Stemming the Violence in America: Moving Beyond the Gun

 

  Last week it was Bob Costas on his sports show quoting a sports writer on guns in America referencing Javon Belcher who shot and killed his girlfriend then himself; this week the debate rages on as we talk about a shooting in an Oregon Mall killing 3 and the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementaryin Newtown Connecticut where a gunman forced his way into the school killing 20 children and 6 adults with at least 3 guns. Almost immediately the discussion turned to gun control and getting serious about gun laws being the only way to stop such scenes along with trying to understand why a person would want to shoot up a room, rooms full of kindergarten and first grade kids, the paragon of innocence. But in the wake of so many mass shootings over the years there are several things told to the public by experts, devastated community members and mindsets held by fellow citizens that just no longer hold water anymore. From arguments over size of clips, to assault rifles, to blaming it on a so called culture of violence including TV, video games and movies, to believing adding more gun laws will stop the carnage. Interestingly enough when a Midwest man was killed with a machete, when a transient person went after people with a knife, pencil and chainsaw in that order, or when a man attempted to chew another man’s face off the top 2 questions, were these persons high or were they mentally ill? Someone uses a gun to commit a crime and it becomes all about the gun from what type, was it legally purchased, to why do ordinary citizens need 100 round magazines, military style assault weapons, almost to the exclusion of all other factors including those that disprove widely held theories on why it happens and what should be done about it.  

First and foremost what doesn’t add up is the continued claim by experts that they cannot build an accurate profile of a mass shooter and are even sketchier on predicting which individuals exhibiting certain behaviors will do something like this and which ones won’t. That was the stance as late as last year courtesy of a panel of professionals in mental health and law enforcement who spoke on the Dr. Phil show after the Arizona shooting perpetrated by Jared Loughner. Neither do these dubious distinctions between types of mass shooters actually line up with their true characteristics; shooters being placed into two groups according to analysts, the psychotic, methodical planner having no plan to kill themselves once the deed is done and the impulsive mass shooter dictated by an overflow of emotions who is aware enough to know their lives are over once they do this, killing themselves or putting themselves in the line of fire to be killed by police. However on both counts they are wrong; time and time again signs were there. People noticed rambling thoughts, lack of sleep, violent writings; they had a history of scaring students and staff at their colleges. Their deteriorating mental state was clearly visible for anyone who interacted with them to see, indicating they were candidates for a standard 72 hour psych hold, had they been subjected to said hold severe mental health disturbance al-a threat to self or others would have been noted and they would have been remanded for additional testing, the subsequent mental illness diagnosed, treated without the headlines meaning loss of life. Further Seung Cho, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and now Adam Lanza, the shooter in this latest horrific massacre, were all at the prime age to experience a first psychotic break with schizophrenia, yet not one of the counselors who dealt with these individuals thought to have them tested for it. All except the very last name either on the radar of school counseling services, seeing a mental health professional or ordered to undergo psychological evaluations before committing their heinous crimes. James Holmes’ psychiatrist was so concerned about his behaviors she spoke with the school’s threat assessment team. Over and over again interviewing people who knew the perpetrators of these mass murders, school shooting or otherwise, they talked about what they planned to do but people thought they were joking, just blowing off steam or some similar excuse; repeatedly they leave behind detailed, methodical writings, ranting manifestos, videos clearly showcasing elaborate planning, as one expert said, even if it does look like just snapped behavior, blowing apart this concept impulsivity, easy access to guns is the crux of how people manage to pull off these killing sprees. Even the ones than appear to be more impulsive, you find the mentioning of it to people in their lives, the Oklahoma mall shooter left something more along the lines of a suicide note, Adam Lanza’s computer was reportedly damaged, so just because investigators don’t find a manifesto doesn’t mean they are a different mentality of shooter, there was less planning involved.  Meaning, long story short, extending waiting periods, making it harder to get a gun will not curb their “impulse,” plan to do this, only possibly delay it.

