December 15, 2012

About the Connecticut school shootings

A lot will be said about the recent tragedy in Connecticut. Most of it will be an expression of grief and bewilderment. Much of the commentary will be thoughtful and heartfelt. Some of it will be positioned, consciously or not, to advance an agenda. Intertwined with all of it will be observations from people whom we respect, but who are making statements that are passionate, stupid, and wrong. That’s who we are, and that’s how we have to live together.
Let me add just a couple of quick thoughts based on early and likely to be inaccurate information.

  • It appears that the guns used in this shooting were purchased and owned legally by the assailant’s mother (now dead by those same guns). Gun control legislation of a type that would pass muster under the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Second Amendment probably wouldn’t have prevented these guns from being used in these crimes.
    There may be reasons for considering stronger gun control laws, but this case doesn’t appear to be one of them.
  • Much will be said about identifying people with mental illness in an effort to prevent future shootings. Our predictive powers regarding the behavior of anyone, mentally ill or otherwise, are nil. We have statistics that will show that a certain percentage of people who exhibit certain behaviors or who have been treated for certain conditions are likely to cause problems. There is, however, zero chance that we can then say with certainty that any specific individual matching that profile will offend.
    Two members of my extended family have done time in jail as the result of their mental illnesses, one for what he did and the other for what he said and that others feared he might do.
    • The one who did the crime did so as a complete surprise to all of us.
    • The one who said the wrong thing to the wrong person as the wrong time only learned how not to say those things to anyone, including a therapist, again.  Anyone who has been committed to a hospital under a Massachusetts Section 12 knows the magic words not to say. As a result, the person’s illness goes underground even further.

    Even as we discuss identification of people likely to offend, we make it more difficult to get the kinds of sustained mental health and family services that might give us a chance to heal what is badly broken.  A person who kills his mother and her kindergarten class isn’t going to be made whole by a Prozac presecription. 

There’s no question that gun violence and mental illness are causing grave problems in our society. There’s also no question that there are some things we can do to make things better. I keep thinking, though, about our invasion of Iraq. The Septemeber 11 attacks deserved a forceful response to confront terrorists in this world. That we chose, under the guise of responsing to 9/11, to invade and occupy Iraq squandered left us neglibly safer at a enormous cost of lives, money, and good will. 
I hope that we’re better than that this time around.