Newtown CT: Preventing Future Tragedies

January 2, 2013

Newtown, Connecticut is a town of population 25,000 located near Danbury, Connecticut, 75 miles northeast of New York City.  The population of Newtown is 95% white, with a mean family income of more than $100,000.

On 12/14/12 Adam Lanza, age 20, a single white male residing in Newtown with his divorced mother, fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself as he heard the first responders arriving.  Prior to the massacre in the school, he had shot and killed his mother in their home.

Since these horrendous events, much has been written about guns and mental illness.  This blog entry is the author’s attempt to contribute a meaningful addition to the discussion, in hopes of averting future tragedies of this kind.

Adam Lanza was reported to be both socially awkward and highly intelligent.  He had dropped out of high school and had been home schooled for a time by his mother, a gun enthusiast.  She had taken him to the local shooting range for target practice with weapons she owned, including the semi-automatic Bushmaster XM-15 rifle he used extensively during the school massacre.  The number of bullet wounds in the victims suggests that more than 100 rounds were fired from this rifle in a short period of time.

Two conclusions seem inescapable from these details.  First, weapons for mass killings, such as the Bushmaster XM-15 and the large ammunition magazines to support them, should not be available for ordinary civilians to use in American society.  Second, people like Adam Lanza should have better access to mental health services than seems currently possible in this country.

We don’t as yet have many details about Adam Lanza’s mental health condition.  It appears that he was angry at his mother.  We don’t know whether he might have been angry at particular school officials.  It seems hard to believe that he was angry at the 20 children, ages 6-8, whom he killed.  We don’t know if he had a potentially psychotic illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or a developmental illness such as autism/Asperger’s Disease or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  We don’t know if he had a personality disorder (e.g., narcissistic, paranoid, borderline, schizotypal, etc.).

Many people in America might be capable of becoming angry enough to injure someone (such as a close relative) or cause significant property damage.  The availability of an assault weapon when one feels angry enough to use it seems an unacceptable risk in a civilized society such as ours.

We need to provide better mental health services for all of our citizens, including the affluent, as well as the poor and the middle classes.  The issue is not to find a few “maniacs” or “crazies”, and just lock them up (and throw away the key).  We would need to lock up half the population to include everyone who is at risk of losing control of their emotions at one time or another.

Two other issues may be of importance here.  One is family support.  Adam Lanza’s family was affluent but seemingly dysfunctional.  We need to help to strengthen families in whatever ways we can.  Close family ties can help stabilize people and keep them from going berserk like Adam Lanza seems to have done.

A second is violence in the media.  This includes movies, video games, news broadcasts, TV shows and  commercials.  Is there anything we can do to reduce media violence?

In summary, this discussion has included four topics: guns, mental illness, family cohesion, and media violence.  To prevent future tragedies like the one that occurred three weeks ago in Newtown, CT, we need to address each of these topics to see what changes can be made.

The task is not easy, but the problem is significant, and includes a whole series of school shootings occurring  over the past 13 years since the massacre at Columbine High School near Denver, Colorado, on 4/20/99.

My book in progress on dream revision therapy, which I hope to publish in the near future, has a segment (part of Chapter 3: Assault) dealing with school shootings that occurred in San Diego, CA, on 3/5/01 and 3/22/01.

It is important to recall that America’s school shooting problem predates the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. on 9/11/01, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed the 9/11 events.  We have a domestic problem that we have unfortunately neglected during our war on terrorism from abroad.  We also need to deal with gun violence and school shootings here at home.