The Connecticut school shooting: a turning point in American history?

As a father myself I was deeply shocked by what had happened at the Connecticut school shooting at the Sandy Hook school in Newport on Friday the 14th of December 2012. Twenty very young children and 7 innocent adults were shot to death by a young 20-year adult Adam Lanza in this Connecticut School shooting.

I just read the names and histories of the victims: Dawn, Mary, Lauren, Victoria, Olivia, Emilie, Rachel, Anne Marie, Charlotte, Daniel, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison. Even worse: 14 of them were 6 years old, 4 were 7. So it's not only the number of casualties in this Connecticut school shooting but especially their very young age that shocked the world and moved myself and most others to tears.

Why? How? What sense does such a school shooting or massacre has? None, most people would say. Completely and utterly pointless, their deaths, I hear them think.

Was it all senseless? Pointless? Unexplainable?

As a clinical (neuro)psychologist I am 'used to' hear the most terrifying stories about people's lives. Trying with the client to make any sense whatsoever out of the mess they are into. Trying to understand what has happened and trying to detect whether there is anything to learn from their misery and hardship. I am lucky to say: there always is. Something to learn and give the suffering a meaningful place in their personal development and their life.

But how, for God's sake, can you see anything at all of some meaning in this carnage, this kind of school shooting? What point is there in the too early deaths of beautiful young children such as Emilie, Benjamin and all the others? Nice and very innocent children, taken away much too soon. Pointless?

However meaningless their deaths, I still think there is some sense and hope here. Some point that can be enormously significant for all of us, for the United States, for all those who still think life's worth to be lived and there is a meaning to life at all. A sense, a meaningful point that just has to be seen and picked up by millions of Americans to make the deaths of these young children at least a bit meaningful. Obama, in his speech in the Newport vigil talked about the meaning of life as well: giving love to each other.

See his moving speech here:

Obama's speech at Newport about the Connecticut school shooting

Before making my point in WHY and HOW this insane school shooting can become historically meaningful, let's talk about some facts:

First of all, one fact is that in human society as complex as our modern world, there will always be some persons who can not cope with their lives and this world. They become mentally ill, deranged, loco, however you want to call it. They will become out of sync with reality, will not think logically anymore and worse: will not feel any compassion or empathy anymore. They will be out of contact with any normal, caring, feeling, living being.

So far so good. Nothing to worry about...if a mental health system is working properly, if a society is caring enough to detect these kind of persons quickly enough to help them, and...if such people have no simple access to harmful weapons.

Fact number two is that the American society is not exactly an ideal model of a large mental health system, working properly, accessible to anyone, rich or poor. President Obama was the first president ever to insist upon a health care system for (indeed) everyone. A fact that was already recognized by most other western civilizations as being ethically the only right thing to do. It is shocking to see that so many still are opposed to this morally right system. Just read what experts have to say about the American mental health care system, cut to pieces in the last 10 years:

USA today: article about 'possible turning point in gun laws and mental health care system'

Fact number 3 is that the American society isn't as caring and warm as it seems. The differences between the poor and the rich have only become larger. There are many suburbs where due to fences and security guards there exist small communities for the 'happy few' with carefully selected private schools, private teachers, private cars, private doctors and so forth. So much for 'community sense'. Is this typically Republican thinking? Not raising taxes for the wealthiest 2%? Is that caring for everyone or just narcissism at its worst?

And last but not least: fact number 4 sums it all up, the free availability of firearms to most people. A firearm that has only ONE purpose: destroying. Destroying a piece of paper (bull's eye) or even a life of a sentient being. I have never come across a firearm that was constructively building or making something.

So now the Connecticut School shooting can be explained quite simply. It did not even came as a surprise to me, nor to anyone with some intelligence and knowledge about human behavior. The signs were always there:

1. a society not really into caring, into compassion, exemplified by a health care system that is not as widespread and compassionate such as in Europe. What Europeans would call 'a harsh' society, a jungle, just like in countries as Columbia, Bolivia, or even Russia where there isn't much respect for human lives.

2. a society in which there are many, many opportunities to get crazy, to get lost, to get out of sync with reality. Truly a country of limitless possibilities...

3. so many people around with guns, mostly freely available.

