Coffey: Shooting Anniversaries

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(Host) This month, we mark the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech
massacre. Next month
it will be 85 years since America’s first school massacre, when an irate
taxpayer dynamited an elementary school in Michigan. Commentator
Rebecca Coffey is a science and psychology journalist who’s been
considering what these and similar events suggest about gun control and
community responsibility.

(Coffey) By my count, about 200
people have died in school massacres in America. Even here in Vermont,
a second-grade teacher was killed in 2006 by a man on a rampage at her
school in Essex .

Clearly, sweet towns and safe
campuses are not always sweet and safe. And the FBI says there’s little
way to predict who will strike next – or where. Perpetrators come from
various races and backgrounds, with no apparent pattern in impulse
control or temperament. They aren’t all social rejects. They haven’t all
overdosed on video games. Most are not even visibly disturbed.

Only two generalities hold. Most are male, and they use guns.

the time of the Columbine massacre, the University of Chicago Law
School published a crime report analysis showing a relationship between
loose gun control laws and far fewer deaths in multi-victim, public
killings. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in this study more guns
translated to fewer deaths. This led to the theory that, when a shooter
thinks victims might be armed, mass murder looks uneconomical. If the
shooter can be killed while the body count remains low, the price is too
high for the benefit.

But the researchers didn’t look at gang
killings and those carried out by organized crime. Their reason? They
assumed the victims were carrying guns regardless of what the law
allowed. But mob and gang killings make up a huge portion of mass shooting
deaths in America. Any analysis of related statistics is biased
without them. So the debate about multi-victim, public killings and gun
control laws continues.

Right now, only 22 states ban concealed
weapons on college and university campuses. Meanwhile, the FBI
acknowledges that a "school shooter profile" remains elusive. In its
absence, the agency encourages educators and parents to listen to what
students say and to notice what’s in their schoolwork. Days before one
massacre, the young perpetrator shouted at school, "You’re all going to
die." The Virginia Tech killer’s response to a poetry assignment was a string of
venom about Americans.

The FBI also wants community agencies to
stay in better touch – and for good reason. Before his rampage at Virginia
Tech, campus security brought the Virginia Tech killer to a mental institution,
which wanted to commit him. But a judge assigned him to outpatient care
instead – assuming that the evaluating mental hospital would become his provider of record, and have a duty to monitor him.

But the hospital never got the memo.

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