Next what doesn’t compute and is frankly an insult to the collective American intelligence, emotional wherewithal are these devastated community members repeatedly announcing to cameras they don’t understand how such a thing could happen, yet in the next breath or news segment here is someone, many times that same person, describing the alleged shooter as a child, adolescent detailing odd behavior, suspected mental problems, family dysfunction, extreme parental restriction, possible abuse, isolation. And several people in the neighborhood knew; multiple neighbors thought Jared Loughner could be a serial killer. People describing him as a young man said they saw a kid who wanted to come out and play but couldn’t; characterizing Loughner senior, Jared’s father, he went from unfriendly to completely anti-social going so far as to building a concrete wall around their home. One of the mass shooters so large in our headlines came to school drunk after a fight with his father extremely upset; police spoke with him, but either child services was not notified or found nothing significant enough to warrant action, such as removal from the home. Seung Cho was a slightly different case having had emotional problems throughout childhood suffering from severe anxiety and selective mutism receiving counseling and special education services until he was a junior in high school; however, no one was present to make sure he transitioned well into college life or had knowledge of his prior mental health history making them more alert to the possibility of problems. Newtown, Connecticut, where the latest tragedy happened, is a tight-knit small town where everybody knew everybody else’s business and you can bet they knew exactly what was going on in that house. Unfortunately for little Adam then the nation now, it went one of 2 ways; oh that’s Mrs. Lanza, she does this, this and this for the community nothing could be wrong. Or, oh those are the Lanza’s they’ve always been a bit odd; people shrug their shoulders and go back to whatever they’re doing. When Adam’s parents split community reaction probably fell into 2 categories oh poor Nancy having to raise that boy all alone; conversely the more negative scenario, poor Mr. Lanza having to deal with his wife, no wonder he left. Whatever attempts to intervene in the strangeness that was their life were perhaps halfhearted, at the very least, unsuccessful. Effectively sealing the eventual fate of young people like Jared and Adam are small towns typically holding backward views on mental health, not having extensive services available to aid young people with things like Asperger’s syndrome, autism the former condition Adam may or may not have had.     

Still people there, the ones not directly affected by the tragedy, people across the nation have the audacity to wonder why he shot up the school, rooms full 5-6 year old kids; hours after this happened experts speculated his target centered around his mother and her work at the school as a teachers aid, substitute teacher, depending on which report you view, read. Regardless of her job title according to investigations she had problems relating to students and didn’t appear to feel physical or emotional pain; speculations state she may have had Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, herself. Now imagine your Adam growing up in a home with a mother who is cold, aloof, abusive, demanding, unfeeling whatever adjectives accurately portray happenings in that household; then suddenly school isn’t even a sanctuary anymore because mommy’s there. He’s 5-6 years old suffering whatever treatment his mother subjected him to, that was, at minimum, detrimental to him looking up at all the adults in his life and no one is helping him, wondering why, watching people tolerate his mother, watching his mother make an effort with other children, an effort to connect, interact she probably didn’t make with him. He likely did this because that day he’s 5-6 years old again remembering how no one helped him and finally is big enough in body to empower himself; he went after the school kids because they represent his negative feelings toward his mother, seeing as she was found shot multiple times in the home where they both lived, time of death before the shootings at the school transpired. No there is no correlation between Asperger’s syndrome and violence, but it does show just how much a negative home life can exacerbate existing conditions. Likewise only a small fraction of the mentally ill commit violence but cases like Jared Loughner’s underscore how traumatic, abusive and/or negative environments can drastically increase their chances of doing so. Yes much of what lies in the preceding two paragraphs regarding community and family dynamics is conjecture, but it is conjecture based on the facts, attitudes, opinions, belief systems of those connected with past cases, former communities who have experienced mirroring tragedies.       

