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TTAG readers are, I’m sure, familiar with the 2012 active shooter attack on a Colorado theater. The killer, who would want his name to be prominently mentioned here, killed 12 and wounded 70. He used an AR-15 pattern rifle, a Remington 870 shotgun, and a GLOCK 22 handgun (.40 S&W), all legally purchased. The killer has pled not guilty by reason of insanity and his trial is currently underway. Unlike what some might suppose from popular fiction, insanity defenses do not often succeed. In Colorado, the burden of proving a defendant’s sanity is on the prosecution. Even if one is clearly mentally ill, in order to prevail with such a defense, they must be able to get credible mental health professionals to testify they were, at the time of the crime, incapable of telling right from wrong . . .

In this case, that’s going to be difficult at best. The killer not only meticulously planned the murders over a substantial span of time, he sat in the theater for a time after the movie began, left by an emergency door, propped the door open, changed into various items of tactical clothing, including a gas mask, deployed several gas grenades, and carrying three separate weapons, fired in a methodical, planned manner. He also chose the only theater of many near his home that conspicuously posted signs declaring a gun free zone. He was seeing a psychiatrist and mailed a notebook to them prior to the attack. He also demonstrated, in various ways, his knowledge that he was probably going to prison.

Now comes New York attorney Gregory J. Wallance, a board member of Advancing Human Rights, who demonstrates considerable faith in government, and by implication at least, the same mental health profession that was utterly unable to predict or interdict the killer’s attack. Writing in USA Today, Wallance’s brief op-ed piece begins with this assertion:

“A national center assessing the threat can prevent future attacks.”

Wallance agrees that insanity defenses do not often prevail:

“While the degree to which [the killer] suffered from these types of symptoms is in dispute, no one denies that he had a superior intellect (he was a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at the University of Colorado), methodically planned the shooting and, afterwards, aided the police in defusing his intricately booby-trapped apartment. The two independent experts who examined [the killer] at the court’s direction found that he was sane.

Even so, it’s not an open-and-shut case. Unlike in many states, in Colorado the prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, have the burden of proving that Holmes was sane, meaning that the defense only has to raise a reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind about Holmes’ sanity. The insanity defense is often a battle of experts, and the defense has its own experts who can testify that Holmes was insane. The fact that credentialed experts in a highly technical field disagree alone can raise a reasonable doubt for many jurors.”

So far, so good. The trouble begins—as Mark Twain used to print on posters advertising his lectures—with the idea of a national threat assessment center:

“As important as the outcome of the trial are the lessons learned. A national mass shooter threat assessment center, such as the ones used to assess terrorist threats or threats to the president, is needed to collect and analyze in real time the dots of an emerging mass shooting threat. A 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service concluded that ‘threat assessments may be used to prevent a mass shooting.’ What could such a center have accomplished in Aurora?”

If one doesn’t think about this suggestion too deeply, it might seem to make sense, however, it is rife with practical and constitutional problems. A terrorist threat center, or the Secret Service, analyze actual intelligence of terror groups or people prone to criminal acts, in many cases, actively planning them.   Such people are not, for the most part, mentally ill, and the planning and connections necessary for their evil designs are what allow them to be detected and potentially intercepted. Obviously, such efforts require the coordination of multiple federal agencies such as the FBI, NSA, DIA, Secret Service, DHS, and more. Substantial money must be spent and countless personnel assigned. Even so, they must be lucky 100% of the time. Terrorists need only be lucky once. Psychologists may be involved, but as profilers, not diagnosticians or caregivers. This is not Wallance’s intention:

“More than a month before the shooting, Lynne Fenton, one of the professionals who saw Holmes, warned the University of Colorado’s Behavior Evaluation and Threat Assessment team, as she was required to, that [the killer] was dangerous and had homicidal thoughts. The team has no law enforcement authority, and, in response, a campus police officer apparently only deactivated [the killer’s] campus access card. But had Fenton been required to send her warning to a national threat assessment center with investigative powers, her observations of [the killer] could have been matched with his concurrent online purchases of 6,000 rounds of ammunition. Other dots could have been connected, including the fact that just after he failed an important exam, [the killer] reportedly purchased one of his firearms. Authorities could have acted more aggressively, including putting him under surveillance; subject to court approval, civil commitment to a hospital or treatment center, and arrest assuming probable cause, then existed that he had committed a crime.”

