions, ignores the physical reality of the illness.