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It's times like these that we miss Dr. Charles Krauthammer the most. When troubled; when the nation is anxious. And somebody needs to sound not only frank but decorous as well. It takes a master craftsman such as Dr. Krauthammer to be both.

After another mass shooting in 2012, he wrote this on these pages:

"Monsters shall always be with us, but in earlier days they did not roam free. As a psychiatrist in Massachusetts in the 1970s, I committed people--often right out of the emergency room--as a danger to themselves or to others. I never did so lightly, but I labored under none of the crushing bureaucratic and legal constraints that make involuntary commitment infinitely more difficult today.

"Why do you think we have so many homeless? Destitution? Poverty has declined since the 1950s. The majority of those sleeping on grates are mentally ill. In the name of civil liberties, we let them die with their rights on.

"A tiny percentage of the mentally ill become mass killers. Just about everyone around Tucson shooter Jared Loughner sensed he was mentally ill and dangerous. But in effect, he had to kill before he could be put away--and (forcibly) treated."

Flash forward to today. Charles Krauthammer is no longer here, but his words are. And he still makes just as much sense.

The president of the United States spoke to a wounded nation earlier this week, following two mass shootings within 24 hours. America cries out for relief from a mass shooting epidemic that has stretched on into 2019 like an unwelcome guest of the worst kind. And the person Americans look to for some sort of leadership through this storm focused on some usual targets. Mental health--or, actually, how Americans deal with those in need of mental health services--was near the top of the list:

"We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement."--President Trump.

For years in the United States, those with severe mental illnesses were institutionalized, where they could not hurt themselves or others. Unfortunately, there were abuses in the system, so the nation completely changed policies.

Today, we give those with severe mental problems a few pills and pray they take them. This is one example of progress turning us backward.

But until we can turn this battleship around, some things can be done. Researchers call it "low-hanging fruit." Angry and sick people need access to affordable mental health care to overcome certain violent urges, and they don't have enough access to it, so we wind up with these tragedies.

We the People need to invest more dollars and time in mental health care, especially in rural areas. Good luck finding access to nearby mental health treatment in Jasper, Arkansas, or in certain ZIP codes along the Louisiana-Arkansas line.

That's the hard work. But it's also the necessary work. And until we get that right, people are going to continue dying.

We remember reading these words, from a book of some note:

"Michael Carneal, 14, had never shot a gun before. Not a real one, anyway. But the morning he walked onto his school campus in Paducah, Ky., in December 1997, he had a stolen handgun, and he aimed it at a prayer group. He shot eight times. He had eight hits. The FBI says an experienced officer in a shootout will hit a target about 20 percent of the time. Michael Carneal went eight-for-eight--including five head shots--and killed three people. How'd he do it? Practice.

"At the tender age of 14, he had practiced killing literally thousands of people. His simulators were point-and-shoot video games he played for hundreds of hours in video arcades and in the comfort of his own home. If you don't think these 'games' resemble the real thing, you should know that the military and law enforcement communities use video marksmanship training simulators to supplement their training. And the most pervasive simulator the United States Army uses is a minor modification of a popular Super Nintendo game."

--Dave Grossman, in his book Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill.

No, it's not that easy. There are other researchers and scientists who'd tell you that video games don't cause mass shootings. But could they easily push some of the more disturbed over the edge? The Columbine killers were hooked on Doom.

Today, there's a popular video game called Fortnite in which you shoot other gamers. And the other day a top killer won $3 million at a tournament for the game. He was featured in all the papers. He wore a big smile.

There's no bloody way Saw movies and those kill-zombies-before-they-kill-you TV shows don't have an effect on numbing young people toward violence. Not all young people, mind you, but plenty of the easily influenced and suggestible.

What to do about it? Perhaps the same thing Americans did with other odious habits: tax them. It worked with snuff and cigarettes. People are still going to smoke and use other forms of tobacco, but they're discouraged from it. No telling how many people have been saved because smokes don't cost $2 a pack any more.

What else can we do? Parents can start parenting. You wouldn't walk on by the kids' door if you smelled marijuana. Why walk by after hearing somebody being slaughtered?

In a frontier country like ours, with a Second Amendment on the books, and more guns in the country than people in it, it's going to be hard to solve the problem of gun violence. But we can start somewhere. We can start sometime. We can begin to do the things that we know will work, and won't take three or four generations to complete. We can pass red-flag laws. We can tighten background checks on gun buyers. We can identify the mentally ill and get them help--even behind closed doors, even involuntarily. We can recognize that violence can be a learned behavior.

We note that our society is generally becoming more coarse and vulgar. And more violent. Remember the PG-rated 1990 kids' movie Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty and Madonna? It was very nearly a cartoon, or at least cartoonish. Bring the kids! Have a good time!

The movie had 14 killings in it. More than 1974's Death Wish, with Charles Bronson.

This might be called defining deviancy down. Daniel Patrick Moynihan would understand. So would Charles Krauthammer.

Editorial on 08/11/2019

Print Headline: It's not hopeless . . . yet

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Archived Comments

  • Morebeer
    August 11, 2019 at 6:41 a.m.

    Studies show that these mass killers watch far fewer video games than their peers. Some, like Paddock and the Pulse gunman, not at all.

  • RBear
    August 11, 2019 at 7:47 a.m.

