Recently a few losers in the USA decided to shoot lots of others. This has of course led to the predictable calls for “common sense gun control” or similar. Plus lots of concern trolls saying that the US “right” needs to solve mass-shootings to be allowed to keep their guns and the like.

There are two standard responses to this. Pointing out why “common sense” measures won’t work and (accurate) statements that mass-murderers will use other weapons if they don’t have guns so that’s not the solution. Both of these are fundamentally correct, but they are reactive not pro-active and thus put the pro-freedom side on the defensive. So perhaps we need to take a look at how to stop mass-killings in general.

But before we go there I’m going to do a quick refutation of the “no guns means no mass-killings” in 10 seconds by pointing to Japan. Japan has effectively outlawed firearms and pretty much removed them from the entire population. Aside from the military sorry, “self defense forces” and the police, the only people legally allowed to possess firearms are hunters and the regulations surrounding them are mind-bogglingly restrictive up to keeping track of the cases of every single fired round. There are (of course) some illegal firearms owned by criminals, but firearm related crime in Japan is extremely low and generally when it occurs it is one set of Yakuza/gangsters shooting at another set. However despite the lack of firearms in the general population Japan averages (I guess – I haven’t checked exact counts) about one mass-killing a year. This may involve someone driving a vehicle into a crowd, stabbing people on the street or in a care home or, most recently, setting a building on fire with lots of people in it. Given that violence in general in Japan is extremely low (indeed crime in general is extremely low – this is a major attraction to living in Japan) this is a significant number for a country with a population roughly a third of the US population. If the generally non-violent Japanese can have one mass-killing a year without firearms it seems pretty obvious that in a more violent society much the same would apply. So banning some or even all firearms will not stop mass-killings. It might not even reduce them much because it’s not hard to see how others could easily do the spread petrol all over a building (or an open air event) and set it on fire trick. It’s not going to be easy to prevent either, particularly if no one has a weapon to attack the nutter with the petrol.

Aside: It is worth noting that there are any number of examples, including the nutter in Gilroy, where the nutjob had his rampage stopped by someone else being in the same place armed and shooting them. In the case of Gilroy that was the local cops, in other cases it has been armed civilians

Now we’ve explained by banning guns doesn’t work, how about some ideas for what might.

The first observation to make is that mass-killers are mentally unstable. You might think this was an obvious and unremarkable statement of fact but when Orange Man said words to that effect there was much REEEEE because “blaming mass shootings on mental illness is ‘inaccurate’ and ‘stigmatizing'”, as well as outright denial.

Never mind that many mass-killers have clear histories of mental illness. I can think of three of the top of my head: the shooter of Congresswoman Giffords, the Aurora Cinema guy, and the Parkland guy were all completely bugnuts. IIRC in these cases (and others) various family and associates had warned “the authorities” about the shooter and either had those warnings ignored or “the authorities” failed to take effective action. Now (doh) obviously not every mentally ill person is going to become a mass-killer and not every mass-killer has been to a doctor about their mental state but it seems likely that if you took the mass-killers who have had medical help regarding their mental health you’d get almost all of them. Trump and I are not alone in noting this link, via powerlineblog, I saw a WSJ article that points out both that there are several million mentally disturbed people in the community who in past years would be in state mental hospitals and that:

In 2018 the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report titled “A Study of the Pre-Attack Behavior of Active Shooters in the United States Between 2008 and 2013.” It reported that 40% of the shooters had received a psychiatric diagnosis, and 70% had “mental health stressors” or “mental health concerning behaviors” before the attack.

as well as

In July 2019, the U.S. Secret Service released its report “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces—2018.” The report covered 27 attacks that resulted in 91 deaths and 107 injuries. The investigators found that 67% of the suspects displayed symptoms of mental illness or emotional disturbance. In 93% of the incidents, the authorities found that the suspects had a history of threats or other troubling communications.

In fact even people who would prefer otherwise such as University of Virginia law professor John Monahan admit there is a clear correlation:

The data that have recently become available, fairly read, suggest the one conclusion I did not want to reach: Whether the measure is the prevalence of violence among the disordered or the prevalence of disorder among the violent, whether the sample is people who are randomly selected for treatment as inmates or patients in institutions or people randomly chosen from the open community, and no matter how many social or demographic factors are statistically taken into account, there appears to be a relationship between mental disorder and violent behavior.

So one likely reason why the US has more mass-kill incidents than other nations is that it has more mentally disturbed people out on the streets and generally poorly treated medically. That seems like something that could be fixed by government action since the reason why is deliberate government decisions during the 1960s-1980s to de-institutionalize mental care and have as many as possible live in the community.

Now the next question is how do you determine which mentally ill people to lock up? In these days of social media, that seems pretty simple. You look at what they post and lock up the ones that say they are going to go and kill people. Again from recollection and not checking, my strong impression is that most of the nutters in the last few years who have become mass-killers have rantied in real life or over the internet telling anyone who listened/read them that they were planning to kill people. Now its true it might be tricky to catch the ones on the chans because the chans are deliberately setup to make it hard to identify the individual posting*, but there are plenty of ranters on twitter, facebook, instagram etc. who turn out to be future mass-killers. This seems like a fairly simple bit of data mining. Find the ranters, find out if they have prior mental health issues, and if so investigate whether they need to be committed. The trick of course is to be sure that the process of investigation is transparent and has options for appeal before anything irrevocable happens.

In fact we’ve seen various “red flag” law proposals that sound somewhat similar to this, except that these laws simply go for taking the guns away rather than something that might help the individual. Also many of them seem to be poorly written and mean that a vengeful (ex-)spouse/neighbor/coworker could trigger them and that is a major problem.

In general this seems like the correct approach – focusing on the man not the tool. The critical thing here is to make sure it is hard to abuse but not so hard that it becomes useless because there are so many hoops to jump through that by the time its done the nutter has already gone postal. If it gets that bad the reporters might feel that they need to do like this gentleman in Japan and kill the potential mass-killer before he can act.

Of course none of this stops the majority of homicides in places like Chicago, which are mostly minority young men killing each other with a complete disregard for whether they also kill bystanders. But it is a lot better than disarming the entire population and then discovering that this doesn’t actually stop the mass-killing incidents, just as taking the guns away in London has failed to stem murders there.

*Note that I see no reason why it would be impossible to monitor the chans and do similar identification but it would certainly be a lot harder.