- Politics and Social Issues
We've Got to Do SOMETHING About School Shootings! Oh, Like What?
Let's be rational about this
Since the tragic Sandy Hook School Shooting in Connecticut, Latter Day Marxists have been having a field day. The Democrats want to put draconian restrictions on 'evil' firearms in place ASAP if they can get away with it, or to salami-slice the Second Amendment to death if they cannot whip up sufficiently hysteria in the short term. For several reasons, I'm very skeptical about Gun Control as a solution to the School Shootings Problem.
As of 16 Dec 2012, Barry's assault on the Second Amendment has already begun. It has received precious little public scrutiny. At the moment, it does not involve Congress. And that's on top of Barry's authorization of the notorious Gunwalking operation--aka Operation Fast and Furious.
The Obama administration has an interesting record on firearms policy:
1. facilitating the transfer of firearms to Mexican drug cartels;
2. and more recently, erecting unnecessary bureaucratic barriers for law-abiding citizens who wish to purchase firearms. Now Barry wants to use the Sandy Hook tragedy as a pretext for chipping away at the Second Amendment. As his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel said in a different context,
3. However it's now apparently legal to carry firearms for self-defense against Grizzly Bears in National Parks. As the Communists used to say: One step backward, two steps forward.
In terms of personal integrity, President "I'm-not-going-to-take-your-guns-away" is smelling more and more like the late President "I'm-not-a-crook" Nixon.
On the other hand, a few Republicans, who talk a good game of Small Government, want to side-step the Due Process Clause of our beleaguered Constitution, in order to make an exception for involuntary civil commitment. Let's arrest potential School Shooters while they're still in the Thought Crime stage. Yeah, right.
Realistically, your child is far more likely to die in a car crash than in a School Shooting. Why are we in such a tizzy about the School Shooting Problem? There are a few reasons.
The journalistic profession, in it's wisdom, deems School Shootings to be more 'newsworthy' than other events in which the number of tragic deaths is the same. This is understandable, considering that the violent deaths of children are more shocking than the deaths of adults.
Most Americans think about social problems in terms of personalized stories--real or imaginary. They do not understand the concept of data. And statistical analysis? Forget about it!
Here's a revolutionary concept to wrap our brains around: Lurid headlines are NOT the same thing as reality. It's not very productive for all of us to work ourselves into a frenzy over School Shootings, when there are much bigger public safety problems out there. No matter what the newspapers suggest, your child is extremely unlikely to die in a school shooting.
Yes, School Shootings are terrible tragedies. I am not trivializing the problem. But the general public is laboring under the illusion that we can save a lot of lives at reasonable economic and social cost, by throwing resources at this one aspect of public safety. Let's wring our hands, run around in circles, and then glom onto the first ill-conceived 'solution' that comes down the pike. Yeah, right.
Authoritarians of all stripes enjoy riding their hobbyhorses in public. Their answer to any social problem: Let's have a witch-hunt! It's as American as motherhood and apple pie. Yeah, right.
Before we "do something" stupid, let's put the problem into perspective, so that we can prioritize our resources to save the greatest number of lives. Security Theater--to use Bruce Schneier's expression--is not the answer. The Transportation Safety Administration is a terrible model for solving problems in the Real World.
Two surprising facts about the history of School Shootings
It's difficult to define the term, School Shooting. I'm not counting the Kent State tragedy of 1970 as a School Shooting. The perps were poorly trained National Guardsmen, who came in at the behest of incompetent administrators. Nobody went in with the intent of committing murder. Moreover the Beslan massacre was an act of terrorism, because of the political dimension, and not a typical School Shooting.
For some reason that I do not understand, we Americans have a long history of School Shootings, which dates back to the 18 Century. It did not begin with the Columbine massacre. It's a different story for the rest of the world.
There were no recorded School Shootings outside the USA prior to the 20th Century! And only two before 1960! Now these tragedies are happening outside the USA as well. It's an interesting coincidence that the Psychiatric Drug Revolution began in the 1950s.
