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Newtown a Year Later: 12/14/12 - 12/14/13

Violence is not inevitable.

The one year anniversary of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut is a time for quiet reflection and heartfelt compassion. For those of us in Connecticut who know, or have come to know, families in that community, there are no simple words to ease their pain and no easy answers. This is a time for all of us to step back and feel empathy for their loss, admiration for their courage, and hope for their lives moving forward.

The trauma they have suffered is unimaginable and can't be fully known for anyone but the families and community members themselves. Yet, we all need to find a way to understand what has happened. We need to find ways to do more than just feel sympathetic sorrow and resign ourselves to an endless repetition of flare-ups of deadly violence in schools and communities. Not just the shootings that occur unexpectedly, but those that are an every day event in too many schools and communities that have become war zones. Too often invisible to the rest of the world, too many children and families are trapped in apparently endless cycles of violence and loss.

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Although there is nothing sane about perpetrating heinous violence, blaming mental illness or those who struggle with depression, psychosis, or other forms of serious psychological problems is not the answer. Better funding for better services to prevent and treat mental illness is a moral, social, and economic priority in its own right that should not be entangled with the crisis of violence and trauma.

We may not be able to understand the causes or find the perfect remedy that will eradicate all violence. And, we must be careful not to get lost in the illusory search for a way to absolutely guarantee that we'll never be that victim and we'll never have to suffer an incomprehensible loss. Especially if that leads to blaming those who struggle with their own inner demons, instead of taking responsibility for our own challenges and those that face our communities.

Nor will it do any good for the children who have been killed or the families, schools, and communities that have been traumatized, to blame people who own guns or deprive them of the freedom to make that choice.

But we can't afford to fall into another trap by denying the fact that guns are intrinsically dangerous. They are not just potentially or incidentally dangerous like the cars that end up in so many serious accidents each day; guns are designed to destroy.

Even when the most diligent precautions are taken, that destructive potential has led to countless accidental—and tragically, intentional—deaths and traumas. Those tragedies might still have happened if there was no gun, but it is well established that the presence of guns dramatically escalates the potential lethality and harm caused by both accidental and intentional violence.

This is made crystal clear in a message released on 12/14/13 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, renewing the call to protect children from gun violence where they live, learn and play. The AAP website also provides a link to a 3-minute video produced by the AAP summarizing the evidence that "gun violence is a public health threat to children," urging the public to engage with parents, communities and legislators to make our country safer.

As a mother whose daughter was killed in Newtown said in a poignant interview on the eve of the anniversary, we can't always choose what happens to us or our loved ones, but we can choose our response.

We value our children's lives and their sacred opportunity to grow up and pursue a fulfilling life. We value the freedom to choose how to protect ourselves and our families. Can we find ways to make every community safer without demonizing anyone in the process?

Julian Ford, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.


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