    Agree, MB. Once again, the D-G ed board foregoes facts for fiction and follows the "blame everything but the thing I love and am addicted to the most" game. Other studies show that the rate of video game play in the US is no greater or different than other developed countries. Yet, our rate of mass shootings and gun violence far exceeds those nations. What is the differentiating factor is private gun ownership and the easy access to assault-style weapons.
    ...
    In the case of the El Paso shooter, he purchased the weapon easily in Texas where gun laws supposedly designed to increase safety, including open carry for long rifles, actually aided him in completing his act. Recently, a known white supremacist posted on Facebook, "3 more days of probation left then I get my AR-15 back. Don’t go to Walmart next week."
    ...
    While I appreciate the renewed interest by right wingers in mental health issues, the reality is that is more lip service to look concerned seeking solutions. Mental health funding has declined in recent years and while the NRA claims it is the root cause of mass shootings, the organization has yet to donate any funds to mental health organizations to help curb the "problem." To further highlight their hypocrisy on the issue, Chris Cox, their leading lobbyist in 2017, penned an op-ed in The Hill titled, "NRA: The mentally ill have gun rights, too."
    ...
    Legislation is needed to drive our nation towards a solution. Gun rights groups and gun nuts continue to drag their feet and come up with excuses like this one, all to "blame everything but the thing I love and am addicted to the most."

  • 23cal
    August 11, 2019 at 8:44 a.m.

    "There are other researchers and scientists who'd tell you that video games don't cause mass shootings."
    Those researchers would be correct.
    *
    Regarding "But could they easily push some of the more disturbed over the edge?" Where is your evidence that they ever actually have? Might as well ask "But could butterflies easily push some of the more disturbed over the edge?"
    Could Trump's racist and violent rhetoric "push some of the more disturbed over the edge?"
    Answer: See: manifesto, El Paso shooter.
    *
    Regarding "There's no bloody way Saw movies and those kill-zombies-before-they-kill-you TV shows don't have an effect on numbing young people toward violence." Like the old TV Westerns and war movies? Actually, these types of movies and video games give people a safe way to expunge existing violent tendencies instead of creating them.
    *
    Regarding "...... it's going to be hard to solve the problem of gun violence. But we can start somewhere." Ummmm.... the operative phrase you used there was "GUN violence". Hellooooo? Try this: We have millions of weapons in the US to get rid of..... But we can start somewhere.
    *
    Articles like this are just plain silly. Every nation has kids playing video games. Only ONE has the gun violence which we have....this one.
    Every nation has mental illness. Only ONE has the gun violence which we have....this one.
    Girls play video games and have mental illness. How many mass shootings are done by females?
    *
    Rbear says it perfectly: " Once again, the D-G ed board foregoes facts for fiction and follows the "blame everything but the thing I love and am addicted to the most" game......What is the differentiating factor is private gun ownership and the easy access to assault-style weapons."
    *
    From Psychology Today: Blame Game: Violent Video Games Do Not Cause Violence
    From Forbes: New Study Shows That There Is No Link Between Violent Video Games And Aggression In Teenagers
    From CNBC: No evidence that violent video games are causing mass shootings, despite politicians’ claims
    You can do this all day long.
    *
    That's the thing here: the studies have been done, the research has been done, the evidence is in and it is clear: there is no causative link between video games and mass shootings or other violence.

  • 23cal
    August 11, 2019 at 9:22 a.m.

    Fun stuff:
    Fueled by over 24 hours of nonstop playing of the video game 'Grand Theft Stallion', Indians massacre Custer at Little Big Horn
    *
    Mass shooters aren't quoting Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, or Fortnight.....they are quoting Trump.
    *
    Interesting time to be living in when "Stop shooting our kids" is seen as a liberal talking point by the pro-life crowd.
    *
    When a Republican uses the words "video game", it's shorthand for "We're not going to do anything to end mass shootings."
    *
    Japan spends more on video games than the US. In 2014, they had six gun deaths.
    *
    Only in America could a shooter write a complete manifesto about why he did it and conservatives say it's not the reason.
    *
    Right wing America is more angry at Black Men taking a knee than at white men committing mass shootings.
    *
    USA: "It's a mental health issue."

    WORLD: "We have those. We don't have mass shootings."

    USA: "Then it's a video game issue."

    WORLD: "We have those. We don't have mass shootings."

    USA: "Well, it's very complex."

    WORLD: "No, it's not. It's your gun laws."

    USA: "Prayer in school?"

    WORLD: "God, you're stupid."
    *
    Shooter: I was inspired by Trump
    Right wing: What could have caused this?
    Shooter: Look at this cool photo of the word 'Trump' spelled out with these firearms
    Right wing: He probably played too much Fortnight
    Shooter: It's like Trump said, Hispanics are invading us.
    Right wing: We may never know
    *
    I'm curious......how do they create video games which only cause white males, but not blacks or females, to commit mass shootings in America?

  • RBolt
    August 11, 2019 at 10:37 a.m.

    Mental illness serves as a scapegoat. The vast majority of mentally ill are not violent, and the vast majority of shooters do not have forms of mental illness that would legally justify insanity as their criminal defense. The true insanity here is the submission to those who claim the ability to shoot people efficiently and at will is more important than protecting people from those who think in terms of the right to shoot people efficiently and at will.

  • Morebeer
    August 11, 2019 at 12:22 p.m.

    Priceless, 23cal

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