Sunday, December 16, 2012

Radical Policy Change Must Happen to End Mass Shootings

May we all take a moment to send metta to all those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones and friends in Newtown, CT. Our intention does matter; but our efforts matter more to make radical change happen in the minds and hearts of all Americans. This blog is centered on what must change now.

Another “very smart, withdrawn, quiet, nice kid" with no criminal record and a possible history of learning or behavioral issues, has snapped and done the unthinkable. This time however, the weapons were not procured illegally or secretly. They belonged to his mother, a gun-enthusiast and his first target. This quiet young man killed his mother at home, then took her guns—a semiautomatic .223-caliber rifle and two handguns—and made his way to the elementary school wearing black fatigues and a military vest. He used his mother’s guns to force his way into the school. "He penetrated the building by literally shooting an entrance into the building. That's what an assault weapon can do for you," said Connecticut Governor Malloy.

This tragedy is not about school safety. It is about untreated mental illness and inexcusable warped parental values about the necessity of owning a weapon that has one purpose: to kill en masse. How does a 20 year old with no military training know how to shoot his way into a building? I would venture a guess that along with his mother’s love for guns and her probable tutoring him in how to shoot a semiautomatic weapon, Adam probably also spent many of his hours in isolation playing violent military-type video games. I can’t help but think of what his mother would have thought if some other young man had done this while she was in that school? Would she have run home and sold her semi or would she have continued to think it is not guns that kill masses of people?

Even though he was clearly very mentally disturbed, as far as we know this young man had no history of prior mental health treatment. Did his mother know nothing about his capability to harm others? Was she blind to how imminently disturbed he was? His father (who lives in a town nearby) “is at a loss for an explanation”. How can a father miss the pain of a child who was apparently withdrawn and isolated for years? As a mental health professional, I view Adam Lanza as the first victim of this tragedy. From all reports it seems as though he had been suffering for what sounds like a very long time. Where was the community in all of this? It is possible that no peer, or neighbor noticed something terribly wrong was brewing in this young man? Are we truly that disconnected and disinterested in each other? How many communities in America suffer a similar lack of communal caring?

This is yet another case of untreated or poorly treated mental illness fueled by continuing familial/societal stigma and a mental health care system that is underfunded and full of inequities. We should all shudder to think how many more young men deeply suffering in their own minds, living isolated lives with no mental health treatment, spend their days with hours of violent “target practice” courtesy of the video gaming industry. They are the casualties of a diseased culture, infected by violence and disconnectedness, lacking wisdom and compassion. That sickness is best illustrated through comments made this morning on CNN by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, “Every school should have at least one person with a gun at all times to make the school safer.” Guns do not belong around children. Thankfully that man no longer has any authority in our government. But he is emblematic of why we need radical change  in this country regarding ready access to semiautomatic weapons and limited access to good mental health treatment. It is time we got our priorities straight. Health and well-being for all citizens is the only way to ensure freedom for all beings everywhere.

No comments: