Jun 1st 2014

Brains, Guns, and Preventable Murder

by Charles J. Reid, Jr.

Charles J. Reid, Jr. was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he majored in Latin, Classics, and History, and also did substantial coursework in classical Greek and modern European languages. It was during his undergraduate days that he developed an interest in canon law, doing a year of directed research in Roman and canon law under the supervision of James Brundage. Reid then attended the Catholic University of America, where he earned J.D. and J.C.L. (license in canon law) degrees. During his time at Catholic University, he organized a series of symposia on the bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear arms. The proceedings of these symposia were published under Reid's editorship as "Peace in a Nuclear Age: The Bishops' Pastoral Letter in Perspective" (Catholic University of America Press, 1986). This book was called by the New York Times "among the most scholarly and unsettling of responses" to the pastoral letter (December 28, 1986).Reid then attended Cornell University, where he earned a Ph.D. in the history of medieval law under the supervision of Brian Tierney. His thesis at Cornell was on the Christian, medieval origins of the western concept of individual rights. Over the last ten years, he has published a number of articles on the history of western rights thought, and is currently completing work on a book manuscript addressing this question.In 1991, Reid was appointed research associate in law and history at the Emory University School of Law, where he has worked closely with Harold Berman on the history of western law. He collaborated with Professor Berman on articles on the Lutheran legal science of the sixteenth century, the English legal science of the seventeenth century, and the flawed premises of Max Weber's legal historiography.While at Emory, Reid has also pursued a research agenda involving scholarship on the history of western notions of individual rights; the history of liberty of conscience in America; and the natural-law foundations of the jurisprudence of Judge John Noonan. He has also published articles on various aspects of the history of the English common law. He has had the chance to apply legal history in a forensic setting, serving as an expert witness in litigation involving the religious significance of Christian burial. Additionally, Reid has taught a seminar on the contribution of medieval canon law to the shaping of western constitutionalism.  Recently, Reid has become a featured blogger at the Huffington Post on current issues where religion, law and politics intersect.

The Isla Vista mass murder was a preventable tragedy. It was the destruction of innocent life without need or reason. It is proof, as if more proof were needed, that we are past the time to break the nexus between guns, murder, and mental illness. And we should do that by enacting rigorous new gun-control legislation that takes account of an individual's fitness to own lethal weapons in light of what we are learning about the human brain.

Our knowledge of the human brain is increasing exponentially. Consider just a few recent advances: The Human Connectome Project is in the process of mapping the brain. And the maps the Project is producing are not the rough, schematic sketches of just a few years ago but a detailed guide to "every twist and turn of the 86 billion neurons in the human brain." The mapping, it is suggested, will be helpful in diagnosing not only brain trauma, such as concussions or strokes, but a wide variety of psychiatric conditions "such as post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, and dementia."

Scientists are not yet able to read people's minds. Such a task involves multiple levels of consciousness and would be difficult to accomplish. On the other hand, neuroscientists have demonstrated the capacity to access the visual contents of dreams. And neurologists are also exploring ways in which deep brain stimulation can be used to relieve if not eliminate entirely the symptoms of major depressive disorder, Parkinson's disease, and even Alzheimer's.

"Can We Predict Crime Using Brain Scans?" So asked the headline of an article inPsychology Today, dated April 17, 2013. A neuroscientist from the University of New Mexico conducted brain scans of 96 convicted felons about to be released from prison. The scans focused on identifying neurological signatures of the convicts' impulsiveness, since it is known that poor impulse control lies at the root of many types of crime. The scans revealed that telltale markers in the anterior cingulate cortex correlated with poor impulse control and high recidivism rates. Indeed, "the level of brain activation predicted how long it would take before the person committed the [next] crime."

Brain science, in other words, has advanced to the point where we can see into the brain, alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, and even make credible predictions about future misconduct.

Now, what do we know about Elliot Rodger? We know that he displayed psychological difficulties from an early time in his life. He was in therapy, it seems from the age of 8 or 9. He found it difficult to interact with other people and displayed aloofness.

These difficulties only intensified as Elliot entered adolescence. He informed all who would listen to him of his perceived problems in attracting women. Elliot, however, was not experiencing normal teenaged social anxiety but was instead slipping free of the bonds of reality. His problem was not awkwardness or clumsy interpersonal skills. It was a thought disorder that led to grandiose views of what he was entitled to and a deep sense of grievance that he was somehow being deprived of his birthright.

