Binghamton

Binghamton

This is horrific:

“A gunman invaded an immigration services center in downtown Binghamton, N.Y., during citizenship classes on Friday and shot 13 people to death and critically wounded 4 others before killing himself in a paroxysm of violence that turned a quiet civic setting into scenes of carnage and chaos.

The killing began around 10:30 a.m. and was over in minutes, witnesses said, but the ordeal lasted up to three hours for those trapped inside the American Civic Association as heavily armed police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers threw up a cordon of firepower outside and waited in a silence of uncertainty.

Finally, officers who had not fired a shot closed in and found a sprawl of bodies in a classroom, 37 terrified survivors cowering in closets and a boiler room and, in an office, the dead gunman, identified as Jiverly Wong, 42, a Vietnamese immigrant who lived in nearby Johnson City.”

My thoughts are with the friends and families of the victims, the survivors, and their loved ones, and also with those who cared about the shooter, who must be going through their own different kind of hell.

After the Virginia Tech massacre, I wrote a bit about what it was like to have a friend who came close to doing something like this. Since I have heard several commentators on the news wondering whether anyone could have spotted this, I want to reiterate one point from that post: if someone did, there are very few resources available to help that person understand how to help, and there is very little that s/he can do.

You can try to persuade the person to seek help, but that often doesn’t work. In my case, it was over two years after this started, and one year after he got a gun, before I was able to persuade my friend to see a psychiatrist. You can urge the person’s friends and family to intervene, but many people who do this sort of thing are very isolated, and so there are often not a lot of people to ask. You can also try to have the person involuntarily committed, but that is not a step to be taken lightly. But between urging someone to see a psychiatrist and trying to have him or her locked up, there are not a lot of options.

I did think of one step I could take, and I’m going to reprint what I said about it in my earlier post.

“I felt fairly sure that if my friend ever did try to kill someone, it would be with a gun. He’s not particularly strong or athletic, and he has very little physical confidence, so killing people by means that require either strength or dexterity seemed unlikely. That left, mainly, guns. Moreover, this particular person is not very street-smart; if I had to rank my friends by how likely they are to succeed at obtaining an illegal firearm, he’d be pretty close to last. And he didn’t have a gun when this started. So it seemed to me that if I could keep him from getting a gun license, I would make it much, much less likely that he’d end up killing people.

So I called the gun licensing board in his jurisdiction. I didn’t expect them to deny him a gun license on my say-so, and would in fact have been pretty appalled if they had. But I had a fairly extensive collection of emails in which he discussed what he wanted to do at considerable length, so I offered to send them the emails, and also to allow them whatever access they needed in order to verify that these emails had in fact been sent to me. If they couldn’t spare the resources (this friend lived over a thousand miles away, so that seemed likely), I also offered to let them choose a forensic computer person to do it, and to pay the tab. I also offered to pay for a psychiatrist of their choosing to evaluate the emails and determine whether or not the person who wrote them was indeed a threat. Because I thought: while it would be awful if I could get them to deny someone a gun license just by making unsubstantiated claims about his sanity, surely there must be some provision for denying a gun license to someone who is demonstrably homicidal.

Guess what? There isn’t. Or so that particular gun licensing board told me. If someone has committed a felony, they said, he can be denied a license. But if they are merely insane and homicidal, there’s nothing anyone can do.

And that’s just wrong.”

I still think so. This is not about the general issue of gun control. I don’t have strong views about gun control, at least if we’re talking about rifles and handguns, as opposed to mortars or rocket-propelled grenades. I am not saying this as the opening salvo in a ban to criminalize the private possession of firearms. This is not the entering edge of any wedge, or the first step down a slippery slope. I just think that there should be some process, with safeguards and due process to guard against abuse, that makes it possible to prevent someone who from getting a gun when there is clear evidence that that person is homicidal.

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