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home : opinions : commentary December 17, 2014

9/12/2012 10:13:00 AM
Signs are there before senseless killings
By Larry Wonderling, Ph.D.
Special to the Tribune

Guns don't kill, people do.

As a lead in to the tragic Aurora, Colorado massacre by James Holmes, some of you may remember that old saw during one of NRA's defensive stands, probably following some domestic gun battle.

To me, it's a classic, specious one-liner that attempts to create a convincing argument for gun-toters with barely a fragment of reflective logic. We see this in politics constantly with such "war on drugs logic" as "Opium kills, therefore eliminate opium."

Already, while the investigation of the Colorado massacre continued, news pundits like Bob Seifert and his enclave of expert journalists debated why leaders haven't openly confronted gun laws to prevent or at least dilute the horrific Aurora carnage similar to the Gabby Giffords mass shooting in Tucson and countless others in recent years.

Virtually all of these shootings have plenty in common; they were committed by one person with sufficient fire power to kill and injure dozens in a relatively short time period; the killers were all males; the victims were virtually unknown targets; and all the shootings were planned.

The most important similarity, however, is the evidence that all the murderers were mentally ill. How would I know? The observable professional evidence in each of these cases is the heinous pathological symptoms of psychotic, paranoid-type delusions. In other words, these killings represent crazy, homicidal behavior unlikely to occur in any normal person. With no evidence of an accomplice, or terrorist group affiliation, this random slaughter makes no rational sense.

Perhaps this is why I'm so concerned with our nation's apparent selective focus in such cases.

Despite the NRA's righteous arguments, it should seem obvious to those pandering the 2nd Amendment that the issue isn't guns vs. no guns. It's about high velocity, rapid firing military weapons being sold on the open market. It's also most definitely about the ease in which just about anyone can purchase volatile firepower. These repeated massacres of innocents by one "deranged" U.S. citizen speak volumes about our flawed wars against "something."

We have spent billions on a war against drugs with the myopic focus on the supply instead of the demand. Our war on poverty was another fiasco, with one in four families still living below the poverty line.

The tragedy is in our nation's avoidance of an all-out strategy to eliminate the complex underlying causes of "senseless" killings, the psychosocial aspects of poverty, and the demand side of drug use. Obviously guns don't kill, people do; while the critical question remains what kinds of people? Despite all the well-investigated massacres in recent years, the obvious answer hasn't changed: The mentally ill do. Unfortunately such a valid premise seems to be upstaged by the raging gun control controversy, perhaps because politicians are reluctant to openly take on such a complex, expensive problem as mental health.

Just about anyone in the mental health business knows that symptom recognition and prevention are essential initial steps in significantly reducing such tragedies as Columbine, Aurora, or Tucson-type carnage, deaths by drunk drivers, child molestation, drug abuse, domestic violence, serial killers, etc. The culprits invariably have mental, emotional or behavioral problems. They typically exhibit symptoms that flash warnings to any observer suggesting, without professional intervention, there's a high probability the behaviors will dangerously worsen.

One hackneyed argument against prevention is the absence of symptomatic evidence until it's too late. I disagree, simply because most people in our country aren't familiar with early symptoms or have what I consider the ordinary citizen syndrome that it's "none of my business." Sadly, it's all of our business. Walking by that strange acting person on the street, or ignoring the screams of a rape victim at least deserves a 911 call.

As for 24-year-old Holmes, who killed and injured all those innocents in Aurora, Colo., he was rejected for membership in the Lead Valley Gun Range by the owner after hearing Holmes' bizarre behavior on his phone answering message. This happened about a month before the massacre. Conclusion? Too bad the incident wasn't reported to professionals or with a simple 911 call. Would it have mattered? Maybe!

Dr. Wonderling is a retired clinical and forensic psychologist whose latest book, "Psychological First Aid for the Good Samaritan" is nearing completion.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: Discussion Not Emotion

Cory -

The point the doctor was making was that MAYBE becoming involved would have made a difference. Our lives aren't in a vacuum. There were plenty of people who's lives touched the shooter's, some more, some less. Men and women that commit these atrocities show signs, it doesn't just happen out of the blue. If any of the people in the shooter's life, casual or intimate, had taken steps, the shooting might have been prevented.

Doing something might have prevented the shooting, or it might not have changed anything, but doing nothing DEFINITELY prevents nothing.

That's the point of the doctor's letter.

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Article comment by: Cory Saz

Not sure why we're trotting this pony around again for, oh wait he's got a book coming out. Nothing would have happened had the gun range instructor called 911, they would have blown it off as him being a nosey neighbor, and they have better things to do... And even if they did take the call seriously, then what? They need probable cause to go investigate the person, he was a gifted student at the time, they probably would see that and let it go at that.

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Article comment by: Discussion Not Emotion

Excellent article, and excellent points! It's too bad that most readers will focus on the "guns don't kill, people kill" statement and ignore the rest.

Guns are designed to kill. There just isn't any way around that simple fact. Then we act outraged and shocked when a human uses this deadly weapon to kill. There is a real disconnect there.

There's nothing I like better than an angry or disturbed American with easy access to high-powered automatic firearms. Remember, if some of those Aurora theatre customers had been packing, the body count would have been much higher, as people wandered into a deadly crossfire.

"Nukes don't kill people, people kill people." Interesting logic.

But the larger point, as the good Doctor notes in this essay, is to take steps when someone begins to show odd or erratic behavior. Therapies are available, folks, all it takes is a proactive stance from a public that cares...

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