It's no surprise that there's a boat load of knee-jerk reactions to the weekend's tragedy in Crandon where a rookie off-duty sheriff's deputy shot and killed six people before losing his own.
As people try to grapple with major tragedies it's not uncommon for knee-jerk reactions to pop up out of the woods like mosquitoes after a monsoon and those reactions are just about as useful.
For example, we're hearing bellyaching about why a 20-year-old is a sheriff's deputy carrying a gun.
On the surface it seems like a good question but, in reality, it's flawed out of the box.
First, from 34 years of law enforcement experience, I have known a few younger cops. Generally speaking they tend to be extremely intelligent and highly motivated young people with wisdom a bit beyond their years. If they didn't have something extra chances are they wouldn't be hired over older applicants.
That's not to say that there aren't occasional issues with immaturity but that occurs even with older officers. I knew two good officers in their 40's who commited suicide for stupid reasons. I've also seen others commit crimes and otherwise disgrace their office and none were anywhere near 20 years of age,
Moreover, we recruit and heavily arm 17-and-18-year-olds to fight in Iraq and elsewhere. Nobody has been scurrying to say that we ought to stop recruiting young men and women for military service nor has the military reported any unusual spike in lawlessness among younger troops.
Then there's the question about why this young deputy wasn't given a psychological examination as part of the hiring process.
At first blush it, too, seems like a good question but at the end of the day it's another red herring dreamed up by people with nothing better to do but look for scapegoats and phantom explanations.
There's no guarantee that a psychological exam will prevent a tragedy as such exams are of questionable reliability.
The Milwaukee Police Department has psychological screening as part of its hiring process. Did that prevent Frank Jude from getting the you-know-what beat out of him by a gang of rogue cops?
You can fill in the blanks with the names of officers involved in other acts of violence or perverse misconduct.
While many unfit officers fell through the cracks many more highly qualified and ethical officers never had to visit with a shrink before donning a badge and uniform.
Many of the finest officers ever came out of the post-war era -- solid, responsible people with a deep sense of community. None of them ever had psychological evaluations.
True, a psychological examination might have discovered that Tyler Peterson was too immature to be a cop but odds are that it wouldn't have. This isn't to say that we ought to abandon this screening but merely to illustrate its dubious value.
History is full of otherwise responsible people who suddenly flip out and do heinous things.
The problem is that whenever we have an event of magnitude there's almost always a rush to come up with $70,000 answers that may be no better than the 70 cent one at hand. It's the nature of the beast.
It's like standing on Elm Street in downtown Dallas in front of the Texas School Book Depository. The enormous tragedy of President Kennedy's assassination is quickly reduced to size when you realize that (1) Elm Street, unlike parade routes such as Michigan Avenue in Chicago or New York's Fifth Avenue, is a fairly narrow thoroughfare; (2) the school book depository building is very close to the corner with a direct bead down on where the motorcade was passing; (3) under those condititions the real question is how any marksman could have missed at that range. But for the conspiracy theory addicts among us the most plausible explanations will never be sufficient. They'll want the $70,000 answer -- right or wrong.