In the wake of another horrific school massacre, the political conversation has shifted swiftly again to gun control. It seems our only response to every problem in society is to come up with yet another law to outlaw some conduct, impose greater penalties and ensure indiscriminate sentencing. The inadequacy of such a one-sided approach is abundantly clear when dealing with mass murder, as the perpetrators are not going to be deterred by harsher sentences. The murderers often end up dead along with their victims. What is shocking to me is that our society seems to have lost the notion that our government can actually solve problems. When it comes to mass murder committed by mentally deranged individuals, there is no clearer example of a problem in need of a public program as part of the solution.
I would contend that no one thinks of public programs as viable solutions is due to the years of right-wing propaganda that has been designed to convince us that public programs don’t work. It has gotten to the point that no politician has been willing to promote a new public program since the War on Poverty. Even the word “case worker” has been given a bad connotation. Whenever some overloaded case worker or probation officer misses a criminal committing or about to commit a crime, that is all we hear about. To the extent that case workers and probation officers are benefiting all of society by their work, we never hear about it.
It would be interesting to know how many mass murders are committed by people on probation. I would guess not many, and would have to wonder if that is because the regular contact between the probation officer and the criminal on probation constitutes at least some contact with mainstream society that is always lacking in the case of a typical mass murderer. If so, in light of repeated tragic school shootings, we should at least consider a public program specifically designed to identify early those individuals who are most at risk to perpetrate these crimes. We could assign counselors and case workers to follow their school and home life situations, intervene with appropriate mental health and community support, and advise their loved ones not to leave their assault weapons laying around. Such a program would employ a lot of people and, if we have the will to do so, could be constructed in such a way as to protect the constitutional rights of all our citizens.
M. Robert Blanchard is a former prosecuting attorney, trial lawyer and writer living in Gulf Breeze, FL.