Posted by: JDM..... | December 14, 2012

Another view…..

How could somebody be that sick…..?

…and how can we let them become that way…..?

We are all tired of reading the headline “Multiple people have been killed in a shooting at _____, including the gunman.” I’m sure I’m just one among millions who are deeply troubled by seeing such stories, with the recent spike of incidents evoking disbelief, bursts of profanity, and head shaking in kind. Today’s tragedy in Connecticut is a case in point.

Even though I spent many years working in the field of behavioral health, including several years on a locked psychiatric unit, I don’t understand it. I don’t mean “academically”, I mean emotionally. How could any human being become so incredibly twisted and sick in the middle of the civilized world as to commit such acts without anybody noticing, without anybody intervening….perhaps without even having adequate tools with which to try?

The response is always the same. The shock and grief and anger transfer from one incident to the next, and little changes. Groups of citizens holding up posters demanding various forms and levels of gun control, countered by other groups of citizens holding up posters demanding protection of the right to bear arms. When all is said and done, the one thing that will most assuredly happen is that mental health services will continue to shrink or, at best, remain a low priority, and the subject will remain in the shadows of public awareness and understanding while guns remain the focal point. Guns are the tools, not the root of the problem.

To a large extent, this is human nature. Even in the best of times, there are issues people tend to avoid, to minimize, to demonize, to cloak in mystery and myth. The extremes of depravity and insanity are fathomable to at least some degree, but when the perpetrator is the kid next door instead of a Charles Manson, emotional and intellectual chaos ensues. It is an incongruity of the highest degree. We can’t put it together.

Those who must personally respond to such tragedies and put their communities back together are no less subject to the natural psychological defenses that work to blunt the forces of shock and tragedy for the rest of us. Extensive education and training, however, provide such people with the ability to temporarily separate from the horror, enabling them to function and rationally address the tasks at hand. We see our law enforcement, emergency medical, and military personnel, and others, do this every day, and yet, the following day, they are next door mowing the lawn or playing with the kids just like everyone else.

The public at large is generally not so prepared. Most do not have access to the kind of information and experiences that provide those few with more than the natural instincts and skills to deal with such things. Even with universal training and exposure, however, as with any other extraordinary skill or ability, most probably could not acquire those things that power the “professionals”. Yet, for us to generate any lasting response with the potential to effectively reduce the frequency and intensity of such incidents as took place today, it is what we must do.

The President spoke to the nation this afternoon about this latest occurrence, with nearly two dozen young children, plus seven adults, cut down by a young man who, for reasons unknown, had suffered some psychological break and passed beyond the limits of his ability to cope. The President, visibly shaken, vowed definitive action.


Unfortunately, the most probable response to this latest of a disturbing trend of such deadly and theatrical implosions, of course, will be a corresponding spike in rumblings for various sorts of gun control action and the equally predictable response to those demands by those who fear that their right to own and use firearms will by diminished or lost entirely at the hands of panicked and angry groups.

Instead of mechanically joining in the masses facing off for another re-run of the anti-gun control vs. pro gun control argument, like kids setting up for another game of dodge-ball, or like chromosomes in the process of mitosis, I looked at the story and sat back, shaking my head.

“What’s wrong with people?” I muttered, for lack of a more rational response.


I don’t have an answer, but I do have thoughts, and reactions, based on emotion, so instead of flailing about with supposed answers which I know I don’t have, I’d rather just explore the emotion-based reactions I know I do have.

One of my reactions is the sense that going out and killing random strangers and then killing oneself has to be one of the most cowardly and depraved acts a person could commit.

Another of my reactions is that attacking or eliminating gun ownership might make some people feel better, but it completely misses the fact that a tiny portion of the population is still being driven by life, current events, and their own bogie men to the point of lashing out with cowardice and depravity and “going out with a bang.” We habitually overlook that aspect, instead settling for our own version of “lashing out” by expressing our emotions with impotent revenge against the tools of the depraved rather than at the root depravity itself. What common threads do those who have been driven to that desperate point share?