Wallance asserts that more have been killed by “mass shooters” than by Islamic terrorists. Assuming this assertion is accurate, how many successful terrorist attacks would it take before the mass shooter crown would be indisputably awarded to Islamists?

Wallance’s surmise about the killer is seriously flawed. Indeed, psychologists should, if they reasonably believe a patient to be a danger to self or others, take action, however, in virtually every state medical professionals, and police officers, under the circumstances represented by Wallance, cause people to be involuntarily taken into custody for a mental health evaluation. If they are determined to be a danger to themselves or others, the courts can order them held for treatment until they no longer present a danger. Obviously, that was not done, and making a report to the “University of Colorado’s Behavior Evaluation and Threat Assessment team” obviously wasn’t effective in forcing treatment on the killer or in preventing his attack.

Wallance’s solution is to establish a national threat assessment agency. Imagine how large such a federal agency would have to be to credibly analyze the sheer number of potential threats. Imagine all of the personnel necessary to conduct surveillance of even a single person. Imagine too the role that gun ownership would play in bringing otherwise innocent and harmless citizens to the attention of such an agency.

All of this is unnecessary by Wallance’s own suggestion. The states already possess the means to commit people for involuntary treatment, but often, as was the case in Colorado, fail to use that tool. Because of his final sentence, it’s hard to imagine what Wallance was thinking. In such cases, there will almost never be probable cause until after an attack; only then are crimes obvious because they’ve already been committed. That’s why we have involuntary commitment laws.

Notice the big brother thinking involved. The purchase of several thousand rounds of ammunition would be reported to a massive federal threat assessment agency. And whenever a college student fails “an important exam,” that would raise a federal flag such that a concurrent purchase of a firearm could trigger a massive federal investigation?

Notice too the fictional thinking. Wallance blithely suggests the killer could have been “put under surveillance.” Such attention, despite what Hollywood portrays, requires enormous expenditures of men, money and technology. Imagine the size and unrestrained power of a federal bureaucracy—with secret police powers—necessary to conduct surveillance on all of the people that would be swept up in its net.

Even if we assume another federal bureaucracy with police powers, armed with military weapons and given the mandate to investigate what amounts to present thought crime and/or potential future crime is a good idea, what is the track record of the mental health profession in identifying future threats? That’s a topic I explored in Sandy Hook: Gun Control Goes Full Mental. 

That article focused on the report of a Connecticut commission established in response to the Sandy Hook killings:

“As Part III of my original Sandy Hook series at SMM noted, there were no warning signs that would have allowed anyone to predict or interdict the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary. The killer was diagnosed and treated by many mental health professionals over many years, and not one saw any sign of danger, let alone predicted or feared he might attack a school. This was actually reflected in the commission’s report, not that that recognition prevented it from making entirely predictable recommendations:

‘While discerning no clear answers to the question of what role A.L.‘s [the killer’s] behavioral health challenges played in the violence he ultimately inflicted, the Commission nonetheless turns its attention to what we have learned about the role of mental disorder in violent events [p. 8].’

However, once the attack began, the killer could have been driven off or eliminated at many points during the attack if teachers and staff had been armed. No one had to die except the killer, At Sandy Hook and at every school in America.

The report, on pages 5-6, makes clear its true purpose: It is an anti-gun hit job from beginning to end, but a hit job that is careful to exonerate the mental health profession. In fact, the largest part of the report focuses on mental health issues, and states, again and again, that the mental health establishment cannot identify or predict who will commit violence in the future, nor can it be held responsible for that lack of ability. Even so, it recommends enormous expenditures for the establishment of massive bureaucracies, and, of course, the destruction of liberty.”

