No Guns, No Glory?


I read your editorial with appreciation this morning. In my practice, I have worked with adolescents and young adults for more than 30 years, so the fact that many mass shooters are so young has caught my attention.

Of course, there is never just one cause for such horrific actions. But it seems to me that there are two recurring themes in these situations: (1) many shooters are socially isolated and (2) in our culture, the use of guns is glorified as a representation of power and a source of satisfaction. Here are my thoughts on each:

1. Shooters are often loners who exhibit behavior that is deviant or in some way socially unacceptable; this varies from public masturbation or the voicing of scary thoughts and ideas to simply exhibiting social awkwardness. When the lonely, shunned child has access to powerful, multiple-shot weapons, this is a setup for a shooting.

Perhaps society inadvertently causes harm by forcing classroom integration. About 30 years ago, with the hope to normalize abnormal social interactions and to help students understand and accept those who are different from them, schools began to mainstream students with serious learning difficulties, including students with mental illnesses. These children lost their “group,” their classroom community of those similar to themselves. They are still assigned personalized curricula and work one-on-one with special education teachers, but they do not have much of a peer group anymore. These students are put with a group of students—normal kids—that frequently rejects them.

Part of the problem has to do with the demonization of the term “normal”; it is now politically incorrect to designate a student as normal or not, despite the persistence of the bell-shaped curve. If normal, nonviolent behavior is desired, we need to be able to name abnormal behaviors as such.

Parents, understandably, want this type of social integration for their child. But when these students are bullied throughout the day, it takes a toll. We, as parents or providers, may not fully recognize how children experience this bullying, and those affected may not be able to describe it. They then withdraw, not finding anyone to share their feelings and experiences with, to cope. Some of these kids live as loners in school, and around ages 16 to 25, this lifestyle can become intolerable. They may become depressed from the emotional pain, seek revenge, and wish to die.

The desire to die—and to get lots of attention from it—is recognized in many adolescents. Lonely, troubled teens imagine what others will say about them when they are dead, and think of themselves looking down from heaven or somewhere, watching the grief and surprise overtake their peers.

Continue to: To take out others with themselves...

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