A few thoughts:
Don’t incentivize what you don’t want more of
Internationally, football is known for a zero-tolerance policy with regard to doping. You don’t get to go on to win 140 medals that get stripped later. You fail a test, you career is over. The result? There’s not much of a doping problem over there. It is simply too dangerous to mess with for a footballer, so they leave it alone.
Occasionally there are problems with people who, during large televised events, go running across the field during a match to get attention and laughs. The media generally don’t put these on TV. They don’t talk about them. And they damn sure don’t mention the person’s name or show their face. Why? Because if you do so you just told thousands of people who are eager for attention that this is a way to get noticed. You just magnified the problem 1,000 times over.
The events in Connecticut seem to be much the same. The one thing you don’t do to improve public safety is tell say to thousands of other mentally ill, deranged, young men:
I know you’re alone and invisible right now, and that nobody cares about how tortured you are. But there’s a way for them to learn about you. There’s a way for the world to understand what you’ve been through. They’ll sift through every facet of your life to figure out why you were so upset. They’ll finally understand you. They’ll finally listen.
That’s the message we’re sending right now to hundreds or thousands of broken young men who are capable of doing something similar.
Enough already. Stop rewarding the perpetrators with mention. Just as I advocate with terrorism, the answer here is to say:
The person who did this was mentally ill, and we have many others out there right now who are just like him. It’s our responsibility to find them among us, and to help them. But we will not show the face of the coward that did this; he took the easy path and his story shall never be told.
He wasn’t being heard and he thought this was the way to get a voice. He shall have no such thing. We will erase him from our minds because he lacked the courage to make his pain heard in another way. If you are hurting like this person was, know that this is not what will get you attention. Come forward. Talk to someone. Do not hurt others in an attempt to get noticed, because it will only ensure that nobody ever hears your story.
These are the two strategies that will stop this from happening:
- We need to recognize mental health as the origin of this type of violence as opposed to targeting the weapons used to carry it out. A man willing to kill 20 children is infinitely more dangerous in a world with no guns than a rational and compassionate man is with an arsenal.
- We must not reward perpetrators with information about their story. For those who are troubled, this is often precisely what they want. Talking about why they did it virtually guarantees that it will happen again.
On free will and practical ways forward
Ultimately (and now is not really the time for ultimately), this shooter had something happen to him. Mental illness, poor upbringing, disability, insanity–whatever. Those are factors that directly caused the events of 12/14. If he had a brain tumor that caused this by impeding his ability to think, who would blame him? Very few. So why is it any different if someone is insane?
It’s not. Anyone who kills 20 children is inhibited in much the same way as having a brain tumor.
This does nothing to excuse his behavior. All we’re speaking of is ultimate cause. The behavior is unwanted, so it’s not ok that it happened, but the goal should be mapping the enabling inputs (see above) and ensuring that those factors are eliminated. That is what will achieve the desired outcome of fewer such incidents.
Not controlling guns. Not publicly studying the life of this person in-depth which ultimately validates his actions. Those are hot-stove reactions to the problem that at best don’t help, and at worst perpetuates the suffering we’re trying to prevent.
We as a society need to treat mental illness like a brain tumor that disables rational thought, and act accordingly. This means eliminating the useless assignment of attributes such as “evil” and focusing on turning the real-world knobs that will improve outcomes.