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Reflections on the Latest Mass Murderer

Updated on July 25, 2012

The Public Comes First

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a hub in response to the mass shooting in Arizona where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. (See the link on the right.) Like that article, this hub is not about gun control. Over the years, I have learned that talking about gun control, along with many other political topics, is essentially a waste of time. There is one thing, after all, that these periodic mass shootings have made clear: they have virtually no impact on people’s attitudes toward guns. As with most things, people tend to interpret circumstances through the filter of their basic worldview. It does not generally work the other way around. And while there may be ways that either restricting or expanding access to guns will reduce the likelihood of these horrible events in the future, we all know that it is impossible to prevent them entirely.

So instead of talking about gun control, I want to talk about the shooter. Truth be told, I know almost nothing about him. But clearly, by definition, he is messed up in the head. This may be the result of neurological issues in his brain, past psychological trauma, drug use, or a combination of various problems. A time may be coming soon, in fact, where we are able to isolate the exact physiological defects in the human brain that can lead to mass murder. And if this happens, it may strengthen the insanity defense, making it easier to prove that a criminal was not responsible for his or her actions. Then, if the criminal is punished, some may view this as a violation of the person’s individual rights. You can’t punish someone, after all, who was not truly responsible for his or her behavior.

Philosophically, I understand the insanity defense. The problem is that I am not particularly concerned with the individual rights of a mass murderer. I am not even particularly interested in the psychological issues that may have led a lunatic to shoot dozens of people. This is not to say that studying the human brain is a waste of time. It can potentially lead to all sorts of interventions that can stop psychologically messed up people from committing horrible crimes. But in the case of a lunatic who has already committed the crime, my sole concern is the safety of the general public, whose right to safety outweighs the individual rights of a confirmed psycho. Sure, there might be ways to cure the Batman shooter of his mental illness. But you can never be sure that he won’t snap again. So whether he spends the remainder of his days in a jail or a mental institution, he must never be allowed to walk the streets again. This is not a call for vengeance or even for justice. It is an appeal for public safety.

I am not a huge fan of the death penalty. Given the long history of justice system screw-ups, I do not generally trust the government enough to grant it the power to kill people. But if an obviously guilty individual such as this shooter were put to death, I doubt that I will feel any sense of outrage. If nothing else, we taxpayers will no longer be responsible for keeping this menace alive. And it will eliminate any possibility that any future mental health or judicial officials will declare him fit to rejoin society.


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