It’s still fresh, people are still weeping, and the number of lives lost is still being counted at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. So far, 20 children have been killed plus 6 teachers by a gunman, Adam Lanza, 20 years old. It’s been reported that he first shot his mother at their home before the shootings at the school. The gunman is also dead, apparently by suicide.
Parents around the country are weeping, including President Obama, and my Facebook newsfeed is filled with post after post of people offering prayers and calling on divine help, people calling for stricter gun control laws, and pleas for expanding access to mental health diagnosis and treatment. To those who say that it’s “too soon” to talk about gun laws and how to stop the violence, I say that’s horseshit. We had damn well better talk about it and talk about it right NOW because as I saw someone comment on Facebook earlier this afternoon, talking about after it happens is actually too damn LATE.
This is happening AGAIN after already happening just two weeks ago when Jovan Belcher, a football player with the Kansas City Chiefs, murdered his girlfriend and the mother of his 3 month old child, Kassandra Perkins and then committed suicide in front of his coaches the night before a game. This is happening again after a mall shooting in Portland, Oregon earlier this week. This is happening again after Aurora, CO’s mass shooting in a movie theater, after a school shooting in northeast Ohio, after a mass shootings on college campuses at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, after Gabby Giffords nearly lost her life and several others did when Jared Sullinger pulled a gun and open fired at a rally in Tucson, AZ. How many more times must this happen AGAIN before we as a nation are willing to mourn AND then ACT to STOP this from happening AGAIN?
What’s happening in CT right now is the result of complex, intertwined issues including gun access, mental health access, and masculinity. This piece by Ezra Klein is nuanced and highly balanced and addresses some of the complexities of tackling gun access.
I do not understand people whose response to this tragedy is to go out and get a gun license so they can have their gun. That is only likely to lead to more lives being lost and injuries being reported. Everybody walking around with guns is not going to make me feel safer. I also don’t understand the responses that insist that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” No really, Sherlock? People make decisions to take another’s life. Yes, we know that. We don’t have to make it possible for those people to actually implement those decisions. Today, there was also a “homicidal maniac” (which is how I’ve heard Adam Lanza referred to several times today) who went to a school in China’s Henan Province. He was wielding a knife and while two dozen children were stabbed in this equally horrific tragedy, no one has died from those wounds because the villager had a knife and not a gun like Adam Lanza did in CT (who used guns licensed to his mother apparently it is now being reported). I also do not understand the invocation of the 2nd Amendment in this argument. We no longer have the need for an armed militia, so there is no need for citizens to have personal guns to join in defense of the country. But it’s entirely too late to take people’s guns away, but it isn’t too late to STOP the manufacture, sell, and possession of automatic weapons. I live in a part of the country where hunting is a sport. Fine. You like to hunt, go right ahead, but you will never convince me that you need an automatic weapon to take down a deer, a bird, or any other animal that you intend to kill, eat, and mount its head on your wall.
A word about mental health access. There’s not a person who’s spoken out about any of the tragedies I’ve mentioned above, including today’s in CT, that has not questioned the mental stability and mental health of the gunman in question. I don’t disagree with those questions. I can’t conceive of anyone in their right mind thinking it’s okay and justifiable to kill innocent people, especially children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old as today’s child victims were. And yet, the FACTS are that people who do live with mental illness are more likely to be the VICTIMS of violent crime, not the perpetrators of it – read this article be s.e. smith. As smith writes here, “The false linkage between violence and mental illness is damaging and stigmatizing for mentally ill people, in addition to being incorrect.” This writer is absolutely right when ze says that such responses serve to just distance us “normal” people from “those lunatics” who kill people. We can’t insulate ourselves by targeting another population who themselves are vulnerable.
However, as Smith also acknowledges, we do have a mental health crisis in thsi country. And, I would add, that something isn’t right in one’s mind when violence is seen as the only feasible response to anger, pain, or frustration. That would put our whole country on a watch for mental illness given our unchecked militarism. Back to individual mental illness, I also know how difficult it is to diagnose and treat mental illness of the type that leads to this kind of psychotic break. Schizophrenia, sociopathic personalities, and other forms of psychopathology usually begin in childhood and require that parents and teachers recognize disturbed behavior and refer the child for treatment. Most of these people don’t end up committing mass shootings however, as s.e. smith points out.
In order for that to happen the child has to do something extreme and I have doubts that we would effectively identify people with true mental illness. After all, we have a history in this country of assigning mental illness based on race, not based on actual behavior. Racial minorities are overrepresented in correctional facilities, special education, and mental health facilities despite actually being underrepresented in the reports of those committing mass shootings. And yet, we must increase access to FREE mental health services and reduce the stigma attached to seeking help for mental health challenges.
Finally, a word about masculinity. It really cannot be ignored that the overwhelming majority of mass killers are men. Why is this? Writing about a week after James Holmes murdering rampage in an Aurora, CO movie theater, Lizzie Crocker discusses the socialization of men as central to understanding why it is that mass shooters are almost always men. The code of masculinity, as discussed by one of her sources, which socializes boys to reject any show of emotion as weakness, leads adults – including health care professionals – to ignore or misinterpret abnormal behavior in boys and young men. We must redefine masculinity in ways that do not include such platitudes as “boys don’t cry,” “don’t be a sissy,” and “be a man” as an exhortation to not admit fear, sadness, or weakness. Otherwise, violence becomes the only acceptable solution to one’s problem. Further, because men are socialized as boys to externalize their pain, instead of internalize it as girls are socialized to do (which leads to its own mental health and self-care challenges by the way), they will inevitably put others at risk of harm or death, as they seek to work out their own pain and trauma through the only means left to them to do so and be seen as “real” men – violence.
All three areas need to be addressed. Tighter gun laws without addressing mental health and masculinity will not prevent this from happening AGAIN. But developing a holistic, intersectional approach just might.
Praying, writing, acting for the victims, all of them.
The shooter’s name is actually Adam Lanza, 20. His brother, Ryan, 24, has been taken in for questioning. I’ve also corrected some other factual details about the shooting as information is being released.
I have added more on the stigmatizing effect of immediately attaching mental illness as a root cause of mass shootings.