We’re surprised that Nocera is stupefied!


Pundit makes no suggestions: In this morning’s column, Joe Nocera issues some standard remarks about mental illness and guns.

We don’t necessarily disagree with his remarks. We’re just surprised that Nocera seems to have so little to offer.

What are Nocera’s standard remarks? He starts by noticing this:
NOCERA (9/24/13): What has been most stupefying about the reaction to the Navy Yard rampage is how muted it has been. After the horror of Newtown, people were galvanized. This time, the news seemed to be greeted with a resigned shrug. “Is this the new normal?” David Gregory asked Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association on Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC. It’s sure starting to feel that way.

Mass shootings “ought to obsess us,” said President Obama when he spoke on Sunday to the grieving Navy Yard community. “It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.” But it never does.
The reaction to the Navy Yard shootings has been “stupefying,” Nocera says. For ourselves, we’re surprised that Nocera is stupefied.

Mass shootings ought to obsess us, Nocera says. Maybe, maybe not! But as he continues, Nocera reaches the point where his analysis is bindingly obvious—stupefyingly so:
NOCERA (continuing directly): We know that most mass shooters have this one thing in common: They have usually shown signs of mental illness in the past. And while keeping guns out of their hands won’t put an end to gun violence, it might at least mitigate against these ritual slaughters of innocent people.

It wouldn’t even be that hard to accomplish. “You have to create a net that will weed out people who are likely to commit acts of gun violence,” says Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

It would require universal background checks, for sure, with criteria built around past acts of violence, commitments to mental health facilities, and addiction to drugs and alcohol, among other things. California, in fact, has such criteria, which is why Matthew Warren had such difficulty getting a gun. (You would also have to crack down on illegal gun sales.)

But it does require a political will that the country simply doesn’t have.
Nocera says his proposed solution “requires a political will that the country simply doesn’t have.” At this point, that statement is blindingly obvious. For that reason, it’s the place at which a serious column should start.

If we assume that Nocera has good ideas, why do we lack the political will to put those ideas into effect? In what does our lack of will consist? How might we address it?

Nocera never makes any attempt to address or answer those questions! He simply notes that Obama doesn’t want to raise the gun issue again, and Joe Manchin won’t do it either.

Nocera claims to care about this issue. But he doesn’t make the slightest attempt to address the lack of political will that stands in the way of his proposals, which strike us as perfectly sensible.

If his ideas make so much sense, why can’t they be enacted in law? Nocera skips this question.

Should Nocera be stupefied by the reaction to last week’s shooting? We’re amazed that he’s stupefied, and that he seems to have no ideas about how to proceed from here.


  1. Nocera is slippery between necessary and sufficient conditions needed to prevent mass murders by insane people. He correctly says that among the necessary conditions are political will, universal gun checks, and cracking down on illegal gun sales.

    But, would these steps be sufficient? I don't think so. The Navy Yard shooter would have passed a universal gun check. And, it would unthinkable categorize anyone who every had mental health treatment as not sane.

    I don't know what "cracking down" on illegal gun sales would mean. I suspect Nocera also doesn't know. After all, illegal gun sales are already, well, illegal.

  2. The problems that arise are the so-called doctor-patient confidentiality policies and the reluctance to commit a person to involuntary psychiatric care.

    A doctor does not have to tell police a patient fantasizes about harming himself or others.

    Jared Loughner is a prime example.
    He was dismissed from Pima County College after posting a threatening video online. His parents were told he would need to seek psychiatric help before he could be readmitted.
    They tried to talk him into it, but he refused. No-one could make him do it. Local officials could not act unless there was an incident, despite the fact the the college police told Loughner's parents he was a danger to himself and others.
    The parents took away his shotgun and the father disabled his car every night to keep him out of trouble.
    He bought a 9mm handgun and kept it at home.
    One morning he was driving and was pulled over by a Fish & Game officer for running a red light, and he broke down and cried.
    He went to Walmart to buy ammo and the clerk thought he was acting strangely and wouldn't sell him any.
    He went to another Walmart and the clerk sold him "six or seven" boxes of ammunition.
    Then Loughner went to a Tucson mall and shot Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others. Six died.
    While Loughner was in jail there was a fight over his competence to face charges and stand trial.
    Without medication he was deemed incompetent.
    His lawyers claimed it was a violation of his rights to medicate him involuntarily.
    He was eventually tried convicted.


    1. Yup.

      My takeaway: We'd better get used to occasional (or, if you want, "frequent") mass killings -- they're here to stay.

      We can't BOTH keep guns available, as we've decided they constitutionally must be, AND ALSO keep guns away from anyone who might act irrationally.

      We're stuck. Punditry won't help.

      Enjoy the slaughter or dodge the bullets, but either way we've decided it's mandated by the constitution.

    2. It's really not that hard to get a diagnosis that a person is a threat to himself or others, and thus involuntarily committed. It happens every day.

      Even cops can take a person acting erractically into custody and send them off for psychiatric evaluation.

    3. Yup, 1:53. And the sad fact is this nation is awash in fear, criminals, the untreated mentally ill, and guns.

      I once heard a cop some years ago at a neighborhood watch organizing meeting begging people not to own guns for "their own protection."

      He said the vast, vast majority of home burglaries happen with nobody at home to use that gun, and one of the very first things a burglar does is look in the nightstand by the bed or the top shelf in the closet for the guns. And thus, we get even more guns on the street.

      And that, of course, was followed with the predictable round of tough guys practically screaming at the cop.

    4. "The problems that arise are the so-called doctor-patient confidentiality policies and the reluctance to commit a person to involuntary psychiatric care."

      There should be a "reluctance" to commit a person. It's a profound act, legally. The process protections aren't red tape or laziness, they're a safeguard.
      I think there is a lack of mental health services available, but I would be very wary of short-circuiting legal process in the hopes of stopping a mass shooting.
      There's a history here. The process was developed over decades to to decrease the risk of people being adjudicated incompetent based simply on the testimony of others. While I'm sure the family members in your example were well-intentioned, that is not always true.
      Could the parents not petition a court to have him adjudicated incompetent? They need an expert evaluation but they could do that via an interview in his home, if need be, and they would also probably have to pay a lawyer, but there is a process. It isn't easy, but then I'm not sure it should be easy.

    5. "If we assume that Nocera has good ideas, why do we lack the political will to put those ideas into effect? In what does our lack of will consist? How might we address it?"

      Right, Bob. Nocera should have answered all those questions in a single newspaper column.

    6. 3:00, yes you raise some very interesting points, but at the same time acknowledging that these decisions are never easy, nor should they be.

      And the decisions that shoulda, coulda, woulda been made are always much clearer when considered with the benefit of hindsight.

  3. Should anyone be surprised that Nocera doesn't have a quick and easy solution to the gun violence problem? If so, he should also be surprised that Somerby doesn't either.

    Nocera doesn't have a quick solution, but presumably he hopes that public opinion will eventually be mobilized to have an influence on elections. So I would say that he probably does have an idea, which is to keep hammering in his columns.

    If Somerby has a quick solution he has not given it in this blog, so he is doing exactly what he accuses Nocera of.

  4. On The Daily Show, John Stewart mentioned that 260 days into 2013, on 250 days there were at least one incident where 4 or more people were killed in the USA. The joke was that "We've had more mass killings than there are Jewish holidays".