In their editorial on the Parkland mass shooting the editors of the Wall Street Journal contrast three different views:
All these events have two things in common: guns and mental illness. From that fact flows the demand, every time, that we “do something.” Saying it, however, is not the same as doing something that would in fact mitigate this recurrent carnage. Doing something in our system inevitably means putting in motion an array of actors toward this goal—elected or appointed public officials, the police, the medical community and not least parents.
Guns first. When a Parkland happens, the liberal half of America’s politics puts forth the same two-word solution: gun control. There is a simple causality to this argument—fewer guns, fewer murders. Always left out is evidence it would work.
Gun-control laws—for example, to regulate bump stocks, AR-15s or ammunition magazines—foundered because advocates have never offered credible evidence they would deter mass shootings. Because gun proponents believe, not without reason, that the left’s ultimate goal is confiscation, the political prospects for a gun control solution have been and will remain about zero.
Unlike gun control, medicine has ample evidence that appropriate medication or treatment can stabilize the violently mentally ill. The National Institute of Mental Health collects data on evidence-based approaches involving drugs, intense psychiatric treatment and intervention.
The argument here involves questions over what levels of therapeutic coercion should be permitted. For example, should courts be able to require the severely mentally ill to take treatment to avoid commitment to a hospital? With appropriate legal protections, we think the answer is yes. Advocates for this idea often include the patients’ distraught families.
For years, though, some mental-health activists and lawyers, with allies inside the federal bureaucracies, have fought the idea of involuntary institutionalization for violent patients who refuse treatment. Their approach clearly isn’t working. Treatment requirements, by the way, don’t need a federal law. States can enact civil-commitment laws if they wish.
There is one other possibility, suggested by President Trump in his Parkland statement Thursday: “Create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life.” The thought sounds self-evident. But on the available evidence, the idea of dignity in life looks more than ever to be in need of restoration.
Let me propose one additional idea: dial it down. Stop cranking the outrage to 11. Politics is not war. People with whom you disagree politically are not the enemy. When you raise the temperature high enough, it’s inevitable that some unbalanced individuals reach the boiling point and in a country of nearly 330 million people there are bound to be a certain number of unbalanced individuals.