My son who went to elementary school in Newtown many years ago has Aspergers. He was horrified by what happened on Friday. He was afraid to go to school yesterday because he thinks people will assume that because he has Aspergers he is a potential mass murderer.
My 12-year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger's when he was seven. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, I found myself reading obsessively online to find out how journalists were accounting for the horror. Once I read that Adam Lanza had been considered a socially awkward loner, I feared he would be identified as having Asperger's. (I recalled that after the Jeffrey Dahmer killings, an African-American friend told me that she was so glad he was not black.) I have talked to my son about how he may be perceived differently in the wake of Sandy Hook. I have told him he should never participate in the violent joking rhetoric so popular among 12-year-old boys because it could be misconstrued.
I am a child and adolescent in-home therapist who works with children with severe emotional and behavioral problems. As one of the only male, community-based mental health therapists in my county, I have a caseload mostly made up of very "aggressive" males (often also shy, awkward, insecure, creative, funny once you get to know them, deeply wounded and at their core – human). For them to be eligible to see me, they typically have been hospitalized for serious threats to other people, which are often times family members.
[O]bviously a push to hire more cops, no less than a new push for gun control, would run into political opposition in our age of tight budgets and public-sector layoffs. But shifting state budgets from incarceration to enforcement makes long term fiscal sense, and between the Republican Party’s affinity for cops and firefighters and the Democratic Party’s affinity for aid to state and local governments, it’s arguably easier to imagine a post-Newtown coalition forming around, say, a new version of Bill Clinton’s COPS program — which was mainly criticized after its expiration, as I recall, for subsidizing too many extra cops in sleepy small towns — than around a return to his ineffective gun control efforts. And based on the public policy record of the last twenty years or so, it’s much easier to imagine such an effort actually making a difference on the ground.
Phillip Bump reminds us that the Second Amendment "doesn't say a single thing about the right to own bullets":
Were the government to limit the amount of ammunition made and sold in the United States, there would still be an awful lot available. James Holmes bought 6,000 rounds online before his shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado. Bullets are so easy to come by that it's clear that huge stockpiles exist throughout the country. But unlike guns, bullets are single use. You fire a bullet, you expend its propellant. While attempts to remove guns from the streets would either be incalculably slow or require heavy-handed, dangerous government action, curbing the ability to buy ammunition would mean a natural diminishment of the arsenal that remains. Every time a bullet is fired, that bullet is lost forever.
Lexington compares America to Britain, where it is "very hard to get hold of ammunition":
"I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once," – Megan McArdle.
Danny Hayes expects Newtown to soon be forgotten by the press:
Not surprisingly, each incident resulted in a spike in articles about gun control. For instance, in the week of the Virginia Tech shooting, 945 news stories in the database mentioned the issue. But as time went on, gun control received less and less attention. Within five weeks, coverage was nearly back to where it had been before the shooting. The pattern is similar for the Tucson and Aurora attacks.
This phenomenon – the media’s intense interest in, and subsequent boredom with, a public policy problem – is known as the "issue-attention cycle." A dramatic event, such as a shooting, brings an issue to the media’s attention, prompts an avalanche of news, and then an inevitable decline in coverage.
[A]s long as our children are alive, we can refuse to terrorize them with worst-case scenarios. We can decline to let a random act of violence goad us into treating Connecticut as if it were Gaza, Afghanistan, or Mali. I understand that there are parents in the world who have to teach their children about bomb shelters. But I don’t, not yet. My daughter is just five years old, and her school is as safe as we can make it without imprisoning ourselves in our own fear. My heart breaks for what happened 25 miles away; I’ve cried twice already today. But I’ve done it far from my children, who are still very young and, yes, innocent. So please: Don’t tell them a goddamned thing.
