Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Restraining Orders on Everyone

Okay, not everyone.  I threw in that hyperbole to make a point. In the discussion about the Buffalo shooter, there is some mention that he had gone for an evaluation for involuntary psychiatric commitment, but had been let go. Depending on your definition, I have been part of about a hundred or about a thousand of those over my lifetime.  I still don't call myself an expert - and I would say I know very few experts.

First, let me note that everyone seems to be talking about him a few days later, which tells me he trends more fringe conservative than fringe liberal in his beliefs.  James Hodgkinson is completely forgotten, for example. You remember him?  Rachel Maddow fanatic, worked for Bernie Sanders? Shot a Republican congressman and had a stated intent to shoot as many as possible?  Yeah, I didn't think you'd remember. But I know nothing else about the Buffalo shooter, nor do I much care unless there is something new here.  He is likely to be younger rather than older. His reasoning is likely to be based on what is in the air now rather than the centuries-old paranoid structures like Illuminati or Jewish bankers. His ideas are also more likely to be unnerving rather than wildly psychotic. 

The people who commit these crimes are pretty regularly organised enough to make a plan.  A lot of my patients couldn't organise a two-car funeral.

But the piece about the psych eval interests me. The courts try to turf these evals to psych experts, but the evaluators are also working within the confines of the law, and what can be proven. That was me, week after week, saying to the assembled experts "But what can we bring before a judge on this one? It won't fly to say 'Your Honor, we think he's crazy and dangerous.  Really crazy and really dangerous.' The judge might even believe us. Hell, everyone might believe us.  But we have to have a cuphook to hang that cup on."

City Journal has one of those predictable hand-wringing articles about how we have to get better at identifying dangerous people and putting some sort of controls on them. Yawn. Yeah, how many false positives, how many innocent people, how many Type I errors do you want to lock up indefinitely?  While you're at it, you can have a try at the false positives on any imaginable type of evaluation for suicide or child molesting while you are at it.  Lock up thousands, knock yourself out. Here's the scary part: you still won't get them all.  In fact, you might not reduce the incidence of mass shooting, suicide, or child molestation even a fraction. But can't we at least make it harder for these people to get guns? Really? How? With a time machine, maybe. Nothing else has any evidence of improving the situation. It's all fantasy.

Do I seem dismissive, jaded, unsympathetic, unconcerned?  I am not.  We have a very dangerous person threatening a granddaughter at the moment. Fortunately he is far away from her and does not at the moment seem to be doing anything. (Bio father, schizophrenic. You may have seen him on TV if you watched Bering Sea Gold.) Maybe there can be a restraining order.  Maybe that will do some good. But courts can only act on real information. He had an evaluation and a commitment a few years ago.  It expired.  

But sure, go ahead and blame the news people, or the psych people, or the police for whoever the Buffalo shooter is. It will make you feel like you have more control over your world, which will make you feel better.


Christopher B said...

Waukesha, Wisconsin. Compare and contrast.

Douglas2 said...

Re: Blaming the press: There's an extension of the Werther effect that's now called mass shooting contagion.

It's the old "some studies show this/other studies show that" situation, but I've become confident of two things:

1.) The way the press reports these events begets more of them.

2.) There is no authority that we could create to stop (1) that would not be an egregious violation of freedom of the press, unacceptable and detrimental to a free society.

I'd wish that press organizations would take it upon themselves to moderate what they do based upon the research we've seen, and in many cases they do.

I'm suspecting that much of the disparity in reporting that we see -- between such events with perpetrators who aren't politically useful to the press' 'side', compared to those with perps who (can be painted to look like they) are, is actually that temptation overcomes usual practice and policy when political advantage might be exploited.

Grim said...

Your initial title is a nice summary of the proposed policy, really. We can't tell who would need a restraining order that would prevent them from purchasing a firearm; therefore, we shall impose gun control laws preventing anyone from doing so. Then you don't have to go through the trouble of issuing the restraining orders; it's assumed to be in place unless you seek relief from it, in which case the process is a review of whether there's just cause to grant your exception from the general restraint.

Ganzir said...

I am disappointed at how the media keep referring to his 180-page jeremiad as a 'manifesto'. The word 'manifesto' implies a legible document which propounds a coherent philosophy, and this oblique obloquy meets neither criterion. Industrial Society and its Future - now, THAT was a manifesto!

And, no, I won't link his 'manifesto' here.

JMSmith said...

I've been disagreeing with you of late and will make amends by saying this post is excellent, particularly coming from a man with your experience (which makes you more of an expert than most). The tremendous costs of "an abundance of caution" are largely hidden, whereas the "spectacular" costs of more moderate caution are on the front page. I am not a psychological expert by experience or credential, but have known plenty of creepy, scary people who managed to get through life without actually doing anything. And we of course know what can happen when psychology is politicized.