On Friday, December 14, 2012, a disturbed gunman forcefully entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. He was carrying 2 sidearms and one semi-automatic .223 Bushmaster rifle. After shooting his way through the school doors, he used the semi-automatic to shoot between 3-11 rounds (each) into 27 different people, before shooting himself. Of the 27 hit, 26 died. Of the 26 that died, 20 were children around 7 years of age.
This hits home for me because Newtown is only about 30 minutes away from where I spent my childhood. It’s a bucolic, sleepy town where people go to raise families and enjoy peaceful lives. The innocence, tranquility, and happiness Newtown has enjoyed for decades was stolen from it in a matter of minutes Friday morning. Prior to this incident, there had only been one murder in 10 years.
Mental Illness to Blame?
Anytime something like this takes place – no matter where it happens – questions about the mental health of the shooter arise.
Was he Bipolar? Autistic? Paranoid? Did he have Avoidant, Anti-Social, Narcissistic, or Borderline Personality problems? Was he just a sociopath? Was he high on drugs?
The answer to this critical question? We don’t know yet, we might known soon, but we also might NEVER know.
I shudder at the thought that this seriously deranged individual might have a BPD diagnosis. My suspicion, however, is that BPD is NOT a factor in this man’s mental health troubles: the vast majority of people with BPD – even those who are extremely troubled – sooner hurt themselves before going on spree killings.
Have I had violent thoughts? Absolutely. Have I actually physically wounded or killed another human being? NO. The only physical wounds and scars I have caused are seen on my own skin. Burn marks. Knife slashes on my wrists. Skin picked and irritated to the point of irrevocable damage, producing callous-like formations on my scalp. Safety pin puncture wounds on my ear lobes (it was stress relief pre-diagnosis).
Only a handful of those with BPD have committed mass murder, some of whom are listed at the bottom of this WikiPedia Article on Borderline Personality Disorder – click here. For what it’s worth, the list of famous BPDers includes several well known celebrities who function productively.
For the record and to be clear I am in no way dismissing the emotional trauma people with BPD wreak on the lives of others. People with BPD can be manipulative, emotionally abusive, and at the very least extremely stressful to tolerate at home. Emotional scars are no different than physical scars. They stay with you forever. My differentiation is that scars – emotional and physical – while damaging and life changing, do not necessarily terminate life. Please be mindful of this as you consider those in your life with BPD in light of recent events.
I will now propose what I believe to be a pragmatic two-pronged approach to making these horrific crimes a thing of the past:
1. Substantive Discussion on Improving Mental Health Support, Screening, and Treatment. If my parents had recognized some of the warning signs I displayed as a young child as indicative of a potential mental health problem, it’s very possible I could have started therapy and meds earlier. Although this would not have prevented my development of BPD, depression, and anxiety, it would have greatly diminished the “self-implosion” that occurred in my early 20s. It was sudden, traumatic, and profound.
The United States leaves much to be desired in the mental health department. Resources are stretched, health insurance support is minimal, and society-at-large shuns those with the courage to admit they have a problem. This needs to change, and it needs to change fast.
If you think you have a problem, see a doctor. If you think your child or friend has a problem, don’t go into a state of denial to feel better about yourself. Speak up, get help, and zealously fight for an improvement in your loved one’s life. It could be the difference between life and death. Further, nipping mental health problems in the bud also stops them from spilling over to subsequent generations of a family. Had the problems of the earlier generations of my family been resolved, it’s likely the spillover effect would have been minimized.
2. Owning high capacity magazines, high power semi-automatic weapons capable of inflicting heavy casualties in a short period of time is NOT necessary. Fact: there are 300 million guns already in circulation in the USA. They’re not going anywhere, and banning them absolutely would be impossible.
That said, the make and model of the gun used by the Newtown, Connecticut; Oregon Mall; and Aurora, Colorado shooters was an AR-15 .223 semi-automatic rifle. These types of firearms are NOT necessary for self protection, hunting, or “sporting fun”.
They are easily acquired, easy to use, and their capabilities now painfully clear to several American communities. Why make it easy for mentally disturbed individuals to massacre a crowd of innocent people?
Ban these weapons outright. Institute significant penalties for those found to be bought and sold illegally. Ban the sale and manufacture of high capacity magazines for such firearms. They are simply unnecessary and have no practical purpose other than in law enforcement or military settings. If you think you need an AR-15 for protection, you’re either delusional, involved in criminal enterprise, or woefully misinformed in the realms of commonsense and safety.
We the people – who choose NOT to bear semi-automatics – have a right to safety.
I’m willing to compromise and let gun owners keep sidearms and low-capacity, low velocity rifles for hunting and protection. And YES, I also realize gun enthusiasts have a fair point about better mental health screening for prospective gun owners. That’s why BOTH approaches are necessary.
Be thankful for your family and friends this holiday season. Be thankful there is food on the table, a roof over your head, and that you live in one of the freest countries in the world. Honor these privileges with dutiful care paid to the mental health of your family and neighbors, and get rid of extremely dangerous, unneeded firearms that pose a serious risk to the safety of others.
Nota Bene: I DO NOT own any firearms, hunting knives, ammo of any kind, explosives, poisonous gas, biological weapons, artillery, or riot gear. The most dangerous object in my apartment is probably a dinner knife. Further, if the knife were to ever be used on human flesh, there’s a very high probability it would be used on mine before anyone else’s. Suicidal tendencies and idealization are part and parcel of the BPD diagnosis. In most cases, homicidal intentions are NOT.