(Photo: New London, Connecticut residents Rachel Pullen and her son Landon DeCecco hold candles at a memorial for victims on the first Sunday following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. By Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Imagine the following world, which it's within our power to create: It's illegal to sell or possess a firearm–rifle or pistol–that can hold more than six bullets. And it's illegal to sell or possess a firearm with a detachable magazine. In other words, once a shooter exhausted the six rounds, he couldn't just snap in another six-round magazine; he'd have to put six more bullets in the gun one by one.
In this world, a significant number of those 20 Newtown first graders would almost certainly be alive. Lanza reportedly fired six bullets from his AR-15 just to get inside the locked school. So, in the alternative universe I just described, he would then have to more or less exhaust one of his two pistols to kill the principal and school psychologist he encountered after entering. At that point, as he headed for the classrooms, he'd have six more rapid-fire bullets left, after which he'd have to reload his guns bullet by bullet.
Tomasky sees no reason to allow ownership of assault weapons:
Like TNC, Alan Jacobs rejects calls to arm teachers:
We can be absolutely sure that within a few years more people would be killed by teachers who fired their weapons accidentally or in misplaced anger or fear, or by students who stole their teachers’ guns, than have ever been killed in school massacres like those in Newtown and Columbine.
But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian "war of every man against every man" in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly. Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction.
Did the law have an effect on mass shootings? That’s possible. As this chart from Princeton’s Sam Wang shows, the number of people killed by mass shootings did go down in the years the ban was in effect (save for a surge in 1999, a year that included Columbine) … Because mass shootings are relatively rare, it’s difficult to tell whether this is just random variation or whether the assault weapons ban actually had an impact. Still, the number of mass shootings per year has doubled since the ban expired. That’s suggestive, at least.
Ty Diaz is kissed by his mother Yvette at a memorial down the street from the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 16, 2012. Twenty-six people were shot dead, including twenty children, after a gunman identified as Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza also reportedly had committed suicide at the scene. A 28th person, believed to be Nancy Lanza, found dead in a house in town, was also believed to have been shot by Adam Lanza. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
Can we please discuss the interviewing of children at Sandy Hook elementary school? It was repulsive. Read this article by Kim Simon to get an idea of just how wrong it was.
The media always gives killers like this one their 15 minutes of fame. How much of this goes into the calculations of mass murderers? This is never really talked about in the media (for obvious reasons). Also, many of the same people in the media who wring their hands over tragedies like this, turn around the next day and celebrate the "artistic genius" of guys like Tarantino and the violence porn he puts out. I am no prude, and certainly do not think such movies should be banned. But, why are guys like Tarantino considered "cool" and "edgy" and not shamed by the media?
Will Oremus explains Australia's sweeping 1996 gun control law, which banned semi-automatic and automatic firearms after a mass shooting in Tasmania that resulted in 35 deaths and 23 injuries:
At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country’s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.) In the wake of the tragedy, polls showed public support for these measures at upwards of 90 percent.
Dylan Mathews goes through the available research on the law's effects:
It seems reasonably clear [that] the gun buyback led to a large decline in suicides, and weaker but real evidence that it reduced homicides as well. Such a buyback isn’t in the cards in the U.S. anytime soon — an equivalent buyback here would entail the destruction of 40 million guns …
One intriguing possibility is mandating some technological solution to make it harder for people other than the registered owner to fire the gun. Various “smart gun” technologies exist or are in the works which rely on RFID chips and biometric devices; cruder devices, which rely on complicated rings to activate the trigger, have been available for decades. If effectively implemented, they could conceivably greatly reduce the number of crimes committed with stolen weapons, including cases such as this one where a teenager steals a weapon from a parent. They’d also, presumably, cut down on gun suicides and accidental shooting deaths of children.
There have been a number of ‘studies’ I’ve seen purporting to substantiate the claim that widespread gun ownership will actually reduce violence. But the ones I’ve seen either come from disgraced amateurs or think tank hacks with zero peer review. Are there any methodologically sound, peer-reviewed studies which show anything like this?
