Could psychological testing be a deterrent to future crimes?

I've just finished reading as much as I can find available at this point on the young man, Cho, who was the shooter at VA Tech.

Like everyone else I'm looking for answers, and the immediate one that comes to mind is, if owning a gun required as much preparation and training as driving a car, would that help to prevent something like these shootings from occuring? And to go a bit further, if it were necessary for an applicant for the purchase of a gun to take a paper-and-pencil psychological test that would be machine-scored and had to clear some agency during a waiting period, would some dangerous people be identified in that way?

I am NOT in favor of banning handgun ownership. I AM in favor of licensing and screening with at least as much care as we take in licensing cars and drivers.

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I don't think psychological testing would hurt. I'm certain the legal arguments would surround rights to privacy, but I would think that anyone who's been through professional treatment or institutionalized should automatically be red-flagged if the reasons relate to potential harm to themselves or others. I mean, someone loses a baby and goes for counseling - that's not a reason. But someone tries to commit suicide or is having delusional thoughts, that's a reason.

I think the solution to these atrocities comes with more intervention much sooner. The news has already broken that there were clear warning signs that this student had problems that should have been professionally addressed. It's easy to say, "He shouldn't have been able to buy a gun, problem solved," but it wouldn't have been. He would have got a blackmarket weapon - even I know how to do that. Or he would have used another method to kill - it was reported on TV news earlier he'd set fire in one of the dorms recently. I understand it's believed he chained some of the doors to the building where most people were killed shut. He could have done that, taken in gasoline, explosives, killed everyone. How to make a bomb is information accessible online easily, and there are plenty of homemade remedies.

The solution comes with earlier intervention and a proactive society, rather than a reactive one... I definitely think your idea would help. In Ontario they just passed laws that allow schools to take action on cyberbullying off property - more proactive intervention rather than reaction after the fact. Small steps in the right direction.
Dianne, Hey,

I dunno. I kind of have a different take on it. I think your idea is solid and I also agreed with many of the comments made by Sandra Ruttan.

I believe that apathy stalls a lot of prevention methodology. It's the old, "We're too understaffed," or, "We haven't got the time," or "There's too many in the system." With universities they are probably overly-concerned with student rights. (Let's not upset him as he didn't come in for counseling. . . ") I'm afraid if you tour some of the prisons—I've been so fortunate to spend a very long day at Cummins Prison outside of Pine Bluff in Arkansas—you would recognize immediately that there are many mentally ill locked up. But the social services system of many communities can't withstand all the hardships pressed onto them.

Now if we could just divert some of the perks that corporations give their CEO's or if we could trim some of the benefits of the over-protected, under-stimulated, political servant in a higher office or persuade him to take some government cuts. . . . Get it?

Unfortunately crime is often committed by folks who have no resources, no safety nets, or no family who cares. They are victims victimizing victims. Now in Cho's case the postal worker who knew his family said they were, "sweet, really sweet," or something like that. So where is his support network?
Hmmmmm anyone read Philip K Dick's story 'The Minority Report' or seen the film adaptation 'MINORITY REPORT'

We live in scary times

Ali
Yes, I both read and saw the film Minority Report. But there's middle ground LONG before things have to go that far.
I agree. As I went at on my blog, there are often warning signs long before a person gets to this point. I am not going to be so naive as to say we can stop 100% of the potential atrocities that could happen - banning guns won't do that either. But there are things we can do to intervene. As Andrea mentioned, the violent acts are often committed by those who don't have a safety net or resources.

I do sometimes wonder if the way people speak of the family afterwards is almost the way we generally refer to the deceased - speak no evil, remember only the good. How well did the person know the family? I see the ladies at the post office every day, and seldom do more than smile, thank them, make some general comment about the weather. They have no idea what goes on in my house. People put on public faces... which is why I think the education system ought to have more funding for assessment, intervention and the ability to take action when needed.

We can't lock up everyone who acts weird, but I've worked with kids I know will commit violence against people - they already have, and have committed violent acts against animals. Surely as the educators dealing with this we should have been able to at least force counseling. Instead, another kid in limbo, a ticking bomb waiting to go off. And when the day comes that that child kills I will tell the media, "We knew it would happen and we couldn't do anything." Because it's the truth. No different than when my dad tried to kill my mother - I told people. Nobody listened. Just some dumb, stupid kid who's probably angry at the world.

Gee, I can't imagine why I felt that way.
There's a lot of debate on this subject at the moment on the wee side of the pond. In fact the government has just passed a new bill in response to cases like that of Michael Stone.

Essentially it goes like this: The guy was identified as a psychotic individual, potentially dangerous, and was sectioned; taken to a mental hospital for treatment. A short while later doctors announced he was clinically "unable" to be treated: his psychosis was so profound and ingrained that there was simply nothing they could do.

But at this stage he'd committed no crime. The authorities couldn't lock him up "just in case", without any pretence of treatment, because that's the first step on the road to Minority Report style "future-crimes" punishment. They did the only thing the law allowed, and set him free.

In 1996 Michael Stone demanded money from a woman named Lin Russel, whom he'd never met before. She had none, and offered to go home and get some; frightened by his manner. He said "no", and proceeded to club Lin and her baby daughter Megan to death with a hammer, also badly wounding Megan's elder sister Josie.

Could they have prevented all this horrible shit from happening if they'd locked-up Michael Stone in the first instance? Yes, of course. Would it have been the right thing to do, given that they had no idea whatsoever that he would indeed commit a crime? I don't know. I suspect not. It's the sort of moral conundrum crime writers grapple with, and sci-fi writers have so much fun taking to their logical extremes.

In the case of the VT shooter, I don't pretend to know every detail of the case or even a great deal about the kid in question. But I think it's pretty inevitable that a lot of people crawl out of the woodwork over the coming days to essentially tell the world "I warned ya! Didn't I warn ya? If only you'd listened to me, blah blah blah."

Which is a lot of bullshit, IMO. If you lock-away every child or teenager who ever behaved in a suspicious manner, who ever disturbed or "made uncomfortable" his classmates, who ever wrote freaky stories or created freaky artworks, who acted like a morose and potentially violent little bastard, who did dumb things because he couldn't fully handle the realities of the modern world, who Gave Off Signs That He Could One Day Do Something Tragic...

...Then a) there'd be very few kids or teenagers LEFT in the free world, and b) there would STILL be pointless angry massacres of innocent people.

We're humans. We're impetuous angry animals with the delusion of sentience. We do this stuff. Let's not pretend we can stop it by putting red markers on the foreheads of every kid who behaves Weird.
I appreciate everything you've said, Simon. Especially about not being able to lock up every kid who acts weird. That's the last thing in the world I want to do. I put the question out there just as that, a question, because I want to hear what people say.

I'm going to blog on this, so as to get my thoughts in order all in one place. I mean blog here on Crimespace, not on my regular blog.
I think most of these people who commit mass murder in this way have a very early interest or obsession with guns, many from a very early age. I'm thinking of the royal prince from Nepal, I think, who gunned down his entire family before shooting himself. He started his gun collection quite early under the requirement of self-protection for a royal.

I think guns are as much a deadly weapon as any car or truck. For my driver's license I went through a training course in high school and a set of tests at the motor vehicle department before I got the license. Even then it was a while before I actually owned my own car. I find it amazing that a similar process is not required for gun ownership.

Psychological tests would likely go through all sorts of civil rights trials and tribulations before they could be implemented, if ever, but I think something should be implemented.

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