Look to the mind, not the arms


Hunter Johnson, Commentary Editor


The key to preventing future tragedies of this sort isn't gun control, but mental health services. –Photo courtesy of NPR
The key to preventing future tragedies of this sort isn’t gun control, but mental health services.
–Photo courtesy of NPR

Last week, we were once again reminded of our country’s problems handling the mentally deranged.

On Monday, Sept. 16, a man named Aaron Alexis walked into a building of the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., carrying a disassembled shotgun in a bag. After putting it back together in a bathroom, he strolled out into the hallway and opened fire. By the time police put him down over 30 minutes later, he had killed 12 people.

Tragedies like this are shocking to hear about. They shake us to the core, not only because we feel so much sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, but also because we are reminded of the dangerous world in which we live.

What’s more, it would seem that these tragedies are becoming more common. Before this, there was the Aurora movie-theater shooting. And the Fort Hood massacre. And the Virginia Tech shooting. And the Newtown shooting that took place in an elementary school, killing 26 children and teachers.

It’s clear, and it has been for some time, that our society needs to take steps to ensure that events like these are eliminated from our culture entirely or at least kept to a minimum. The billion-dollar question that remains is … how?

What appears to be the easiest method is one that has long garnered millions of supporters: gun control. The reasoning employed by these supporters is quite obvious and not exactly the easiest to counter. If people were denied access to such efficient killing tools, some argue, then tragedies like the Navy Yard and Newtown shootings simply wouldn’t be possible.

Now, gun control advocates do have a point. The problem is that such gun-control measures won’t solve this problem. If anything, they are more like Band-Aids – temporary fixes at best. Giving away our rights under the Second Amendment is not the answer. That amendment was added to the Constitution in order to ensure that, when all else fails, people are capable of defending themselves and their families from external threats. If we were to change or eliminate such laws when a few people abuse them, we would be left with hardly any rights at all, now wouldn’t we?

What many gun-control advocates forget is that it is not the arms a madman carries, but rather what is going on in his mind that is most important. If someone really wants to kill people – wants to actually end lives – then he is going to do so. There were massacres long before semi-automatic weapons came into existence. Whether it be by hunting rifle, bomb or tomahawk, when someone has decided to commit atrocities, he will commit them.

To prevent more mass shootings, we have to go straight to the source and help those whose mental issues incline them to violence. Look at Aaron Alexis: over the past few months, it became clear to those who knew him that he was gradually losing his grip on reality. He claimed that he heard voices in a hotel one night trying to keep him awake. He also told police that people tried using a “microwave machine” to send vibrations through his body.

James Holmes and Adam Lanza, the men behind the Aurora and Newtown massacres, respectively, displayed signs of mental problems long before the shootings. What’s common amongst all these shooters is that the mental health community failed to lead these men away from their violent inclinations, even though both Alexis and Holmes sought help. In Lanza’s case he was kept isolated for much of his life and denied access to help by a mother who failed to adequately grasp her son’s issues.

There’s no telling how many potential killers have been properly helped by the mental health community and turned away from violence. However, in a world where cable news can run images of massacres and their executioners for weeks on end, doctors must appropriately adjust their methods to counter what some mentally unfit people may now see as a way to fame. Family and friends must also take action when they see a loved one begin to go down a dark path. If such actions are taken, the urge to kill could be stemmed before it is too late.


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