We Are Setting the Table for the Next Killer
Chicago, IL, Dec. 20, 2012-As a registered Ph.D. clinical psychologist in private practice since 1972, and a member of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Phelan has seen and worked with many people with serious problems. His opinion on what can be done to stop or slow down the type of tragedy we saw in Sandy Hook is different from what the media has been doing since the incident.
Another "school shooting" becomes history. This one is more horrible than any other. Since October 1, 1997, you can count at least fifteen school killings that have left over eighty people dead, many more wounded, and many more people than that emotionally scarred for life.
What's our response? Well, we do the usual automatic news coverage. Horrible, gory, extremely upsetting headlines all over the place—you can't escape them; extensive TV coverage including interviews with third graders regarding their direct experience of the murders. This stuff is repeated daily over and over. People wring their hands and say, "What are we going to do?" The President appears on TV and says the same thing.
What's wrong with this? Three things. The first two are bad enough, but the third is crucial. The first thing wrong with our response is that extensive news coverage is deeply and horribly disrespectful to the parents and family members who lost little children and loved ones. Let them grieve without the fanfare. The second is that extensive news coverage traumatizes parents and grandparents all over the country. These adults don't want to send their kids to school. When will the next maniac walk into a classroom?
The third thing wrong with our handling of the calamity, however, may be the most important. You can't undo the tragedy, but we should be interested in preventing further tragedies. But we just don't get it. We just go round in circles wringing our hands and talking about greater physical security measures. There's a big difference, though, between protecting schools and playgrounds and sealing up the cockpit of an airplane. Why? Because you can pretty much seal up the cockpit of the plane.
Whatever else we do, if we're really, really interested in preventing future events like this, we need to try to understand the motives of these killers. Or at least make our best guesses about why they want to kill large numbers of innocent people. I've been a practicing clinical psychologist for forty years and I want to share my thoughts on this question.
The Foes We Face
Who are these guys? Well, first they are guys. All of them. Second, they are all young. And third they are all frustrated with their lives. Bitterly, absolutely frustrated. They see their lives as cesspools of failure, and at some point they give up...