Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monsters Shall Always Be With Us: Charles Krauthammer On Guns, Mass Murderers, Mental Illness And Culture

After every tragic mass murder incident like the Washington Navy Yard shooting, the knee-jerk reaction of some politicians is to call for greater gun control. But they ignore the mental illness issue.
The problem is not the gun, but rather the madman who fires the gun. 
We need stronger civil commitment laws, in my view, not stronger gun control laws.  
Charles Krauthammer, who is a psychiatrist as well as an insightful and intelligent syndicated columnist, wrote a column in December of 2012 on guns, mass murderers and mental illness that bears reading again. 
WASHINGTON - 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.

The weapon: Within hours of last week's Newtown, Conn., massacre, the focus was the weapon and the demand was for new gun laws.

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.

A new assault weapons ban proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 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. At the time, there were 1.5 million assault weapons in circulation and 25 million large-capacity (i.e., more than 10 bullets) magazines. A reservoir that immense can take 100 years to draw down. 

The killer: 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 bureaucratic and legal constraints that make involuntary commitment infinitely more difficult today.

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

You can read the rest of the column via the link to the Portland Press Herald  below:

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