Max Fisher posts a chart showing "the 10 countries with the highest per capita gun ownership rates in the world":
It’s a pretty motley bunch. Recent war zones such as Yemen, Serbia, and Iraq are on there, but so are relatively developed (and peaceful) Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden. The fact that Swiss gun murder rates are much lower than Iraq’s are a reminder that, yes, there is a lot more to determining a national rate of gun-related homicides than just firearm ownership. Still, as we saw in a previous post, Switzerland also has an unusually high rate of gun-related murders. It’s not as high as America’s, but then again neither is their gun ownership rate.
Ezra Klein talks to Janet Rosenbaum about Switzerland and Israel, two countries with high gun ownership often compared to the US. Rosenbaum:
Ron Fournier talks to his 15-year-old Aspie son about the possibility that Adam Lanza may have had the syndrome:
“If you meet somebody with Asperger’s,” he said, “you’ve only met one person with Asperger’s.” Tyler’s point is worth us all noting: Don’t overgeneralize. Don’t stigmatize in a rush to explain inexplicable evil. Autism didn’t cause this tragedy: Asperger’s is a blip on the far-reaching autism spectrum and no two cases are the same. Just as no “typical” person deserves to be tar-brushed with the evil acts of another, Aspies don’t deserve the bad press they’re getting.
Tyler’s form of autism makes it difficult for him to relate to people – to read social cues and easily express empathy. He is not prone to violence nor is he “missing something in the brain,” as so-called autism experts are claiming in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. He is a gentle, loving 15-year-old who, like millions of others on the spectrum, is destined for a happy, successful life: college, marriage, a career and kids – whatever he wants.
“There really is no clear association between Asperger’s and violent behavior,” psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Associated Press. Another psychologist, Eric Butter of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, explained that aggressive behavior such as pushing, shoving, or shouting occurs with higher frequency among people with autism. “But we are not talking about the kind of planned and intentional type of violence we have seen at Newtown.”
(Photo: Will Gilbertsen, 11 years old, has Asperger Syndrome. His mother Kathleen Atmore is a neuropsychiatrist who specializes in therapy for autistic youth. She recently pulled him out of public school when he was being teased and said he wanted to die. He will start private school for children with Asperger Syndrome, which includes deficiency in emotional and social skills. By Carol Guzy/The Washington Post/Getty Images.)
Liza Long shares her experience raising a violent, mentally ill child:
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me. That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. …
In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
Sy Mukherjee examines mental health services in Connecticut:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that Connecticut’s public mental health system currently provides coverage for less than one in five Connecticut residents with a serious mental health problem. The other four may not be able to afford to pay for those services on their own, particularly since mental health issues tend to disproportionately affect poor people. Many states do require mental health evaluations and background checks before allowing their residents to purchase a gun. But doing an evaluation isn’t the same thing as actually treating people with ongoing mental health conditions.
We do not fully know what the killer's psychological profile actually was yet. Perhaps we never will. There are some hints and guesses here. But that we need a broader and deeper discussion of mental illness in American society seems undeniable to me, along with a much more aggressive attempt to treat those many people hovering at the edge of compulsion and violence. The salient debate only begins, it seems to me, after we have rejected the easy extremes – that such a person is inherently evil or somehow blameless. And every case will be different, because every human life is different. To infer anything general about an individual case like this – especially the hideous, reckless and grotesquely unfair generalizations that have been made about people dealing with autism or Asperger's – would be deeply wrong.
But at what point does mental illness require action? I saw my own mother taken away from me and sent to a mental hospital when I was four. She was admitted several times again as I grew up – and since. She was put through electric convulsive treatments several times – a fact my young mind simply could not fully handle. They're electrocuting my mummy's head? And then she was there again – my beloved mother, the same but fragile, living her life for many years as if she were crawling naked on broken glass in the dark.
