Wednesday, October 7 , 2015, 3:10 pm | Fair 76º

Mona Charen: Entertainment Control, Mental Health Reform and Mass Shootings

By Mona Charen | @mcharen |

In the wake of past mass shootings, when the “national conversation” has focused exclusively on guns, I have argued that our appallingly inadequate mental health system was a better subject of reform. At least half of the shooters in the rampage killings that are ripping our hearts out are young men with serious mental illnesses, and our system has neither the legal nor the financial resources to get them the treatment and/or restraint that they, and we, desperately need.

This time, mental health reform has received passing mention, along with the usual pleas for gun control, better security at schools, and so forth.

Some control of ammunition might be useful at the margins (though the Connecticut killer seems to have obtained his deadly arsenal from his mother). As for security, some have argued that placing armed officials in schools would profoundly alter the tenor of American life.

I can report that in Fairfax County, Va., where my children attend public schools, every middle and high school has an armed police officer on duty every day. It doesn’t feel like a prison camp. It’s somewhat reassuring.

Modesty is called for in judging what causes these mass killings in America and elsewhere (Australia, Norway and China have also experienced them). Guns have always been readily available in this country, yet these random massacres in classrooms or malls or movie theaters full of innocent strangers are new. Is it the dissolution of families? The decline of religious faith? The fading of civil institutions, such as churches and community groups? Is popular culture to blame? Is it the wall-to-wall coverage?

It’s worth considering all of the above. These are the acts of profoundly disturbed or insane individuals, yes, but culture affects the way even the mentally unbalanced behave. The rate of violent crime has been declining for more than a decade, which suggests that we are not in grip of mass depravity. But if we believe great works have the capacity to ennoble, we must concede that vile works can corrupt.

Mass shooting has become an American form of psychosis — with each new horror inviting an even more grotesque imitator.

Mental illness takes different forms in different times and places. Before American culture became obsessed with thinness as a standard of beauty, anorexia nervosa was exceedingly rare. In Japan, a culture that prizes social cohesion, people suffer from taijin kyofusho, an extreme fear of offending other people through body odor or appearance. In Malaysia, Scientific American reports, an illness called “amok” (from which comes the expression “running amok”) periodically afflicts young men. They respond to perceived slights with a brooding withdrawal, followed by explosions of violence. In Greenland, some seal hunters get a syndrome called “kayak angst” featuring intense panic while out on the ocean.

With our splintering families, declining participation in civil society and greater alienation, we are nonetheless entertaining ourselves with an endless stream of depraved violence and sexuality. Many kids are not having a family dinner with mom and dad every night, but instead are closeted hour after hour with a shooting game on Xbox. No one is watching with them to offer commentary or perspective.

Violence and sex have, obviously, always been with us. Hamlet has its violent moments. Yet the violence of great literature, or even of ordinary melodrama, was usually presented within a moral context. It was nearly always the case that heroic figures used violence to thwart evil, not for the fun of it.

Some filmmakers scoffed at the “antiseptic” violence of the old Westerns in which the bad guys would take a bloodless bullet, cry “Ah, you got me,” and fall from their horses. Far better, it was argued, to show a simulacrum of the real thing.

But viewing realistic violence and suffering, far from repelling or sensitizing people, has the capacity to inure us to the horror, dull our capacity for compassion and coarsen our sensibilities. Worse, for a subset of unbalanced viewers, graphic violence is perversely pleasurable. It may also be disinhibiting. The Columbine killers were great fans of the movie Natural Born Killers.

It will require tremendous effort, time and resources to repair our mental health system. But it would be a simple matter of will for entertainers to ask themselves, before marketing a violence-soaked film or game: “How will this affect the mentally unstable?”

Mona Charen of National Review magazine writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information or to contact her. Follow Mona Charen on Twitter: @mcharen.

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» on 12.18.12 @ 08:53 PM

Yes Mona all these things need to be looked at. But really why do we have the majority of the population able to buy and possess arms, watch horribly violent media content, go with out church and live in a chaotic seemingly unhinged world without going bonkers and shooting up a classroom full of defenseless children or a movie theater full of defenseless people or a mall full of defenseless shoppers?

The point is we are always so ready to punish all society for the sins of a few. A few bankers screw the finance system and wham we want to regulate the snot out of everyone. Some big company dumps poison in a lake and we punish the entire industry. A mad man take guns that belong to someone else and shoots innocent children and we want to punish all gun owners.

Tell me how does that stop the small, very small minority of insane from going berserk, the greedy from screwing society, the careless from destroying the environment? It doesn’t. It’s a knee jerk reaction born out of emotion rather than rational thought and it only serves to divert away from individuals committing bad behavior and instead demeans and enslaves the majority.

Australia, instituted a far greater restriction on firearms to combat mass shootings. It worked, but only because Australians were willing to impose greater restrictions on everyone for the sins of a few.  Maybe it worked because socially they are more comfortable living under the foot of government regulation.

But we are not Australians or Europeans or Asians or anyone else. We are Americans, live free or die, don’t tread on me, give me liberty or give me death Americans and that thought, that to remain safe we must acquiesce our personal freedom to the state is abhorrent to us. Our solution is arm the damned principals of the schools and allow them to defend our children. Allow us law abiding citizens to carry weapons for self defense wherever we go and if some nut tries to open fire at the mall, shoot them dead.

Even crazy people understand the difference between a gun free zone and a zone that’s armed to the teeth. After all, every mass shooting has occurred where guns were not allowed and the highest rates of gun violence are in areas where they have the strictest gun laws.

Ideally it would be nice if human beings were not violent or crazy, greedy or careless and for the most part we are not. But why do we always feel the need to punish the innocent, the sane, the peaceful, the caring and the giving for the few who are not?

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