By Eileen Johnson
Another mass shooting! And this time in a place where people were relaxing, with all their defenses down, anticipating a well-deserved evening of fun. How terrifying is that? Will anyone ever relax at the movies again? In the aftermath of this massacre, everyone is shocked, frightened, sad, and frustrated. People feel helpless and we are asking once more: “How did this happen?” and “What can we do to stop it from happening again?”
Already a lot of the talk has turned to gun control and increased security. Maybe we need to have metal detectors everywhere we go. Maybe we need to stop the proliferation of guns, especially assault rifles. Clearly this horrible disaster might not have been so bad if James Holmes had not used assault weapons. Far fewer people would have been killed, and maybe someone could have tackled him. Furthermore, if he hadn’t been able to get guns in the first place, then this might not have happened at all.
However much I agree with the need for gun control, the problem is not with guns. The problem is with the person who felt the urge to kill in such a sadistic way. If he didn’t have guns he would have used a bomb – he apparently knew how to do that. The fact is that happy, well-adjusted people do not feel this psychopathic urge. Happy, well-adjusted people can not bring themselves to kill others, and something has to be really really wrong in a person’s life to drive him to this horrible inhuman act.
So far we don’t know anything about James Holmes’ childhood other than comments about him keeping to himself. As time goes by we will most likely find that he had existing emotional and social problems. And that is why this whole situation is so terribly frustrating. Because there ARE things we can do to prevent tragedies such as these.
Here is what we can do: We can put money into early childhood intervention programs. We can provide free psychological support for families right after birth, as they do in other countries such as France. We can provide social workers and psychologists in schools all the way up to Junior High and High School, where early problems seem to become acted out. College can be an extremely stressful experience – a new environment where loneliness and pressure can be a deadly cocktail for vulnerable young adults. Colleges should have more proactive, even mandatory, programs to help students process these feelings. I have said many times that school is the ideal place for early diagnosis of social and emotional problems. And yet money is just not there for these kinds of programs. Money suddenly becomes available for metal detectors and prisons after acted out problems have affected the lives of others in a terrible and irreparable way. Why can’t that money be spent early on to prevent the problems from getting to this extreme?
There should be support systems in place for families, and there should be diagnostic systems in place to help catch the outsiders, the loners, the depressed and rejected, a safety net to draw them back from the brink of despair, anger, and destruction. Are we going to wake up now? Or wait for the next bloodbath?
Eileen Johnson is the director of an innovative preschool in downtown New York City, where she has developed an emotional education curriculum for young children. The school is a member of the Alliance for Psychoanalytic Schools, and is affiliated with the Pacella Parent Child Center of the NY Psychoanalytic Society, where Eileen is a consultant.
She is also the author of The Children's Bill of Emotional Rights, published by Jason Aronson, Inc.