In his keynote speech at the 2013 NRA Convention last May, Glenn Beck summed up the pro-gun argument that efforts to control mass shootings should focus on people rather than guns, saying, "It’s the man, not the gun."
But the recent Columbia mall shooting challenges the widely accepted pro-gun argument that to stop mass shootings the focus should be on the mental health system rather than on gun control.
Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, had no criminal record and no known mental health issues. As far as his friends and relatives are concerned he was a healthy, normal and "nice kid."
But on Saturday, Jan. 25, he shot and killed two people and then himself in a clothing store at the Mall in Columbia, Md.
Saturday’s incident raises questions about the proposal that presumes mental health experts know enough about the dynamics of human mental states in predictive terms and thus recommends that we go after the psychiatric patient rather than the gun to end mass shootings?
In contrast with our questionable knowledge of human mental states we know practically everything we need to know about guns.
We may have doubts about what a man armed with a gun would do, but we know exactly what a gun will do when the man pulls the trigger.
When tackling a problem-solving challenge faced with two variables – one known, the other unknown – the optimum strategy is to make the known the primary target because we could never arrive at an optimal solution to a problem when we set aside the known while reaching for the unknown.
The truth is that we know too little about human mental states and processes to sensibly propose a mono-strategy for controlling mass shootings through "improved mental health care."
If the honest intention is to do something about mass shootings, we must stop beating around the psychiatric mulberry bush and go first after the gun, and then maybe, only after, the mysteriously psychiatric human.
Aguilar loved cooking and wanted to be a chef, those who knew him say. But he ended up with a Mossberg 12-guage shotgun and crude explosive devices at a clothing store, fired 16 shots and killed three, including himself.
Police still don't know why.
But the mental health system, according to the pro-gun argument, was supposed to keep tabs on him to stop him shooting and killing others and himself.
What did his friends know about him?
They knew him as a "harmless" quiet, easy going, physically and mentally healthy 19-year-old.
They are still struggling to figure out what went wrong and what they missed about him while they shared time together doing things that normal kids do.
One of his closest friends, Peter Chu, a classmate at James Hubert Blake High School, said: "He was a good person. He always believe[d] in inner peace, which is why it was so shocking to believe that he was the shooter."
Chu wrote in a Facebook conversation with The Washington Post: "He never caused any trouble, that’s why this news is so shocking to me. He was just a really funny guy ... I really want to talk to him and ask him why, but he’s gone now. I want to ask him what his motive was."
A friend of the family, Ellis Cropper, told ABC News, "Darion was a good kid. I don't know what happened ... Darion is quiet, kept to himself. Nice, normal, calm demeanor."
Cropper told the Baltimore Sun: "The best I could explain Darion’s heart to you is: Darion is a vegan. He became a vegan last year or the year before after he saw a documentary on PBS and he saw how animals were slaughtered."
He was so compassionate that he couldn't bear to eat meat, but armed with a gun he shot and killed two people in what police still say was a random act of violence.
That is the unfathomable complexity that the mental health system was supposed to monitor to prevent mass shootings.
Aguilar's mother told ABC News: "I don't know what happened. I really don't. You can talk to any of his friends and see what a gentle person he is. He never had a gun before, never interested in guns. I don't know what happened. I just don't know what happened."
But according to Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon at a news conference Sunday night, investigators discovered a journal at the College Park home he shared with his mother, in which he wrote about his "general unhappiness" in life.
Aguilar's mother never read her son's writing nor was she aware of his inner struggles.
But those who must keep selling guns want the mental health system to stop him before pulling the trigger.
After blaming the mental health system, gun pushers will blame the police for failing to get to the scene in time to stop the killing.
But if friends and relatives had no warning of impending fatal violence what chance had the police of anticipating the incident so that they can be in the right place at the right time?
According to the Baltimore Sun, police still have no clue why he killed. They do not know "whether the incident was the result of a dispute between people who knew each or a random act of violence."
But they know he killed two innocent people, Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 24, then himself before they arrived.
Police may know everything about guns - how and why guns kill - but even police criminal experts don't enough about humans to predict incidents of mass shooting.
"It's the man, not the gun," argues. True. But in the circumstances in which we know the gun better than we will ever know the man, we would do better to get the gun away from the man, rather than the man from the gun.
It's easy to figure out guns, but much more difficult to figure out humans. That is why the solution which rests on a main pillar of "improved mental health system" rather than "gun control" is nothing but the hypocritical prescription of those who want to keep selling guns, and more guns.
We are being unfair, setting an impossible task, when we force Glenn Beck's silly dictum on those who have to stop gun violence from happening.
Police would do a better job guarding public safety watching the gun whose mechanisms they understand rather the man whose subjective processes they do not understand.
If the problem of a lasting solution to mass shootings appears a Rubik’s cube puzzle, its only due to a lack of will to shake free of the hypnotic control of the marketing propaganda of the merchants of death who want to keep pushing guns on people so they can keep laughing all the way to their banks.