Newtown, CT will not be the last time tragedy strikes

I will say this up front: Newtown, Connecticut will not be the last time tragedy strikes. For good or bad, in this age of social media including twitter, it is easier to track the coverage of this story and people’s opinions about it. I have been thinking about this constantly today, and talking with my friends and neighbors about what happened this morning.

Outlining the problems setting up this tragedy are well known and well documented:

  • Mental illness. It is no secret that there is lack of adequate tracking and treatment of the mentally ill in the United States. I wrote a series of posts more than 5 years ago following the Virginia Tech shootings: “Mental Care Delivery In the US,” “Depression = Murderer?” “Privacy Laws Need Scrutinized” Will mental illness finally have its due and be seriously addressed in this country? Nope.
  • Guns. Do guns kill people? Yes. Do people kill people? Yes. Do we need more gun laws? Probably. Are there too many gun laws? Probably. Twitter is fired up on this issue right now. Will anything really change? Nope. Republicans will not let that happen.
  • American culture. Of course there is a desensitization of violence in American culture. This has been happening for a long time. The usual suspects will be blamed including music, the internet, movies, television and video games. Will anything about these change? Nope. Democrats will not let that happen.

Newtown will be added to the litany of names of other tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, this week’s Happy Valley Oregon. The question always turns to this: “How can we prevent the next tragedy?” More gun laws? Probably. Better mental illness care? Probably. Changing American culture? Probably.

But, let me tell you this. Change is not going to happen. There has to me massive steps on multiple fronts to even try to address this very complicated problem. That is what makes this a continual sad situation. This story will be in the news cycle for two weeks. And, then after Christmas and after New Years, the drive to make change will dissipate.

I wrote the following passage back in 2007 in a post entitled, “Can The Cycle Be Broken“, and, again in 2011 following the shootings in Tuscon, and unfortunately, it still rings true today:

Of course, people are outraged by this situation. I’m outraged by what happened. But, I’ve seen this too many times. We are shocked by what happened, we mourn the victims, we blame whomever we need to blame for what happened, then we go back to our apathy until the next tragedy happens. Well, I’m sick and tired of this useless cycle. Instead of outrage turning into apathy, let’s turn outrage into action. And, I’m not talking about knee-jerk reactions…

Um, uh, wait a minute. As I think about things now, I’m thinking about what realistically can happen? Would it mean a radical change in American culture? A culture that celebrates violence? A culture that makes celebrities out of people like Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and Cho Seung-Hui. Unfortunately, this is a culture that shirks at the idea of accountability. A culture that believes that it’s someone else’s job to fix the problem. A country and culture that feels no personal investment to fix its own problems. Am I wrong here? Please tell me I’m wrong…

It breaks my heart that tragedies like this continue to happen. But, if this status quo continues, I will wait for the next city to be added to this list to write about this again.

Mike Sevilla is a family physician who blogs at Family Medicine Rocks

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