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Thursday, April 19, 2007

I Hope You Brought Enough for Everyone

Orin Kerr has a thoughtful post on the tendency of people to rush to derive lessons (and develop policy thereon) from events like Monday's massacre.

But in my view, the problem with responding to news of tragedy with policy ideas right away is that we tend not to realize in such situations how often our "proposals" are really expressions of psychological need. It's human nature to respond to tragedy by fitting it into our preexisting worldviews; we instinctively restore order by construing the tragic event as a confirmation of our sense of the world rather than a threat to it...Given that people will tend to see in events what they want to see, turning to policy right away will come off as rudely "playing politics" to those who don't share your worldview.

Besides predictable arguments for and against gun control, I have already seen blame placed on:

(Damian Penny has a Blamenanza here.)

And so we see that your reaction to the tragedy reveals your inner psychology. My reaction was, "Probably some psycho. Psychos are scary. Better double-check the door."

However, there is one thing that we know for a certainty: in the fullness of time, this incident will become a Law & Order episode. It will be altered somewhat, of course. It will take place at "Hudson University", and the shooter will be a brilliant but troubled 15-year-old who got into college (too) early. He will not succeed in killing himself, and a medical examination will reveal a brain tumor. We will discover that:

  • A doctor knew about the tumor but did nothing because the tumor invalidated some theory he had.
  • An English professor thought the killer was weird, but encouraged the weirdness because it validated some theory he had.
  • An overworked court clerk checked the wrong box on some form, thereby preventing the kid from being put away.
  • A gun manufacturer sold the gun knowing that it could be converted to semi-auto (which was completely legal).

McCoy will make sure the doctor, the professor, the clerk, and two gun company executives go to the slammer for manslaughter. (Mercifully he spares the kid's mother.) Meanwhile, the kid's lawyer will successfully argue that state-run mental institutions are EEEEVILL, and gets the kid released to the custody of his parents. (This is the same lawyer who, last week, sucessfully argued that for-profit mental institutions are EEEEVILL.) In two years, the kid will go on another rampage, but McCoy will sleep the sleep of the just, because was able to look past simplistic notions of culpability (i.e. "the shooter did it") and identify the real killers (everbody else in the universe). (Plus, stretch a five-minute story into an hour, minus commercials.)

So I blame Dick Wolf.