Friday, October 2, 2015

Is President Obama Reading This Blog?

Not really, but you can find the mass shooting links on this blog at this link.  They extend back three years and they overlap with a number of posts on homicide prevention.  They also overlap in many areas with the President's speech.  This was President Obama's 15th address to the nation following a mass shooting incident.  A couple of other landmarks - this was the 40th time this year that a gunman opened fire in a school and the 294th mass shooting incident this year.  Both of these markers illustrate how tragic but absurd this problem is in America.  How can responsible people allow this to happen?

The President is coming to the only logical conclusion that a person can come to about mass shootings and the relationship to firearms.  That point in this speech was when he said that our thoughts and prayers for the families and survivors are not enough.  We cannot keep making these pat statements in response to continuous mass shootings as though nothing can be done to prevent them.  We cannot treat mass shootings like they are routine:

"Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws -- even in the face of repeated mass killings.”  And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana.  That day!  Somehow this has become routine.  The reporting is routine.  My response here at this podium ends up being routine.  The conversation in the aftermath of it.  We've become numb to this."

 The familiar refrain about condolences to everyone and now it is time to move on needs to stop.  With governments that regulate what a lot of us do at work every day - right down to how we cross the Ts and dot the Is - it is difficult to believe that more functional gun control laws cannot be passed.  In his speech he points out that this is possible and there are laws that have been shown to work in other countries and in specific counties and municipalities in the United States.

At one point he speaks to the mind of the perpetrator:

"We don't yet know why this individual did what he did. And it's fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months."

People tend to get hung up on whether specific perpetrators have a diagnosable mental illness and whether it is treatable.  They tend to get hung up on whether the behavior of violent individuals can be predicted over time.  They tend to be very pessimistic about the nature of the problem and whether insightless people will ever be able to get the kind of help that they need to prevent mass shootings.  It might be easier if there was some education about the types of situations that lead to these problems and the fact that in most of those cases, help is available.  That specific help will prevent homicides and prevent the unnecessary loss of lives of both the perpetrators and the victims.  

The President ended with a comment on the political process and an appeal to gun owners on the issue of whether they are being supported on this issue by an unnamed organization or not.  It was a compelling speech and the arguments are powerful.  As a politician, he is focused on political action and on common sense gun safety laws.  I have stated that it might be best to proceed from a public health standpoint and a focus on violence prevention and forget about legal approaches largely because there has been no political will on this issue.  President Obama has given one of the most compelling speeches on this issue that I have ever witnessed and it will be interesting to see the result.

From the medical and psychiatric side, our advocacy still needs to be on the public health side of the equation.  For me that comes down to seeing the problem to a significant extent as violence and homicide prevention.  We need more public education on the predisposing mental states and how to get assistance when these states are recognized.

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA


Statement by the President on the Shootings at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon.  October 1, 2015.  Transcript

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