CPRC Board member Arthur Berg’s piece in the Wall Street Journal: “How to Stop a Would-Be Killer at a Military Base”

17 Apr , 2014  

CPRC Board member Arthur Berg had a piece in the Wall Street Journal last week that started this way:

Barring soldiers from carrying concealed weapons at Fort Hood Army base in Texas demeans the soldiers and ignores reality. It also gets people killed. In 2009 and again on April 2, lone shooters at Fort Hood were able to murder a total of 17 people and wound more than 40 largely without fear that anyone could interrupt them. Unless that changes, we can expect more such attacks, either at military bases where carrying a weapon is prohibited or other venues where killers are confident that their chances of inflicting mass slaughter are good.

Mass killers demand attention: Why else seek such a large audience? That reality is well documented. Some of these killers have left detailed plans, including documentation of their murders with tallies of how many killed. One left a computerized spread sheet of news coverage and tabulated details of his killings gleaned from news reports. Another left evidence that intimated some form of competition: Who would score the highest body count?

As a psychiatrist, I know that a mass killer may be depressed or suffer some other psychiatric disorder. He may have been rejected in some way or bullied. But being able to make such a diagnosis is not the critical factor when planning prevention.

The Fort Hood news coverage is stirring fresh criticism of the media for providing intense, detailed and personalized coverage when many lives are lost. Violent movies and games also get blamed. As with the psychological profile of the killer, however, these are not the critical factors that need to be addressed when thinking about prevention.

The fact that’s most important, and most relevant to prevention, is the killer’s hunger for a large audience. These murderers want a big stage on which to lash out and to be immortalized. What the killer doesn’t want is an unfinished drama. That’s why, in these incidents, he often commits suicide the moment he hears a police siren or someone points a gun at him. Surrender and a court case is unthinkable. Everything he plans is designed to help him finish his drama before someone can stop him. Being stopped would be another demonstration of the ineptness and failure that has likely characterized his life. So he picks a safe place. He looks for the movie theater where guns are banned. He looks for a school—or a U.S. military base. A nationwide gun ban has been in effect at military installations since 1992.

A current line of defense, perimeter security, is far from foolproof, especially in large sprawling institutions such as universities and military bases. Practically speaking, the perimeter security’s purpose is primarily psychological deterrence. . . .


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