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Kevin Roseland, Moorhead, Published December 29 2012

Letter: How can we stop violence?

We grieve the loss of innocent life in Connecticut, as well as mustering as much sorrow and outrage for previous shootings in Colorado and other places. What will it take to stop the nonsensical violence that has crept slowly into our society? We will call for tighter controls on guns and gun access, and we will call for tighter control and more availability of mental health services. Will this be enough?

Having spent the majority of my pre-retirement career in fields associated with mental health, I applaud efforts to make services affordable and available to all. I am heartened also that we talk more openly now about mental and emotional challenges. Realistically, however, unless you are part of the great wall of scientific research, the majority of us merely come to understand mental health from what we observe in the media. Most of what we observe is inadequate to provide a good understanding of mental health, predictability of behavior, and whether treatment will cure the ills of society.

Not predictable

The same is true for gun control. I own hunting guns. I see no need for large weaponry in my household. I support the Second Amendment. Do I believe that guns should never be part of criminal elements of society? Absolutely. Do I support the staunch public stand of the National Rifle Association? Not anymore.

The basic facts of the matter, related to mental health, are that the types of behaviors seen in tragic community incidents are generally not predictable.

Another fact, at least in my personal and professional life: Those afflicted with mental and emotional problems are, for the most part, not violent. I don’t want to claim any special expertise here. I was a practitioner, not a researcher. I can only go on what my 35-plus years in the field shows me, and most of that is anecdotal. I can tell you, however, that there is no test to say whether someone will become violent. The best predictor of violence is past behavior and the observations of a person by those in the community who actually have contact with the individual.

I’m not saying that, to the uninitiated, a psychotic person cannot come across as scary. Generally even psychotics in full-blown symptomology represent an extremely small percentage of people who commit violent acts.

More to learn

People who commit these violent acts, in my opinion again, are not necessarily mentally ill. Certainly, it is an understatement to say they are healthy, but my position is these individuals are generally of a class of folks who are merely missing something (read defective), and no amount of mental health care will cure them. (Think psychopaths and serial killers, hate groups, etc.)

We learn a lot about neurology and neuropsychology. We can now see inside the brain while a person is alive. We are beginning to see differences in certain types of brains. If only we knew enough about neuropsychology to interpret these complex patterns. We aren’t there yet. If we were, we probably could develop some preventive strategies to keep those brains from engaging in processes that result in violent outbursts.

We look to leadership to cure our ills (read politicians). It shouldn’t be too difficult to see how ineffective this approach can be. Our politicians want to be re-elected, and much of that process depends on the support of powerful lobbies.

Some laws are good. Law enforcement does a generally good job. The real change, however, is what individuals can do. Certainly we need to focus on safety, but it is a leap of faith to believe that arming oneself to the teeth is going to make us safer.

Firepower?

Having spent 27 years working with veterans, many of them combat veterans, has convinced me that more firepower does not necessarily equate to more safety.

Think of the situation of a soldier in Iraq who comes across a 14-year-old child holding a gun or bomb. The child is a threat to you and your troops and, ultimately, your choice is to take that child out or be killed yourself. Consider that example, while simultaneously asking whether arming teachers in the classroom will make schools safer. I can tell you the soldier has been changed for life, and the guilt can sometimes be crushing. Would you imagine that teacher having to use a gun in a classroom against an armed young intruder would be an easy choice to make? That is a no-win situation for anyone.

The only viable solution in this particularly complex and difficult debate is what changes do individuals need to make. How much self-examination is sufficient? What can we do at home, in our community, etc., to make our world safer? Personal responsibility does not equate to giving up rights. What would you do?