Thoughts on mass murder

I was asked on Facebook if I had any thoughts on how to address the problem of mass shootings. This is what I said, pretty much off-the-cuff. I might update this at some point to give it more polish.

The sad truth is in an open society, with high population density, mass murder is easy. You can do it with guns; you can do it with trucks; you can do it with bombs; you can do it with hijacked airplanes; you can do it with poison; you can do it with a computer virus. You can do it using means that no one has thought of yet. Trying to keep killers from obtaining the means to kill just seems impossible to me.

I think the focus has to be on the perpetrators, not their tools. There are different sorts of mass murderer, and each sort demands a different strategy. On the one hand, there are terrorists (9/11, Boston Marathon, Orlando). Then you have random psychos (Aurora, Sandy Hook). Then you have people suffering from brain tumors or adverse drug reactions (University of Texas). (I suspect that when we figure out Stephen Paddock, we’re going to find he was in the third category.)

We fight terrorists by attacking their organization and their funding, by destroying their safe havens, and by intelligence work. We’re doing that.

The random psychos kill for the glory of it. They are basically all copy-cat killers. We need to stop giving them glory. Don’t release their name. Don’t release their picture. Get the whole story out of the news after a few days. We can’t force the media to do this because we treasure free speech, but maybe they can be shamed into doing the right thing.

The brain-tumor people are tough. They don’t kill for glory, they kill because something in their brain is broken. But unlike most mentally ill persons, they have the capacity for meticulous planning. Functionally they are like terrorists. I’m not sure what the solution is in this case, but it probably has something to do with public health.

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of becoming a victim. That doesn’t prevent the mass murder (most people prefer to live their lives unaware of the dangers around them), but you can make yourself less likely to be part of it.

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