Here’s what we do know for sure, here are the concrete, undisputed facts surrounding top types of violence in America today; every mass shooter has some kind of severe, diagnosable mental illness at the time they committed the act whether you’re talking true schizophrenia or multiple disorders causing delusions, another type of thought disorder. Every middle school, high school kid who brought a gun to school and shot multiple classmates, vs. trying to settle a grudge or retaliating over a specific event, was either bullied at school, having problems at home or both. And every k-though 5 case of a child bringing a gun to school was the product of a neglectful, morally depraved household where there were also drugs, parental indifference, a parade of men in and out, a place child services should have intervened in anyway; oh and there just happened to be a gun around as well. Or, it was negligent gun safety on the part of an unaware, unsuspecting parent who allowed their child to see where the gun was kept, didn’t adequately secure the gun, so the child brings it to school thinking it’s a toy, showing it off thinking it’s cool. Gun goes off, it hits the news, people start talking gun control. Lastly in the little kids bringing guns to school category are the ones who brought it to defend themselves against a bully, who wanted to scare their tormentor away. Here’s what we do know; much of the blood bath in city streets is gang related. Here’s what we do know domestic situations that turn volatile are a result of domestic violence, which has its own set of causes, triggers and relatedly has its own prevention strategies. Removing the gun is no more than a Band-Aid on the larger problem of men who can’t or won’t express themselves without getting physical.

Here are the solutions we do understand; we don’t need more gun legislation, we don’t need licensing for parents, we need child services to do its job protecting kids from harmful environments no matter what form they take, we need the communities to step up if you see something in a young child’s life that seems odd, say something, if you see something off in a child’s life do something. We don’t even need more mental health legislation and regulation; we need to start by using what we have. Why weren’t police called about the erratic behavior of Jared Loughner, James Holmes when they dropped out of school; why weren’t they picked up, held on a basic 72 psych hold further actions pending the results of evaluation. Why were the findings of Seung Cho’s court ordered psych evaluation not acted upon? What stops bullying; one school took a radical approach of identifying bullies and working toward solving their problems, rewarding former trouble makers good behavior with extracurricular activities and it worked. In addition to assigning seats at lunch and taking a proactive stance of getting involved in everything going on at school, in student’s lives, using this approach they transformed their school, a model for all others nationwide in handling bullying effectively. What stops gang activity, policing and police presence. Instead cities, states are gutting their police forces, long term urban blight areas are places where police refuse to go and enforce the most basic law, leading to an urban wild, Wild West filled with mayhem and innocent victims caught in the crossfire. What stops youth from joining gangs, positive, particularly male, role models; it’s why we have things like big brothers big sisters, youth mentoring programs across the country.  

Common gun sense sounds great, isn’t even that hard to get through Washington considering what’s happened; no, you shouldn’t be able to get a gun if you have a criminal record, if you are on a terror watch list, someone has taken out an order of protection against you. Yes you should be subject to a background check for any gun you buy, even those bought from a private seller, all things we could make mandatory on a national scale, and no, you don’t need a hundred round clip, an assault rifle to go hunting, the average person doesn’t need SWAT gear, a bullet proof vest; sadly we are still missing the forest for the trees. Analysts point out Columbine, the school shooting that remains ingrained in us all, made everyone rethink school shootings, happened in the middle of the assault weapons ban, strongly suggesting another law, another ban isn’t going to cut it. To say nothing of it’s absolutely ludicrous to talk about the difference between semi-automatic and automatic weapons, no matter how large or small the magazine, no matter the style of gun when that difference hinges on the removal of a pin, knowledge anyone can get off the internet. It is complete foolishness to think any weapons ban is a worthwhile preventive considering a number of these shooters, including Adam Lanza, didn’t buy the weapons themselves; in this case he took them from the home where he lived, said guns registered to his mother, Nancy. Incredibly shortsighted and naive is this idea making certain guns illegal is going to matter to people delusional enough to want to do something like this in the first place missing the reality that, if they can’t get it by legal means, they won’t hesitate to resort to illegal ones, or worse the internet, where no matter how many countries got together to ban the sale of weapons online, it’s still next to impossible to regulate. Beyond that, where the real solutions are; we have to ask ourselves, should we ever think about the total removal of citizen owned fire arms, if we want to live in a society where the Molotov cocktail, the IED (improvised explosive device) aren’t things seen in movies, straight off the streets of some war torn middle eastern country, but items used to replace the gun in drive by crimes on rival gang members, competition drug dealers or someone a violent person has a problem with, items used to replace the gun in domestic disputes. We have to decide if we want more women showing up in burn units suffering untold agony before eventual death, little kids in the wrong place at the wrong time dealing with more lifelong scars in burns, disfigurement, amputation, because we said no more guns, or do we want to get serious about solving the core problem? Unfortunately we may not have to wait for guns to become completely illegal to see those terrible results; whispers of the phenomenon are already occurring. The Columbine shooters also had a number of explosives that didn’t go off; James Holmes’ apartment was rigged and filled with untold amounts and types of explosives. Much of this stuff you can purchase at your local hardware store, not a large enough quantity, there’s always the internet.


