Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Killing Sprees Confound Mental Health Fixes

These gun massacre sprees in schools, townships and churches are a painful reminder we live in a culture inhabited by a lot of seriously sick people who are ticking time bombs. Any number of variables seem to set them off.

The most recent tragedies:

A 17-year-old gunman in Winnenden, Germany, killed at least 16 students and teachers at his former school Wednesday before he died.

In rural Alabama on Tuesday, Michael McLendon gunned down 10 people, including at least five of his family members, before he took his own life.

The list of similiar episodes seems endless as well as aimless.

Invariably, each of the killers are profiled by psychiatrists, psychologists and others in that forensic fraternity seeking answers. What they find are deviant behavorial red flags unrecognized by untrained minds of friends and family. It takes more than tough love to say a loved one is whacko and requires psychiatric help that may or may not defuse the ticking bomb. Compounding that is possible legal ramifications for interfering school and health care officials.

I was a peripheral witness as a reporter on the day of July 18, 1984, when James Huberty shot and killed 22 and injured 19 at a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif. I can assure you that bloody scene is engraved forever in the recesses of my brain.

In trying to reconcile these horror images, several broad truths seem to emerge no matter what the experts say.

First, the mass killings seem to go in cycles which indicates to me a "copy cat" influence involved and gives some sicko an idea to gain the same notoriety for his 15 minutes of fame.

Second, the victims are usually but not always the focus of the killer's demented irrationality.

Third, by the end of the shooting spree, the gunman is dead by his own means or killed by police.

Finally, gun laws have absolutely no deterrent on shooting massacres. Guns are the tools used by these sick minds to carry out their rampages.

In the United States, anti-gun advocates blowoff their agendas every time a massacre occurs whether it's Tuesday's spree in Alabama, the 2007 slaughter at Virginia Tech University or the Columbine High School killings in Colorado.

The indelible truth is if a criminal or sicko wants a gun, there's never been a law written to prevent him from obtaining one. In Europe, all firearms are banned yet the school shootings in Weddenden, Germany, or recent ones in Finland and Scotland, still occur.

Just for the record to those antigun advocates, I am not a member of the National Rifle Association, I support the Second Amendment and I think all guns should be registered. I draw the line at allowing hunters to own automatic weapons such as Uzis to shoot wild game. Other than that, I really don't give a damn.

What stuck a stake in my heart this morning was reviewing lists of killing rampages of schools and wondering: Why schools? Here's an abbreviated list compiled by The Associated Press:

Sept. 23, 2008: Matti Saari, 22, killed nine fellow students and a teacher before shooting himself at a vocational school in Kauhajoki, Finland.
Feb. 14, 2008: Former student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opens fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, fatally shooting five students and wounding 18 others before committing suicide.
Nov. 7, 2007: Pekka-Eric Auvinen, 18, shoots and kills eight people and himself at a high school in Tuusula, Finland.
April 16, 2007: Cho Seung-Hui, 23, fatally shoots 32 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, then kills himself in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Nov. 20, 2006: Sebastian Bosse, 18, goes on a rampage at his former high school in Emsdetten, Germany, near the Dutch border, shooting and injuring four students and the school janitor. Police commandos later found Bosse dead.
April 26, 2002: Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, previously expelled from a school in Erfurt, Germany, kills 13 teachers, two former classmates and a policeman, before committing suicide.
April 20, 1999: Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold open fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before committing suicide in the school's library.
March 13, 1996: Thomas Hamilton, 43, killed 16 kindergarten children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, and then killed himself.

That's a death toll of 99 innocent victims, not counting the nine shooters themselves. The list did not include Charles Whitman's carnage of 14 dead and 31 injured from the Tower on the University of Texas campus on July 31, 1966. And, we're talking only schools and then only where multiple victims were slaughtered.

When you add in the Alabama spree, the church shootings, the McDonald's massacre and the others the death toll exceeds numbers so painful we do not want to contemplate. It is a challenge beyond the scope of our mental health capabilities.

WebMD posts this decade-old study on its website but I doubt the incident rate has changed much.

The United States leads the world's richest nations in gun deaths -- murders, suicides, and accidental deaths due to guns - according to a study published April 17, 1998 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
The U.S. was first at 14.24 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Two other countries in the Americas came next. Brazil was second with 12.95, followed by Mexico with 12.69.
Japan had the lowest rate, at 0.05 gun deaths per 100,000 (1 per 2 million people). The police in Japan actively raid homes of those suspected of having weapons.
The 36 countries in the study were the richest in the World Bank's 1994 World Development Report, having the highest GNP per capita income.
The United States accounted for 45 percent of the 88,649 gun deaths reported in the study, the first comprehensive international scrutiny of gun-related deaths.
The gun-related deaths per 100,000 people in 1994 by country were as follows:
U.S.A. 14.24
Brazil 12.95
Mexico 12.69
Estonia 12.26
Argentina 8.93
Northern Ireland 6.63
Finland 6.46
Switzerland 5.31
France 5.15
Canada 4.31
Norway 3.82
Austria 3.70
Portugal 3.20
Israel 2.91
Belgium 2.90
Australia 2.65
Slovenia 2.60
Italy 2.44
New Zealand 2.38
Denmark 2.09
Sweden 1.92
Kuwait 1.84
Greece 1.29
Germany 1.24
Hungary 1.11
Ireland 0.97
Spain 0.78
Netherlands 0.70
Scotland 0.54
England and Wales 0.41
Taiwan 0.37
Singapore 0.21
Mauritius 0.19
Hong Kong 0.14
South Korea 0.12
Japan 0.05

These numbers and per capita rates speak for themselves.

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