Reading Between the (Head)Lines

A different take on today's top stories

Another Mass Murder

Don't cry for gun control. Look at common denominators of recent mass murders.

I’m travelling in China for a week, and it was with shock and sadness that I just learned about the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. Twenty children and seven adults lost their lives in this tragedy. The deceased children ranged between the ages of 5 to 10. 

Facts are coming out by the minute. Adam Lanza, 20, has been identified as the shooter. With no prior criminal record, he initially killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, shooting her in the face within her residence, then drove her car to the school with her two pistols, and a .223 caliber rifle. He had his older brother's ID on him when he killed himself, causing some confusion

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Already, lawmakers are clamoring for stricter gun control to solve the problem. Representative Nita Lowey, D-NY, was quoted as saying "Our expressions of sympathy must be matched with concrete actions to stop gun violence." New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for an end to this madness, stressing the need for "immediate action". While His co-chair in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Boston mayor Thomas Menino, echoed him. "Now is the time for a national policy on guns that takes the loopholes out of the laws.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “We as a society must unify and once and for all crack down on the guns that have cost the lives of far too many innocent Americans.” 

It sickens me that in this time of tragedy when we should be mourning the victims and comforting our children, the gun control advocates are using this to further a political agenda. 

So the question is, if we get rid of the guns, do we really get rid of the senseless violence? Consider this: In today's “South China Morning Post”, a newspaper that covers the area in and surrounding Hong Kong, they report a tragedy that seems to represent a trend of attacks against children in the region. The headline reads, “Knifeman Injures 23 in Henan School Attack”. The number of deaths were not yet confirmed at this writing.

The paper goes on to report several recent and similar attacks in the region. In 2010, eight children were killed and five were injured by a knife wielding assailant outside a primary school. In the two months following, eight students were killed and fifty seven were injured in four similar (perhaps copy-cat) knife attacks and two months ago three children were killed and thirteen injured by a man swinging a machete in a daycare center. China has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Perhaps they also need to ban knives?

The simple fact is that there is indeed a common denominator here and it’s not the weapon. Rather, it’s the perpetrator AND their mental illness. The China news service reports that yesterday’s attacker was “suffering from a mental disorder” and in the Connecticut case there's talk that the elder Lanza questioned on Facebook his brother's mental capabilities. I am virtually certain that just like Jared Loughner in Arizona and James Holmes in Colorado, Adam Lanza was suffering from a serious psychiatric condition.

When a psychotic individual decides to kill, taking away access to guns will simply lead to a knife, or explosives, a club or a car as his weapon of choice. We must open our eyes and recognize that severe, psychotic mental illness is a common thread among mass murderers. Most psychotic individuals are not violent, so the task is to identify those that are. Until we put our focus on treating the underlying condition, these tradgedies will continue to occur.

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.

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