4. so many violence around, on television, in daily life with an extreme high homicidal rate compared to similar western countries like the UK or Australia.

No wonder there have been similar serious mass shootings in a cinema, at high schools, in clubs. I seriously can not understand why anyone with a normal brain still is surprised when such things happen.

So PLEASE: we all know WHY it happens, especially in a country like America. A country of which I am proud at times, really. Just like Obama I believe in the United States as one of the greatest countries on Earth, largely because of the many opportunities you can have there to become someone you really want to be.

And NOW this massacre, this school shooting points to only one direction: deleting the second amendment in the Constitution and very strict gun control laws. Just as we have in Europe and Australia.

Why strict gun control?

First of all, a weapon like a gun isn't very constructive, in anything. It usually stimulates violence, extends violence, and has only to be used extremely cautiously. When people get emotional, anything can happen. Their self-control diminishes and almost everyone has wanted to kill someone once in his life; at least: the thought came to once's mind. With a weapon at hand, such thoughts could easily turn into actions, because it is so easy when being emotional. What do think will happen when everyone is allowed to carry a weapon, just like in the Wild West? As a clinical neuropsychologist I can predict that the number of shooting incidents will skyrocket, as your fears. That's the future the NRA wants for you and your children.

Second, you can only build a safer society by encouraging people to become friendly and emotionally balanced, following their natural instincts, that is: loving and caring empathically for every living sentient being. Because, that's what is biologically and evolutionary given to us humans. Just read my pages on a normal brain and normal behavior: What is normal behavior?

Obama himself does a pretty good job to show you how this can and should be done. That's his charisma and luckily most people felt that during his re-election campaign.

How could you ever trust someone like Romney, stating things like 'he does not support 47% of US-citizens'? How could you feel any sympathy for a guy that wants to delete Obama-care: a health care system for ALL Americans? How could you trust someone who most of his life lived in extreme luxury, in the company of people who just talk about defending their tax cuts because they have a God-given right to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year?

Romney, with such ideas, full of a lack of empathy for most ordinary people, a puppet for the extreme Tea-party Republicans, could never have won the elections due to this cold-hearted attitude. Of course, he thinks he is doing the right thing. Well, that's not the same as doing the morally right things.

However, we have to acknowledge that there are and always will be mentally disturbed people, in the hands of whom weapons like firearms are extremely dangerous.

Adam Lanza could have easy access to three heavy weapons because his mother did purchase them...legally. And she had not put them in a locker in a shooting club far from home. Many young children kill themselves accidentally in the United States because mom and dad are so wise to put such a lethal weapon under their pillow... Something completely unthinkable in most western countries in Europe, due to very strict gun control laws.

So just think about it: wouldn't it be great if those young childrens' deaths would pave the way to a new kind of United States where a tourist should not be concerned anymore to walk only in certain areas because of the high risk of being shot? Where a normal civilian would not be afraid anymore to get shot by anyone who can not cope with life?

Then and only then...the lost lives of these young victims would truly have some kind of meaning. As the beginning part of a whole new chapter in American history; truly as the turning point that can lead to much less (school) shooting victims in the years to come. I hope Obama has the moral courage to change the gun laws in his country, once and for all.

Anyone who still dares to say that his gun ownership is MORE important than the lives of young children, is nothing short than a narcissist. Putting his or her own selfish anxiety and gun before the lives of innocent (young) beings. Shame on them.

What to do NOW, after this school shooting?

Although I don't live in the United States, I do care about its development. In such a democracy some really nice things have happened there already. But more can come. America hasn't reached its potentials yet.

What to do then?

Millions of Americans should march the streets to demand stricter gun laws. To show that guns are NOT and never will be any answer to a developing and safer society. Show the unity and diversity you had when you voted for Obama. I know your people are extremely divided but it is really a choice between the friendly, openminded and warm and caring people and those who are just afraid, selfish, racist and greedy. They are the ones holding onto guns, whatever it takes. I can even imagine a civil war when everyone has to hand over his gun to the police authorities. some respect to the young victims and their families who struggled to build a better world and life there in Newport. As one father said: 'The world became a better place because Emilie had been around'... It still can get even better to honour her death as a sign that gun control should come now for a country that can make things happen for the best, things we cannot barely even imagine right now.

