Reader Nicholas Wong writes:
I’m not sure yet what to think about the Washington state high schooler who was arrested this week. Either we have a young man arrested for a thought crime or we have a school shooting stopped before it started. It depends on what he actually said to people at his school- the article says he was arrested for harassment, which in Washington means making credible threats to harm others, and for weapons charges. What he actually said and the reasons his statements were taken seriously aren’t discussed, nor is his “Columbine fascination” explained in any meaningful terms . . .
The question is really, at what point is it justifiable to take action against a potential active shooter? In a way, this is a great answer — omeone says they are going to hurt other students. And either based on the way it’s said or due to his past behavior it flips a switch in someone’s head that maybe – just maybe – makes that person think it’s more than all the other teenage boys acting tough and talking big.
So he’s arrested before he shoots anyone. Nobody gets hurt. The antis are denied a bloody shirt to wave and our chances of seeing .22lr bulk pack on the shelves sometime this decade go up just a tiny bit.
On the other hand, do we want to demonize young men for having guns? Who cares if he had a gun in his bedroom? I don’t want that, and I had one myself when I wasn’t much older than this kid. The number of knives I had would have given some of my teachers strokes. Only they never found out because I never brought them to school or threatened anyone. Knives are neat. Not as neat as guns, but when you’re that age you take what you can get.
The only sure way to find out if a troubled teenager is a potential active shooter is to wait until they actually start shooting. Since so many of them act alone, to be alerted by another student when the plan is being developed is unlikely, although it has happened when some of them try to recruit accomplices.
For a lone gunman, all you’re left with is clues from behavior. Act too early and you risk creating a pre-crime precedent. Act too late, and you’re picking up the pieces and saying, “I’m not surprised, all the signs were there,” just like the Aurora theater.