Here are the 2 editorials and one Commentary published in today's Wall Street Journal. A link is below for the first one which is available online and the full text of the other two which are not generally available without subscription. Some excellent stuff here.
The Virginia Tech massacre, guns and pop sociology.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.
The Mass-Shooting Puzzle
April 18, 2007
There are dangerous, vicious people among us, a recognition that ought to be the starting point of any policy aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings.
By the time you read this, police may have a better idea of the motives, or at least the thought processes, of the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui. If his case follows others, some who knew him will eventually testify that he worried them, that he was angry, resentful, full of blame against others for his frustrations and defeats.
In the case of Mark Barton, the disgruntled investor who shot up an Atlanta day-trading shop in 1999, he had left a trail of police officers, insurance investigators, in-laws, neighbors and former employers, who knew he was a psychopath and suspected he was a killer, though police had never been able to make a case against him. In the case of Salvador Tapia, who shot up a Chicago warehouse in 2003, he had been the subject of numerous police calls for aggravated assault, domestic battery and threatening family members with a gun.
The same is true for other committers of mass shootings, even Columbine's Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The information existed, but it did not produce effective action.
Psychologists make a professional habit of saying that violence can't be predicted, perhaps true in the clinical setting. In the workplace and the normal encounters of everyday life, however, others do get glimpses of the personality and external circumstances that sometimes combine to produce such mass shootings. One of our enduring frustrations is that -- after we've waded through the predictable thickets of adjectives describing the killer as "quiet" and the killings as "senseless" -- it turns out warning signs were present, that co-workers, neighbors or family members had seen the culprit clearly enough to be afraid.
Twice this column has visited the case of Britain's Michael Stone, who'd had a long history of run-ins with police and mental health officials. When he was later accused of killing a woman and her daughter, these records spilled into the press. The public was shocked to learn that "the system" had fingered him as a dangerous psychopath but had let him go on grounds that he was "untreatable."
All but ended now is an attempt by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to enact a new mental health law allowing the government, on the say-so of a panel of psychiatrists, to lock up indefinitely someone judged to be suffering from a dangerous, severe personality disorder. Civil libertarians and a fair segment of the medical profession went ape, pointing out (not unrealistically) the pitfalls involved in jailing people based on the mere professional judgment of MDs.
After one of our columns on the subject, the Journal published a partially sympathetic letter from a U.S. clinical psychologist who noted the difficulty of constructing a reliable net: "Many psychopaths can adapt to society in a non-violent fashion. For example, business executives and politicians are inordinately represented -- relative to other occupations -- by individuals with psychopathic personality traits."
We'll take that belatedly as a sign that our hope of the psychology department and police department getting together anytime soon to identify and stop would-be mass murderers before they go on their shooting sprees was premature. How else, then, to get the "warning signs" acted upon? Let's start by understanding how the trait and the triggering circumstance can come together in a concatenation termed "threat/control-override" -- and how this might help private individuals and institutions do a better job of protecting themselves.
In short, something happens to prompt the person to act on impulses that otherwise would be stayed by fear of the consequences. This has already prompted businesses to practice heightened security and keep an eye on selected employees when conducting layoffs. A divorce, a bankruptcy, an investment loss -- all have been triggering moments. And the pattern and details were usually known to somebody, perhaps many somebodies, who also had an insight into the personality involved and the dangers thereof.
This suggests an alternative to trying to lock up people based on their personalities. Voices are already pointing out with perfect validity that any law-abiding student or faculty member who was in fear of Mr. Cho might have had a hard time citing an actionable cause for authorities to intervene -- and also have been hard-pressed under the law privately to protect himself adequately.
If a citizen accepts that there's no electoral majority in America for taking away people's guns, then the alternative is to consider how to make the law more conducive to better outcomes in cases like Cho Seung-Hui's. Dozens of states have acted to expand a citizen's right to carry a concealed weapon. The result has not been an entire populace going around armed and engaging in firefights over every fender bender. Just the opposite according to research by economists John Lott Jr. and William Landes -- few shooters seem to be looking for an encounter with an armed opponent and such crimes are rarer in concealed-carry states.
After all, some people are prepared, at their own expense, to obtain a gun, training and a concealed-carry permit. This is likely to include people who wouldn't have thought of arming themselves except when daily activity throws them unavoidably into proximity to somebody who makes them rationally afraid. If society can't process and react to warning signs given off by such people collectively, an alternative is to expand the opportunity for individuals to process and react to them personally.
