One week ago, a lone lunatic took the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Sadly -- yet, predictably -- before the crime scene was even secured by police, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took to his bully pulpit to issue another in his endless demands for more stringent gun control.
There is no question the Sandy Hook shooting is a tragedy of horrible dimensions. Nor is there any question the incident is another red flag that something is not right with the culture of our nation. Half of the 12 deadliest mass shootings in American history have occurred since 2007. Tragically, this isn’t likely to be the last -- especially if we allow ideologues wearing blinders to drive the national conversation about future prevention of these despicable acts.
We still have much to learn about the Sandy Hook shooter and the circumstances leading to the attack. However, we do know one thing: this shooting, like so many others before it, was the act of a deranged individual who, for reasons unclear or unknown, “snapped.” We also learned this was a situation in which numerous danger signs were manifested; but were either ignored or dismissed.
"You had yourself a very scared young boy, who was very nervous around people he could trust or he refused to speak with," Richard Novia, the school district's head of security until 2008, told the Associated Press. Novia also indicated the shooter had extreme difficulties feeling emotional and physical pain, and often recoiled against walls when approached by others.
Connecticut has some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation. Sandy Hook Elementary School recently increased its security protocols. And, years of warning signs of mental health issues should have tipped parents or educators about the "ticking time-bomb" inside the shooter. Yet, this disturbed individual still managed to evade every single one of these "fail-safes" designed to prevent such tragedies from occurring.
Police have not yet identified a clear motive for the shooting, but from the reports that have been released thus far, it appears to be a so-called “Perfect Storm” of many different factors including:
· dysfunctional family life;
· missed behavioral clues;
· family ignorance on how to deal with the shooter’s personality disorders;
· low socialization skills;
· weak (or, non-existent) family and social ties to organizations such as churches, which contribute life values and skills that enable persons including adolescents and young men to resolve problems without resorting to violence;
· school bureaucracies that make it exceptionally difficult and risky to declare a person an imminent danger to himself and others; and
· insurance companies which in many respects have become the tail wagging the medical dog, and whose primary goal with patients exhibiting potentially violent mental problems is to get them out of the hospital or institution as quickly as possible.
In fact, guns are largely irrelevant in assessing what happened in this tragedy; as they are to the even more important task of taking steps to reduce the chances it will happen again. If we want to prevent future attempts, we must stop rushing to the easy scapegoat, which only addresses the “what” of mass shootings. Instead, we should focus on addressing the “why,” which will eventually help lead to answers on how to prevent future attacks.
Of course, this is not an easy task. It requires everybody, especially parents of at-risk youths, to make extremely hard decisions.
Liza Long, a single mother of four children, recently wrote about her heartbreaking struggle dealing with a special needs child who shows warning signs of future violence. “No one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail,” writes Long. “But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, ‘Something must be done.”
As Long writes, it is easy to talk about guns in the wake of a national tragedy. It is much more difficult to discuss the underlying causes, especially mental health issues, and social/cultural issues like divorce, video game violence, juvenile narcissism, and the diminishing role of religious/civic organizations in children’s lives.
However, this is the “meaningful action” we must take as a nation if we want to prevent another Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, or Columbine. This is the commitment we must make together. We need to leave politicians like Bloomberg, wearing their ideological blinders, to prattle among themselves; while the rest of us work to identify and help solve the underlying problems.