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Apoptosis and Bodyscanners

Apoptosis is the word for programmed cell death.  There are a variety of reasons why a cell dies.  Sometimes it’s because it’s not meant to hang around for very long.  It outlives its usefulness.  Sometimes it’s because it gets a signal from another cell to self destruct after a physiological event, like a stroke.  Sometimes it’s an immune response.   The cell realizes it doesn’t belong and takes itself out.

And then there are young males with guns.  Maybe the reason we have had so many wars in the history of human beings is because young adult males are apoptotic. Maybe it’s all that testosterone that does weird things to their heads.  It’s either war or some kind of financial apocalypse brought on by uninhibited gambling and a “boys will be boys” attitude.  They self-destruct before they get too old by doing reckless things, like changing cars at 60 mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Maybe civilization wouldn’t function too well if the unstable humans among us were too numerous.

There was an “expert” on mass murderers on NPR tonight as I was driving home from Philly whose research must be funded by the NRA.  No, there’s no pattern of psychosis, he said, although Jared Loughner and the Aurora shooter would suggest otherwise. The University of Texas tower sniper knew there was something wrong with his head when he left his home the morning he carried out his massacre.  He even left a note to that effect., Turns out he was right.  He had a brain tumor that was discovered during his autopsy.

But, the expert argued,  some shooters are just depressed, which seemed a bit unfair to the depressed out there, and project the blame for their sad, sorry lives onto others, including little 5 year olds.  There’s no model we can derive that wouldn’t give us “false positives”.  Well, gee, I guess there’s nothing we can do then.  {{sigh}}

That “false positives” term reawakened a dormant pharma part of my past.  Sifting through data, looking for patterns and constructing models, um, that’s what we used to do for a living before the pharma lobby got rid of us and cried crocodile tears to any ambitious politician who would listen that they just couldn’t find good help anymore.

So, the expert says the model we construct to keep the shooters from apoptotic destruction with collateral damage would be useless because we would incorrectly identify some of the people to be shooters when they really aren’t.  These are the “false positives”. Well, that was a stupid thing to say because anyone who looks for models and patterns knows that that’s what you get on your first round of screening- false positives and hopefully, fewer false negatives.  That just narrows your set of possibles.  It’s not the final answer.  In your second round of screening, you might use a different assay to distinguish the hunters and right wing gun nuts from the truly disturbed.  Maybe you could use a questionnaire, ask them if they’ve lost a job lately, gone through a divorce, are in debt, have ever been hospitalized for mental illness.  Then, once you narrow down that set of potential shooters, put them through another round of screening.  Maybe that would be a mandatory interview or two with a psychologist to evaluate whether the gun owner shows possible indications of schizophrenia or personality disorders.

Where to start?  The first round of screening criteria might be males in young adulthood who have bought multiple guns, a larger than expected cache of ammunition and body armor.  The truly discriminating would want to collect what looks like inconsequential data for further study, like socio economic class, level of education, parents living, health insurance coverage, prior issuance of a hunting license, time between purchases, etc.  You never know when you’ll find a correlation to include or rule out someone.

And what’s the end point?  I’m guessing that if you found someone who was a young adult male gun owner with multiple guns, a cache of ammunition and body armor, who has recently undergone a job loss and has a history of mental illness, you would probably want to lure him to a safe location and take away his guns.  That’s just me.  I’m sure the NRA would be fine with a sternly worded letter to the effect that it is ungentlemanly to shoot unarmed 5 year olds.  You must wait until they retrieve their own weapons first.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what the motive is.  We’re not interested in who the future shooter is going to blame, their mother or the global conspiracy working against him.  We’re interested in the collection of descriptors that separate the healthy gun nut from the disturbed gun nut.

Meanwhile, in the wake of 9/11 and the “fear! fear! fear!” histrionics on Fox News and the evening news, the security industry has been having a field day installing cameras and electronic locks on school doors across the country.  But the fact that the office has to buzz you in has always looked like a joke to me.  With so many people coming and going each day, the office is bound to get lax and it doesn’t stop a teacher’s son from claiming that he has to drop off something he has stashed in his backpack to his mother in the kindergarten class.  (I’m just guessing.  It has crossed my mind before that if there was going to be a shooter, this is how he would do it.)  The electronic doors wouldn’t change the possibility that a shooter who is familiar to the victims could get in.  They’re probably only good for keeping a 3 man Al Qaeda cell out.

