Friday, October 2, 2015

Gun control vs. crazy-control

The New York Times profile of the Oregon gunman reads like a character sketch out of a bad screenplay. Bespectacled, pathologically introverted, overprotective mom, etc. The NRA and its fellow travelers will point to him as the poster boy for our broken mental-health care system: "We don't need more gun control, we need more crazy-control!"

And maybe they have a point. But I doubt the fiercely libertarian gun owners who fanatically oppose any more gun regulation than we already have will like the idea of a more proactive, interventionist mental-health care system that, in the vein of Minority Report, tries much harder to intervene before a tragedy occurs. I don't much like that idea, either. I've been the bespectacled, antisocial misfit myself and I don't want society to tell me that I must adopt a specific behavioral profile or forever be tailed by government agents. I especially worry that introverts — who are generally among the most inoffensive people you'll ever meet — will be (even more) unfairly stigmatized if we go down this path.

Yet if we're ever going to do anything about massacres like yesterday's, somehow the Chris Harper Mercers of society must be kept away from guns (and flamethrowers, and maybe cars, and anything else with which they could hurt a lot of people in a short time).

Unquestionably we have a broken mental-health care system. Maybe, contrary to our deeply-ingrained sense of live-and-let-live, we ought to feel obliged to tip the authorities off to potential Mercers. I hate the idea of neighbors reporting one another (it says "East Germany" to me, as it might to you, too), but it shouldn't be off-limits at least to discuss whether we could or should do more along these lines.

Yet at the same time, it shouldn't be off-limits to discuss whether we can and should do more to restrict who can get firearms.

The status quo is killing people with frightening frequency. Something has to change.

Which is worse: making it harder to get a gun, or making it harder to be weird?

Apparently, that's the choice we face.

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