Why 'Better Mental Health Treatment' Won't Prevent Future Sandy Hooks

FacebookFacebookOne year after the Sandy Hook massacre, Fox News reports, "the White House has little to show for its aggressive campaign to pass new gun control legislation" and is instead "shifting its focus to mental health as a way to prevent future shooting sprees." Politically, that seems like a pretty smart move. According to the latest Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey, 63 percent of Americans think "tighter restrictions on buying and owning guns would not be effective in preventing criminals from obtaining guns." And of various "factors that some say might have helped prevent last year's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School," a plurality of 27 percent favored "better mental health treatment," an option that was especially popular among independents and Republicans. Leading defenders of Second Amendment rights have been trying to change the subject from gun control to mental health since shortly after the massacre, and it looks like they have succeeded pretty well. The problem is that controlling crazy people makes no more sense than controlling guns as a response to Sandy Hook. 

What would "better mental health treatment" have meant for Adam Lanza, and how might it have stopped him from murdering 20 children and seven adults (including his mother)? According to the official report issued last month by State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky, Lanza "had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others," but it is not clear whether those problems "contributed in any way" to his crime. His mother attributed his shyness, isolation, and rigidness to Asperger syndrome, a condition that has never been associated with an elevated risk of violence. And while it is never hard to find details in the lives of mass killers that in retrospect look like red flags (such as an interest in morbid topics, firearms, or violent video games), almost no one who displays these purported warning signs becomes a violent criminal, let alone commits mass murder.

"Those mental health professionals who saw [Lanza] did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior," Sedensky's report says. "Investigators…have not discovered any evidence that the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he intended to commit such a crime." In high school, Lanza "was not known to be a violent kid at all and never spoke of violence....Despite a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, he displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies."

The idea that mental health professionals can accurately predict which seemingly harmless people will turn violent has no basis in fact. "Over thirty years of commentary, judicial opinion, and scientific review argue that predictions of danger lack scientific rigor," notes University of Georgia law professor Alexander Scherr in a 2003 Hastings Law Journal article. "The sharpest critique finds that mental health professionals perform no better than chance at predicting violence, and perhaps perform even worse."

If everyone who behaves like Lanza did prior to his horrifying crime is to be stripped of his Second Amendment rights and/or forced to undergo psychiatric treatment, a lot of innocent people who pose no threat to others will lose their freedom. Should everyone diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (or, to use the newer terminology, everyone placed on the "autism spectrum") be deemed a threat to public safety, based on this sample of one? A year ago, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Way LaPierre demanded "an active national database of the mentally ill," which taken literally would include information on something like half the population. Even then, future mass murderers would not necessarily be on LaPierre's list, since they typically do not receive psychiatric diagnoses until after they commit their crimes.

The reasoning behind "better mental health treatment" as a way to prevent mass shootings starts with the tautological premise that only crazy people commit such crimes and proceeds to the conclusion that letting them go untreated is reckless. But people prone to mass murder are not likely to welcome treatment, which means they must be forced. And so must many other people who will never hurt anyone, since we cannot identify mass murderers ahead of time. Such massive coercion can be rationalized as "help," but that is not the way its targets will perceive it.    

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  • Cliché Bandit||

    Odd timing.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But something must be done and apparently the NRA owns Congress, and the mental health industry either as a good lobby or a terrible lobby (I haven't figured out which yet).

  • Tony||

    More guns = more gun deaths. It's a correlation you can't deny or escape.

  • tarran||

    Which is why we need to immediately disarm the police. We could get millions of guns of the street and be that much safer!

  • Tony||

    The police wouldn't need guns that often if civilians didn't have any.

  • derpman||

    #derp

  • ||

    If you respond to it, tarran, you become just as stupid as it. You moron.

  • fish_remote||

    It's like a toothache Epi.....I mean sure...it's fun to depersonalize it...but still sometimes you just want to work the heavy bag for a while and pound the stupid out of it!

  • ||

    Heavy bags aren't filled with stupid, they're filled with sand. Now I can understand your confusion seeing that tarran's head seems to be filled with sand since he responded to a sockpuppet, but arguing with a sockpuppet is like engaging in a Turing Test with a Commodore 64.

  • fish_remote||

    I don't know....It wouldn't surprise me if during the autopsy, after removing Tonys cranial dome sand spilled out....

    It explains so much.

  • Agammamon||

    Yes - that's why Mexico is a bastion of peace and prosperity, right?

  • Tony||

    Yet you try anyway.

  • Agammamon||

    Well, what's your point?

    Either Mexico's gun control regime *works*, in which case there's obviously no gun violence, so we can try that here - oh wait, total gun control doesn't work.

    *or*

    Mexico is awash in guns and violence while the US is awash in guns and very little violence - so you're statement is simply wrong.

    We can use Great Britain as a counter-example. Its got relatively few firearms and yet its non-firearm violence rate is greater than that of the US - basically there's no real correlation between the availability of firearms and *violence*.