In Newton, the lockdown drills were well rehearsed but they didn’t save the 20 children who were killed once the shooter got in the building.  You might argue that the death toll would have been higher otherwise but I’m not convinced this is true.  It’s pretty typical for students to do the “duck and cover” thing and for teachers to lock the doors without any training whatsoever.

Walking to the bus stop with your 10 year old couldn’t have stopped this incident.  Preventing your 8 year olds from running around outside and playing with their friends wouldn’t have stopped this incident. Freaking out about parents who help out in school without a background check wouldn’t have stopped this incident.  Putting your kid’s childhood in permanent lockdown for the duration of their formative years won’t have stopped this incident.  We can’t barricade our kids forever.  They need to be learn to navigate the world without our help.

But I’m betting that the security industry will cash in big from the bodyscanners that frantic Fox News watching parents are soon going to demand to be purchased by every school district in every state of the nation.  Well, except for Michigan where it will soon become perfectly fine to walk into a school with a concealed gun. The security industry has been very good at treating children like prisoners under permanent siege.  It’s been a very lucrative business model even if some of the expensive security fixes turn out to be nothing more than emotional placebos for disaster porn soaked parents.

What would have stopped this incident?  I don’t know but I’m willing to start with screening prospective gun and body armor buyers and taking away their tools of self destruction.  I’d rather be left with a bunch of false positives in round 1 than 20 dead children after round 100.

See Lenore Skenazy at FreeRangeKids for a somewhat similar perspective.

14 Responses

  1. I don’t know what to say. It’s horrible. I agree screening and rescreening couldn’t hurt. (although in the last hour I’ve heard that the guns belonged to the shooter’s mother – I guess that could change, but they sound sure now) I also think we need more realistic diagnosis, treatment and care of the mentally ill than just sending them home to untrained and probably helpless family for care.

    • Do you have any idea how far into denial family is about family? Family circles the wagons at the merest hint of a diagnosable/chargeable problem. I worked with a woman who has a twenty something drugged out maniac in her home with two younger children and her reason is, “He’s my husband’s son.”

      I’m guessing that upwards of 98 percent of assaultists of various stripes and types are well known to their families long before they do something that gets them the undivided attentions of police. And then, of course, their families support them and solicit sympathy for them all the way thru the legal system. I know a woman whose sister was chocked into unconsciousness by a younger brother and the sister begged and pleaded and cried to get the county prosecutor to drop the charges. Went on like an hysteric. Luckily, the prosecutor, after trying to explain how serious this sort of thing is, he said he had seen people murdered, just dropped the hammer and declared the case would go forward. How about the woman in DC whose live-in set her on fire, called her from jail to beg her to drop the charges, and she begged the judge to drop the charges for “the father of my children.”

      • I was very disappointed in the teacher having all these weapons with a son who had serious issues and I find it frightening that she didn’t see the danger in having these weapons.

        I have a friend who is an enabler of her grandchildren. One who is mentally disabled was put in prison for assaults and while in prison assaulted another inmate and blinded him in one eye (Lost the eye due to damage from the assault.) and you guessed it, she called to let me know she was very concerned about these latest charges and how the system was to blame. I believe in mental health services and all the good they do, but in her grandson’s case, even the prisoners are at risk and he shouldn’t be let out into the general population in prison.

    • I also think we need more realistic diagnosis, treatment and care of the mentally ill than just sending them home to untrained and probably helpless family for care.

      Sadly, ACA aka Obamacare is going to make this worse…we are just learning off the official ‘letter’ that ‘special centers’ will be set up as psychiatrists don’t want to provide services currently and now w/ ACA won’t see these clients. So, despite some having Medicare and the State’s version of Medicaid, there will now be a shortage of services for the very people that need the services the most and that seem to be within the catchment of identifiers of people in these last shootings.

      For the last couple of hours before falling asleep I was thinking of ways to teach my six-year old nephew how to secure himself in a class room, or run, or how to scale the six foot chain link fence to escape the ‘secure’ environment if it was no longer safe, before realizing that if he could scale it, so could someone else to get in. 😥

      In the end I guess we will have to invest in services for mental health services for people who need help and then make those services available to them. At present they have a better chance of accessing weapons than services and that is where the main breach in the system is.

