Dial It Down

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.

5 comments… add one
  • 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.

    Good luck with that. I was following Twitter on my phone while the news was breaking Wednesday afternoon — I know, I know, big mistake — and there were people on both sides of the aisle doing that before the bodies of the dead were even cold. We have seen the same thing with respect to every mass shooting in recent years, although the first one where it seemed to go over the top was the Gabby Giffords shooting in January 2011. We’ve also seen it with other incidents.

    Some might blame it on social media, and certainly that’s a part of it. However, I think it’s fairly clear that what you see on social media is really just a reflection of the hyperpartisanship that exists in society as a whole. I don’t know exactly what to do about it. All the answers come back to the same self-discipline that you are calling for in your post, and even when we recognize it we don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

    No wonder the Russians chose to (and were able to) use social media to aid in their operations in 2016 as detailed in the indictment yesterday.

  • Less Dionysian; more Apollonian. We should model the behavior in ourselves that we wish to see in others. Self-discipline is a virtue, cultivated by habitual behavior. As we move from a guilt culture to a shame culture, expect to see much less self-restraint and more public violence.

    The uniting factor behind nearly all of the news of the last year has been the triumph of the Dionysian and its implications.

    Note that this is related to one of my recurring themes, visualcy. As we become more literate, we also became less violent. Now as we become more visual in our approach to communication, we become increasingly agonistic in expression.

  • steve Link

    “dial it down”

    Many people voted for trump precisely because they thought he would do the opposite, and he has not let them down.


  • Roy Lofquist Link

    “We have met the enemy and he is us” ~ Walt Kelly as voiced by Pogo.

    It wasn’t the video games. It wasn’t the gun. It wasn’t the FBI. It wasn’t fluoride in the water. It was us.

    “PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The last piece of legislation President John F. Kennedy signed turns 50 this month: the Community Mental Health Act, which helped transform the way people with mental illness are treated and cared for in the United States.

    Signed on Oct. 31, 1963, weeks before Kennedy was assassinated, the legislation aimed to build mental health centers accessible to all Americans so that those with mental illnesses could be treated while working and living at home, rather than being kept in neglectful and often abusive state institutions, sometimes for years on end.”


    “Few anticipated how quickly President Kennedy’s aspiration of reducing the institutional population by half would be realized. By 1980, the inpatient population at public psychiatric hospitals had declined by 75%. In 2000, approximately 55,000 remained in these institutions, representing less than 10% of those institutionalized just fifty years prior. The shift was especially pronounced among children and youth: by 2009, the institutionalized population had declined by 98%.”


    Pull your heads out of your donkeys, disband the circular firing squads and pay attention. We did it to ourselves.

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