In short, honest mental health professionals admit that they cannot reliably identify those that will commit future mass killings, however, many simultaneously argue for even more gun control measures that will do nothing whatever to stop mass killers or terrorists.

I’ve no doubt Wallance is well intentioned, but involuntary commitment laws are already ubiquitous. Some may need improvement, but establishing massive new federal bureaucracies with the power to imprison Americans for potential future crimes is obscenely dangerous and deranged while filing to address the problem.

The only sure way to stop mass killers remains deterring them with the knowledge that there are no victim disarmament zones, and if they are foolish enough to attack anyway, there will be more than enough armed citizens to stop them, once and for all.

Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor. 

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  1. Sieg heil…

    Seriously I think we should spy on them, monitor their lives and invade their privacy 24/7/365.

    They couldn’t live under the f&@#^% standards they expect us peons to. These sociopathic jagoffs don’t deserve to be Americans and they certainly shouldn’t be in government. They’d do better in nazi Germany with othe like minded fascist thugs.

  2. “The only sure way to stop mass killers remains deterring them with the knowledge that there are no victim disarmament zones, and if they are foolish enough to attack anyway, there will be more than enough armed citizens to stop them, once and for all.”

    Correct but the anti-gun forces just cannot grasp that concept because they are fear-craven over firearms.

    Jeff Cooper had right but they are incapable of understanding it and it is useless to try to convince them:

    “The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”

  3. Nice article, Mike, And I agree completely. as did “Minority Report.” You cannot convict and confine people for their thoughts, only their actions, and all that perfect predictive power grants is the power to enslave.

  4. “Wallance asserts that more have been killed by “mass shooters” than by Islamic terrorists.” Guess the Twin Towers attack in New York does not count. Were those BGs not classified exactly as “Islamic Terrorists” ? Because if you include the deaths from that incident I am sure it far exceeds any deaths by mass shootings.

    • I’ll bet you dollars to donuts he’s using Bloomberg’s the Moms’ skewed stats on “mass shootings” and only counting people killed in America by terrorits attacks, too. Foreigners don’t count in his mind. What about the mall in Nairobi or the schools in both Russia and Pakistan, just off the top of my head, not to mention all the mass executions by ISIS and the Mexican drug cartels?

      • Even if he was only counting attacks on American soil, you still have the car bomb in the parking garage in the TT in New York, as well as the 3 airliners on Sept 11…. there aren’t enough mass shootings of US Citizens on US soil to counter just those two events….

    • No kidding. I order my ammo online in bulk every few months. It usually runs about 1k-2k rounds (50-60lbs). Does that make me a psycho? That depends on who you ask, sadly. No one writing this garbage seems to understand just how heavy 6000 rounds of ammo is. Unless you are the guys from the cast of Predator, you ain’t carrying that much ammo on your person (at least 250lbs). Either that or they are just willingly ignored it.

    • I was thinking the same thing! Hope the ones that are all knowing and always peeping see that were false positives on their creepy dude list.

  5. Just one note:

    “He also chose the only theater of many near his home that conspicuously posted signs declaring a gun free zone.”

    This is not true. He chose the closest theater playing The Dark Knight movie. You can look it up yourself as his apartment address is now public info. Yes, there were two closer theaters but one was a budget theater not showing new releases, and the other shows Latino films only.

    Please don’t propagate this story – it makes 2A proponents look like idiots.

    • Of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned.

      Please don’t post bullsh1t – it makes you look like an idiot.

      • The shooter’s notebook mentions relative isolation as a factor. The notebook doesn’t say anything about “no guns” signs.

  6. Active shooter. Active shooter. Active shooter.

    Give it a rest already. I know you like to imagine yourself as some kind of armchair lieutenant or something, but knock it off, FFS.

    “Active shooter” means there is, somewhere, someone with a gun, right now, actively shooting people. Currently. As we speak. Any other time than right now, in the present, in an ongoing situation, there is no such thing as an “active shooter”.

  7. The current Federal Future Crimes Threat Assessment Agency got this one right, but…

    Just three hours before the shooting at a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Tex., last weekend, the FBI warned local authorities that one of the madmen might show up — but the alert had no effect on the oncoming chaos, FBI Director James Comey announced Thursday.

