Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Two takes on the Newtown Shootings: What caused them, and why the National Review is wrong about it

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, everyone was trying to find a way to understand what caused the massacre. Too many guns? Not enough guns? Mental health issues? All of the above. Here's my analysis for Yahoo! News, plus an opinion piece I wrote in response to The National Review, which blamed "too many women" for the tragedy.

Newtown School Mass Shootings: Who or What is to Blame?

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine

As the country tried to find comfort and make sense of Friday's mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, the focus began to shift from horror to sympathy for the families of the 26 victims and to outrage over how such a tragedy could have happened in the first place.

What's to blame for this and other recent mass shootings in the United States? There are no easy answers, but Americans are pointing their fingers at several possibilities.

Too many guns. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative member of the National Rifle Association who posed with a rifle and promised to protect the Second Amendment in his election campaign videos, said on Monday that it's time to reconsider our nation's gun laws.

"I'm a proud outdoors-man and huntsman, like many Americans, and I like shooting, but this doesn't make sense," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about."

"Seeing the massacre of so many innocent children has changed everything," Manchin added. "Everything has to be on the table and I think it will be."

Not enough guns. The National Rifle Association took down its Facebook page, went silent on Twitter, and told CBS News that "Until the facts are thoroughly known NRA will not have any comment" on the mass shooting. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) called the shooting a "horrible tragedy." And all 31 pro-gun members of the U.S. Senate turned down invitations to defend their points of view on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. But some gun advocates, like Republican Representative Louis Gohmert of Texas, are saying that the shooting could have been prevented if more responsible adults in the area -- like principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed when she confronted the gunman -- had been armed themselves.

"I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands," he told Fox News on Sunday. "But she takes him (the shooter) out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."

Some Connecticut residents agreed.

"The gun is not the issue. If someone else there had a gun, maybe they could have stopped this," Benjamin Torres, owner of Betor Roofing in Danbury, told Reuters on Monday. "The bad guys are going to get guns illegally anyway."

"Personally, I feel safer where there's guns," 19-year-old Peter Griffin, an apprentice cabinetmaker who owns three guns, told Reuters while shopping in the hunting section of a Dick's Sporting Goods in Danbury. "I don't want to go to any gun-free zones any more."

A need for better gun laws -- or better enforcement of ones already on the books. The guns used in Friday's mass shooting were legally purchased and licensed—albeit to the shooter's mother, who was his first victim. Nancy Lanza was shot four times in the head with one of the many guns she kept in her own home for protection. Current gun laws do not require applicants to disclose whether the applicant has ever voluntarily undergone treatment for mental illness, or whether someone with mental illness lives in the home where the guns will be kept.

Data from 2011 shows that the majority of Americans support bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines (which hold more than 10 bullets) and on AK-47-style assault rifles, think that all gun purchasers should undergo background checks to see if they've ever committed a felony, agree that gun-owners should have to register their weapons with local government, and that the mentally ill should not be allowed to possess firearms. According to a CNN survey taken after the Aurora, Colorado shooting earlier this year, a slim majority of Americans -- 54 percent -- are opposed to limiting the number of guns a person can own; when new polls are conducted, they will show if sentiments have changed after the Newtown tragedy.

Mental illness and autism. While some parents are reluctant to address mental health issues in their children -- or themselves -- others find that getting even basic treatment is difficult.

"A persistent shortfall in funding has made access to community-based services difficult for families and patients so that accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatments are not readily available for many who need them," Dr. David Sack MD, CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, told Yahoo! Shine. "Patients with mental health problems, because of their illnesses, often reject services offered to them and are vulnerable to alcohol and other substance abuse which it harder to help them."

Earlier this year, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said that tougher gun laws would not have prevented the mass shooting that killed 12 and wounded 58 others in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in July. Though he now says that he's willing to discuss restricting high-capacity magazines, he feels that educating people about mental illness and supporting those who are dealing with mental health problems could be a better way of addressing violent tragedies. "That's something we can do immediately without getting into some of the battles of gun legalization or restricting access to guns," Hickenlooper, a Democrat, told CNN.

There's also some confusion about the characteristics of mental illness. The Sandy Hook school shooter's brother, Ryan Lanza, told ABC News that his younger brother "is autistic, or has Asperger's syndrome and a 'personality disorder'," prompting many to wonder whether there could be a link between violent behavior and autism.

According to Eric Butter, a psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, some people with autism do exhibit aggressive behavior, but it's typically limited to outbursts of shoving, pushing, or angry shouting. "We are not talking about the kind of planned and intentional type of violence we have seen at Newtown," he told the Associated Press.

"People want immediate or simple answers when an unimaginable tragedy like this occurs," Bob and Suzanne Write of Autism Speaks said in a statement on Monday. "Autism did not cause this horror. The profound tragedy of these senseless murders will only be compounded if it results in unwarranted discrimination against people with autism."

A lack of support for parents. In an essay that went viral over the weekend, mother of four Liza Long wrote about what it's like to parent a child with mental illness.

"I love my son," she said of her 13-year-old. "But he terrifies me."

"When he's in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He's in a good mood most of the time," she wrote at The Blue Review. "But when he's not, watch out. And it's impossible to predict what will set him off."

