On the Newton Massacre: Why?
by Dr. David Mandler
The massacre on Friday in Newton, Connecticut, has shattered the lives of countless families who have lost their most precious treasures in a few terrifying moments. Such a senseless slaughter of children and the heroic adults in charge of their education makes even the most callous of us pause and ask the inevitable: why?
Why did Adam Lanza, the shooter, have access to such devastating firearms? Why does any civilian need such weapons in the first place? Hunting animals certainly does not require automatic weapons. Of course, the whole idea of hunting “for fun” strikes me as an utterly selfish expression of a personality that enjoys wanton destruction. But who am I to judge? As long as hunting itself is not illegal, my personal aversion towards it has no bearing on other people’s choices. So, the first step, in my view, in fostering respect for human life is to create a climate in which the life of wild animals is valued to such an extent that it would not even occur to anyone to extinguish the life of a complex thinking and feeling animal just for the fun of it.
And if not for hunting, why would anyone need a gun? For self-protection from others with guns, of course! After all, the gun lobby has told us many times that “it’s not guns that kill people; it’s people who kill people.” No, guns do not kill people. But they don’t give birth and nurture people. Ever the most ardent NRA member could not argue with the fact that guns enable people to kill others with more efficiency and in much larger numbers. Adam Lanza armed with a kitchen knife would not have been able to murder 27 people.
Only when a significant number of people who should not have guns have guns does everyone need to have a gun.
Why did Adam Lanza decide to shoot 27 people to death? It is too early to answer that question. According to some news articles, Lanza had a personality disorder. Shooters with mental disorders seems to be a recurrent theme. Yet, it’s perfectly reasonable. Who else but a mentally deranged individual would think about shooting five to ten-year-olds in a school? While our instinctive response is a resounding nobody would, I beg to differ.
Don’t the most popular video games today involve massive amounts of shooting and increasingly more realistic graphics that allow the virtual shooters to “enjoy” seeing their victims die in gruesome and often grotesquely exaggeratedly detailed ways? Are these games, as some would argue, only serve to channel the natural human tendencies for aggression of violence into a harmless dimension where nobody really gets hurt? Perhaps. I, for one, find the prevalence and popularity of violent video games quite a disturbing testimony of humanity and its discontents even in the unlikely scenario that the mass shooters of the recent past had never played a single violent video game prior to their shooting sprees. Again, a massacre such as the one in Newton should make us think twice about promoting senseless killings (especially for entertainment) as these video games desensitize young people to seeing bodies mowed down by a hail of gunfire.
Why was Adam Lanza not treated for his “personality disorder” in time? This, too, is a question to be answered. What we do know is that far too many people today have either no access to mental health services or have only inadequate or occasional access mainly as a result of having no health insurance or having inadequate health insurance. This, too, must change. Those of us whose eyes tear up at the images of screaming children rushing out of their school building in single file owe it to the children who were taken out in body bags. We need to demand from our elected officials–and our insurance companies–that mental health issues be taken seriously in our country. As with anything, the more organized and unified our voices are, the better.
Finally, why did God allow such a gruesome mass slaughter? To this question, we have no answer. God has “allowed” countless equally horrific events in human history. For some, this is proof that God is either not benevolent or not omnipotent. For others, it puts an end to the “notion” of God. Still others see it as an inevitable consequence of free will that God has granted every human being. We are all free to act upon our will even if it results in the horrible loss of other human beings. It is not my place, nor would it be appropriate for me, to moralize here. The pain is too fresh. Our tears shoot up from a bottomless pit of deep sorrow in reaction to such a heavy loss of young lives.
My conclusions did not need such a horrible act of violence to come to the fore. Yet, it is the best occasion for me to reiterate what I have always believed. We need to act as kind, responsible and compassionate human beings today, tomorrow and every day. We need to put an end to the gun culture that has sprouted so many weeds in our social garden, choking the life out of the diverse and beautiful flowers that are our children. We need to reexamine the way in which our institutions deal with the mentally ill. We need to look within ourselves and honestly ask ourselves whether or not we have done everything (or anything) in our power to make those around us feel good about themselves and about others in their environment.
We need to develop a sense of responsibility for one another in which others’ well-being is as important to us as is our own–since in the final analysis, everyone is inextricably connected to everyone else.
A part of me has died on Friday along with those 27 innocents.
I fervently hope that my remaining vital parts redouble their efforts to stimulate a strong desire in me to do good, be kind, and feel compassion for every human being on Earth and especially those in my immediate vicinity for whom I can make a difference.