      BTW, I recently got my ‘Mental Health First Aid USA’ certification, which is now required for work, (Even the psychologist go the training.) which was very helpful and we all were very excited about being within the first batch in our area to receive the training. The training came from Australia, where they had 13 massacres before gun reform and mental health access training. I wonder if in the US we are ready to talk about gun control reform?

      • May I add that, yes, we need BETTER mental health care in this country. However, speaking from experience, our children who are mentally challenged are drugged to the hilt. This has a detrimental effect on a growing brain. Therapy is a dime a dozen. Psychiatrists only prescribe the drugs; they don’t do the therapy. It’s a complex problem. Our family lived through it (so-called bipolar – misdiagnosis) and my child was on 7 powerful, psychotropic drugs at one time. I don’t know if the shooter in this case was on prescription drugs, but I do know other shooters were indeed on them.

  2. You are scrutinized more getting on an airplane than when you buy a firearm. Ever notice that for some the Second Amendment is inviolate but the other nine are open to interpretation by religious bigots on the bench.

    • Bingo! Someone said on twitter yesterday “ONE jackass tries to light his shoe & every American has to take their shoes off at airports. Mass gun violence & there’s nothing we can do” And then, just like Archie Bunker, the call for more guns (he proposed that everyone on a plane be given a gun for the flight). In fact, the NRA reported record donations yesterday. Roseanne was asking when in history did a gun prohibition save a single life. I answered her: everywhere in the world, including China yesterday where a madman knifed 22 kids – none died.

      • “ONE jackass tries to light his shoe & every American has to take their shoes off at airports. Mass gun violence & there’s nothing we can do”

        The gun lobby is too powerful…we need to speak or yell to get through to the politicians and if they don’t listen, throw ’em out!

  3. Fox News is not the only or principal media offender in the “fear” invoking stimulus to assaults on civil liberties and intellectual discrimination; the media are so agreed on their support for “fear” it has become one of the few things that has been “normalized.” Yet the utility of “fear” as an emotion is evaluating its validity and choosing one’s course of action.

    We have a media and government that has found undefined indiscriminate “fear” a very useful mechanism of agenda focus for the first and of social control for the second; entrepreneurs see how to make a buck from it and stimulate more of it.

  4. CNN was reporting that K-1 teacher Mrs Lanza had five weapons registered to her? One gun, locked up I can understand (trying), but five? Who was she expecting Zombies or the Russian invasion?

    Trying to wrap my head around why a person needs all this automatic weapon power. 😦

    • MSNBC reports that the shooter’s mother was a shooting enthusiastic and enjoyed target shooting.

      @Woman Voter, it is almost a certainty that she had no automatic weapons. Those mentioned specifically to this point have all been semi-automatic and there are very high legal hurdles to jump to own an automatic weapon in the US because of (enforced) laws passed in the 1930s..

      Don’t mean to be picky, both kinds can be deadly, but I really do believe that any serious action on guns requires that both sides of the regulatory issues operate from a common database of facts about guns.

      • “Common database of facts” I like it. It has a nice beat and you can dance to it.

        I have friends who own guns and enjoy target shooting. I don’t have an issue with that. What I have a problem with is the disturbing convergence of access to guns with people who should not be in the vicinity of a gun. There is a reason why we don’t let people drive drunk.

      • The guns with the cartridge are automatic enough, when you run out you pop in another cartridge and you are up in seconds. BF was military flight engineer, another a flight instructor, both had those carry on weapons that they check at the airport and carry on once cleared. So, I still say, what the heck was she expecting Zombies.

        I have two brothers (one was in the military) who are into guns and they had to lock up their guns in a safe, with some secondary key thing inside for second security due to the lethality of the weapons by my estimation (I don’t have guns). For an alarm they had two dogs, who were good enough to make anyone think twice about entering that wasn’t invited. As far as I know my brothers continue the practice now at their homes, as they moved out years ago.

        I still say anyone with a family member that isn’t well, shouldn’t have weapons on the premises.

  5. Actually you don’t have to argue that a shooter could trick someone into buzzing him in. Turns out, a gun trumps an electric gate. The guy in Newton shot his way in.

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