too many gunsI don’t think anyone could hear about the elementary school shooting without feeling shock and horror.  That’s the first response, and it’ll probably be the second and third and fourth as more information unfolds in the coming days.

But once that begins to subside, hopefully it won’t be replaced by despair, or worse, numbness.  I hope that it will be replaced by a collective sense of resolve.  Because we, as Americans, need to recognize that there are ways that our society is broken.  We need to think about how to begin to fix it.

This blog is about how to remain emotionally connected to ourselves and others.  Obviously, those who commit atrocities have lost the connection to their own humanity, as well as to their families, friends, and the larger community.  There is something inside them that wants to destroy what they no longer feel they can have or create.

Any explanation, I know, is necessarily reductionist.  Mass killings are senseless by their very nature.  There can be no rationale, no motive that is truly comprehensible.  Even if the murderers were to speak, the perspective would be limited.  How well can a person who kills others know themselves?

Often, the murderers never speak, because the shooter kills himself after killing others.  Which leads to more questions:  Why not suicide only, then?  Why the decision to take so many with them?

To be in such pain oneself as to want to cause that degree of pain for others–it’s almost unfathomable.  But as a society, we have to try to understand how it can be prevented, how those who are sick can obtain the right treatment.  There are other questions that need to be raised about the culture of violence and about gun control, but I’ll confine my thoughts to mental health.

We have to implement more early intervention programs for children who display troubling characteristics (torturing animals being a common one), as well as for their parents.  Kids who have not bonded properly with their parents are more likely to show antisocial behaviors, so facilitating attachment between parents and children through family therapy is crucial.  That means that detection (by teachers, social workers, etc.) of such children and their families is also key.

And then there need to be low-cost or free mental health services available in every school and community.  With the deficit, looming fiscal cliff, and fissures in our government, there have been many cuts made to mental health and social service programs, at a time when we, as a country, cannot afford them.  That means that we, as citizens, must make our views known.

We can’t merely look for short-term solutions like more police.  We need to think long-term about detection, prevention, and treatment.  To live in a country that’s safe, people who need help have to be able to access it.  That’s not just a private mental health issue, as the rash of mass shootings in schools and malls tells us.  It’s an issue for all of us.

Handgun photo available from Shutterstock