C.R. writes:

It has taken everyone I know a while to talk through the unbearable tragedy at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut.

In the past, we’ve blogged (and also read) about several recent terrible attacks, such as the murders at the Sikh Temple, the Batman Killings, and the Fort Hood Massacre, where army officer and psychiatrist, Nidal Hassan gunned down 13 of his fellow soldiers and wounded 29 others.

Today, I’m sharing some of my personal thoughts, for what they’re worth. In the face of such a wide range of needless death and heartbreak I’m not sure I have anything new to say, but I do have a burning desire to say it.

(Richard will be back on Therapy Soup, soon).

America and Violence

Tons of babbling about American culture being full of violence. Well, I have to agree. Certainly our movies and video games are disgusting (violence isn’t the only problem with them). As is television. Which is why we don’t own one.

It seems many of our cities and towns and local cultures are full of violence, too.

Detroit is a mess; the most dangerous city in the nation. Just a couple of weeks ago a man was charged with murdering four women and stuffing them into a car trunk, though the cause of death (and murder method) is still unknown.

Chicago’s youths are killing each other at an astounding rate; there have been over 430 murders in 2012 alone (despite gun control laws which are applauded for being the strictest in the nation). One boy begged for his life as another shot him. 430 human beings were killed! 430!

Just a few weeks ago, a man named Naeem Davis pushed another man, Kim Suk Han, an innocent husband and father, for no apparent reason, into the path of a subway train. I was travelling on the subway at that time and was delayed, along with thousands of other New Yorkers who had no idea that the delay was due to murder.

But murder, mass murder, and even attacks on school children are not just a product of United States.

The Rest of the World and Violence

It’s important to note that since 2010 that have been seven mass knife, cleaver, and hammer attacks at schools in China, most recently, December 14th where 22 schoolchildren lost ears and fingers.

There have been well over 100,000 murders (mostly related to drug crime) in the past six years in Mexico.

Andre Breivik who killed 77 people with a series of bombs and shootings in Norway last year, recently complained about conditions in his jail cell.

And mass murder literally occurs daily in war-torn areas of the African continent, where child soldiers’ lives are devoted to torturing and killing the enemy, whether the enemy is 5 years old or 50.

What about the thousands of people, hundreds of whom were children, who were massacred by their own government in Syria just this past summer?

Remember Chechnya? 2007? Over 1000 people were taken hostage at the Beslan school (777 of them were children). 380 were murdered. Five years later, and I still remember the photos of the grieving parents, the anguish in their eyes.

And the shocking, brutal, knife-slashing murders of the Fogel family in their home, including their 3 month daughter, happened nearly a year ago in Israel.

I don’t think there is a single country without its share of serious violence, violence which can take many forms.

For example, India is perceived as peace-loving, yet anyone who’s seen the millions of people who are born, live (and starve), and die in the gutters of Mumbai or Calcutta while yuppies drive by, will agree that not doing something in the face of such suffering is supporting a kind of murder (passively, and perhaps unconsciously).

And lovely, tropical Thailand, where terrorism has made Buddhist teachers, doctors, and ordinary people  fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones, so much so that they feel compelled to carry guns for self-defense.

It seems there are very few Mother Theresa wanna-bes in the world and plenty of haters who want to harm others.

Mental Illness

The apparent mental illness Adam Lanza suffered from is a factor that is being media-tested in tentative sound-bytes by emboldened politicians (actually since I’ve written that line, there has been more open discussion). But you can’t lock people up on the suspicion that they might commit murder.

There are assessments that therapists do to determine if someone is a possible danger to himself and others, but you’ve got to get the person to the therapist first. It does seem that Lanza’s mother had been trying to get her son help.

But not Naeem Davis, who was said he was high on drugs and hearing voices when he pushed Mr. Han to his death.

The vast majority of those with mental illness do not commit murder, obviously.  But when it comes to murder, what is mental illness? Nidal Hassan’s motive was religious, but was he mentally ill? Do the gang members who are wiping themselves out in Chicago, at the rate of over one person per day have a kind of mental illness? Are personality disorders, sociopathy, and a love of blood and gore mental illnesses? Is hatred a kind of mental illness?

Is this discussed in the new DSM-5?

Hot Air?