The antidepressant connection
This is a common thread running through most School Shootings of the past 25 years. School Shootings are essentially an iatrogenic (physician-caused) problem. Here's what happens.
Antidepressants cause a marked decrease in REM sleep, the rapid-eye-movement phase, which is strongly associated with dreaming. There's informed speculation that REM-debt is one of the mechanisms by which antidepressants work their magic.
This is why the benefits of these medications usually aren't apparent immediately. Sometimes, there's no benefit for the first six weeks, because it may take that long to build up a sufficiently large REM debt.
For a clinically depressed young male, who also has anger and impulse-control issues, the large REM debt can erode his self-control to the point where he crosses over into homicidal territory. Here's a LINK to antidepressant stories involving School Shootings.
For some antidepressant medications, there's also a doubled risk of suicide during the first 30 days, and for 30 days after any change in the dose.
On the other hand, untreated depressed people are at increased risk of suicide, but less so for mass murder. If we were to ban antidepressants outright, there would be more Type 1 tragedies stemming from inadequate treatment, and fewer Type 2 tragedies stemming from the homicidal side-effects of antidepressants. Is there a middle ground? Yes, there is.
Here's Larry's First Proposal: Let's make it a felony for psychiatrists to prescribe antidepressants to anyone under the age of 18. For men (but not women) under the age of 30, antidepressants should be available only in residential treatment facilities, where each participant agrees to be an inmate for at least 90 days.
This would allow reasonable amount of time for adapting to the drug, for titrating the dose, and for 'drying out' if the drug doesn't work. It would also be opportunities for anger management classes, and for treatment with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has documented benefits for people with depression. Yes, there are other modalities of psychotherapy.
As of 30 years ago, there was zero evidence for the efficacy of Psychoanalysis, for example. Psychoanalysts are not without influence. Why the paucity of scientific studies? Because Psychoanalysis is a load of codswallop. And at some level, its practitioners are aware of that fact.
While I think of it, Psychoanalysts in France are foisting their little secular religion of autistic children and their families, thereby denying them the opportunity for real treatment at a crucial stage of their development. As a scientist, I consider this modality to be pure voodoo, and I regard its unethical French practitioners with the contempt that I usually reserve for Scientologists. Psychoanalysis is the wrong way to help clinically depressed people.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is more here-and-now. It emphasizes things like false beliefs (e.g. I'm a bad person), and it helps people to strategize about dealing with psychologically difficult situations that they face in their daily lives. More to the point, there's scientific evidence that CBT is somewhat helpful for people with depression.
Returning to the main topic, there should also a qualified personal trainer at each facility to help craft an individualized aerobic exercise plan for each participant. I've written an earlier hub about optimizing one's aerobic work for the mood boost.
Psychiatry has evolved beyond the dark days of Lobotomy--but not by much. The antidepressant prescribing is far too cavalier--especially for young males. Psychiatrists need to be kept on a shorter leash. Psychiatrists should be required by law to tell their young, male, clinically depressed patients the whole truth:
Oh by the way, there's a very small risk that the medication that I'm prescribing for you will push you over the edge into mass murder.
We already have a counterproductive War on Drugs, which includes the demonization of the medicinal and relatively innocuous recreational plant, Cannabis. Perhaps we can muster the collective backbone to crack down on a class of psychiatric drugs that actually contributes to mass murder.
But on second thought, that would be too sensible. Our Congress critters would need to get permission from their campaign donors at Big Pharma first.
What about security officers at public schools?
I have very mixed feelings about this issue. Yes, a police officer armed with an AR-15 at Sandy Hook probably would have prevented the tragedy. School Shooters are cowards who prefer soft targets.
My first question is about cost. How much would it cost to put a police officer at every public school in the USA? How many lives per year could we expect to save?
What about Opportunity Cost? Could we save more lives by deploying the officers elsewhere? Or maybe the cost of a full-time police officer would be justifiable only at the larger schools.
Mission Creep is another issue. The police officer assigned to a public school may get bored, walking around, waiting for a would-be shooter to show up. There would be a great temptation on the part of Authoritarian administrators to capitalize on the boredom, and to assign additional not-so-useful duties to the officer. There's at least one school in the USA where boys are busted and fined for neglecting to tuck their shirts inside their trousers.