  8. Statist poobahs think people who question global warming, er, climate change predictions should be imprisoned. I’m sure there’d be plenty of room for gun-rights advocates. After all, we’re gun-nuts.

  9. I worked in a mental health facility for 2 years in college and of the hundreds of patients I saw there only one didnt know the difference between right and wrong (he was in lala land) . The rest knew the difference but didnt care. They also knew that expressing their violent behavior at the facility kept them supplied with good drugs, food and a warm place to sleep. We had ways of controlling them and ending these planed violent outburst. They can control themselves if they want too. Holmes needs to be offed for the good of society. There is nothing wrong with him. He just wanted to do something to be famous and didnt care what he had to do.

  10. Strictly speaking, the Aurora, CO movie theater shooter was not a “Ph.D. Candidate.” He was just a Ph.D. student, barely one at that, and not for much longer.

    When you first start a Ph.D. program, you’re just a student. You begin with two years of graduate level courses, consisting of core courses in the discipline and courses in a specialization/concentration. Combined, that’s typically tantamount to a Master’s degree in the subject, and some programs will actually award that degree along the way to the Ph.D. (There are many variations between schools and between programs within the same school. This is the generic outline.)

    After that coursework, you must take comprehensive examinations. Usually, one spans the core material and the other your specialization. That is, you take two hellish exams covering two years worth of graduate level material. If you pass these courses and the comprehensive exams, THEN you advance to Ph.D. Candidacy status. This killer never did.

    There’s much more after that, before you actually earn the Ph.D., but that’s not important here.

    This killer was only a year into the program, had failed courses, and was in the process of withdrawing from school. He was nowhere near the major accomplishment of being an actual Ph.D. candidate, having washed out early on.

    I still think he’s legally sane, because he knew right from wrong and understood the consequences of his actions. However, the defense does have this killer’s collosal academic collapse (compared to his outstanding undergrad record) as evidence of his unraveling.

  11. Some people just want to watch the world burn. Then there are people who want to watch you 24/7 because, reasons.

  12. Interesting article. There are two other important points to note here.

    Firstly, previously psychiatrists were required to report people that were a danger to others to law enforcement. This was changed when universities were required to establish the threat assessment teams after a prior mass shooting. It is possible that if Holmes had been reported to law enforcement, rather than a university committee, that this might have been avoided. So the very committee created in light of a prior mass shooting as a preventative measure didn’t work in this case.

    Secondly, Holmes stated in an interview with his psychiatrist that he hoped someone would intervene and stop him. This argues fairly clearly that he knew what he was doing was wrong, and will make it hard for him to be successful with the insanity defense.

  13. What Herr Wallance apparently failed to volunteer is the fact that it takes something like 20 agents to closely surveil a high-value target 24/7/365. Now imagine that just 1 in 1000 people qualify as a “high value target” who is “likely” to go berserk. That means government agents would have to surveil 320,000 people which would require about 6.4 million agents!

    As a society we cannot afford to bankroll 6.4 million government agents in addition to the agents on staff already. At an average cost of around $120,000 per year per agent (which covers salary, benefits, office space, equipment, management support, etc.), that would add $768 billion to our nation’s annual budget. To be blunt, WE CANNOT AFFORD THAT.

    Rather than wasting almost a trillion dollars a year, good people who just happen to already be armed should be the primary security measure for mental cases who decide to go berserk. The good news: they are already armed and won’t cost taxpayers a single penny!

    • This is why the NSA Hoovers up the entirety of the digital world, predictive algos.

      If you think for a second that Target is the only one trying to figure out you’re next move, you’re living 8 years behind. Fedzilla has very smart people developing algos far beyond Narus Insight (which is ancient but I think many have at least heard of).

      Bluffdale aggregates the entirety of your electronic existence in one repository. The openly stated goal by the people who write the software is to predict what any and all of us are likely to do at any given time. That’s everybody, all the time. It only requires a few thousand to keep the monitors running.

