Saturday, December 15, 2012

Coming to Terms with the Unacceptable

When I heard about the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, my gut reaction was disbelief and tears. I am a mother, after all. So, in a universal sense, those children were my children, too. My husband, on the other hand, reacted in an entirely different fashion. He became very angry. He wanted to find the parties at fault and punish them. But who would that be?

The carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School was heinous, but since Columbine in 1999, I have seen too many mass shootings in the news to believe that any simple fix will put an end to them. Even before the smoke clears, the news media begins finger pointing. And the scenario always seems to go like this: Senseless tragedy, news reports featuring the killer like a celebrity, political pontification, days or weeks of analysis including a scorecard of number of people killed in past shootings versus the current one, and finally,  human interest stories that follow up on the courage of survivors or lament lives cut short.

I don’t mean to trivialize this terrible event. We all are going through a group grieving process. And we follow these rituals to come to terms with what has happened. What I do disagree with is the na├»ve notion that any one piece of new legislation or mental health band-aid will put an end to this type of bloodshed.

It seems to me that someone who murders groups of innocent people is already profoundly deranged. Maybe they were born that way; maybe circumstances pushed them over the edge. It surely differs from one instance to another. So, why can’t we stop these madmen? Because of one simple fact—no one can ever truly know what is going on in the mind of another human being.

Should we ban assault weapons? Makes sense since they are not used for hunting. Would be a good start. But even in countries where people have no access to guns, mass killings take place. In China, there have been a series of grammar school massacres by disgruntled, knife-wielding perpetrators. Will more access to mental health support solve the problem? Perhaps.  Although many psychotropic drugs dispensed by psychiatrists have side effects that can trigger aggressive behavior and suicide. And if someone is psychotic, can any amount of care truly help them or must we just learn to identify them and remove them from society? Is it deficient parenting? We all try our best, but with the loss of the extended family and the necessity of two parents in the workplace, parenting is more of a challenge than ever.

We live in a pressure-cooker society with long work hours, negativity-drenched media, a lack of community safety nets and a hunger for simple kindness on an everyday basis. None of this can be fixed by the federal or state government.

Only on an individual basis can we begin to change our world. That may include turning off vitriolic news commentators, building stronger relationships with family and neighbors, and reassessing how we treat ourselves as a part of the global environment. Everything we think, say and do shapes the world in which we live. Granted, individual behavior shifts are also unlikely to deter all potential killers, but they represent a first step at creating a world that is less likely to incubate them. And in the meantime, it could make life more pleasant for the rest of us.


  1. Guns kill people; when people can't get guns they have to do it the old fashioned way, with their hands. It slower and a bit less effective. Allowing anyone to own a semi-automatic weapon that can only be used against people (no one hunts with one of those) is asking for more of these parties to happen. Now I don't particularly like large parties, do you?

    1. I completely agree that assault weapons should be banned. My point is, that even if we do that, we cannot expect it to solve this problem. It is more complex than that.

  2. PS: This post is not one of my best. I was just so disturbed by this tragedy that I needed to write for therapy.

  3. Ban all assault weapons would be a good start. In addition, annual mental health assessments should be mandatory - in our schools, work places, whatever. If anyone has a social security number, mental health assessments could be tracked. Funny that we bend over backwards to ban smoking in public places... wish we could ban more than that.