 Here are the solutions we need moving forward, beginning with recognizing what the problems are not, halting the rhetoric on violent TV, movies, videogames, the mindset all guns are bad, ignoring the pop psychology saying preventing this is incased in teaching your children resilience, personal responsibility, proselytizing the benefits of volunteering and connecting to people. You know it’s telling in the video above 4th and 5th grade kids know it’s not about the gun, the game, the TV show, and when asked if playing a violent game makes them want to do those things they responded with a vehement no, piggybacking a comment to one of many news segments stating people who see the things in video games and want to go out and do them cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality meaning they are not of stable mind, video games that, by the way,  on average are marketed to 18-35 year olds not the 18 and under crowd like so many seem to believe. Even these young kids understand the benefit of knowing why… pointing to the first real, true solution in this being mental health. 1- No longer letting the mental health community off the hook; they can create a profile of mass shooters, they can point to the devolving mental states and advise schools, the public, if you see this, get the person seen by a mental health professional, remitted to a 72 hour psych hold. They just need to do it and stop leading us on. 2. Mandatory implementation of a national hotline like the one that should have been used in Arizona to stop Jared Loughner; call a number, recommend an individual for psychological evaluation and someone will investigate the validity of your claim, by speaking with the person and remitting them to local mental health for evaluation. Reporting hotlines have already stopped a number of school threats to date since their inception; they could do the same in stopping the deranged if only they were there. 3. Extend mandatory reporting for all entities required to report to include potentially dangerous individuals suddenly roaming communities; had that been in place James Holmes and Jared Loughner’s schools would have been legally obligated to notify law enforcement, both would have been picked up and remitted to mental health. Their obvious issues would have meant they were remanded indefinitely for testing; however someone who was not a treat to self or others, not exhibiting profile behaviors of mass shooters would be let go to resume their lives.

After putting the mental health backstops where they always should have been, recognizing we do have a culture of violence that is not embodied by video games, television, movies or music, not by gun enthusiasts, the redneck set personified in Deliverance, but by a nation that thinks correcting kids means spanking, hitting them to teach them good behavior, that being a man isn’t about being a person of strong moral character, exhibiting strong mental, emotional fortitude, but rather about physicality, how much muscle mass I have, how much I can literally throw my weight around, how well I can threaten, intimidate people into doing what I want by my physical presence. We need to come to grips with the sad truth we are anesthetized to violence daily but the source isn’t Halo, Call of Duty, American History X, the latest episode of Sons of Anarchy or CSI; it is instead the violence we see, our children see in their own neighborhood, their own home, their own school, we view on the news reporting what is going on in our country, our world, sources we can’t escape from unless we stick our head in the sand and pretend the world doesn’t exist. We do have a culture of violence in America of which video games, movies and music are only a reflection; it is a culture of violence perpetuated by the cycle of abuse deranged, psychotic, mean people who raised children who went out and either became just like them or take out their pain and anger out on the rest of the world. We do live in a culture of violence often triggered by the stress of trying to make ends meet, receive basic health-care, housing, food; we live in a bureaucracy that prides itself on making simple things difficult, applying for licenses, filling out proper paperwork for business, anything related to trying to be a good citizen and play by the rules, applying for social services, yet are somehow flabbergasted when someone tries to cut through the insanity with a weapon. We do live in a culture of violence when we have to defend ourselves mentally, emotionally psychologically from what’s happening in our world, never mind when we, at minimum feel, we have to actually defend ourselves from whatever violence we may encounter every time we step out our front door. These are the origins of the culture of violence; these are the social issues we need to address, not just who can get a gun, how much ammo they can buy, how big a clip they can buy or where and how they can buy it. But that remains all we’re talking about.                             

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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