Shame On Us For Mass Shootings

Why I hope we continue to be in mourning over the Newtown school shooting.

Posted Dec 20, 2012

It is difficult for me to write this particular post, because even as I begin to, it brings tears to my eyes. That children would go to school one morning and never return home. Not because of a bus delay, or because afterschool activities ran late. Because someone open-fired on a classroom. I haven’t actually watched a single television news coverage of this atrocity. I have no patience for the overdone emotions of the newscasters as they dramatize a deeply devastating occurrence. And the truth is, I don’t really care for the details. I don’t care who the shooter was, what his motivates may have been, how he executed the mass murder. I don’t care for the speculation of whether or not he was mentally ill or socially isolated or had poor parenting.

I heard through my friends’ Facebook newsfeeds that our president cried at a press conference. But to be honest, this is also of little value to me. I was in the third grade when President Clinton took office. There was a local radio show that asked kids to read letters they’d written for the president on-air. They would mail the letters to him afterward. I recall congratulating him, wishing him luck, and asking him to “please make guns illegal.” Even then, as a young child, I understood something very simple—the danger they posed. A teacher who died trying to save her students in Newtown, Connecticut was my current age.

There has been much finger pointing and diffusion of blame in this whole situation. Gun advocates say, “guns don’t kill people, people do.” They blame mental illness. But aggression and frustration can come out in any number of ways from vandalism to self-harm and suicide attempts. There are mentally ill individuals across the globe, and they don’t go on shooting rampages. Nicholas Kristof wrote a beautiful piece on international statics regarding gun control found here. In truth without accessibility to weaponry, how else is it possible to wipe out large quantities of the human race? Bow and arrow, spears, flaming torches, none of them come close to doing the damage that guns can.

For those who look critically at mental health services, I would argue, yes, keep looking at us critically. And please someone ask for better access, funding, and higher prioritization. Those of us who have chosen the profession have gone into it realizing the limitations of our work more due to administrative powers that be than our own training.

Mental health facilities, counseling centers, and hospitals routinely under-fund and under-prioritize mental health services. Having worked at 2 elite private universities with enormous endowments, I can tell you firsthand that the money is more likely to go to athletics, engineering, neuroscience, and the business school than it is the university counseling center. If students don’t have the right insurance, they may not even get access to complete services at all. I know too well the frustration of needing to refer a student for outside care and asking what their insurance is. Should they say, “Kaiser,” the first thought in my head is, “and we’re completely screwed.”

However, even with the best mental health care possible, it still doesn’t mean we eliminate the risk for shooting rampages to occur again. Shootings occur within a very specific social context. Filmmakers and video game makers may try to avoid blame, but they are also part of the larger problem. On the rare occasion when I see an action film, I’m often stunned by the level of violence and gore. But even more so, I’m stunned that no one else in the audience is having a similar uneasy reaction. They watch a head blow-up and take a sip of their Coke, while I’m busy suppressing my gag reflex. Since when has such a level of intense violence become so normalized? Violent video games do us one even better. They put an actual gun in our hands so we can get the full effect. Sure, it’s only plastic, and isn’t “real” but we also use virtual reality simulators to treat severe phobias. So clearly, it isn’t that far removed from reality as we delude ourselves into believing.

For the next few weeks, I am sure the blame will continue to be cast about. We will hear from the shooter’s kindergarten teacher I’m sure and his cousin twice removed. “Experts” will try to come up with a profile of what a “typical” shooter is like. Police and law enforcement personnel will tell us how to evacuate a building in the event of another shooting. But none of this gets at what matters. If we get caught in the blame game, nothing will change.

The truth is, I hope our nation continues to be in mourning. I hope the devastation lingers and that in the 1-year anniversary vigils that will be held, we can say it was the last shooting in a year. And one day, it will be the last shooting of our history. It is truly shameful that this is what it takes to shake us to the core. That Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Colorado theatre shooting were not enough of a wake-up call. It took losing our children for it to matter. So President Obama, it’s coming up on 20 years since my letter was supposed to have reached the White House. Perhaps it never made its way over, or is buried in a box labeled, “miscellany.” But maybe you’ll think about somehow granting at least part of my request?

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