The young man in Santa Barbara was behaving strangely; strangely enough that his family called the cops because they were alarmed about his Internet postings. He was also in the care of therapists and had been since he was eight years old. The cops actually interviewed the young man but didn’t detain him or refer him for psychiatric examination, which was possible under California law;. He also made a YouTube “manifesto” about women rejecting him, vowing “revenge” against them. Then, he murdered three housemates in their sleep with a knife and continued on his rampage, shooting from his car, killing three, then himself – with guns he purchased and owned legally.
Now, before the violence happened, and 1) assuming you knew what the family knew and/or 2) that this was your kid or your brother, or the kid or brother of a good friend, neighbor, co-worker, or relative, would you have intervened? And, if you would have intervened, to what extent – for example, would you have signed a commitment petition on the kid, and/or – if you had known about the guns, would you have “secured” them or asked someone responsible to do it?
Maybe because I grew up (in the Midwest) around guns, spent a career in the military, and am a rifle range safety officer, I probably would have “intervened” in some way. I simply can’t imagine not doing it under the circumstances that have been reported.
“Growing up around guns” means that I had a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun at age eight, a .22 at age 10, and a shotgun at age 12. I kept the guns in my room, in a rack I made in woodshop and could go hunting or shooting most anytime I wanted, provided I went with an adult my parents knew.
Because of this, it’s not the “gun” part of the “nut with a gun” scenario that scares me; it’s the “nut” part – just like it would be for a “nut with a knife” or a “nut with a ball bat.” And, of course we all know that the correct words are “mentally ill person,” not “nut” – however, the “gun” part should also be politically correct, and in context of our Constitutional right to bear arms.
We need to focus our energies on ways to identify mentally ill and dangerous persons, get them off the “street,” on medication and, if necessary, restrain their liberty via a court-ordered, due process commitment process of some kind. If medication is required, there should also be a way to verify that it’s actually being taken – because way too often it’s not. Again, this might have to be court ordered, depending on the circumstances, with both routine and no-notice testing.
Should the mentally ill be allowed to have guns? No. However, the emotional and media focus in these tragedies seems always to be on the gun part rather than the mentally ill person part.
The dangerously mentally ill person will likely do violence whether he can get a gun or not – the kid in Santa Barbara killed three people with a knife. Should we ban knives too? How about ball bats? In our democracy, reactionary gun control simply does not, will not, and cannot stop the dangerously mentally ill from violence. If this kid in Santa Barbara had not had access to a gun, he likely would have driven his car into a crowd of people.
So, let’s not allow this latest tragedy to fuel the typical emotional political discussion – with the various “anti-gun” lobbies going after the NRA and the other shooting sports organizations. That only isn’t helpful, it’s simply the wrong debate.
And, this latest tragedy is – sadly – not much different from too many others like it. So, let’s focus our legislative energy and resources on the mental health aspects of this very basic public safety issue. It’s much better occasionally to detain someone who turns out not to be a danger to the public than decide not to do it, especially after a specific notification by a concerned family member, spouse, close acquaintance, or co-worker. These kinds of violent incidents can and should be prevented with proactive and responsible individual and community intervention – it’s everyone’s responsibility.