By DAVID B. KOPEL
April 18, 2007
The bucolic campus of Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va., would seem to have little in common with the Trolley Square shopping mall in Salt Lake City. Yet both share an important characteristic, common to the site of almost every other notorious mass murder in recent years: They are "gun-free zones."
Forty American states now have "shall issue" or similar laws, by which officials issue a pistol carry permit upon request to any adult who passes a background check and (in most states) a safety class. Research by Carlisle Moody of the College of William and Mary, and others, suggests that these laws provide law-abiding citizens some protection against violent crime. But in many states there are certain places, especially schools, set aside as off-limits for guns. In Virginia, universities aren't "gun-free zones" by statute, but college officials are allowed to impose anti-gun rules. The result is that mass murderers know where they can commit their crimes.
Private property owners also have the right to prohibit lawful gun possession. And some shopping malls have adopted anti-gun rules. Trolley Square was one, as announced by an unequivocal sign, "No weapons allowed on Trolley Square property."
In February of this year a young man walked past the sign prohibiting him from carrying a gun on the premises and began shooting people who moments earlier were leisurely shopping at Trolley Square. He killed five.
Fortunately, someone else -- off-duty Ogden, Utah, police officer Kenneth Hammond -- also did not comply with the mall's rules. After hearing "popping" sounds, Mr. Hammond investigated and immediately opened fire on the gunman. With his aggressive response, Mr. Hammond prevented other innocent bystanders from getting hurt. He bought time for the local police to respond, while stopping the gunman from hunting down other victims.
At Virginia Tech's sprawling campus in southwestern Va., the local police arrived at the engineering building a few minutes after the start of the murder spree, and after a few critical minutes, broke through the doors that Cho Seung-Hui had apparently chained shut. From what we know now, Cho committed suicide when he realized he'd soon be confronted by the police. But by then, 30 people had been murdered.
But let's take a step back in time. Last year the Virginia legislature defeated a bill that would have ended the "gun-free zones" in Virginia's public universities. At the time, a Virginia Tech associate vice president praised the General Assembly's action "because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus." In an August 2006 editorial for the Roanoke Times, he declared: "Guns don't belong in classrooms. They never will. Virginia Tech has a very sound policy preventing same."
Actually, Virginia Tech's policy only made the killer safer, for it was only the law-abiding victims, and not the criminal, who were prevented from having guns. Virginia Tech's policy bans all guns on campus (except for police and the university's own security guards); even faculty members are prohibited from keeping guns in their cars.
Virginia Tech thus went out of its way to prevent what happened at a Pearl, Miss., high school in 1997, where assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieved a handgun from his car and apprehended a school shooter. Or what happened at Appalachian Law School, in Grundy, Va., in 2002, when a mass murder was stopped by two students with law-enforcement experience, one of whom retrieved his own gun from his vehicle. Or in Edinboro, Pa., a few days after the Pearl event, when a school attack ended after a nearby merchant used a shotgun to force the attacker to desist. Law-abiding citizens routinely defend themselves with firearms. Annually, Americans drive-off home invaders a half-million times, according to a 1997 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Utah, there is no "gun-free schools" exception to the licensed carry law. In K-12 schools and in universities, teachers and other adults can and do legally carry concealed guns. In Utah, there has never been a Columbine-style attack on a school. Nor has there been any of the incidents predicted by self-defense opponents -- such as a teacher drawing a gun on a disrespectful student, or a student stealing a teacher's gun.
Israel uses armed teachers as part of a successful program to deter terrorist attacks on schools. Buddhist teachers in southern Thailand are following the Israeli example, because of Islamist terrorism.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., long-time gun control advocates, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), agreed that making airplane cockpits into "gun-free zones" had made airplanes much more dangerous for everyone except hijackers. Corrective legislation, supported by large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, allowed pilots to carry firearms, while imposing rigorous gun-safety training on pilots who want to carry.
In many states, "gun-free schools" legislation was enacted hastily in the late 1980s or early 1990s due to concerns about juvenile crime. Aimed at juvenile gangsters, the poorly written and overbroad statutes had the disastrous consequence of rendering teachers unable to protect their students.
Reasonable advocates of gun control can still press for a wide variety of items on their agenda, while helping to reform the "gun-free zones" that have become attractive havens for mass killers. If legislators or administrators want to require extensive additional training for armed faculty and other adults, that's fine. Better that some victims be armed than none at all.
The founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, understood the harms resulting from the type of policy created at Virginia Tech. In his "Commonplace Book," Jefferson copied a passage from Cesare Beccaria, the founder of criminology, which was as true on Monday as it always has been:
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms . . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."
Mr. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo., and co-author of the law school textbook, "Gun Control and Gun Rights" (NYU Press).