Aid the troubled, protect the innocent

One can not help feeling deep compassion for the individuals involved in the recent shootings in southern California and Montana. Increasing attention is being given in the United States now to mass shootings or random attacks, such as these. Recognition builds that more ought to be done to protect society from such violence, and to provide help for the troubled individuals who would perpetrate it.

Still, no one should mistakenly characterize American society as suffused with violence on the basis of these and other incidents. Most Americans are never confronted by violence. In countless communities citizens walk the streets at any hour without concern.

Yet the two recent incidents emphasize the need of all Americans to be protected from such violence, and to be freer of the fear of it.

One form of protection is provided by police or other agencies, in dealing with troubled persons who have given evidence of posing a threat to others. In the San Ysidro case, police in the gunman's former community reportedly had been called to the home of the gunman scores of times. Yet inadequate aid was forthcoming to protect society from him or to help him, despite what ought to have been general recognition of his need. Computer tracking of individual criminal behavior patterns across state lines promises faster identification and surveillance of such individuals.

Also, in a peaceable society, it is hard to justify permitting private ownership of rapidly firing weapons usually associated with warfare, rather than sport. This kind of weapon was used in the California killings.

The two cases indicate that every individual deserves mental well-being, and that troubled people ought to be aided when they seek help. Organizations that exist to provide this kind of aid should consider carefully whether they are doing all that they can. In the San Ysidro case, the person who did the shooting reportedly had recently phoned an agency for assistance, but his call went unreturned. Such agencies should be funded and staffed at adequate levels.

In both the California and Montana cases, the need exists to help quiet the community's alarm and heal its grief. The McDonald's restaurant chain, in one of whose franchises the California killings occurred, has been sensitive to community concerns; it has razed the building and turned the site into a park for community use.

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