I will be writing at more length about why, when there are mass shootings, we keep thinking that something about gun laws or mental health screening is going to make this better despite the complete lack of evidence for those ideas. It does fascinate me why generally rational people keep resorting to those irrational ideas, especially as I once held some of those ideas myself and now cannot quite recapture why. I am searching for an earlier AVI, perhaps. But the essay is more than a little scattered at this point.
Yet it deserves to be said that there are in one sense A Great Many people like this out there - you walk past a few every day, most likely - but also that there are Very Few, because no one has shot up your neighborhood this week, have they? Let me hit you with the uncomfortable truth that whatever criteria you develop for identifying 1) We should not be letting this person have access to a gun, or 2) We should be making sure that this person is under stricter mental health observation, or even the more general 3) This person spooks the shit out of me and what can we do about it, if you want to then apply it to everyone who crosses that threshold, you will be intervening in the lives of 100x more people at a serious level, and requiring little evidence to do that. How big a police force do you want? How many hospitals? Prisons? I don't want to ruin the lives of too many people by singling them out, but frankly, if everyone who met the criteria for needing an ankle bracelet had one, other people would be shutting themselves indoors...
Yeah, hey, there's the fantasy to play out. If in February 2020 we made everyone who met criteria for dangerousness just wear an ankle bracelet, we wouldn't have needed to close any businesses or enforce any social distancing or mandate any covid precautions at all. The number of people who would stay home, not go to restaurants, church, shopping, concerts, indoor sporting events or whatever VOLUNTARILY would make that unnecessary. A huge number of businesses would go belly-up already. You think there are many bars that would survive that? Yes, people would be quarantining themselves for nonviral reasons so it wouldn't be an exact match, but the numbers would have been so large that even highly authoritarian governors would say "I have nothing to add to this." You worry about guns? Look who has driver's licenses. They kill lots more people with their illnesses and substance abuse, just in smaller batches.
This was my career. Judges and defense attorneys and prison guards and ER personnel see the same thing. Even in very nice places, we live on a precipice. That's why we can't fix it.