In a nation that is divided in many ways – along political party lines, by class, by race, by region – we are united in our feelings of grief, horror and outrage every time we witness the senseless murder of innocents. It’s hard to imagine a more vicious assault on our sense of basic human decency than a young man murdering his own mother, and then slaughtering 20 innocent little elementary school children before killing himself. There is no excuse for Adam Lanza’s brutality. Not his reported diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. Not the readily available arsenal of high-power semiautomatic crowd-killer weapons apparently owned by his mother, his first victim. Nothing that anyone ever did to him could ever explain or justify this evil madness. The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was just plain senseless.
It seems that nothing that I or anyone else could say or write about this tragedy would have any real meaning. Sure, I can put on my public health professional hat and spew some statistics on the scourge of gun proliferation. Without a doubt, the oft-quoted gun-enthusiast mantra that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is as idiotic as it is insulting to our collective intelligence. What Adam Lanza showed us all, once again – as if we needed to be tortured with such a gruesome reminder – is that people use guns to kill people. And when they do, they are able to kill many more people, far more quickly and definitively, in much less time, and with greater ability to resist efforts to stop them than would be the case with most other methods. Consider this quote from the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, which I came across in a recent post by Amy Davidson on the website of The New Yorker magazine: “The data are clear: More incidents of murder-suicide occur with guns than with any other weapon. … In 591 murder-suicides, 92 percent were committed with a gun. States with less restrictive gun control laws have as much as eight times the rate of murder-suicides as those with the most restrictive gun control laws.”
But all of that seems so empty, so useless. Twenty-six people were murdered on Friday, and 20 of them were innocent elementary school children.
Or I could put on my “psychiatrist-who-defends-the-mentally-ill” hat and remind everyone that Adam Lanza’s reported history of mental illness shouldn’t lead us to conclude – wrongly – that people with psychiatric illnesses are more likely to become violent or dangerous than people without psychiatric illnesses. The best available scientific evidence suggests that mentally ill people are no more likely to become violent than people who do not have a mental illness; that society as a whole greatly overestimates the risk of violence by mentally ill people and the danger to the public that mentally ill people pose; and that mentally ill people are actually much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
But frankly, who cares about all of that now? It all seems utterly irrelevant. Twenty-six people were murdered on Friday, and 20 of them were innocent elementary school children.
Like millions of other Americans, I watched President Obama tear up while trying to discuss Friday’s tragedy with the nation. It struck me that it was the second time in just a few weeks that I’d seen him shed tears. Only this time, they weren’t tears of joy and gratitude, as he thanked his campaign supporters. They were tears of grief, sorrow and empathic pain – the same kind that welled up in my eyes as I watched him struggle to deliver only a part of the message he had prepared. But then, I got it. It started to make sense. The POTUS had once again cut right to the heart of the matter: “Tonight Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, we will hug our children a little tighter. And we will tell them that we love them.” Of course! Love! That’s the only thing that can truly conquer hatred. We all have known that for years. It’s an “old-school” concept. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had said it several decades before: “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
I know – talking about “love conquering hate” sounds silly, simplistic and symbolic, particularly at a time like this. I get that. And I stand ready to abandon such nonsensical, empty, symbolic silliness – as soon as we identify and implement some cold, rational, scientific, evidence-based solution that gives us a stone-clad, 100% guarantee that no incident like the Sandy Hook Massacre can ever happen again. In the meantime, I’m going to stick with this simple suggestion that can improve the lives of millions of people.
We will eventually, as a society, muster up the wisdom and the courage to do whatever it takes to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like the killings in Connecticut will happen again. But no political opposition or budgetary constraints can ever prevent us from saying a simple “I love you” to the ones who matter to us most.