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Chris Rickert: Scott Walker's response to shootings off target?

Chris Rickert: Scott Walker's response to shootings off target?

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Now that Republican lawmakers have started saying what to do, if anything, in response to Connecticut's mass school shooting, the talking points appear to be coalescing around two major themes: improve identification of and services for the mentally ill, and put guns in schools.

Never mind that advocating for the arming of school teachers might itself be one definition of mental illness — especially if research showing an association between having guns at home and more gun violence can be applied to school settings.

More important for Wisconsinites is what their Republican governor's positions mean after the state saw two mass shootings of its own this year.

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed tapping mental health professionals for help to prevent such killings. The problem, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, who has studied mass murder, is that shooters are not likely to have been previously identified by mental health professionals.

It's "virtually impossible" to identify mass murderers before they murder, and there's "no way to figure out who will turn their issues to violence and who won't," he said.

That's largely because the characteristics people identify in mass shooters after they've attacked — such as social isolation — exist in lots of people who would never go on a shooting spree, he said. Also, mass murderers don't have the type of personalities that seek out mental health services, he said, and are more likely to think the rest of us are the sick ones and to reject help.

Walker also suggested that people who are under domestic violence restraining orders — such as Radcliffe Haughton, who in October killed three before killing himself at a Brookfield spa — be fitted with GPS monitoring.

That might have deterred Haughton, but it sure is expensive compared to the other solution that would have stopped him from legally buying a gun, but which Walker isn't as enthusiastic about: closing the loophole in the law that doesn't require unlicensed sellers to perform background checks on buyers.

It would cost about $1,200 per person every six months for GPS monitoring, according to a report Thursday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a cost Walker proposes be paid by those being monitored. Unfortunately, the kind of people likely to be forced to wear GPS bracelets aren't likely to have a lot of disposable income.

By contrast, under state law, the Department of Justice charges licensed firearms sellers a mere $13 to do background checks of firearm purchasers, who can be forced to pay that fee by the seller.

Walker also hasn't ruled out arming school personnel. Quite aside from whether that would be effective (or sane) is the question of whether any school personnel would take Walker up on the offer.

"We don't believe arming teachers is the answer," said Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council. "To reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, we should concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees."

Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, and the Department of Public Instruction also don't like the idea.

There's a fair argument to be made that Democratic responses to the Newtown shooting wouldn't head off further mass shootings, either. Democrats have proposed banning certain types of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines common to such shootings, including Wade Michael Page's attack on an Oak Creek Sikh temple in August that killed seven, including Page's suicide.

Fox, the criminologist, said that with the exception of arming school personnel — which he didn't think would do much good — many of the ideas Republicans and Democrats are proposing might make mass shootings slightly less likely, but "it will happen again."

Still, if lawmakers are intent on doing something, reducing the number of high-powered guns and ammo commonly used in mass shootings is a better bet than offering guns to educators who don't want them or treating mental illness we can't identify.

Because it seems pretty obvious that continuing to construe the 2nd Amendment as the right to bear arms that kill lots of people fast doesn't do much to lessen the number of victims.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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