Reason in a Time of Emotion

When tragedies like the VA Tech and Parkland, Florida mass murders occur, we are all horrified and seek to prevent such things from happening again, but while that emotion is a good motivator, it is a poor way to find solutions.

Legislation born of emotion rarely accomplishes its intended purpose and too often has adverse, unintended consequences. Keep in mind that schools and universities did not become a common location for mass murder until after they were made ‘gun free zones.’

If we are to address the problem of mass murder, we should define what would constitute a solution.

Is marginally reducing the death toll by limiting the efficiency of firearms so that the toll was cut by half a solution? Of course not, so banning certain firearms or magazines is at best mitigation and what we want is a solution. In any case, keep in mind that the worst school shooting, at VA Tech, was accomplished with ordinary handguns and standard magazines. We now know that in the Parkland shooting, only 10 round magazines were used.

But the common factor at VA Tech, and in Parkland, as well as other shootings, was that the eventual mass murderer was known to be dangerous but the steps necessary to protect the public from their madness were not taken.

Both Seung-Hui Cho and Nicholas Cruz, the VA Tech and Parkland murderers, had committed crimes that would have made them ineligible to legally purchase firearms had they been prosecuted, but they were instead referred for mental health treatment, which they walked away from.

Medical privacy laws prevent reporting dangerously mentally ill persons to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system unless they represent an immediate and direct threat, so Cho and Cruz were not reported and were able to legally buy the firearms they used. But there are no privacy laws for felony convictions. Had they been prosecuted, Cho for stalking and Cruz for Assault with a Deadly Weapon, they would have been on the no-buy list.

We can still show compassion for the mentally ill, by making treatment a condition of probation, which would ensure compliance with treatment, but they would not be able to legally purchase firearms.

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