Preventing More Massacres?

We pray that all the victims of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre will find solace for their grief and strength to deal with their losses.

In the aftermath of that atrocity, there is the inevitable talk of increased enforcement of gun control laws. (Even NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg recognizes that we don’t need more laws.) Most people recognize that the strongest enforcement would not prevent criminals and terrorists, etc. from obtaining guns. And, of course, this atrocity was perpetrated not by a criminal (he had no criminal record) or a terrorist in the sense that we normally use that term. He is a troubled individual. Insane? Maybe. Sick? Probably. 

More interesting to me are comments by certified psychologists and psychiatrists that we need to become more alert to people who show signs of psychological distress and to get them help before they act out in destructive ways. They urge us to look for changes in behavior, uncharacteristic signs of alienation, verbal threats, and the like. The people most likely to recognize such changes are family members and co-workers. In the United States, unfortunately, there has been considerable disintegration of the family. Young men, those most likely to commit such assaults, may have been raised in negative environments and/or are at an age when they have left the family and are living as newly independent adults. Co-workers and other acquaintances, moreover, may be be too distracted by daily responsibilities to pay attention to behavioral changes in others.

Setting is important in this regard. The population of Aurora is about 332,354, a good sized town within the larger Denver metropolitan area. It’s an area like so many where a person can become “invisible,” an anonymous person about whom relative strangers assume no responsibility. How, then, can we forestall such destructive actions? We can’t all live in villages where aberrant behavior stands out like a pineapple in a cabbage patch. Villages, in fact, are disappearing as more and more people move into cities where greater economic and social opportunities seem to exist. Even the UN through its Agenda 21 advocates that more people live in cities claiming that doing so would make life on earth more “sustainable.”  

What we can do wherever we live is to pay closer attention to our family members, coworkers, and neighbors. Maintain direct communication with them. As we say about terrorism, “if you see something, say something.” Compare notes with others who are in a position to observe changes in behavior. Learn what mental health professionals consider “red flags.” Keeping in perspective the fact that, from tim to time, we all express transient dissatisfactions without being a threat to others, intervene where you have genuine concerns, and do not automatically leave it to “someone else.”

ADDENDUM: After I wrote the above, it was reported that the accused shooter in the movie theater massacre was being treated by a psychiatrist. It appears that my advice, while still relevant, may have made dealing with this problem seem easier than it actually is.

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