At a Zero Zolerance school, a 13-year old girl was strip-searched, because she had a 2 Advils in her possession. SCOTUS later ruled the school's action to be unconstitutional.
Do we really want this kind of abomination to be a part of our school security strategy? Call me a redneck, but I think that we should have zero tolerance for child molesters masquerading as public school principals.
If we do not spell out the job description of police officers assigned to public schools in minute detail, I'm concerned that this option would accelerate our transition to a Totalitarian national security state.
I think that special firearms training programs for teachers who want to protect their charges would be a smarter and cheaper option.
Reasonable gun control?
As I said earlier, the most important thing we can do to prevent school shootings is to outlaw the prescribing of antidepressant medications for anyone under 18, and to put reasonable restrictions on antidepressant meds for males between the ages of 18 and 30. That said, there's a smaller measure that we can take with handgun regulations.
We could outlaw the carry of semiautomatic pistols with double-stacking magazines by civilians. Example: high-capacity Glock 9mm pistols. That would limit their firepower somewhat. Of course, these weapons would still be available to military and police.
Under the Larry's Second Proposal, traditional 1911-style .45 auto-loading pistols would still qualify as being legal to carry. They were good enough for our GIs in WW2, and are good enough for some modern SWAT teams; they should be good enough for civilians who wish to protect themselves from violent criminals. What about our Second Amendment?
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
(Italics mine.) Implicit in our beleaguered Second Amendment, is the right of government to regulate their militias (that's us) in reasonable ways. We already have strong restrictions on the private ownership of fully-automatic machine guns. I'd be willing to extend the restrictions to the carrying of Glocks and other similar pistols. But that's as far as I would go. No salami-slicing.
And for home-defense, I do not have a problem with Glocks, or AR-15s, or other high-capacity firearms.
California already has a prohibition on private ownership of semi-auto pistols with magazines having capacities greater than 10 rounds. I think that that's the wrong way to go. A determined wannabe mass murderer could purchase a perfectly legal pistol in state, and then buy a higher-capacity after-market magazine out of state, or on the Black Market.
On the other hand, a single-stacking, after-market magazine would have half the capacity of a double-stacking magazine of the same length and caliber. The would-be mass shooter would need to stop and reload more often, and this would allow more opportunities for a brave individual in the crowd to jump him before he finished reloading a new magazine. By the way, courageous unarmed bystanders stopped Jared Loughner while he was reloading.
Again, my Gun Control suggestion is definitely not a solution to the problem of crazy people with guns. But it would cut down on the fatalities a bit, and would allow armed pistol-packing civilians to protect themselves against violent criminals. Non-lawyer Larry thinks that it would pass Constitutional muster.
Involuntary civil commitment
If a young person talks openly with his friends about the suicide option, that's a red flag for suicide. But not necessarily for mass murder.
A Secret Service study suggests that it's not yet possible to profile School Shooters in advance. Loners? Not necessarily. Divorced parents? Not necessarily. Forget the usual stereotypes.
Advocates of Involuntary Civil Commitment are left with an approach taken by the Dubya Administration regarding a different problem, terrorism: If you see something, say something. If you made a derogatory comment about The Smirking Chimp, you could be harassed by Federal goons. And yes, that has actually happened.
Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are not trained in profiling. And never mind the question: Is anyone really qualified to profile a wannabe terrorist or School Shooter?
There are good reasons why we don't have involuntary civil commitment anymore. First and foremost, it's unconstitutional; there's precious little due process of law. Second, it costs a lot of money. And third, there is always the risk of abuse associated with the process, no matter how well-intended it was to begin with.
These days, the risk of abuse is even greater. Barry Obama signed the NDAA, which allows the American military to arrest people, throw them in a gulag indefinitely, and throw away the key, without the quaint nicety of trial by jury. And there's more, much much more.
Do we really want to throw innocent people into 'snake pits'--a descriptor for mental institutions in the first half of the 20th Century--just because they're different? That's not the American way any more. Or is it?