Prevent­ing mas­sacres means trad­ing away some lib­er­ties

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - FROM THE RIGHT Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day Krautham­mer writes forthe Washington Post. Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day

Ev­ery

mass shoot­ing has three el­e­ments: the killer, the weapon and the cul­tural cli­mate. As soon as the shoot­ing stops, par­ti­sans im­me­di­ately pick their pre­ferred root cause with cor­re­spond­ing pet panacea. Names are hurled, scape­goats pa­raded, prej­u­dices vented. The ar­gu­ment goes nowhere. Let’s be se­ri­ous: (1) Within hours of last week’s New­town, Conn., mas­sacre, the fo­cus was the weapon and the de­mand was for new gun laws. Sev­eral prom­i­nent pro­gun Democrats re­morse­fully pro­fessed new open­ness to gun con­trol. Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein is in­tro­duc­ing a new as­sault weapons ban. And the pres­i­dent em­pha­sized guns and ammo above all else in an­nounc­ing the cre­ation of a new task force.

I have no prob­lem in prin­ci­ple with gun con­trol. Congress en­acted (and I sup­ported) an as­sault weapons ban in 1994. The prob­lem was: It didn’t work. (So con­cluded a Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia study com­mis­sioned by the Jus­tice De­part­ment.) The rea­son is sim­ple. Un­less you are pre­pared to con­fis­cate all ex­ist­ing firearms, dis­arm the cit­i­zenry and re­peal the Sec­ond Amend­ment, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to craft a law that will be ef­fec­tive.

Fe­in­stein’s law, for ex­am­ple, would ex­empt 900 weapons. And that’s the least of the loop­holes. Even the guns that are banned can be made le­gal with sim­ple, mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Most fa­tal, how­ever, is the grand­fa­ther­ing of ex­ist­ing weapons and mag­a­zines. That’s one of the rea­sons the ’94 law failed. There were 1.5 mil­lion as­sault weapons in cir­cu­la­tion and 25 mil­lion large-ca­pac­ity (more than 10 bul­lets) mag­a­zines. A reser­voir that big can take 100 years to draw down. (2) Mon­sters shall al­ways be with us, but in ear­lier days they did not roam free. As a psy­chi­a­trist in Mas­sachusetts in the 1970s, I com­mit­ted peo­ple — of­ten right out of the emer­gency room — as a dan­ger to them­selves or to oth­ers. I never did so lightly, but I la­bored un­der none of the crush­ing bu­reau­cratic and le­gal con­straints that make in­vol­un­tary com­mit­ment way more dif­fi­cult to­day.

Why do you think we have so many home­less? Des­ti­tu­tion? Poverty has

since the 1950s. The ma­jor­ity of those sleep­ing on grates are men­tally ill. In the name of civil lib­er­ties, we let them die with their rights on.

A tiny per­cent­age of the men­tally ill be­come mass killers. Just about ev­ery­one around Tuc­son shooter Jared

Kath­leen Parker

David Brooks

Ross Douthat

Ramesh Ponnuru Lough­ner sensed he was men­tally ill and dan­ger­ous. But in ef­fect, he had to kill be­fore he could be put away — and (forcibly) treated.

Random mass killings were three times more com­mon in the 2000s than in the 1980s, when gun laws were ac­tu­ally weaker. Yet a 2011 Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley study found that states with strong civil com­mit­ment laws have about a one-third lower homi­cide rate. (3) We live in an en­ter­tain­ment cul­ture soaked in graphic, of­ten sadis­tic, vi­o­lence. Older folks find them­selves stunned by what a de­sen­si­tized youth finds rou­tine, of­ten amus­ing. It’s not just movies. Young men sit for hours pulling video-game trig­gers, mow­ing down hu­man be­ings with­out pain or con­se­quence. And we pro­fess shock when a small cadre of un­sta­ble, deeply de­ranged, dan­ger­ously iso­lated young men go out and en­act the over­learned nar­ra­tive.

If we’re se­ri­ous about cur­tail­ing fu­ture Columbines and New­towns, ev­ery­thing — guns, com­mit­ment, cul­ture — must be on the ta­ble. It’s not hard for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to call out the NRA. But will he call out the ACLU? Will he call out his Hol­ly­wood friends?

The irony is that over the last 30 years, the U.S. homi­cide rate has de­clined by 50 per­cent. Gun mur­ders as well. We’re liv­ing not through an epi­demic of gun vi­o­lence but through a his­toric de­cline.

Ex­cept for th­ese un­fath­omable mass mur­ders. But th­ese are in­fin­itely more dif­fi­cult to pre­vent. While law de­ters the ra­tio­nal, it has far less ef­fect on the psy­chotic. The best we can do is to try to de­tain them, dis­arm them and dis­cour­age “en­ter­tain­ment” that can in­ten­sify al­ready mur­der­ous im­pulses.

But there’s a cost. Gun con­trol im­pinges upon the Sec­ond Amend­ment; in­vol­un­tary com­mit­ment im­pinges upon the lib­erty clause of the Fifth Amend­ment; curb­ing “en­ter­tain­ment” vi­o­lence im­pinges upon First Amend­ment free speech.

That’s a lot of im­pinge­ment, a lot of amend­ments. But there’s no free lunch. In­creas­ing pub­lic safety al­most al­ways means re­strict­ing lib­er­ties.

We made that trade af­ter 9/11. We make it ev­ery time the TSA in­vades your body at an air­port. How much are we pre­pared to trade away af­ter New­town?

Amity Shlaes Charles Krautham­mer

Ge­orge Will

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