Don't Blame Day Trading for Mark O. Barton

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Itís tempting, especially for a news media that fancies itself in the business of meaning, to identify causes for such events as the tragedy in Atlanta. The Dow drops 180 points on interest-rate fears; a crazed ex-day trader shoots down nine people at the offices where he used to play the markets. Make no mistake, day trading -Ė where MBAs and golf pros alike take their shot at riches with dozens of quick, in-and-out stock plays every day Ė- is a stressful business. An unexpected jolt in a stock price can instantly leave you thousands of dollars in the hole, and some day-trading firms make disaster even easier by leveraging their clients up many times what they bring to the table. "It depends on how much you let yourself get in over your head," says Justin Jones, a successful day trader in New York who estimates that 7 out of 10 of his peers lose money. "You start losing, and you try to make it all back with home-run plays," he says. "It can get pretty bad pretty quickly."

Reports are circulating that Barton took a $70,000 trading loss, and notes left by Barton in his home sound like Bartonís agonies might have partly financial. "I have come to hate this life, and I donít plan to live much longer," the note read, "once I kill those who greedily sought my destruction." But this is who Mark Barton was: The lone suspect in the 1993 bludgeoning of his then-wife (on whom Barton reportedly took out a $600,000 life insurance policy) and mother-in-law. A man who hammered to death his current estranged wife and children to "spare them" from living, who then sat in his apartment with their bodies while he planned his revenge on an office full of innocents he hadnít been near in three months (Barton quit day trading in April). Could the markets have driven Barton to it? Sure. Are day traders the next postal workers? Weíll see. But Mark O. Barton clearly had a deep, acid rot all his own.