Loose Canons

After Newtown, a Wasted Year

The dangerous mentally ill remain at large.

By 12.16.13


From now on, whenever liberals demand support for gun control because — as they always say — it’s to protect our children, the only proper response is to laugh out loud.

We’re now a year after the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre in which twenty children were killed as well as six school staff members. Nothing has been done to prevent a recurrence. Our children and grandchildren are as vulnerable as they were a year ago.

That’s not because the liberals haven’t forced more gun controls into law.

It’s because — as I wrote three days after Newtown — that the states have made it almost impossible to involuntarily commit the dangerous mentally ill and because we’ve not taken the obvious steps to make schools more hardened targets.

The facts are plain, simple, and horrific. In every case of massacres at schools or in public venues -- Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Aurora, Colorado movie theater and so many other horrific crimes like them — the perpetrators in every case were mentally ill and a danger to society. Most were known to be before they committed the mass murders.

It’s also a plain, simple, and horrific fact that the states have made it so hard to commit the dangerous mentally ill to mental institutions involuntarily that it is almost impossible to do so. Everyone knows that none of the gun control measures the liberals propose will do anything whatsoever to stop the mass murders. But the political narrative is controlled by the liberals, and all they’re willing to talk about is gun control. Conservatives, by failing to focus attention on real solutions to the school massacres, have allowed the debate to focus on nothing else.

Adam Lanza, the Newtown killer, stole the weapons he used from his mother who had purchased them legally and passed all the background checks in Connecticut, a state with severe restrictions on ownership of guns, especially so-called “assault rifles.” Cho Seung-Hui, the killer of 33 at Virginia Tech in 2007, was found by a judge to be a danger to himself in 2005, but not involuntarily committed because Virginia law provided that if outpatient psychiatric services were an alternative, he shouldn’t be sent against his will. Cho bought his guns legally — and passed the background checks — because he hadn’t been involuntarily committed. Though we don’t know all the facts yet, it appears that the shooter at Arapahoe High School in Colorado last week fit the same profile. A severely disturbed young man tried to kill the debate teacher who threw him off the team and ended up killing himself after wounding a 15-year old girl.

None of the liberals are willing to even talk about this problem. Their ideological blinders are so wide that they cannot accept any solution to the school massacre problem that isn’t connected to gun control. They are still — as of Saturday’s Washington Post — prattling how terrible it is that we are engulfed in “angry arguments” about access to the “most lethal weapons,” and Americans’ possession of what they call “high-capacity” magazines (usually defined as anything holding more than ten rounds).

Liberal ideology demands gun control — even confiscation — as a substitute for any legislation that would actually protect the children by getting the dangerous mentally ill off the streets. They’d rather hold candlelight vigils — just like the one on December 12 at the National Cathedral — because it’s a lot less trouble, and they can feel good about themselves. They aren’t interested in preventing another massacre.

A year ago, the Wall Street Journal editorial about Newtown asked the obvious question: “Specifically, what protections from people in the grip of uncontrolled mental illness or evil derangement is the broader society entitled to?” As the bodies of dead kids demonstrate, we’re owed a lot more protection than we’re getting from the psychiatric community or the state legislatures.

As I wrote a year ago, the psychologists and psychiatrists have a duty to society to better define the criteria by which involuntary commitment can be done more easily. Whatever their “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” — the “DSM” — says about the definition of dangerous mental disease has to be revamped to make the criteria work to protect society from people like Cho, Lanza and the rest.

Most importantly, the states have wasted an entire year without toughening their standards to make involuntary commitment easier. Why are they waiting? According to my research, only Montana has acted in even a limited way. Where are the other 49 states? Paralyzed by liberalism’s demand for gun control, that’s where. State legislatures have to ignore those ideas and focus on what will really help: taking the dangerous mentally ill off the streets.

Perhaps the worst and most risible response to Newtown came from our government, in a report called, “Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans.” The 75-page report released in mid-June by the Department of Education, FEMA and a cohort of other bureaucrats was apparently meant for ten-year olds because it’s written at their reading level. It tells the school staff them how to do such complex things as form a school committee to talk about developing a vacuous plan according to their outline.

The report denies that there’s any useful profile of the potential school shooter student. That’s utterly false, as we’ve learned since Newtown. The profile is not precise, but it can be useful to those who want try to apply it.

The report says nothing about hardening the target so that a shooter couldn’t get in by shooting out a first-floor window, or protecting individual classrooms with special doors. It says nothing about the wisdom of training some school personnel to use non-lethal weapons such as TASERs which, in the hands of even a trained teacher or principal, might incapacitate an active shooter. And it gets worse.


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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.