Meaningful Action

I agree with President Obama that “meaningful action” should be taken in the aftermath of the murders in Connecticut to ensure that horrors like that don’t happen again. After considering it as carefully as I could, my tentative conclusion is that the only really meaningful actions must take place in our hearts rather than in the laws.

As Robert Leider points out in the Wall Street Journal, the factors that the mass murders of the last several years have in common are guns and mental illness:

In addition to guns, the common denominator in most of these mass shootings has been mental illness. Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech), Jared Lee Loughner (Tucson, Ariz.), James Eagen Holmes (in the Aurora, Colo. theater), and now Adam Lanza all had significant mental health problems. As the country turns its attention to overhauling its health-care delivery system, we must discuss improving access and delivery of mental health care to those who need it. As part of this conversation, we need to update federal firearm laws as they relate to persons with mental illness—laws that currently are primitive and rooted in stereotypes.

The measures I’ve heard proposed so far would be ineffective in preventing incidents like the ones that have transpired or even in reducing their likelihood. There are already over 200 million guns in the United States. Any reasonably good machine shop can produce a high capacity magazine and banning them would merely produce a lively black market. Just as with alcohol and now drugs, anyone who really wanted them could get their hands on them.

I don’t see how social stigma can be effective in the context of television, movies, and video games that glorify violence. Or with an armed constabulary.

I presently have two firearms in my home. They’re both “long guns” and neither has been fired in living memory. One is a Civil War vintage rifle that probably belonged to my great-great-grandfather and the other is a shotgun my dad received on his 12th birthday. When my wife and I discovered a pair of pistols that had been stuffed into our basement ceiling by a prior owner, we immediately called the police and had them taken away.

87 comments… add one

  • J’ai la belle dame sans souci.

  • PD Shaw

    Steve V, the Salon story left me weepy-eyed. What can I say? Or do?

    The studies so far have not shown a predisposition to physical violence among those diagnosed with a spectrum disorder, which doesn’t mean violent behavior is impossible; its perhaps less likely. Possibly the diagnosis could obscure additional diagnoses.

  • One last comment. My mother might have come off the blackland, but she knew how to wield authority.

    She taught me from day one. Maybe even in her womb.

    Where did we get lost?

  • Scare the buggers, that’s how it’s done. And reward them when they do well.

  • Parents have become so insipid.

  • It’s Roman. The Laertes.

  • They’re your precious sire, but they’re just little animals until they’re acclimated.

  • Snot machines, as Steve V might say.

  • Hitler couldn’t light a candle to Mama.

  • jan

    I read the Salon story as well, and came away with so much empathy for that mother’s plight. To love and raise a child so emotionally handicapped with uncontrolable moods and actions would be unbearable. It’s like trying to protect and help a living time bomb. Quite frankly I hadn’t tied autism or aspergers with that kind of raging bull behavior.

  • It’s the old Mithras myth. Once you figure out how to confront the bull, and take it by it’s horns, you’re home free.

  • I think, all in all, is that their women are missing.

    Co-option sucks.

  • We have been co-opted into the myth. Hell, if I will.

  • Damn, ya’ll, I read Betty Friedan when I was 12.

  • F**ck off, SteveV.

  • Somebody needs to change things around here.

  • And I don’t play chciken.

  • Or chicken, whatever it may be at his time.

  • You all get up and take responsibility for the children you dumped.

    I did.

  • Some are not recoverable.

  • Make us some men.

  • And you wonder why I’ve lost my mind?

  • Intransigent sons a bitches. Where do you stay?

  • So far, I’ve dealt with Exxon and Sunoco. You up for that?

  • Mr. Dave , we call this “blazing saddles.”


    Ring a bell?

  • jan and PD,

    I agree, I don’t think autism/aspergers necessarily leads to violence. But it does go to my point about evaluating one’s child/children and apparently the shocking lack of help available to these parents when there really is a serious issue regarding a child’s capacity for violence.

    The real issue will likely be lost in chest beating and nonsense over guns and Starcraft.

  • There is some evidence that people do suddenly snap. Many of these people are chronically depressed or disturbed, but need an acute event to tip them over.

    Really, they do “just snap”, but prior to that were chronically depressed or disturbed? Nope, nothing there at all.

    By “just snap” I’m talking about a person who is honestly happy, well adjusted and making plans as if life is going to be good then they turn on dime and go into a murderous rampage. Doesn’t happen. You even admit it yourself, they are “chronically depressed or disturbed”. Granted not everyone who is “chronically depressed or disturbed” is going to fly into a murderous rage, but one way we could try to take policy into a better direction that shitting up the airwaves with nonsense about guns, video games, and violent movies is to look at mental illness and how we deal with it in this country.

  • Ah, found the book. Violence as Communication: Insurgent Terrorism and the Western News Media, Alex P. Schmid and Janny de Graaf, SAGE Publications, 1982.

    Back blurb:

    “They dissect the value system of media news, in which Jacqueline Onassis outsells Biafra, and in which anything new, disruptive, violent, glamorous, or merely extraordinary, is given space….

    …Schmid and de Graaf are able to show not only how terrorists use media, but how the media use terrorists, and how authorities use media.”

  • Schmid wrote the following, too:

    Forum On Crime And Society: Special Issues On Terrorism December 2004 (International Review Of Criminal Policy)

    I haven’t read it. It’s available for free download.

  • PD Shaw

    Pain insensitivity might be a clue to an underlying susceptibility to schizophrenia:

    Steve V, you probably don’t want to hear it, but in situations like that in the Salon article, the police department is often the mental health care provider. We had an incident several years ago involving a man with schizophrenia who lived with his parents and was largely able to live a somewhat normal life as long as he took his medicine. Sometimes he didn’t like to take it, made him feel not quite right, and then he could go into violent rages. As the son got older and bigger and the parents grew smaller and more aged, they were losing the ability to keep him on his meds and control him when he failed. They would call the police for their own safety and to use incarceration to get him on his meds. This worked until one time the police apparently used a hold that was inappropriate for his condition and he died.

    The positive that came out of the experience was that a national mental health advocate came to town, talked to city officials and the newspapers. He didn’t cast judgment, but pointed out how frequently police deal with mental health issues and convinced the city not to simply have a few token officers trained in the mental health issues their job would increasingly entail, but have them all trained. They are the orderlies of a free society, at least one free from Nurse Ratchet. I think institutionalization should be the last choice, but it would be nice to figure out how to make such people take their meds.

  • I think it’s all related to a lack of discipline, self- or otherwise.

    My mother never whipped me but a couple of times, when I’d done things that put myself in danger. But I knew damn well not to cross her. Her looks alone would give you pause.

  • Real schizophrenia and such are something else. Medical conditions.

  • PD Shaw

    Pain insensitivity is a pretty extreme condition; the study I linked to suggests it may be predictive of future onset — more study needed.

    I suppose one approach to “mental health screenings” that people seem to mention a lot is to require everybody in America to get their DNA examined and we could start to find ways to focus resources on people susceptible to stuff. It could facilitate a lot of productive preemptive actions. It could also be one of the greatest violations of civil liberties that’s ever been imagined. (We could decide whether Steve Verdon can play games with tanks or if he can only play Ms. Pac Man.)

  • Or perhaps an extreme form of ODD.

  • Steve V, you probably don’t want to hear it, but in situations like that in the Salon article, the police department is often the mental health care provider.

    I know, and all too frequently the suspect ends up dead.

  • Balko’s been documenting that stuff for years.

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