Last night on his compulsively watchable weekly show, Fox News' Greg Gutfeld laid out an interesting set of ideas on how to stop mass shootings, especially at schools. Take a listen to his brief monologue:
Greg's opening monologue. pic.twitter.com/c8QDxj5w2l— Greg Gutfeld Show (@GregGutfeldShow) February 18, 2018
His points include:
- Harden soft targets with security and training. Gutfeld notes that this is already being done by a wide swatch of business, entertainment, and political figures, plus many companies and organizations.
- If you see something, say something, should be followed with do something. "The punk had a zillion red flags. The FBI were tipped off and blew it." Gutfeld suggests a new motto: See something, say something, do something. Gutfeld explains that part of the problem is that neither of the two main sides in the gun debate trusts the other. "Common-sense gun control" is mostly a euphemism for taking away or harshly limiting gun rights, he suggests, while also implying that gun-rights maximalists are willing to let deranged "creeps" to get weapons as the cost of maintaining their own freedoms. "We need a database" to keep people such as Florida school shooter Nikolaus Cruz from getting guns, says Gutfeld. But as important, he says we need to "tag" people such as Cruz the minute they start acting off. Violation of the database would result in a felony conviction.
- Address mental illness seriously. "Bring back psychiatric hospitals," says Gutfeld, who notes that of course they still exist but that they "house less than one-tenth of the people they did back in the '50s."
- Re-examine the media's role. "If you look at [mass-shooting] killers, you'll find an interest in those who came before them." Gutfeld argues that the media should not report the names of mass shooters or show their pictures as a way of tamping down such incidents. "We advertise infamy," which he says has an impact.
While I disagree with many, perhaps even most, of the points he makes, I really admire and respect his willingness to actively put forward ideas that might reduce the number of mass shootings. Gutfeld's a strong Second Amendment defender and (rightly) recognizes that the sort of sweeping, confiscatory programs some are calling for will never happen. If they did, they would have the result of disarming the law-abiding population even as violent crime is reducing and shooting incidents are not increasing (though they may be producing more victims).
I'm skeptical of seemingly obvious and commonsense reforms such as locking up more people in mental institutions or widening the number and purview of databases. As Jacob Sullum has reported, around 25 percent of the population meets the defintion of "mental illness" often bandied about by proponents of cracking down on psychiatric issues when it comes to gun ownership. Various states have laws on the books that allow law enforcement, family members, and others to enjoin an individual's gun rights. The effects of such laws are not fully clear and in a case like Cruz's, it's not clear it would have mattered.
Gutfeld is right that state mental facilities have essentially been emptied over the past 60 years. In 1955, they held about 560,000 patients. Today the number is 35,000. At the same time, prisons have become the new psych wards, with 44 states having more mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in mental wards. While those prisoners should be treated with dignity and actual counseling, we should be in no rush at all to bring back mental hospitals, especially ones built around involuntary commitment. For all the sins attributed to "emptying the nut farms"—homelessness, aggressive panhandling, and other disruptive behavior—we depopulated those places because they were expensive, ineffective, and civil-liberties nightmares. If you count those of us who are on anti-depressants, see counselors of some sort, and the like, more people than ever are getting psychiatric care. In any case, society is far less violent than it used to be. Similarly, when it comes to expanding no-gun lists or creating new databases, the fact remains that current laws are not being well-enforced. The former military man behind the Sutherland Springs church shooting, for instance, should have been disallowed from purchasing a gun, but the Air Force didn't comply with existing reporting rules. Actually locking down existing procedures should be the first step rather than the creation of new ones.
Gutfeld's take on the media is interesting to me, especially since he speaks with the authority of a leading cable-news personality. Live-shooter events are ratings bonanzas for the cable nets and Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, and their less counterparts spend countless hours showing the same footage and staging the same Kabuki debates over causes and fixes. It's always disturbing to suggest that the press should curtail its own freedom, but he is surely right that much true-crime coverage is essentially prurient rather seriously pursuing the public interest. At the same time, I'm not convinced that shooters are in fact motivated by a quest for glory or infamy. In any case, very few of the shooters have actually achieved anything like that. The names and images of the shooters in San Bernadino, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, and even Las Vegas have already mostly faded from collective memory. It's rare when killers actually stay in our mind.
I do think Gutfeld is basically right when he talks about hardening soft targets. Like Robby Soave, I'm deeply concerned that mass shootings will be used to justify vast, ineffective expenditures that simply increase police presence at public schools. There are many reasons to be wary of that, including the dark legacy of the old D.A.R.E. program, which disgraced former LAPD chief Darryl Gates used to get cops on campus. But surely there are ways to teach and possibly arm key school personnel to be effective in ending or limiting violence.
More important than his specific proposals, though, I think is Gutfeld's willingness to lay out ideas that aren't simply a repeal of the Second Amendment. In the biggest sense, I tend to agree with most libertarian analysis that holds we will never stop mass shootings and that most attempts to do so will cause more problems than they solve. At the same time, simply to repeat that in the face of potentially more fatal incidents is no way to win the hearts and minds of those who disagree with us. Libertarians shouldn't be chucking principle out the window on any issue, but we also should be trying to figure out ways to improve public policies that respect individual rights and autonomy while improving social calm and peace.