Yet another senseless massacre. Enough!
We simply cannot continue to mourn the growing number of dead, senselessly slain men, women and children, lost family members, missing friends and neighbors, forfeited futures, valuable lives cut short.
Instead of addressing the causes of this cancerous epidemic of violence, we continue to focus on the symptoms. Following the Columbine and Newtown massacres, we turned our schools into fortresses. Following the Orlando and Las Vegas massacres, nightclubs and concert venues piled on security, inspecting, wanding, adding armed guards. Following the Chareleston and now the Sutherland Springs church massacres, religious leaders are purchasing security systems and arming ushers. These institutions have no choice but to take these measures, but they do not address the root causes, they merely attempt to protect the innocent from what is seemingly considered inevitable future violence.
We must also address the explosive common denominators that are making massacres the new normal in America: the lack of an objective, medical model of mental illness, the proliferation of assault rifles and lack of effective background checks and other means of keeping guns out the hands of those who are a danger to themselves and others, and the breakdown of our civil society.
As we speculate about the motives of the Orlando shooter, the Las Vegas shooter, the Sutherland Springs shooter, I submit to you that none of these men had a real motive. They were all deranged. The question is, how can we spot them and stop them before they wreak havoc and destroy lives?
One of the characteristics shared by many shooters is a history of domestic violence. Men who take up arms against others are highly likely to have abused their wives, girlfriends and/or children. In fact, research shows that one in five batterers go on to commit violent crimes beyond the walls of their homes. So that's a pretty good marker, right?
But what about the four out of five who do not? They may beat and stalk in many of the same despicable ways as the 20 percent who do not go on to massacre school children or parishioners. Although the mentally ill are far more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators, sometimes the behavior that definitively determines a mental illness is seemingly senseless slaughter. That's too late. How do we distinguish the abusive from the mentally ill?
According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), the diagnosis of mental illnesses still relies primarily on behavior. This is clearly a subjective, inadequate and incomplete diagnostic standard. It doesn't even allow us to identify the future shooters from among the current abusers.
What if there were objective tests - blood tests, urine tests, brain chemical precursor tests, EEGs, CAT scans, MRIs - that could objectively diagnose a form of schizophrenia or one of the depressions? Surprise. There are. Ill, Not Insane: The Physiological Bases of Mental Illness lists more than 100 such tests. It was published in 1986. That's right - 30 years ago. I remember this well. I co-authored this book and became a passionate spokesperson for a medical model of mental illness. Although we now recognize chronic mental illnesses as physiological in nature and not the result of "something your mother did to you when you were three," representing great strides in our perception of mental illness, we have stopped far short of adopting a fully medical model of mental illness.
The brain, an organ like the heart or the liver, must be working properly for what we call the mind to function properly. Many things can cause the brain to malfunction, causing psychotic behavior. The physiological cause(s) of the brain malfunction must be determined before medications and treatments which address those causes can be prescribed, if available. Because these tests are objective and do not rely on subjective, behavior-based diagnoses, they could and should also be used as an important part of background checks for those seeking to purchase firearms.
Background checks. Universal, strict, thorough and extensive background checks are essential. How about vetting gun owners as thoroughly as we vet refugees before allowing them to enter the country - a rigorous process which takes five to seven years? The definition of domestic violence must be expanded to include not just wives but also girlfriends. Women must report domestic violence. This is the only way to create the legal record that should prevent the batterer from purchasing a gun. In some states, persons charged with domestic violence or placed under a restraining order must relinquish their gun(s). This is not the case in every state or at the federal level, but it damned well should be.
If a person is not considered a good risk to board a plane, s/he cannot safely own a gun. If a person's brain is objectively shown to not be functioning well enough for his or her mind to make rational decisions, that person cannot safely own a gun. In fact, if you do not have a legitimate reason to own an assault rifle, you should not own a military-style weapon. If you are not part of an organized militia, as stipulated by the 2nd Amendment, you should not own a gun - and we are no longer talking about muskets. Prove the need before permitting the purchase.
This is what Canada, Japan and most other developed nations do. In Canada, you must take a firearms safety course and pass a test, a background check, and go through reference interviews before owning a gun. There are only two valid reasons for owning a firearm: target shooting and hunting. Carrying firearms for self-defense against human threats is prohibited. That's right across the Peace Bridge, folks.
Finally, we must put an end to the vulgar, hate speech. A civil society does not brook this. Speak up against the hateful rants on social media, say no to the unfettered bigotry and hate that permeates our public discourse. This vile speech tears down the societal barriers to violence and gives permission to hate and kill. Freedom of speech does not extend to hate speech.
We must stop mourning the dead and address the three explosive common denominators that are making massacres the new normal in America: the proliferation of assault rifles and lack of effective background checks, the lack of an objective, medical model of mental illness, and the breakdown of our civil society.
Now, before any more innocent souls die.