In his editorial "Mass murder's myths," Don Rogers is, in my view, very right in calling for more psychologists rather than armed guards in our schools.
It is true that most mentally ill individuals are in no way dangerous but that dangerous mass murderers are almost assuredly mentally ill. Their deeds, by definition, place them in the realm of being out of their minds, crazy and berserk. Some of these individuals are later found to have brain pathology, which affects their thoughts and behaviors.
Predicting dangerousness is a dicey and imprecise science. However, identifying factors which contribute to the probability of dangerousness is within the realm of expertise of some mental health and medical practitioners. We can identify syndromes which distort people's perceptions and beliefs. We can, with good reliability, identify the highly impulsive and the paranoid. We can identify the social loners and those with psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies. We also can identify those who are abusing drugs and alcohol.
Our behavior is, in part, the result of our free will. However, our behavior is also the result of what our brains do, and not all of us are in full control of our actions. There is solid evidence that some forms of brain dysfunction are responsible for behaviors which we label criminal or evil.
In addition to the reduction in the availability of assault weapons and large ammunition clips, and more universal background checks, the proposal by the Obama administration smartly calls for the loosening of privacy restrictions by mental health professionals. Currently, licensed mental health practitioners are only compelled to report dangerousness when it is "imminent."
Improving our children's safety in schools and our society as a whole will require increased cooperation between those in the neurosciences (e.g., brain imaging), medical and psychologists. We must examine the intricate interaction between a person's genetic, prenatal, cortical, social and economic factors.
I, for one, would welcome an opportunity to help protect my community by participating in the decisions as to who should be allowed to purchase a weapon.
Henry J. Goetze