Friday, May 30, 2014

We can stop the killing


     Last week, a disturbed angry young man lashed out at innocents on and near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Then he killed himself. Elliot Rodger not only left seven dead and 13 wounded, he left the rest of us wondering why we can’t figure out how to keep these killing sprees from happening over and over and over.

     The news was dishearteningly familiar, except that this time, the shooter spoke out about why he was going to kill. He spoke to lots of people, and those people spoke to lots of others, including the police. He recorded videos. It wasn’t enough.

     Now that there is a death toll, Rodger’s videos are chilling. However, without the benefit of hindsight, those images might not seem so disturbing. His voice is calm. His expressions are relatively animated. Until the last video, the threats spoken by this handsome, articulate young man seem like the angst of painful adolescence.

     Rodger posted his videos on YouTube, and viewers who saw his rants against women posted 1.9 million tweets in response. They called out his sexism and posted stories of their own.

     People believe they can tell what someone is really like by the look on his or her face. Juries convict defendants who “look” guilty. Yet, Rodger appeared all over the Internet and viewers didn’t see a deadly look.

     Rodger’s parents heard the dark anger and called police. The police interviewed Rodger, but found no legal cause to search his room for the deadly weapon and stockpile of ammunition that would have exposed his threats as immediate.

     We can figure out how to stop these mass shootings if we recognize mental illness as a public health issue and not just a private burden. We can pay for additional public safety personnel trained to recognize mental illness. We can fund new programs and more treatment facilities.

     Video games, music and films don’t cause these shootings, but we must admit that, just like advertising, they can provide scenarios by which mentally ill individuals play out their psychoses. We can limit access to the types of weapons and the quantities of ammunition shown in those scenarios, making the psychic breaks less instead of more deadly.

     We can figure this out. We must figure it out. We owe it to our children.




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