Fight the insane reasons the NRA and gun owners throw at you. Ask them what they will do, as a small gesture to the victims of this Connecticut school shooting. Ask them if their little sacrifice to store their guns in a shooting club, safely in a locker, is too much to ask in relation to the deaths of these innocent children. Ask them if they really think that such mass shootings of innocent children is the price to pay for their (selfish) freedom to carry a gun. And whether they can tell you this without any feeling or compassion. If they have a personality disorder, they surely can: showing no compassion at all. Rationalizing their way out of this confronting discussion. Driven by anxiety, thinking they are so threatened that they need to defend themselves, against anyone. Just as the insane suggestion that everyone should have a weapon. What do YOU think is an act of trust and compassion? Saying: 'you'll need to carry a gun because I'm carrying one myself?' or saying: 'Hello stranger, nice to see you, I am unarmed'?

ALL reasons gun owners throw at you are based of mistrust, on anxiety, on fears. Psychologically we know that fear just spreads around and is the worst enemy of peace and development. Unfortunately, a lot of Republicans have very fearful brains and probably a lot of them could have mental disorders as well. See the excellent discussion about the Republican brain by Chris Mooney, backed up by scientific research. It is pretty scary and interpreted psychologically, such people really are 'insane', having a psychiatric disorder. Guess where you can find the most Republicans: with the people who are for or against much stricter gun control laws?

My speculation about Adam Lanza's motivation

The Connecticut school shooting really is a terrible drama, one of the worst in western civilization. Personally, I think that Adam Lanza knew this very well. After all, he was a bright young student, but...he could not make any impression on society at all, due to his poor social skills. He must have felt that he was not liked or valued, in contrast to those beautiful young children. Often, the motives for a serial killer are very simple black and white. Being overwhelmed by jealousy he could have thought 'I must do something to attract the attention of the whole world. Something that has not been done before in the USA.' To 'earn' his place in the history books, so to speak. And he knew the school because he once visited this school as well. Considering the number of rounds he brought with him, he clearly contemplated a lot of victims. Probably due to a rapid police response and some heroic actions of the adults at the Sandy Hook school, he was stopped. Normally, at about that time, reality kicks in. Seeing all the bloodshed an overwhelming feeling of guilt usually leads to an instinctive fear and wanting to flee. Instinctively this kind of panic easily pulls the trigger...aimed at himself. Not having to face the negative judgement of the whole world. He wouldn't have handled that. Remember, he was already shy and withdrawn.

But why did he shoot himself afterwards? Why not proudly claim his point? Well, probably due to a rapid police response and some heroic actions of the adults at the Sandy Hook school, he was stopped in his extremely aggressive actions. Normally, at about that time, anger drops and anxiety (reality) kicks in. Seeing all the bloodshed an overwhelming feeling of guilt usually leads to an instinctive fear and wanting to flee. Instinctively this kind of panic easily pulls the trigger...aimed at himself. Not having to face the negative judgement of the whole world. He wouldn't have handled that. Remember, he was already shy and withdrawn.

In contrast to Anders Breivik in the Utoya shooting, Lanza did not have any clearly written statement or ideology. Both men were clearly 'insane', having a personality disorder and being out of touch with reality, having no compassion or empathy at all. But Lanza most likely acted out of a very recent conflict, with his mother. His mother, who loved firearms to defend herself, because no one could be trusted (where have we heard that before?). After having shot his mother, the one who meant the most to him according to people who knew this family well, he did not kill himself. So he wasn't overwhelmed by anxiety or guilt for what he just had done. No, instead he must have been furious, full of frustration and anger. No surprise, he busted his way into the locked school. Specifically targeted a classroom of very young children. My hunch is: to make a very decisive point, to everyone out there, in a world that could never really reach him and vice versa.

Disclaimer: of course, this is all speculation, based upon what I have read about Adam Lanza and his family, about serial killers, and based upon what I know about human behavior, psychology and the brain. I hope forensic psychologists put together a profile that can shed more light on WHY Lanza did this. Usually theycan and do succeed in this quite often. However, unfortunately the public does not get to see such profiles, so no one really learns anything about human psychology.

That's why I blog, to explain some of those psychology knowledge to everyone interested. To reduce anxiety, to demystify the human mind, and to make this world just a little better.

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