He screams insults and has threatened to kill her—and himself—more than once. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings know to lock themselves in the family car when he gets violent. He's spent time in the ER and in mental hospitals, been diagnosed with a host of disorders, been on antipsychotic and mood-altering drugs, subjected to strict behavioral plans. And nothing has worked. His social worker says that the best way to get help for her son would be to have him charged with a crime, to create a paper trail. "No one will pay attention to you unless you've got charges," Long was told.

Hundreds of responses to the essay show that Long is not alone. Still, amid the outpouring of compassion are plenty of comments and blog posts calling her an unfit parent, accusing her of hiding her own history of mental illness and violent tendencies.

The media. A statement attributed to Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman criticized the media for sensationalizing tragedies went viral over the weekend and, while Freeman denies that the quote was his, plenty of people agree with it.

"It's because of the way the media reports it," the hoax statement read. "Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody."

Violent video games and pop culture. Could the popularity of first-person shooter video games, violent movies, and TV shows that glorify killing have desensitized Americans?

"There might well be some direct connection between people who have some mental instability and when they go over the edge—they transport themselves, they become part of one of those video games,"  Hickenlooper said on CNN's "State of the Union." "Perhaps that's why all these assault weapons are used."

A need for more religion in schools. On Friday, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told Fox News that a lack of faith has led to an increase in school violence.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," he said. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

It echos his remarks after the Aurora, Colorado shooting, when he told Fox News: "We don't have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. And since we've ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn't act so surprised ... when all hell breaks loose."

Still, on Monday he scaled back his comments, explaining that what he meant was "we've created an atmosphere in this country where the only time you want to invoke God's name is after the tragedy." And while some Americans were offended by the assumption that faith is a purely Christian concept, others took issue with Huckabee for saying that mankind could "remove" God at all.

"God can be wherever God wants to be," wrote Rachel Held Evans, author of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," on her blog. "God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t 'systematically remove' God if we tried."

Other groups say that the focus needs to be on the people themselves, not religion.

"Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to all of those affected by this devastating event," Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, told Yahoo! Shine in a statement. "No family—no child—should ever have to experience a tragedy such as this."

National Review: Newtown Shootings Could Have Been Stopped If There Weren't so Many Women Around

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine

In an article that's an insult to pretty much everyone affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, last week, author Charlotte Allen writes that the mass shooting might have been prevented if there hadn't been so many women at the school.

Published Wednesday in the National Review, the conservative anti-feminist author points out (incorrectly) that "There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred" and theorizes (also incorrectly) that "a sizable number" of the students at the K-4 school "were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys" who would have been able to take down the shooter if they hadn't been sissified by the school's entirely female staff.

"In general, a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm," she writes. "Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak, but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel."

While she acknowledges that the school's principal, Dawn Hochsprug, was killed while trying to stop the shooter, and concedes that "some of the teachers managed to save all or some of their charges by rushing them into closets or bathrooms," she ignores the sacrifices made by the teachers who died and goes on to say that if a few good strong men had been working there, the ladies and kids would have been A-OK.

"Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza," she writes.

Which is where we couldn't help but stop and ask, "WTF? Are you serious?"

Dear Charlotte Allen: You would send unarmed 12-year-old boys to confront a mentally unstable adult carrying multiple high-powered, loaded, semiautomatic weapons and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rounds of ammunition? Also: How many burly ex-football players do you really think teach Kindergarten, just in general?

Thankfully, Allen does not address the gun issue. Instead, she goes in for a round of "blame the victims," faulting the terrified 6- and 7-year-olds who died for not running from or at least throwing things at the gunman, or maybe trying to tackle the deranged stranger when he burst into their classrooms and started shooting. She concludes by blaming -- of course -- his mother, whom the killer shot four times in the head before taking her (legally owned and licensed) guns and heading over to the school.

"Parents of sick children need to be realistic about them," she admonishes, adding that she knows at least two sets of "fine and devoted parents who have had the misfortune to raise sons who were troubled," but they didn't go and kill anyone, now did they?

"You have to set boundaries," she advises, polishing her non-existent mental illness credibility. "You have to say, 'You can't live here anymore - you're an adult, and it's time for you to be a man. We'll give you all the support you need, but we won't be enablers.' Unfortunately, the idea of being an "adult" and a "man" once one has reached physical maturity seems to have faded out of our coddling culture."

Dear Charlotte Allen: This is a gut-wrenching tragedy. It is not about political parties. It is not about parenting. It is not about feminism.

The rest of the country and people all around the world are honoring the heroes and mourning the dead, searching for comfort and trying to help the survivors heal. And you dismiss them all, disrespect them all, and suggest that maybe the 6- and 7-year-old victims should have bum-rushed their attacker, that maybe if these helpless women had had a good man around this wouldn't have happened?

As we said before: WTF?

There are many failings to point out when trying to understand how this mass shooting could have happened. Too many guns. Too few guns. Lax enforcement of gun laws. Mental illness. A lack of support. A need for religion. The media. A culture of violence. But women? No. Women -- the ones who saved lives, the ones who lost their lives -- didn't cause this to happen.

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