Of Christmas trees and evening news
The emergency room is quiet. A cheery Christmas tree sits by a window near a television set. Horrific images of childrenâ€™s funerals flash on the screen. Television and Christmas tree- the heaven/hell rhythms of this season.
What am I doing here? Taking care of a young friend. Heâ€™s not a relative, but heâ€™s a loved one. Heâ€™s in for observations and testing, and with Godâ€™s help, heâ€™ll be OK.
Zoom to the larger context: The emergency room. Perhaps the only joyous occasion which would carry a soul across the threshold of this eerily clean, quiet space is the birth of a child. In fact, a nervous mother-to-be comes through the ponderous electrical doors. Her own little nativity will be chronicled only in the private history of personal memory. This new child will be charted, measured, recorded in the hospital, and hopefully, fussed over at home. The mother is Mexican, and no one on the hospital staff speaks Spanish, so I interrupt my reveries to help translate.
What will become of this one child? Will his life be mostly Christmas tree or evening news? Will he, like his mother, live in the shadow-lands of illegal rentals and sub-minimum wage?
Six years ago, in some hospital in Connecticut, a handful of white children came into the world. These were privileged children, living in a wealthy suburb. Their own personal tragedies, their parentâ€™s struggles, were probably typical of their class, and unremarkable. Thirteen years before that, another white middle-class mother had visited an emergency room…
…And gave birth to a time bomb.
The time bomb began ticking as the attentive mother raised this boy. As he grew, she realized that he was different, and that he would need help. Whom could she trust? Adam Lanzaâ€™s story calls into question the way our American society operates. However, perhaps in the wake of the tragedy that he perpetrated, lawmakers and journalists do not see the picture clearly. Perhaps the crack through which this boy slipped into that shadow world of the psychopathic killer is not so easily explained by the availability of guns in American society.
So, how does it happen? How does society raise a killer? And what are the consequences of a ban on the same weapons Adam Lanza used to commit this heinous act?
I studied the lives of other school killers, and a clear pattern emerged. The random violent acts which involve more than one victim and which take place in a school setting show disturbingly similar patterns.
Here, therefore is the formula for raising a school shooter:
Disconnect psychiatry from counselling. Let no one have a relationship with a doctor.
In the United States, a stigma is connected to seeking psychiatric help. Increasingly, all that a psychiatrist does is prescribe medicine, and see how a patient reacts. This child was immediately sedated and put on a series of different drugs, to see which ones â€śwould workâ€ť.
If I needed psychiatric help, I do not know whether I would trust the medical community in the United States enough to rely upon American Psychiatry. I have seen the effects of the drugs that doctors routinely prescribe for pain even, let alone personality altering medications. All a doctor has to do is write a ’scrip, and move on. As a result, a struggling mother doing everything in her power to raise and care for a son, a mother who is increasingly worried about his behaviour, is justified in not trusting that child to the care of the medical system.
Once a patient is in the system, doctors are often secretive or dismissive of loved onesâ€™ concerns. Even with non-stigmatized medical issues, such as broken limbs, American doctors are, more often than not, too busy to pay attention to the human being, even in their own offices. Imagine how much worse for those who come for emergency psychiatric treatment, to be treated by a cold official whom they will never see again and whose only function is to give them pills.
2. Create tons of first-person shooter games and forms of entertainment that involve guns.
Nothing is more fun than killing people. No greater use of computer programming talent can be imagined than to make guns more realistic, blood splatters wider, the games more appealing. In a study I did of all the recent shooting sprees in America, the perpetrators were not only trained on these games, but in some cases, such as Columbine, they had actually coded some of them. As a person detaches from reality, their fantasies may connect to the life they experience through interactive games, books and movies. Like psychiatric drugs, these games are mind-numbing substitutes for human interaction.
3. If youâ€™re a father, be absent. If you donâ€™t want to get divorced, be an abusive father.
This is another common pattern among killers and a common thread among all the school shooters I researched, with the exception of the Columbine killers. All of these shooters had either abusive or absent fathers.
