A complicated solution

Really thinking about what we read so often in the wake of mass killings is the only way we Americans can find a way to curb them.

Taking the easy way out by concluding, as presidential candidate Joe Biden apparently has, that outlawing so-called “assault rifles” will do the trick, is fooling ourselves. For one thing, the majority of mass murders are committed with pistols, not rifles of any kind.

What comes out within hours or days of most killings such as those in Dayton and El Paso is that the murderers showed signs of homicidal tendencies long before they acted upon them.

Before police shot him to death Saturday, a 24-year-old man killed nine people and wounded 14 others in Dayton. His attack came as no surprise to some people.

Several former high school classmates told The Associated Press that the killer was suspended from school for a time for compiling a “hit list.” And, they added, he also drew up a “rape list.”

“He enjoyed making people feel scared,” one former classmate said of the man. He succeeded. On the day in 2012 that news of the “hit list” surfaced, about one-third of the students at the high school stayed home, for fear of an attack.

Similar warnings came from the man who shot 22 people in El Paso to death. He had released a “manifesto” indicating hatred toward immigrants. Some former high school classmates described him as an “irritable loner,” according to one report.

But profiling people tends to get complicated. The Dayton killer favored left-wing politics. The El Paso murderer was just the opposite.

Some people remember the Dayton man as quiet and friendly — not threatening at all.

The same contradictions can be found in the backgrounds of many mass murderers.

Perhaps the difficulty in typecasting them explains why so many politicians favor comparatively easier approaches to prevention, such as banning certain types of firearms.

But until and unless we devote more energy — and realism — to finding out what makes a mass murderer, the killings will continue. And once we have the information, the even more difficult task faces us: Deciding what to do about potential homicidal maniacs.

By Patricia Older

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