The UCSB Shooting

Since my son attends UC Santa Barbara, I have been a bit more focused on this shooting than I would have otherwise been. The tragedy has once again followed a familiar pattern of a mentally disturbed individual gaining access to guns (and in this case knives as well) and then using those guns to kill innocent victims.

I am not sure what public policy changes should be adopted to address these issues. But we certainly need hard thinking about these matters.

Here let me mention two issues. First, this case seems especially senseless and tragic, because it seems like it could have been prevented. The killer – I will not use his name – had posted videos on line that suggested he was dangerous and his parents had found out about them. They notified the authorities and police were sent to interview the killer. The police were fooled by the killer and concluded that there was no present threat.

This would simply be a regrettable mistake except for the fact that the police had not viewed the videos when they concluded that the killer was not dangerous. Had they viewed them, it seems likely that this tragedy could have been avoided. Why did they miss the videos?

The reports I have read are not clear about this – am I being too cynical by thinking this is no accident? There are at least two possibilities. The first is that the parents who contacted the authorities did not notify them of the videos. I rate this as relatively unlikely as it is the videos that set them to notify the authorities in the first place. The second possibility is that the police or other bureaucrats involved did not communicate all of the information to the relevant decisionmakers. If that is what happened, then bureaucratic incompetence is the culprit here. (If anyone knows more information about what happened, please leave a comment.)

And that has implications for possible solutions. For example, increased restrictions as to guns for the mentally ill seems like a possible reform – although it would certainly have costs – but it seems less attractive if the bureaucrats can’t operate the system correctly.

My second concern is about the media’s response to the killing. This is an old point, but it seems worth repeating because it is repeatedly ignored. The killers are interested in the fame and notoriety that follows these shootings. The killers often say this, but even when they do not, it seems very likely.

One way to address this would be to fail to report the killing, but that is problematic for a variety of reasons. But an entirely responsible reform would have the media neither post pictures of the killer nor repeat his name. The killer in this case because famous and this will no doubt attract future killers.

I am not suggesting that a law be passed, but there are various ways that the media could voluntarily undertake to avoid such behavior. My guess is that this is the best thing we could do to address these matters, but unfortunately there are few voices urging this in the wake of last week’s tragedy.