One father, waiting outside Sandy Hook Elementary School, received the news that his little girl was one of the 20 children murdered. He put his hands over his ears and banged his head on the window of a parked car. Then he fell in the ground of the parking lot, screaming and crying. His was just one of the many expressions of horror and disbelief coming from parents, relatives, and friends of those who had been murdered. Embedded in all expressions of grief are questions: Why? How could this happen? Who could do such a thing? How could such things happen here?
All reality for human beings raises questions. The reality of a 20 year old male, first killing his mother, then going to a nearby school and murdering 20 little children and six staff members before killing himself, raises pressing and difficult questions. Can any sense be made of such horrific acts? Could the killing of his mother have been an expression of anger over her divorce?
Psychologists advise that children be allowed to express their awful feelings and their disabling fears. But this is not enough. Something more is needed both for children and for adults. Some light has to be thrown on the ugly darkness surrounding this event. People need some insight into the background causes and conditions of such horrific acts of violence.
The perpetrators of such killing acts tend to be withdrawn young males, with deeply embedded anger caused by a sense of victimization, and a boiling inner aggressiveness doomed to spill out if not recognized and treated. These inner feelings are particularly strong in young male persons with emotional and behavioral disorders. In older persons a common background condition is personality disorder, a psychiatric pathology full of ambiguity and difficult both to diagnose and to treat. They all experience a boiling inner hostility which makes relating to others difficult and so they keep to themselves. They retreat even further into themselves when they don't want to follow orders. They tend to be attracted to dangerous technologies like knives and guns and their response to any form of bullying is likely to be violent. The different forms of these emotional illnesses need to be better understood and more broadly recognized. Furthermore, measures need to be taken in every community to reduce these illnesses and to avoid their expression in violence.
In persons suffering from these illnesses, there is an embedded inner tension which is difficult to control. Acts of aggression are one way they use to discharge this inner tension. The chosen object or target of the aggression is a perceived cause or symbol of their victimization and anger. Some ways of discharging this inner tension are disguised, while others are undisguised destructiveness. Some turn the inner tension back on themselves by adopting self-destructive behaviors. The killing acts of Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School are examples of the inner tension turned outside; first on his mother, then 20 innocent children, 6 staff members at a nearby school, and finally on himself.
After angry aggressive feelings are turned on others, these persons sometimes wind up in court and the public gets to see their faces. Sometimes the public hears some kind of justification from them for their destructive acts. Their justifications show both skewed perceptions of reality and serious self-deception. Frequently however, the killers just keep silent, thinking that reasons for their behavior are a private matter. It is most frustrating when killers are asked why, and the answer they give is, "I don't know."
Besides the use of psychiatric categories and concepts for understanding rampage killing of innocent persons, these can also be looked at with moral categories and from an ethical perspective. In the psychiatric perspective, behind acts of killing there is inner aggressive tension. In a moral or ethical perspective, behind acts of destruction and killing are an inner disposition and a tendency to do evil. Such dispositions and tendencies are called vices. Good acts performed consistently are expressions of inner dispositions called virtues. Loving people are called virtuous. Destructive people are called evil. Jesus taught his followers to love one another. So did Socrates and many Jewish prophets. To kill or hurt others in their perspectives is wrong, bad, sinful.
Our U.S. culture historically was strongly influenced by all these figures, but their influence today is slipping. More and more people in the U.S. today are former Christians, former religious Jews and former humanists. The religious influence on U.S. culture especially is in decline. Expressions of evil and aggressive tendencies are ever more common. Both psychiatric violence and moral evil are in fact taught and promoted in American culture; T.V. programs, movies and computer games. Weapons which are only for killing are everywhere available.
The horrific feelings caused by the killing of innocent persons in Connecticut force us to try to better understand why such things happen. Hopefully better understanding will convince us to support some changes in our understanding of a right to have weapons that are only for mass killing. More importantly however, to seriously reduce the killing of innocent people, Americans need to reconnect with and take more seriously the teachings of Jesus, Socrates, and the Jewish prophets.