Gun violence has directly now come to Bakersfield and surrounding communities. Four Kern County residents were slain, more than 10 injured, and dozens of others traumatized by the sights and sounds of that night in Las Vegas, wrought by a gunman who fit the profile of an angry someone who wanted to die the death of an angry suicide.
An autopsy will reveal if there was any organic something occurring within his brain to cause or exacerbate his anger, but for now bits and pieces of information are beginning to form a confusing picture of a lonely standoffish man no one really knew very well — least of all, apparently, his own business-partner brother in Florida.
We know several things about mass murderers: they are never socially well-adjusted; there is always some underlying un- or under-treated mental illness; their mass violence nearly always ends in their suicide by self or suicide by cop; while the themes cross-cutting them are similar, the details of the person and event are dissimilar enough that prediction is impossible; and most importantly, that no existing or proposed law would or could have prevented it.
Where there is the will to commit some act of mass violence, there will always be found the way to commit it. As Mark Twain so famously said, history never really repeats itself, but the stories recounting it regularly rhyme.
Studies of mass violence and killings have all concluded that no one or no thing would or could have stopped them before they occurred. No modification of mental health treatment law, no modification of gun control law, no modification of venue preparation or control or management or supervision/oversight; nothing conceivable can prevent these black-swan occurrences.
Black swans swoop out of nowhere at times and at locations no one can predict or control; and life and living cannot be so tightly understood or rigorously regulated that black swans are always exactly pinpointed. That’s not the nature of black swans. Pesky devils.
Dark webs and other illicit marketplaces can supply wrongdoers with whatever weaponry they want. Make illegal everything conceivable with which to commit hideous crimes, and a market will overnight spring up in dark places, webs or otherwise, to equip the wrongdoer for the commission of his crime. If we have learned anything over the eons of human history, violence is endemic to human nature and, try as we might, cannot be legislated or bred or conditioned out of the human soul. It’s here to stay and no gun law can eliminate it.
Were we to try to clamp down legislatively, and such an effort would ultimately fail, would we even want to live in such a tightly restricted world? We have seen that mass violence can be committed with weapons other than guns: explosives, biologics, gas, planes, cars, trucks, knives. Can we even conceive of every possible weapon or method with which to commit mass violence, and then create a system of laws to cover every conceivable weapon-use or method possibility?
Now that mass violence has come home, we must now deal with actual and vicarious PTSD in one form or another. This means we can expect to find it in places expected and unexpected. Those in a position to observe and those who can help should be alert to its signs: nightmares, emotional numbing, hypervigilance, holing up and social withdrawal, increased startle reflexes, flashbacks, emotional dysregulation, distraction, insomnia or hypersomnia, generalized anxiety, depression, shortness of temper, hyper-arousal, and more. Any change from a person’s baseline personality or behavior is a clue. PTSD is treatable with skilled assistance.
Out of a thousand who are mentally ill enough to think about some anger-driven act of mass violence, only an unforeseeable handful will act it out. We can never know the who, the time or place, or the method to be used; in other words the who, what, when, where, why, how of mass violence. Let’s at least admit that and place our efforts where we can do some practical good.
Dr. Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired psychologist.