In those cases where the shooter is taken into custody instead of to the morgue along with his or her victims, there is an invariable presence of mental health issues as a fundamental precipitant to the homicidal behavior. In those cases where the shooter commits suicide, subsequent analysis usually leads to the same conclusion. Yet, the focus remains, immovably, upon “the gun”, while the shooters disappear from the front pages and evening news broadcasts to quietly spend their lives in a forensic psychiatric institution or a prison. The public hears little or nothing about any efforts to develop alternate paths for the troubled to follow, only the same old rhetoric about getting rid of the guns.

Removing the guns will not remove the rage, despair, or psychosis behind the violence, it will only change the way it is expressed and carried out. Men have been killing each other for reasons ranging from rage and insanity to amusement since we could do little more than grunt and wield a stick or throw a rock.

There are truths in the perspectives of both traditional camps of extremity in this ongoing conundrum.

It is true that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but it is equally true that we are not the same people who dwelled here two or three hundred years ago or more. For that matter, here is not the same here that it was two or three hundred years ago or more. The population has increased nearly 8,000% since the first Census in 1790. The framework of our Constitution has remained intact, but we are a different people, in a different world, in just about every way from the world that existed when one carried a gun to church as a matter of course. Nevertheless, as a curious contrast to the continuous debate over the meaning of “the right to bear arms”, it is an incredibly small number of people who possess firearms that use them to engage in violence against another person.


I own firearms, although I haven’t used them in years. Like the vast majority of people who also own firearms, I’m highly unlikely to resort to such use of them, for a number of reasons, and it would anger me if laws were passed telling me I could no longer own them. It would also frighten me, not because I feel I need guns, because I don’t, but because I believe it would reveal a dangerous path being taken by our country.

Nobody can say with any sense of authority what would transpire if private gun ownership was to be prohibited, but it is safe to suggest that if there is no response, random acts of violence will continue.

Perhaps it is also unlikely that anyone could describe in detail what would transpire if mental health was taken out of hiding and we were to embark on a campaign of creating an environment of knowledge and understanding, but our experiences in other areas would suggest that more people would receive appropriate intervention and care before such events instead of after. It is also safe to suggest that if there is no response, random acts of violence will continue, with or without selected means with which to commit them.

The primary reason for the general lack of knowledge and understanding regarding mental health issues is the combination of a natural avoidance of mysterious and misunderstood subjects, and the primary justification for the dearth of adequate mental health resources is the lack of money. What a pathetic explanation that combination offers for the senseless deaths of innocent people.

One thing I sense strongly, however, is that prohibition of private gun ownership would not have the net effect those demanding it might envision. I think two things would happen. First of all, while many would comply and surrender their firearms, or whatever would be ordered, a great many would not. Civil disobedience is a powerful force. I remember the sixties quite well. There was fire in the streets of America, driven by anger and fear. According to FBI estimates, today there are more than 200 million privately-owned firearms in the US. Most who own guns, own more than one. If just one percent of the estimated 52 million households with guns refused to comply, which I would think is a conservative estimate, we could have more than half a million armed and angry people on the streets of America. Law enforcement and the military could be expected to respond accordingly, of course. The sixties would seem like a Sunday School picnic by comparison.

The second thing I sense is that, as in any similar circumstance around the world in history, rigid, authoritarian, and all-powerful government would ensue.

I don’t think this is “Chicken Little” talk. It is a concern founded in history, and Americans have been known to get ugly when pissed off.


I hope the leaders of our country will see the benefit of focusing on the root causes of this tragic and unnecessary trend of public random murder-suicides instead of just on the tools of their misbegotten actions. I hope the people will demand it.

And one thing I believe should be examined as well would be the extent to which the expanding role of government in American life in recent decades has affected the value and practice of self-regulation and diminishing altruism accompanied by an increasing tendency towards self-absorbed Narcissism as oppose to productive self-interest. Millions can live as independent members of a society, but chattels are not members of a society, they are its possessions, just as the descendant word “cattle” describes the possessions of those who raise them for purposes of their own. Increasing the level of government involvement in defining and prescribing the daily lives of those increasingly less independent individuals would be a move in the wrong direction.

Guns aren’t the problem. People are the problem. Sick people. And, THAT is something we can remedy together without destroying something in the process through continued division and misfocus.


~-~* * *~-~



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