    If you're just making some trite observation that more guns means more gun violence, that's as profound a statement as saying that as more people drive more there will be an increase in traffic fatalities.

    If there's a third way, please tell me what it is.

  • Tony||

    You're right, it's an obvious correlation.

    But isn't it equally obvious that guns are especially efficient at killing people? Like, even more than knives, candlesticks, and fists? Otherwise why defend them with such zeal as tools of self-defense? Why not settle for blunt objects?

    The analogy to cars is also correct and useful. With cars, as it should be with guns, there is a balance to be struck between safety and liberty. We sacrifice the liberty of driving at 100 mph without seatbelts for a gain in safety. We could eliminate car deaths by imposing a draconian slow speed limit, but we make a (collective) decision to strike a reasonable balance.

    We just don't do that with guns because so many people fetishize them and their lobby is very well funded.

  • AlmightyJB||

    More legal CCW = less deaths

  • Tony||

    There are facts, and there are bullshit libertarian fairy tales. Guess which one this is.

  • derpman||

    #derp

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    More cars = more car deaths.

    More swimming pools = more swimming pool deaths

    More machines = deadly wars

    These are all correlations you can't deny or escape. What now, shithead?

  • Tony||

    So why can't we treat guns like we do with cars and swimming pools and apply a liberty vs. safety judgment?

  • optimusratiostultum||

    because a guy better than either of us once pointed out that those who prefer security to liberty secure neither.

  • Tejicano||

    More gun laws don't increase or decrease the number of guns. They only increase the number of illegal guns.

    So, let's look at the correlation between crimes commited with guns and percentage of illegal guns. Seems to me that more gun laws means more crimes commited with guns.

    I'd say we should reduce the number of gun laws to fix this problem.

  • Tony||

    There have been successful programs that have reduced the number of guns in communities. That means fewer gun deaths. More guns = more gun deaths. I think you should have to stake a position on the liberty/security balance. Say the dead children, the countless suicides, and all the other gun deaths are an acceptable price to pay for the freedom to fantasize about being an action hero.

  • ChrisS||

    The 19,392 countless suicides. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

  • Live Free or Diet||

    More guns = more gun deaths. It's a correlation you can't deny or escape.

    Well, this is awkward. While gun sales are way up, gun deaths are way down, or so say
    Bureau of Justice Statistics, Firearm Violence, 1993-2011
    and Pew Research's
    Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware
    .

  • Mike the Limey||

    The facts say otherwise: there are more firearms than ever before in the US, yet the firearms homicide rate has fallen to a 49 year low.
    Crime involving firearms is also lower than it has been for decades.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    Switzerland is the most heavily armed place in the world, not only do they have almost 1 gun for every 2 people, the weapons they possess are the same military grade assault rifles that they use when performing their military service (reservists are expected to maintain their own weapons and practically all able bodied people are reservists)...

    yet somehow Switzerland is probably the safest place in the world, they haven't even been involved in a foreign war since Napoleon. And their one civil war was more like a boisterous football riot.

    #denied and escaped

  • Hugh Akston||

    Keep arguing with Tony, you guys. I'm sure he'll come around one of these days.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yeah, I normally just ignore him since I know he's only here to shit on the threads but I couldn't help myself.

  • ||

    Look, Hugh, sockpuppets designed to get a rise out of people are totally amenable to logical, reasoned arguments and they'll stop being completely fabricated sockpuppets if you just explain things clearly enough to them. You just have to try harder.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    I don't care which anonymous assholes read these threads. I doubt many people have ever become convinced of anything from a snarky comment. I just use the forums to practice debate.

  • creech||

    Knowing that few would ever vote for someone who "refused to cast his/her vote to prevent potential crazed maniacs from getting a gun" most pols will vote for this so they can posture about their concern for the children.

  • Agammamon||

    You're wrong - *most* pols won't vote for this. That's why gun control advocates have had a hard time, even the earlier spate of incidents.

    Its why liberal whine that the NRA is too powerful - very few people in positions of political power do more than pay lip-service to gun control ideals.

  • Rich||

    Given that mental health professionals can accurately predict which seemingly harmless people will turn violent has no basis in fact, obviously the only solution is "better mental health treatment" for *everyone*.

    JOBS!!

  • ||

    JOBS!!

    Not just jobs, but credentialed jobs!

  • JeremyR||

    I think that's the problem with how psychiatry works, over-diagnosing the latest craze of the moment - in this case, Asperger's. Clearly this guy was a flat out sociopath

  • RishJoMo||

    Dude you never know now days whats gonna drive someone to go all postal

    www.Anon-Go.tk

  • rxc||

    "...which means they must be forced. And so must many other people who will never hurt anyone, since we cannot identify mass murderers ahead of time."

    This is the progressive method. When you have a problem where you cannot identify the perpetrator in advance, figure out a way that punishes the entire society, if possible, to "make sure this never happens again(TM)".

    Take away everyone's guns, take away everyone's liberties, take away everyone's privacy, take away everyone's money. It's what they do.

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