PsychCentral blogger Erica Loberg makes an excellent point in her post, Gun Control vs. Mental Illness. Recommended reading.

So, will a national “conversation” about mental illness really change anything, or will it just be more hot air? Will overly cautious professionals or those who fear being sued (more likely) recommend inpatient treatment for people who simply do not need it?

There are many, many laws on the books regarding mental illness, but are they enforced? Are they even enforceable?

What about gun laws? We have many federal (and tons of local) ones. That is great news right? Only problem, many are not being enforced. Justice Department records show that in 2011, for example, that weapons charges are down to the lowest level since 2001.

Did you know that over 40,000 new laws in general went into effect in 2012? There are so many laws there’s a good chance you’re violating several of them without even knowing it. Laws, in my humble opinion, are NOT THE ANSWER.

And it seems to be that most gun violence occurs from illicit guns.

I am not a fan of guns, violence, etc. I do not own a gun and wouldn’t want to (I don’t even like loud noises, even popping balloons).

My religion proscribes hunting and shooting animals, even for food (though I have nothing against any of you who do).

But the fact that many more thousands of Americans are murdered each year by those who possess guns illegally often gets overlooked when a shooting occurs. Remember Chicago, with the strictest gun control laws in the country?

You know, in Thailand as well as Israel, because the threat of attacks (usually by knife or grenade, not guns, in Israel) teachers and others who’s job description includes protecting the vulnerable are allowed to carry firearms. Okay, I do not think teachers in America should carry guns. But what about armed guards at schools? Does that sound scary?

I was thinking about how we accept that pilots are armed and that there are armed personnel at airports. After all, some pretty terrifying attacks and hijackings have been on planes. So, I was wondering if there was a parallel. Then I got to thinking that if someone wants to harm people they’ll find a way, gun or no gun. Think box-cutters and airplanes, not a gun to be found on the 9-11 terrorists.

Then I found this article about a Police Chief in St. Louis who says “If there’s somebody that’s really hellbent on doing something like this, they’re not going to care what the law is.”

Conclusions, Anyone?

I have no real conclusions. I just am wary of a few things:

1. The obvious problems with predictive psychology. Mental health professionals, despite good, but not perfect, screening and assessment tools, are not fortune tellers. Will they be more prone to hospitalize patients who do not need it?

2. Will there be a backlash against those who are mentally ill? Will more mentally ill people be assumed to be violent? And what about Adam Lanza? From all accounts, he was actually treated well by his classmates (of course, no one knows all the facts yet) and kindly by his teachers.

3. Blaming America for being more violent than other cultures is just not fair. But we must take seriously the constant exposure children and adults have to violent video games, television shows, and movies. Why do we believe that six hours in a classroom influences a child, but six hours playing video games or watching movies, doesn’t?

Why is no one talking about this? Is there a sensible kind of censorship? Can limits be put on how violent movies are allowed to be? I’m not even talking age limits, just gratuitous violence.

4. Not respecting the rights of people to own guns to hunt and to protect themselves. Yes, the Lanza guns were legally owned by Adam Lanza’s mother. But many more gun murders are caused by criminals firing illicit guns.

5. Not taking care of the homeless mentally ill (or drug addicted). It’s all very well and good for those with families to urge their families to intervene. But as a New Yorker, I am not the only one who has noticed an increase in the number of homeless, mentally ill people living in the streets in the past six or seven years.

The same day Naeem Davis pushed Mr. Han to his death on the subway, I had a medical appointment in Manhattan. I decided to walk a bit, enjoying the sites of the Union Square Farmer’s Market and maybe buy some apples.

There were literally dozens of homeless people sitting or leaning against buildings surrounding the square. In the square park, I saw a few drug deals go down; you couldn’t miss it.

Many of the homeless were obviously seriously mentally ill and/or high on drugs. They needed help. Why were police not helping them find shelter? Why were they not in treatment?

Why was Naeem Davis even allowed into the subway when he was obviously high? Reports say he was staggering around.

6. Finally, all the above pales in comparison in the light of the loss of the lives of innocent children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut and the recent Batman shooting. And the funerals go on and on and our hearts break for their parents, family members, and communities.

UPDATE: Just learned about one Connecticut boy’s efforts to make violent video games a thing of the past. Therapy Soup salutes Max Goldstein’s “Played Out” program.