How can we as a society honor the dead children?

For the families who lost children, their world as they knew it has effectively ended. Yet somehow the sun rises again and the next day is here. For the rest of us grieving along with these families, the only way to move forward is to take what President Obama called “meaningful action.” I interpret this to be action that is radical and significant enough that it will somehow give meaning to this unimaginable loss.

The first and most obvious front is gun control. Without access to guns, apparently the same rifles used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, one individual could not have done this degree of harm. The politics of gun control is not my area of expertise, but certainly the politicians must now be motivated to, as Obama said, “put aside differences” and honor these children with dramatic changes to gun control laws.

The second front is preventive mental health care. This event is the result of a deeply disturbed individual with access to guns. My inbox this morning was full of emails from mental health colleagues referring to pieces they had written for other massacres such as Virginia Tech. I hope that this unspeakable horror will be  the one that will finally lead to real change in access to preventive mental health care.

One of these colleagues wrote of how these events are often perpetrated by young adults who have not been “acting out,” but rather have been quietly bullied for years and seriously neglected at home. Their symptoms may be more subtle. Yet it is difficult to imagine that there were not people in this family’s life who did not recognize that this boy/young man was mentally ill.

The emerging information speaks to  a deeply troubled relationship between the shooter and his mother as being at the root of the event. Apparently he first shot his mother and then went to the school to deliberately kill the children at the school where she worked. I wonder, was the hurt he experienced in his relationship with her magnified by his witnessing of the care she gave her young charges at her job?  Of course I don’t know, and this is only theory as I struggle to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense.

As I said to my editor when she asked for our thoughts on this event, the trauma is perhaps too fresh for an in-depth discussion of theory and policy change. However, I am hopeful that the coming weeks and months will be filled with meaningfully dialogue of how we as a society can honor the dead children, both through gun control and improved access to quality preventive mental health care.

Claudia M. Gold is a pediatrician who blogs at Child in Mind and is the author of Keeping Your Child in Mind.

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  • Scott

    It amazes me how many people overlook the one overarching factor that encourages this kind of senseless violence…the disgusting sensationalist coverage of these killers by the media that elevates them to celebrity status. I want to slap every viewer who sits in front of their TV gobbling up the media coverage into the lives and evil actions of these people, giving them the infamy they desire. Want to be famous? Go shoot up a school, and you will get all of the attention you could ever want. You want to blame guns? Tell me why the Swiss have such a strong gun culture and such a low rate of gun crime, while in Mexico, guns are more tightly regulated under law, but people are slaughtered by them every day. It has everything to do with the culture, and nothing to do with gun laws. Obama would never speak out against this kind of coverage and piss off the media that has helped him get to where he is today.

    • JannyPi

      The Media has been sensitive to the needs of the families affected by this tragedy while we all try to process it. The stories will be ongoing, however you’ll note that little is said about the shooter.

      Guns, mental health and drugs all have a role in violence of this type, and we need to make some changes. There are many responsible gun owners who can rationally speak to reforms needed that will keep our children safe. Best to align yourself with them, Scott.

  • Gordon Terry

    The best way to honor the children would be by allowing licensed staff to carry concealed, as they do virtually everywhere else in society. These type of mass killings always occur in ‘Gun Free Zones’, which, as Thomas Jefferson would say, “…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes”. For a killer whose mind is set on destruction, and who no longer values his own life, the only way to stop him is ‘good guys’ with guns. So why do you want fewer of them?

    Also, it should be noted that the killer used pistols, and left a rifle in his car. He knew, because everyone inside wanted to obey the gun law, that he would encounter helpless victims.

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