Much has been said about the Isla Vista massacre as a crime of privilege. And I think that there is much truth in these observations. Elliot Rodger absorbed misogynistic and racist attitudes from the ambient culture, and he expressed these repugnant thoughts in Web postings and videos. He enjoyed all the privileges of wealth. On the night of the murders, he was driving a BMW that was a gift from his father. It seems that he saw women as the one material possession he could not have, and he felt deprived. The imaginings of his mind, in other words, were fueled by an unrestrained sense of entitlement.

His parents and therapists came to understand the dark and dangerous turns he was making in the way he viewed the world. He posted threatening videos. His parents contacted the police, requesting that they intervene. The police arrived at young Elliot's door, asked a few polite and deferential questions, and closed the investigation.

The police, it seems, never bothered to inquire about whether Elliot had any weapons. Elliot, however, acknowledged in his own writings that had the police sought weapons, it would have been all over for him. The larger question thus presents itself: How in the world did such a disturbed young man come to own an arsenal of deadly weapons?

Elliot, indeed, had equipped himself with the best weapons money could buy -- handguns retailing in excess of $1,000 a piece. And this gets us to the question of guns. Elliot had never crossed the threshold that would have prevented him from buying or owning guns. Had he made a credible "threat of violence against specific, identifiable victims to a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist would have been required to report it to law enforcement, and Rodger could have been banned from owning guns for five years." Elliot, however, had merely made non-specific threats. This was not enough to take his guns away.

This is an outrageous state of affairs. We must get serious about guns. Guns are not playthings. They are not ornaments. They are lethal weapons. The whole point and purpose of a firearm is to put holes in objects -- including living human beings.

We need to shift the presumption about gun ownership in this country away from a rights-based perspective. Gun ownership must be premised on responsibility. And we can draw on brain science as a means of determining fitness to own a gun. Can someone control his or her impulses? Do they have violent tendencies? If they do, they should not own a gun.

Sorry, gun ownership should not be the universal right and privilege of every so-called red-blooded American. The presumption should always favor public safety, and that means keeping guns out of the hands of people who may abuse them. With rational gun control laws tied to what science can tell us about human behavior, we might hope to put a limit to the senseless, needless tragedy of gun violence.



Previous articles by Charles J. Reid on Facts & Arts:

A Radical, Romantic Conservative: Explaining Vladimir Putin

Published 03.04.2014
Sergei Illiaronov informed the press a few days ago that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has an insatiable appetite. He intends to return to Russia's control all of the territory once held by Czar Nicholas II (reigned 1896-1918), including...

Explaining America's New Place in the World

Published 29.03.2014
There has been a near constant stream of commentary from right-wing pundits claiming that America is in a headlong retreat from the world and that it is all President Obama's fault. If the President only stood taller, if he only spoke louder, if...

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message. The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains. ---- The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will pay US$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed. ---- So what is going on here, and what does it tell us about art and money?"
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Ellison was an abstract expressionist painter, who, having come to New York City from West Texas in 1962, was as he said “unable to find traction” as a painter. At the same time, he began collecting ceramic objects and educating himself about this field of art as he went along. In 2009 he bestowed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art over 300 extraordinary examples of American ceramics, spanning the years 1876 through 1956. Since then, Ellison has gifted to the Museum over 600 works – including a significant collection of European art pottery in 2013, and most recently over 125 modern and contemporary clay vessels and objects – making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Art Pottery in the world. ---- The current exhibition presents nearly 80 pieces drawn from Ellison’s latest donation, and it is a thoroughly captivating show; even where (or perhaps especially where) the works are outlandish, bizarre, sometimes almost monstrous, but nonetheless enthralling."
Jul 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the course of England’s journey to the Euro 2020 final, one of the most fascinating plays has been happening just off the pitch. Whenever the TV camera cuts to the team’s manager Gareth Southgate, he is occasionally seen standing alone on the edge of the field, urging his team on. ---- But most of the time he is deep in conversation with his assistant Steve Holland. ---- A recent study of English football culture points to a shift away from what the authors term “Beckhamisation”, after the former England captain and Manchester United star player David Beckham – a popular and instantly recognisable symbol of that period of football history (though, it is not suggested the culture was his creation). ---- During the 1990s, the study claims, this “Beckhamisation” saw high octane management practices imported from the corporate world into football. ---- In recent years, this has been replaced by “Southgatism”, a leadership style which that study describes as “modest, self-deprecating, down to earth, diverse and progressive”. "
Jun 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "New York’s Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting an exhibition devoted to an in-depth review of Paul Cézanne’s drawings. If there is any criticism to be made of this extraordinary show, it is that it is frankly overwhelming: with roughly 280 pencil, ink and gouache drawings and watercolors (and even a handful of oil paintings), there is so much to take in that two or three visits to the exhibition may be required to do it justice."
Jun 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it." .... "Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions." .... "The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility."
Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."