monstrous actsWe teach children not to fear monsters.  “Look,” we say, “I’ll show you there’s no one hiding in your closet or under your bed.”  But as adults, after collectively witnessing something like the Sandy Hook tragedy, we might find that we believe in monsters, too.

Here’s the problem with that: Some people do commit monstrous acts.  But if we simply dismiss people as monsters, we might miss the opportunity to give them treatment.  We might miss a chance at prevention.

On my ride to work today, I had the misfortune to hear the executive director of the NRA speaking out in response to the tragedy.  He led with talk about the monsters that walk among us, and how nothing can stop them.  Nothing, that is, except for more violence.  “The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun,” he said, “is a good man with a gun.”

The source of the trouble, in his view, is the glamorization of violence through video games and movies, and the media that makes celebrities out of killers, and most importantly, fails to look deeply at an issue and instead vilifies the gun.  “When,” he asked, “did the word ‘gun’ automatically become a bad word?”

Now, the speech has been widely criticized by folks on the left and the  right.  Even some NRA members are outraged.  The leadership of the NRA has an agenda: They want us to put more armed guards in the schools and who, by coincidence, happens to have the best training programs for armed guards? Why, that’s the NRA!

But while the speech seemed extreme, a recent poll found that a majority of Americans said they’re in favor of armed guards in schools.  And I wonder if that’s in part because of all the talk about monsters.  The director of the NRA is deflecting because he doesn’t want us to look at the number of rounds a monster is able to fire every second without having to reload.  But there are a lot of people who think of Adam Lanza and those like him as monsters, and in a sense, they are.  But in another sense, they’re human beings who’ve lost their way, and as a society, we shouldn’t abdicate our responsibility to help them find it.

In a previous post, I talked about how critical it is that children who are displaying aggression receive outreach and mental health services ASAP.  That means putting money towards long-term prevention of violence, instead of just thinking of short-term solutions like armed guards in schools.

And for adults with a propensity toward violence–many of whom failed to be caught in the safety net as children–there need to be services as well. There’s a shortage of psychiatrists in this country.  It often takes weeks to get an appointment (even longer during the holiday season) and that’s with health insurance or the ability to pay.  What about those who can’t afford treatment?  Or who can’t afford to wait to get it?  There are significant problems in the accessibility of mental health services for those who need it, and that can put all of us at risk.

My hope is that when the horror of this situation dies down, we won’t only talk about monsters.  We’ll talk about the people who might be on the path to committing monstrous acts, and how we can intervene much sooner.  And that intervention shouldn’t be by good guys with guns, but by people with mental health training.

Eye looking through a wall photo available from Shutterstock