The NY Times is running a long, sad feature that consists mostly of one-line statements made about mass shooters. A typical sample goes like this:
He was bankrupt and had liens on his property.
Eight killed and six injured in San Francisco on July 1, 1993
He was evicted and his wife and daughter left him.
Six killed and one injured in Paso Robles, Calif., on Nov. 8, 1992
His wages were being garnished for child support.
Four killed in Watkins Glen, N.Y., on Oct. 15, 1992
He began hearing voices and talked about committing violence.
Four killed and 10 injured in Olivehurst, Calif., on May 1, 1992
He lost his job and his water heater broke.
Five killed and one injured in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 9, 1996
He had schizophrenia and stopped taking his medication.
Five killed and three injured in Bronx, N.Y., on Dec. 19, 1995
He was upset about a performance evaluation at work.
Four killed in Los Angeles on July 19, 1995
He was fired and had sought help at a mental health clinic.
21 killed and 19 injured in San Ysidro, Calif., on July 18, 1984
He was upset that his wife had left him.
Six killed in College Station, Tex., on Oct. 11, 1983
He ranted in his classroom and was suspended from teaching.
Eight killed and three injured in Miami on Aug. 20, 1982
He was in a pay dispute with his employers.
Six killed and four injured in Grand Prairie, Tex., on Aug. 9, 1982
He became reclusive and avoided all social interactions.
Four killed and one injured in Coraopolis, Pa., on July 21, 1980
He began hoarding food and planning for the end of the world.
Five killed and 11 injured in Daingerfield, Tex., on June 22, 1980
He thought his family and co-workers were trying to poison him.
Four killed in Warwick, R.I., on June 17, 1978
The message of the authors is that most of these people were obviously risks to the community, but either nothing was done about them, or not enough, and they call for much more investment in community mental health care. Based on what I know, that seems to be true in some cases but not others. Hundreds of thousands of American men have their wages garnished for child support, and many are mad about it, but most never shoot anybody. Most people hoarding food for the coming collapse of civilization seem pretty harmless, too. Looking backward it is easy to say of many, "he was obviously headed for trouble and somebody should have stepped in," but without knowing the future that becomes very difficult, and in some cases you would have to look much more deeply than this to have any clue that a real crisis was coming.