Was her disease intensified by her own personal history and situation? Sure. The first breakdown came during post-partum depression with my younger brother. Was it also something beyond her control? Absolutely as well. Did its ripple effects come to overwhelm all of us in different ways? I'd say – after a lot of therapy – that I was obviously traumatized at an early age by this kind of experience. It defined my emotional development. It wiped out my sister's retention of an entire year at elementary school. Mental illness does not usually massacre children, as just happened. But it wounds and hurts countless others because treatment is not there, and stigma still endures.
My mother, to put it baldly, never harmed a soul. Her illness was the greatest threat to herself. But it changed the lives of all those around her – and the families with people with mental illness have issues to deal with as well. And by chance, this weekend, I saw Silver Linings Playbook, which for the first two-thirds of the movie, really does courageously explore the edge between disease and wellness, sanity and madness, truth and social expectations that dealing with such illness exposes. For that alone, it's a movie whose humanity and depth surpasses the morally neutered Zero Dark Thirty.
It also establishes, it seems to me, a clear and defensible line: the illness that can lead to spasms of violence is the one we need to control and treat first. This is an incredibly hard call for a family with a mentally unwell human being in its midst to arrive at, as the story above shows, and as my own memories echo. But it is important. In a less grave instance, I realize now that the mother I was sobbing for at four years' old (and multiple times thereafter) was not a mother who could adequately take care of me until she got care herself. She needed help. And so did those around her.
We need to take that truth more seriously than we now do. Not just because we can help prevent mass death. But because we can also prevent lives that are living deaths of the spirit, and because we can now appease and effectively treat many of the torments whose turmoil spreads ever outwards. I hope Sandy Hook takes us further in that direction of policy adjustment. The issue of mental illness seems to me as equally relevant here as gun control. And we seem sadly often incapable of having a mature, and, above all, humane conversation about it.
(Photo: Teddy bears, flowers and candles in memory of those killed, are left at a memorial down the street from the Sandy Hook School December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
"Something needs to be done, these are not normal guns, that people need. These are guns for an arsenal, and you get lunatics like this guy who goes into a school fully armed and protected to take return fire. We live in a town, not in a war,” - Joel T. Faxon [NYT], Newtown resident, hunter and member of Newtown's police commission, which had been working to restrict assault weapon shooting in the town prior to the tragedy.
(Photo: A Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle with a 30 round mag.)
Goldblog wrote that "it seems fairly obvious that there was no one at or near the school who could have tried to fight back." TNC, on the other hand, believes more guns aren't the solution:
It is human to wish that Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, who died heroically [Friday], enjoyed some weaponry beyond her body. But are we then asking for a world in which the educators of small children are strapped? Do we want our hospital workers, our librarians, our baby-sitters, and little league coaches all armed? What is the message that such a society sends to itself and its children? What does it say about its government's ability to perform the most essential of services–protection? And is it enough to simply be wholly sane? What do we say to the ghost of Jordan Davis, shot down over an argument of loud music, by a man who was quite sane? And where does it end? If more mass killers don body-armor, should we then start fitting ourselves in kevlar too?
Gun violence is one of those things that an immigrant is first amazed by in America. The second thing a non-American is shocked by is the sheer passion of those who own and use guns in this country. When you come from a country like Britain where the government has effectively been a Leviathan of force for centuries, the wild west of America's inner cities – and the frequent massacres or assassinations that occur in US history – is an adjustment.
I've come to accept that I am going to witness a debate I find almost absurd in a mind shaped first of all by British culture. I understand the constitutional resonance of an armed citizenry vis-vis its potentially abusive government. And I can also see why this makes America different.
But I cannot quite get past the paramilitary weaponry and armor that entered an elementary school and gunned down so many First Graders. Every society will have individuals with demons like the killer's. But not every society allows them legally to get dressed up and armed like a figure from a mega-violent videogame and blast their way into an elementary school.
To put it simply, I do not understand how the citizenry's right to bear arms means making available to a disturbed individual a weapon that can kill dozens of children without re-loading, with bullets to spare. No serious supporters of gun rights can support that too, can they? If they can, what limits can society place at all on the safety of its children?