Wednesday, April 18, 2007

IF ONLY, part three...

The big news today (other than the package sent to NBC) was that the Va Tech murderer had, back in 2005, indeed been flagged as a potential threat to society and for some reason or another was not taken off the streets and forever detained as a future mass murderer.

The murderer was accused of stalking a couple of women a couple of years ago. So... do we incarcerate everybody accused of stalking a woman, just in case the alleged stalker turns out to be truly violent?

The murderer was referred for pyschiatric care a couple of years ago. So... do colleges ban those who have undergone psychiatric care, just in case the allegedly crazy person turns out to be truly violent?

The murderer didn't get along with his dorm maters and didn't talk much to classmates. So... do colleges ban those students who don't get along with their dorm mates and class mates, just in case one of them turns out to be truly violent?

And let's not forget that the murderer was born in Korea and brought here as a young kid and has an older sister who went to Princeton and has parents who own a drycleaning establishment. So... do we go after everybody fitting this profile, just in case someone fitting this profile turns out to be truly violent?

If you answered yes to any of the above, how do you propose dealing with the thousands and thousands and thousands of people who meet one or more of the above criteria? Do we incarcerate them as potential threats to the public? Do we have the police follow them 24/7 to ensure that they'll be right on the scene if and when the person snaps? Keep in mind that for 99.99% of the people meeting one or more of the above criteria will never ever do anything remotely close to what happened on Monday.

While hindsight is thought of to be 20-20, in that we can look back and see all kinds of what are referred to as warning signs, it is impossible to pick out from a group of people with the above characteristics the ones, if any, who are going to snap and start shooting people.

It isn't just that not every accused stalker or immigrant from Korea or son of a drycleaner isn't going to turn out bad, it's that this guy will probably turn out to be the ONLY accused stalker immigrant from Korea who was ordered to get his head checked out and who has a dad and mom who own a dry cleaner who turns out to be a mass murderer.

And think of the difficulty in trying to collect the data on everything that might factor into whether or not someone goes crazy. Psychiatrists forced to turn in the names of their patients. Campus officials required to collect somehow and report the names of every student who doesn't get along with others. (I can't wait to see the uproar from those opposed to collecting private information to help prevent terrorist attacks get up on their soapboxes to criticize the extensive data collection required to build up a database of would-be mass murderers).

After mulling it over for a few days, I'm pretty much resigned to the position that we can't prevent attacks like this from taking place... at least not at a price that we should be willing to pay. There are a lot of ways we could have prevented this from taking place... but we only know that now, afterwards. Before the attack, the murderer was just another weird student...