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