You cannot legislate away bad apples.
By definition a criminal is deviant, an outlier, a small fraction of the data sample, an atypical specimen. Fortunately, the outliers are few and far between. In order to achieve effective use of our policy making resources, we have to focus our efforts on what influences the majority.
The problem with outliers, especially ones such as mass shooters, or terrorists, is that they don’t respond to the usual forms of social control. Unlike religious institutions, which promise reward or punishment in the afterlife, our legal system is founded upon punishment of the physical body. It assumes that most people want to live and want to be free. For the majority of the human population, this assumption is correct and the system works.
A Profile of a Villain
For example, let’s look at the idea of an assault weapon ban. We can discuss this concept in much greater depth later, but for now look how it pertains to a simple bell curve. Norway for example is a very safe country with low crime and few shootings. Certain people can apply for a permit to own a gun, and they are restricted to using 3 round magazines. In the eyes of many pro-gun control Americans, they have a fantastic model.
Yet, when the shooter in Oslo carried out his enormously “successful” attack at an island youth retreat for the Labor party, he did so with a bomb diversion downtown, and with a .223 caliber Mini-14 that would pass muster under typical American assault weapon ban proposals. While he could not purchase 30 round magazines in his country, with some creativity he was able to order them from overseas.
He falls into the category of Villain. Bombs are illegal, high capacity magazines are illegal, massacring children is illegal, but none of those laws prevented him. Someone determined to carry out his work, regardless of the threat of punishment, will not be deterred by laws that will easily dissuade the common citizen.
Unfortunately, the problem here is that some people want to die, or are willing to die to achieve their goals. How do you stop this kind of person? Is he mad? I think not, he just cares more about one than the other. If you can’t threaten a citizen with arrest, incarceration, and execution, then what other motivational means do we have?
The Threefold Answer to Villains
Before the fact, the solution is upbringing. How do we structure the minds of our youth such that they grow up with a clear moral compass, value life, and care for their fellow mankind? This pertains to the complicated questions of parenting, the debate around violent video games, the influence of popular culture and our educational system. Everything in the intangible weave of human interaction has a consequence upon the formative mind of the next domestic terrorist. The topic of upbringing, as important as it may be, is not my professional specialty, so I will allow my peers in that field to make their judgement.
Leading up to the attack, we as a society can dissuade and postpone a would be killer from taking action by denying him the guarantee of success. In other words, if you were to go to work today, you would expect to be paid, right? If tomorrow you go to work, and there was no paycheck for you, you would quickly change you mind about working for this employer. The same is true when a very logical “madman” is planning his attack. Deny him the reward and satisfaction, then the work and sacrifice (death or lifetime incarceration) may not be worth the payoff. How can we do this? By denying him access to resistance free target rich environments, aka gun free zones to start.
Secondly, deny him fame by refusing to speak his name in the media. A century ago, we would have tarred and feathered him, dragged his naked body from a horse around town, starved him of water in the scorching sun and fed his eyes to the ants before hanging his corpse from a tree for all to see, as an unglamorous warning to other who might follow in his footsteps. In today’s world we fawn them with media attention. Deny them the reward!
After the fact, once someone is set into his way of thinking, and has steeled his mind to one course of action, and begun to act upon his deadly plan, the only remaining option we have is to interdict him by force, to kill or disable him before his takes his toll. Banks, airports, power plants, courthouses, churches, and to some extent military bases have begun to figure this out. These institutions are logical targets for well planned attacks. Recognize the threat, have a solution in place when the assault comes.
I’m sorry folks, but reality is not about what you or I wish. It is what it is. It is for this reason why we see a push nationwide to staff armed police officers at our schools, just like how we hardened our airports with armed guards after 9/11.
In response to the multiple law enforcement interactions with the Parkland, FL school shooter, many people have asked why did the police fail to do something about him before the shooting. The answer to this is due process. Talk is cheap, and it is also legal. There are people who will say all sorts of weird and twisted things on the internet, but until they actually begin to act upon those intention, there is no crime. To arrest people for what they say, or think, is to violate one’s right to freedom of speech ala George Orwell’s 1984. To confiscate someone’s firearms because you suspect they may be crazy, but they haven’t done any crime yet, would be a violation of a citizen’s right to due process. If we as a society go down that path, then we are no better than the nazi’s, fascists, and communists that we fought so vehemently this last century.
Our system is not perfect, but if you wish to stop a school shooter or domestic terrorist, you can strive to mold them into healthy productive members of society through socialization and upbringing from birth, but know that there will always be outliers and violent, deviant sociopaths, we must logically be ready to use force in defense of what is most sacred.