Sunday Sorrow: What We Can Do

No songs today. Something broke this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born, and somehow I accepted them. Outrageous, horrible, tragic: can’t do anything about them in our gun-obsessed, health care-deprived, bullying, class-ridden society. Moving on, then.

Not this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born. I want them to stop before I die.

And I will need your help. We are going to have to start pushing hard together for a great many things.

We will need evidence-based solutions. Good studies of mass killers will need to be done; those studies will have to be conceived of, and funded, and read, and digested, and disseminated, and acted upon.

We know, already, that these mass killers have a tendency to use the kind of weapons you don’t keep around the house for shooting deer. We may not yet know how to keep them from hatching fantasies of killing, but we do know one way to mitigate their damage: get the guns out of their hands. We do indeed have the right to bear arms in this country. That right does not need to include assault rifles, semi-automatic handguns, and extra-large clips with armor piercing and/or hollowpoint ammunition. You want to shoot that shit off, you can do it at a gun club where your weapons are kept under lock and key and not allowed to leave the premises.

These fantasies about more guns being the answer need to stop. Watch this video:

You are a howling idiot if you believe you could do any better. The answer is not more guns. Period, full stop.

But controlling guns alone won’t fix the problem.

We need to combat bullying in schools. Kids need to learn to accept differences, learn it early, and have it reinforced often. So many people who have gone on to kill were outcast, bullied, denigrated, driven to despair – and even if it turns out that stopping bullying doesn’t stop the kind of social dislocation that causes people to murder one another, it will sure as fuck prevent a few suicides, and that is reason enough to do it.

We must push for better health care. If health care of all sorts were as cheap and easy to obtain as bullets, and had just as little stigma attached, more people would be able to get the help and support they need, physically, mentally and emotionally. They might walk in to the doctor’s office for help with that pit they’re edging up to, before they’ve gone down in it and think they can only shoot their way out of.

And as I say this, we need to absolutely ensure that we are not falling into the trap of blaming what these people do on being mentally ill, developmentally disabled, learning disabled, or any other bullshit reason people reach for in order to draw a nice thick line between regular ol’ us and homicidal, horrible them. Yes, absolutely, they are disturbed. You do not shoot up crowds of people if you are not disturbed. But the vast majority of us have one or more of those illnesses or disabilities that people try to pin the blame on. If any one of us found ourselves angry and suicidal enough to follow the blaze-of-glory script, people could whip a quirk out of our quirk bag and wave it around shrieking, “That’s it!” They were depressed, or schizo, or bipolar, or ADD, or autistic, or dyslexic, or had a small lesion, or hit their head as a kid, or… the list goes on, it is endless, and it means bugger-all. Stop fucking stigmatizing every mentally ill person in the country by saying only people with a mental illness can kill. This is not true and it doesn’t help anyone.

Here’s a helpful reminder:

“Predicting the Risk of Future Dangerousness”

Phillipps, Robert T.M. Virtual Mentor. June 2012, Volume 14, Number 6: 472-476.

Abstract: “A consequence if not a driving force of the pendulum swing away from benevolence and toward the protection of others has been increased attention to an individual’s dangerousness, with the operative presumption that dangerousness is often the result of a mental illness. But dangerousness is not always the result of mental illness. Individuals who commit violent or aggressive acts often do so for reasons unrelated to mental illness…. Research, in fact, confirms the error in associating dangerousness with mental illness, showing that “the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses [8]. The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is still very small and…only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill” [4]. Violence is not a diagnosis nor is it a disease [9]. Potential to do harm is not a symptom or a sign of mental illness, rather it must be the central consideration when assessing future dangerousness.” [emphasis added]

Does mental illness need to be destigmatized, diagnosed, and treated? Absolutely. Are some killers mentally ill? Sure. But just like we know a few assault weapons bans won’t resolve the problem, we know – or should know – that we can’t blame mental illness for every asshole who walks into a crowded place and opens fire.

We must identify factors that can trigger violence, and put in place safety nets to keep people from falling too far. There are things we can do for those who have lost jobs, loved ones, suffered other triggering events that, combined with other factors, could help put them in a situation where violence seems like the best and only answer for them.

But we must also stop glorifying killers. We must stop treating them like rock stars. No matter the horror we express about what they’ve done, we allow them fame because they killed, and we must find a way to educate ourselves about them and their actions without giving them that fame.

We will have to work to change a culture where little boys are taught to glorify violence and turn their aggression outward while holding their pain in until they burst, while little girls are taught to harm themselves first of all. We need better definitions of action and heroism. We need to change certain aspects of our culture that are doing more harm than good.

We must address poverty, and economic disparity, and work to reduce the differences between the haves and have-nots. We need to make this country that much more just.

Those who still believe must realize that bringing prayer into schools will solve nothing. What use is a God who will let 20 kindergartners and first graders die because people didn’t praise it enough? God will always have an excuse to do nothing: wrong kind of prayer, not enough worship, whatever excuse believers can come up with to excuse its absence.

And we all must be relentless. Call and write your Congresspeople. Contact your governor; rattle the cages of your state representatives.

Sign petitions. You may think they’re useless, but they are voices, and enough voices raised to a shout might get heard.

Here is one on Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress. And, for good measure: Today IS the day: Sponsor strict gun control laws in the wake of the CT school massacre. Also, since you’re already there and because so much violence starts in the home: Change Domestic Violence Awareness month form October to May so that it can rise from the shadows of Breast Cancer.

Avaaz would like us to Tell the NRA: ENOUGH! I couldn’t agree more.

SignOn has this excellent petition: Newtown, today we tell our leaders “No more!”

