How can we sleep?

lanzaby Patrick Vecchio

I watched President Obama’s emotional remarks Friday in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. I was glad I had a box of tissues nearby. I suspect millions of us have had the same reaction.

A story line that surfaced yesterday and will linger for weeks is the inevitable question of motive. What could have prompted such evil acts? The question, though, seeks a rational answer for irrational deeds. No answer will ever be found. The same question is asked about people who commit suicide. The question goes unanswered then, too.

While we’ll never be able to point to a single instance that leads to horrific decisions like the one the gunman made yesterday, we can realistically put these instances into a broader context — mental health. People with mental health problems are among our nation’s most seriously under-served population. Take a look around the place you live and count the agencies serving people with mental illnesses. You’ll be able to count them on one hand and have fingers left over. Ask people who work there about the burgeoning need for mental health services. Ask them about financial trends; I don’t think you’ll find any of the agencies have more money at their disposal than they had five years ago. You’ll find staffing levels have dropped. In short, you’ll find fewer resources. How can mental health professionals hope to help ticking human time bombs if they don’t have the resources to find them and provide them the care they need?

The same is true of schools. How many students does each guidance counselor serve now, as opposed to five or ten years ago? There’s a hugely important related point here: Ask counselors how much of their time is spent dealing with students who are angry to a degree that is beyond comprehension for those of us who don’t see it? The home lives for many children are the exact opposite of the word “nurturing.” Taking care of these children has fallen on the school districts for the same reason that schools now serve breakfast to students — because they’re not getting it at home. Think of what this does to children’s self-esteem. As my wife, a retired elementary school principal, used to repeatedly say, “For many of our students, school is the best part of their day.”

Could mass shootings by people who are barely adults, age-wise, be averted by providing much more comprehensive mental health services in schools, by working with students steeped in anger to subdue their rage and their growing sense that their lives are valueless? I don’t think we’ll ever know. For one, continuing government funding cuts to education show just how valuable education is to our society. We should individually and collectively shame our elected officials for not fighting like alley cats to reverse this trend. We should shout at them to provide money to give our kids the care and nurturing that my generation received in school. Maybe now these things will happen. Maybe now there is cause for hope.

This is the only area where headway can be made. The National Rifle Association will once again trot out its well-worn arguments, some of which I agree with: for instance, the truth that only law-abiding citizens will comply with new government restrictions on firearms. There are, though, gun-control ideas worth discussing: for example, should people be held more accountable for crimes committed with their legally obtained weapons? Should people be held more accountable if their legally obtained but unsecured firearms are used during the commission of crimes? However, the NRA’s unwillingness to even consider whether people really need military-grade automatic weapons for self-protection or hunting signals that this organization isn’t going to come up with constructive ideas for mitigating the firearms avalanche.

And so, unless we as a nation are willing to recognize the need for a massive investment in services for people with mental health problems, slaughters like the one in Sandy Hook will emerge from the headlines with chilling frequency.

Sandy Hook vs. Chengping: two school attacks in stark contrast

At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 27 people – 20 of them kindergarteners – are dead at the hands of a gunman armed with a Glock and a Sig Sauer.

Meanwhile, a madman ran amok in a school in Henan province, China today, as well.

A knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China as students were arriving for classes Friday, police said, the latest in a series of periodic rampage attacks at Chinese schools and kindergartens.

The attack in the Henan province village of Chengping happened shortly before 8 a.m., said a police officer from Guangshan county, where the village is located.

A doctor at Guangshan’s hospital of traditional Chinese medicine said that seven students had been admitted, but that none were seriously injured.

In one you find words like “guns” and “killed.” In the other, these words are replaced with “knife” and “injured.”


Sandy Hook: Enough with the flashbacks already

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that there was a school shooting by an adult assailant at a Connecticut elementary earlier today. Reports are still in flux, but at the moment it looks like an entire kindergarten class was likely murdered. As the parent of a first and third grader who are thousands of miles away, I’m still sitting here typing this with my guts tied into knots.