  14. God, what is with these people and looking for a ‘Big Brother’ solution. In a crisis, the ones who cry “Somebody do something!” only ended up looking weak and foolish, while those who simply do can either become heroes or at the very least matter in the grand scheme of things. Nobody ever remembers the wimp in the corner sucking his thumb and says “i wish i could be more like them”. Hollywood, for all its quirks and propaganda, still manages to get this simple human fact right.

    Speaking of hollywood, anyone else reminded of Minority Report with this ‘future crime’ bullshit?!?

  15. Good. I don’t even think they should allow insanity defense. If you’re so insane that you kill people, you deserve to be at least locked away for the rest of your life, if not executed for murder.

    I don’t care who I offend when I say this, but if one bases their beliefs on the Bible, the Bible never gives anyone an insanity defense option. And I think it should stay that way. If you’re dangerous enough to kill others for no reason, you don’t deserve (sane or not) to walk among us.

  16. I don’t know whether top laugh or cry at such ignorance and naivety from an ostensibly educated man. Sure, he had a psychiatrist, and there were the local police, and the university Threat Assessment Team. Plus there’s the NSA, the FBI (with their very own Behavioural Analysis Unit), and they all dropped the ball. But if there had been just one more alphabet soup agency, one more form filled out, one more committee formed, they would have caught it in time. I do believe in fairies, I do, I do, I do!

  17. Don’t trust this douche with anything, much less a national _____________. Don’t trust NY’rs needing jobs with anything. To a man they have left no wet-dream unturned in screwing stuff up and would need to be much less-wet to even be considered a ‘turd’, otherwise you could consider them a piece-of-sh_t, because they are slightly more deleterious than worthless.

    If you live in a blue state, you may be part of the problem, you let these weeds grow in and amongst you.

  18. “A national mass shooter threat assessment center” We could give it a cool name. Like the Geheime Staatspolizei. Or a shorter version would be Gestapo

  19. Following up on the legitimate list of concerns Holmes left in his wake would have been good. Turning on a dude who buys a Beretta and has a Veritas Aequitas tattoo because he may go all Boondock Saints… scary. Fine line with stuff like this.

  20. Personally, I think the Colorado Theater Shooter’s mental health provider could have done more than she did, but apparently she’s been exonerated of all guilt. But let us keep in mind that crazy people don’t just use guns. They use knives, bats, cars, etc. Focusing on guns is not the answer, as they are inanimate objects, and we need to focus on those mentally ill that can and will become threats. Our current system of “take two pills and call me if the voices return” is a miserable failure. When Ronald Reagan relaxed our mental health laws to save the government money, he inadvertently condemn a lot of innocent people to horrible deaths. We need those laws back. We need to institutionalize those who are mentally ill enough to become threats until they are better. Both for our protection and theirs.

  21. To a significant degree, we are victims of our own success as a society. Society has developed a system of enforcing laws which involves hiring people who are willing to use violence to enforce the laws to do that sometimes dangerous task for us. Also, as a non-policeman, I can say that there are people who could or should be part of a police force but in practice stick to other occupations while having the same basic willingness to use force to end illegal activity. I’m talking about the son who defends his mother against an abusive husband/father and about the school kid who steps in to deliver blows in defense of a schoolmate confronted by even multiple bullies, etc.

    Such people as that develop an ability to detect potentially violent others even without formal training. And they automatically refrain from inflicting violence until it becomes necessary.

    But there are also people who simply like wearing a uniform or carrying a government issued ID badge giving them the power to use “whatever force is necessary.” And that’s where the hired gun becomes a threat rather than a hired protector of the law and people. They are hired right along with the first type of real defenders. And society tends to let that go on because most people know they cannot become replacements for anyone who is capable and willing to use deadly force.

    The person who originated the philosophy known as ObJectivism put forth this vital principle: Never initiate the use of force or fraud. What we have is government at all levels which routinely violates that principle. This includes both Republican and Democrat officials who use government power to back unjust laws and to deceive the public and keep us from knowing what’s really going or what’s really at stake.


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