Done signing petitions and writing to politicians? Want to do more than howl? Donate to Newtown Youth and Family Services. They have set up a fund for the Sandy Hook victims, and are providing desperately needed mental health services in the wake of this travesty.

Donate to the Red Cross, which responds in disasters like these, too.

And remember.


And use your anger and pain for building a better world.

Sunday Sorrow: What We Can Do

11 thoughts on “Sunday Sorrow: What We Can Do

  1. 3

    This is devastating, I hope the US grows out of its juvenile fascination with death toys. Just had a double murder and attempted suicide today in Australia, two kids of one and nine years left behind. The nine year old girl reported the bodies of her mum and partner. We also have more work to do.

  2. rq

    I think I’ve spent this whole weekend on the verge of tears, and this article is bringing that out again.
    I would like to believe that all this advice doesn’t apply to me, to my family, to my country… But it does, it most emphatically does, because while the US might be a leader in such spree killings, it is by no means the only country where bullying is commonplace, where preventable suicides occur, where mental illness is stigmatized to the point of ostracism, where religion strives to do more harm than good, where human rights are displaced by government desires to profit and gain monetarily for its representatives and preferred businesses…
    We are all part of the global community, and these words and advice and recommendations and necessary actions apply to us all, to make a better world for everyone, everywhere, all the time.
    Never forget. Always remember. That, I believe, is key, because it is so easy to bury it all in a flood of media analysis, with time, distance and disconnectedness. But these occurrences must be remembered in order for society to believe there is a reason for moving forwards. Otherwise the next reminder will come, and the next, and the next, and I simply cannot believe that humanity’s collective memory is really that short.

    Thanks for this article.

  3. rq

    PS I bookmarked that article for which to pelt people with next time someone says mentally ill people are more violent. Thanks; would have been useful yesterday when I got into a discussion about it, but better late than never!!!

  4. 6

    Many years ago I was an infantryman in Vietnam. It was well known among us soldiers that most people in a fire-fight either freeze or shoot literally aimlessly, often posing more of a threat to their buddies than to the enemy. These are trained soldiers who are expecting the enemy to appear at any time.

    Many people have the fantasy they’d be Rambo in a fire-fight. In actuality, they’d be more likely to be Claude Clueless. I’m sure I would be because it’s been too many years since I handled weapons.

  5. 7

    The only gripe I have in the video is the notion that videogames make people want to fire guns… After they showed Grand Theft Auto in it…

    It… really isn’t the case. You may as well say that watching Rambo makes you want to fight against people who you think are evil but really aren’t…

    (Listen! Rambo fights Law Enforcement, the Vietnamese AFTER the Vietnam war, for the Mujahadeen and For American Baptists Missionaries in Eastern India/Burma… He either fights against the “good guys” or for people often considered as villains. American Baptists sponsored the Naga seccession movement which is a christian insurgency to create the baptists state of Nagaland. They are often equipped with perfectly legal guns purchased in the USA and sent to them. Considering Indian cops often use WW1 and 2 era rifles, a modern AR15 is a massive upgrade of firepower. For the politically savvy John Rambo is the equivalent of Michael Myers, Jason or Freddie Kruger)

    The american fetishisation of guns doesn’t come from games but from the people who flog guns with the notion that there is a tonne of crime, if you possess a gun you are safe from crime and aren’t reliant on other people to keep you safe. Therefore crime is not a problem for YOU, merely for all those idiots who don’t have guns. If they all had guns they would be as safe as you…

  6. 8

    There is the concept of culturally acceptable ways of “going crazy”. It’s basically an extension of Wendigo Psychosis. To the native americans going crazy was equivalent to turning into the wendigo… So they did… I must be going nuts, so I shall crave human meat.

    In India and Japan it is the super flashy, super dramatic suicide. Japan has had to put up suicide barriers to stop people throwing themselves at train platforms… India’s suicide of choice is your sari if you are a woman or my “personal favourite” which is OPC consumption (because it will poison the people who try and help you too).

    I feel that running Amok (or going postal) is a very very Indonesian (the term is from there) and very American thing to do. It is death by cop. It is the current culturally acceptable way of going crazy. The put upon man ends his life in instants by the hands of others fighting. Bystanders are just as trapped as he is (Women aren’t affected by this strangely…) and so this is liberation or the bystanders are part of the problem.

    The psychology of this is very very weird since the practice is noted quite heavily in Post Offices and Schools.

    Between 1985 to 1995 there were roughly 1 of these per year. A mass shooting occurring at a post office to the point that running amok is not used in american parlance. The term “going postal” is. Despite accounting for 1% of workforce, 13% of workplace murder occurs involving the post office… But the overall homicide rate is low (You are less likely to be murdered there but more likely to be murdered by your peers…)

    It is being considered by a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists as the current cultural notion of going crazy. Running Amok isn’t new, running amok with guns however is.

  7. 9

    I have a co-worker who wants to buy a Glock now that Illinois lost its concealed-carry case. We’ve talked about how untrained people just aren’t Rambo, about that case in NY where two cops hit nine bystanders… to no avail. He still wants that Glock.

  8. 11

    I’m a public school teacher, and I have often wondered about how I would respond if the worst happened, and of course events like this make me revisit those thoughts. I hope that I would have the courage and presence of mind to respond as the heroes in Newtown did.

    The wingnuts are already saying that if the teachers/administrators had been armed they could have prevented this tragedy. The video that you linked puts the lie to that nonsense. I have enough to do already, without the added responsibility of training to be a police officer.

    I’m sure that it is just a matter of time before someone claims that this tragedy was orchestrated by the Obama administration in order to justify taking away our guns.

    Here in Michigan our Republican controlled legislature just passed (in lame-duck session) a bill that would allow concealed-carry in schools. I hope that our governor has the sense to veto it, especially in light of these events.

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