American Shootings: Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough…”An American Tragedy”

      “Our thoughts and prayers are for the victims of today’s tragic shooting”

Whenever we hear these pious-sounding words uttered by politicians, our hearts sink, we are saddened, angry and confused.

Columbine. Newtown. Sandy Hook. Orlando. Charleston. Las Vegas. Texas. California…The killings continue, and each time it is déjà vu, that sick “we’ve been here before” feeling, perhaps only a few days ago.

Some of those who speak those words are genuinely shocked, while others are dutiful, and others insincere. Their statements might include other words like “unspeakable, “unforgivable,” “disordered,” “evil” “violent,” “terrorist,” or “lone wolf.” Whatever the “lyrics,” however, this dirge-like melody is uniquely, an “American Tragedy.”

This creative, generous and powerful democracy is again grievously assaulted and thrown into shock. Yet another horrific mass shooting is perpetrated by an avowed hater, armed with assault weapons easily purchased from a gun store.

The scenario is familiar: The killer might be self-directed or recruited via internet messages, or he may be psychotic or psychopathic. He could be native-born or immigrant, Christian or Muslim, Caucasian or colored, inspired by inner demons or outer ideologies. This is relevant information, but two other features of these travesties stand out:

First, the willful act is perpetrated by a malevolent and unrepentant hater of “other” people. Second, he had woefully easy access to lethal weapons.

The murder rate here per capita is astoundingly greater than any other developed nation. The interpretation of the Second Amendment is often more akin to fundamentalist conviction or passion than to reasoning and rationale. The NRA and its acolytes seemingly carry the day.

After a recent tragic shooting, President Trump tweeted that he too was sending his “thoughts and prayers” to the families of victims. He later tweeted, “This is not a gun problem, it is a mental health problem.”

As a psychiatrist, I’m pleased that he is aware of the needs for availability and access to better mental health services. (His planned fiscal cuts, however, will further decimate even what we have).

To “pretend” (calling it as it is) that gun control is useless in this country is disingenuous, perhaps duplicitous, and flies in the face of overwhelmingly persuasive scientific data (“real facts.”) Americans comprise 4.4 per cent of the world’s population, yet own more than 40 per cent of private guns. Studies in many other countries repeatedly show that reducing the number of guns dramatically reduces gun death rates. Yet many Americans simply deny reality: They don’t believe or don’t care.

We in fact know how to mitigate this national tragedy: We can and we must institute stringent gun control measures, and we can and we must improve our mental health and social services.

Politicians’ “Thoughts and Prayers” are simply enough.


Better gun control and mental health provisions will help significantly, but they will not prevent all acts stemming from hateful hearts and minds.

Despite being an inspiringly intelligent and benevolent species, we seem to harbor a fatal flaw: Our destructive urges inevitably come back to haunt us. We humans have to confront the challenge of our darker sides, our propensities to aggression, hate and violence.

We have the intelligence and creativity to find ways to diminish our toxic “social emanations,” our pervasive incivility and aggression. We need international scientific and social efforts directed at improving our relationships. Our overriding goals should be to achieve positive “emotional footprints,” as crucial to our survival as our carbon footprints.

We can appeal to the benevolent parts of our natures so that we might move to a world of caring individuals and communities. If we fail in this vital endeavor, even if global warming is resolved, we might still face the end of homo sapiens.

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