There will probably come a point when I can talk rationally again about gun control. But today I’m having flashbacks to the first time I understood that guns were created to kill people – March 30, 1981, when President Reagan was nearly assassinated and I was just eight, the same age as my daughter is today.

I’m also having flashbacks to April 20, 1999, when I heard about the Columbine massacre. And I’m flashing back to April 16, 2007 when 32 college students were murdered at Virginia Tech, and the following summer when I mentored an intern at work who had lived through both Columbine and VaTech.

I’m also remembering July 20, 2012, when 12 moviegoers were murdered by a man wearing body armor and wielding four different weapons. And it probably doesn’t help that a community less than five miles from mine recently went through the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of a 10-year-old girl named Jessica Ridgeway. Not gun related, but still mentally jarring given the girl was kidnapped on her way to her elementary school.

As I said, there will come a point when I can talk rationally about gun laws again. But now is not that time, and I may scream if I hear any of my co-workers talking about how “guns don’t kill people, people do” today. Today those dead people include little kids.

And I’ve just about had enough of the fucking flashbacks.

Image Credit: Chicago Tribune

Chardon, Ohio: from victim to perpetrator in five rounds

by Anonymous

The situation is Chardon is all too familiar: a bullied outcast with a troubled home life snaps. If TJ Lane had broken in the usual manner, he might have committed suicide. But TJ snapped differently and took a gun to his tormenters. In an instant, any sympathy for his situation is gone and he’s just a thug, maybe a psycho, and the words “Columbine,” “Goth,” and “Dark Side” start getting thrown around.

Bullying has always been a fact of life in the US–now it’s commercialized and glorified as entertainment. A lot of people turn in to American Idol and other reality shows not for the great performances, but for the truly dreadful ones and the cruelty that follows. The losers tuck their tails between their legs, cry for the camera and their supporters and go home to face down the humiliation.

That’s what the victims of bullying are supposed to do: suck it up.

But victims fall into three categories: the A Victims, those who put up with it until they can get away from it; the B Victims, those who break and turn on themselves; and the C Victims, those who go all Carrie on the world. Continue reading

Review: Columbine by Dave Cullen


ColumbineIt’s one of those days of American history that lives in infamy: April 20, 1999, the day Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in suburban Denver, killing twelve students and a teacher, and inuring twenty-four others, before turning their guns on themselves.

Say “Columbine” today, and nearly anyone can tell you what it means. But as journalist Dave Cullen says in his new book on the tragedy, the real story of Columbine is only now starting to become clear. Media sensationalism, police cover-ups, scapegoating, and mythmaking have all distorted the story. Cullen’s Columbine, then, represents an important historical and journalistic effort to shed light on what really happened. Continue reading

The legacy of Columbine

textLike text messages often do, this one spread like wildfire. What it said, exactly, doesn’t matter, but it went something like this:

“He has a hit list posted on his website! School won’t be safe on Monday!”

Many parents were so busy forwarding and reforwarding the text— they were “aggressively promoting the rumors about this danger to our children,” one school official told me—that they apparently didn’t take the time to actually check the Web site.

Police did check it, though: No hit list. No threats. Nothing inappropriate.

So, when Monday came, nothing happened.

At least, nothing violent. Continue reading

School, mall and workplace shootings: Why so many? No, why so few?

The second in our “Cult of Crime” series
(Part 1: Foxy Knoxy and the case of the honorary Missing White Woman)


Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion
by Mark Ames
Soft Skull Press, 2005
360 pages, $15.95

In April 2007, when a Virginia Tech student killed 32, it was one of the worst ever, to coin a phrase, “social shootings.” Earlier, in February, five were killed in a Salt Lake mall and then, in December, nine in an Omaha mall.

Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion by Mark Ames was published by Soft Skull Press back in 2005. But the continued popularity of school, mall, and workplace shootings as a practical solution for troubled souls obligates us to revisit this essential work.

When social shootings first burst upon the scene, they seared the national psyche like a wildfire. Though since overshadowed by 9/11, Iraq, and Katrina, the regularity with which they flare up keeps them from slipping off our radar. Continue reading