When I sat down to write this month's editorial, I knew I wanted to talk about the shootings at Northern Illinois University on Valentine's Day. Yet as I tried to pull my thoughts together, I was overwhelmed by the number of issues involved. Despite several rewrites and consultation with my colleagues, I realized that I was not going to be able to put this tragedy into a neat, digestible context. I think this reflects the enormity of the challenge our society faces in trying to prevent such violence.
We still are learning about the shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, and as of this writing the motives for his rampage remain unclear. Some evidence suggests that Kazmierczak had a history of mental illness. As much as we try, we probably never will come up with satisfactory answers for what drove Kazmierczak, Seung-Hui Cho, and too many others to commit mass murder. Some (such as the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology outfit) think they have the answer, claiming that psychiatric medications had a prominent role in causing Kazmierczak to go on a killing spree (CCHR views psychiatry as an “industry of death”). This argument tries to provide a quick answer for a tragedy that belies logic.
We can take long-overdue steps to try to prevent such violence. Our society can make meaningful, long-term investments in our mental healthcare system. At the same time, we must remind the public that people with mental illness are not inherently violent (a message made harder to deliver after the Virginia Tech and NIU shootings). We can strengthen our gun-ownership laws to keep weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them, and that includes some people with and without mental illness. And our communities can make crisis-intervention services more widely known and available.
P.S. I want to hear your thoughts on this and other topics I write about. Visit my new blog at http://www.behavioral.net and join the conversation.