The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world, according Nation Master statistics. Children require a great deal of attention in order to thrive. Divorce, just in terms of operational necessity, decreases the time an adult can spend with a child. The human factor is minimized, and the shyer children must resort to a fantasy life in order to cope with his hours of downtime.
In every sense of the word, the separation of a father from his son, either emotionally or logistically can create weak links in the chain of caring for a child. We hear an outcry for gun control, but even in countries with strict gun control laws, the disenfranchised and alienated find ways to commit their crimes.
4. Let school motivate by fear of failure.
Oh, it could be any sort of failure, either social or academic. Give children as few options as possible. Teach for the test. Make sure that testing is the exclusive means by which to gauge success, reward test scores and limit activities that may engage a student’s interests on the basis of those scores. Segregate students according to intellect, physical prowess, and ability to interact socially. Make sure that very little of what you teach has any application to the outside world. Make sure that if you live in a wealthy area, the wall between the haves and the have-nots is a glaring social indictment of those who are on the minus side of that equation.
So what will we do?
We make the easy fix. Is gun control the answer?
In all fairness, I will tell you that even before doing research, I was against gun control. I object to it because I believe in the American Jeffersonian principle that â€śThe people should not fear the government, the government should fear the people.â€ť
In other words, â€śDon’t trust the government, be the government.â€ť
Government should fear the people. I have seen too many cases throughout the world of democracies turned into dictatorships to trust that we do not need safeguards against even the most seemingly benevolent governments. A democracy needs some way to protect itself against the rise of tyranny.
However, before this research, I didn’t really believe in the correlation between gun ownership and crime prevention.
Having said that, let’s examine the facts.
On the whole, an objective weighing of facts forces me to conclude that guns do have a preventive effect on many crimes that occur regularly in countries with tight gun control laws. Kidnapping is the best example. We have a low incidence of third-party kidnapping (versus child custody kidnappings) compared to countries that limit the possession of firearms.
The city of Washington, in 1976, passed a law that banned all firearms. In 2006, the Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional. In that 30-year gunless period, Washington’s murder rate climbed 73 percent, while nationwide, the murder rates declined by 11 percent. The truth is, at least in the United States, possession of a gun does, in fact, deter crime.
Guns are in the hands of at least 100 million Americans. That means that there is one gun for every three people in America. Since the year 2000, eight school shootings involving multiple fatalities have occurred. In fact, the worst single act of school murder in American history did not even involve a gun — the killer planted a bomb in the school and blew up 47 schoolchildren. In a nation of three hundred million people, less than five hundred murders were committed on school property between the year 2000 and the current year, while 12,335,000 police reports have been filed since 2000 in which a crime has been prevented by a citizen owning a handgun.
Gun control. A simple answer. Not the real answer.
The real answers are not simple ones.
We require empathy of our professionals. We need a heightened awareness that every individual, despite his family situation, state of mental health, economic situation, or general likeability, needs to feel needed, and needs to be treated as important to those in position of authority. We need to think twice about the messages that we send by detaching our medical professionals, giving our children first person shooter games, failing our marriages, and setting up our schools as mirrors of personal failure for those who do not fit the mould. We need to reach out to the marginalized of our country, so they don’t sit in their mother’s basements, playing first person shooter games.
These things cannot be legislated into existence. They need to be imprinted upon the character of our society by the actions of individuals. The President can encourage, but the change must come from that cheerleader asking that nerd to her party.
The mother insists on waddling into the delivery room under her own power, and I wish her a blessing for her child.
On my own, I pray that in this boy will never make the evening news. In this season where we celebrate a miraculous birth, I say a prayer for that Mexican womanâ€™s child:
God, please let this new life be cherished as an heir to the promise of the Christmas season. Please, please, let all who encounter him regard him more like a shining ornament on a Christmas tree, and less like a face on the evening news.
Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called â€śYou Think What You Think And Iâ€™ll Think What I Know.â€ť He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute â€” a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, â€śLearning Little Hawkâ€™s Way of Storytellingâ€ť, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.