This is the question that’s been floating around since the moment news of the Sandy Hook massacre broke. We, the People of the United States, want stricter gun laws. Oh, the 20-year-old shooter used his mother’s legally obtained guns? Well, in that case We want all guns to be confiscated. How did the killer even enter the elementary school? He broke in? Well, guess We can’t blame school security. So Adam Lanza was a shy, troubled young man with possible autistic tendencies? Then why the hell didn’t his mother have him committed to a mental institution? You know what, it’s the goddamned American mental health system that’s responsible for the deaths of those 20 beautiful, angelic children.
But you know what? Sometimes shit just happens. In 2007, 11,560 children died from accidental causes. Car accidents made up the majority of these deaths. Every year, over 500 kids are killed from gun accidents. The fact that those 20 Sandy Hook students happened to die together on one fateful Friday morning is an absolute tragedy, and it is made more difficult by the lack of a clear target of blame. I’m sure that many of the victims’ parents would have preferred that Adam Lanza had been captured alive, so that they could witness his impending sentence to life in prison (Connecticut was the 17th state to abolish the death penalty). But what purpose would that have served? We don’t know much about Adam Lanza, but we do know that anyone who would kill his own mother along with innocent children is likely sociopathic. Even in prison, where morality is slightly altered to say the least, the one taboo is violence against children.
Reading one mother’s experience parenting a mentally ill son is absolutely heart-wrenching. The 40-year-old single mother of four describes her son, who at 13 has repeatedly threatened to kill both her and himself. On some days, Liza Long takes Michael to the ER, where they prescribe drugs that don’t work. On other days, she drives him straight to the mental hospital, where she shouts for someone to call the police while she physically restrains her son. When Liza asked her son’s social worker for help, the worker suggested that she try to get him incarcerated because it’s the only way she’ll “get anything done”. By all accounts, Liza is an excellent mother and an extremely strong and talented individual. She has started a non-profit, written a novel, read The Iliad in Greek, learned Chinese, and experienced natural childbirth. If she has a fault, it is marrying her kids’ less-than-competent father, who may have tried to murder her and their children.
So what do you propose that Liza Long does? What do we do with people like her son Michael? As someone who has a psychopathic family member, I don’t have any answers. Sometimes, children can be evil. Sometimes, people are just born without consciences. Sometimes, 20-year-olds can commit mass murder without remorse. According the DSM IV-TR, 3 percent of males and 1 percent of females are sociopathic. Perhaps this explains why out of the 61 mass murders involving firearms that have occurred since 1982, only one perpetrator was female. Yet plenty of mentally ill people — such as my stepmother — lead (mostly) nonviolent lives. While I have seen her abuse kittens with sadistic pleasure and she makes it well known that she has a pistol and knows how to use it, she has never killed anyone. Surely, her lack of morals and capacity for love takes its toll on her family, but is that enough to lock her up? Should we take all these “high risk”, mentally ill people and put them in jail?
Even if this were feasible economically, the answer would still be “no”. We can’t just start getting rid of troubled individuals. And what would be the criteria? The fact that Adam Lanza apparently enjoyed video games and may have had Asperger’s has negative implications for every introverted boy who likes a good game of Halo. It’s a very slippery slope if we decide to play an offensive defense — much like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No, we do not need someone or something to blame. What we do need is, as Liza Long wrote, “a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health”. We can’t keep sending our mentally ill to jail or to live off the streets. We especially need to have a talk about children’s mental health. Most disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder required people to be 18 years old before they can be diagnosed. However, what are we to do when children exhibit clear sociopathic traits? We need to be able to have a better response to overwhelmed parents other than “put your kid in jail”.
Shit happens. People are born crazy. Now we need to find a way to deal with it without pointing fingers.
To everyone who has been impacted by Sandy Hook, I offer my sincere condolences. To the rest of us, may we rise above the blame game and collectively find a solution.