We are deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, CT on December 14th. We offer our condolences to family and friends deprived of their loved ones, and we are without words to describe the lifetimes of opportunity and experience stolen from those who were killed.
In the wake of these events, many people are asking what can be done to prevent such horror from recurring. I offer the following thoughts about the way forward:
Simple statements to characterize a cause are inadequate. It is not sufficient to assert that the prevalence of guns is the sole cause, nor the perpetrator's mental instability, his social isolation, or his desire for infamy and media attention. We must realize that multiple factors create the conditions for such calamity, and we must responsibly address them together.
Conditions of society which cause more stress than some individuals can bear are a critical component. Each individual's unique situation, in psychological and social contexts, must be recognized and addressed, whether this involves medical attention or social support. Ready availability of firearms and widespread violence in the press and entertainment play a key role. To argue that a healthy, balanced individual in a supportive context would not abuse the power of firearms is beside the point. Protecting society requires recognition of the existence of many diverse individuals. Laws about firearms and limits on exposure to violent media should reflect the risks of the most vulnerable.
Individuals subject to trying conditions, exposed to violence, with sensitive psyches and access to firearms present the greatest risk for the tragedies we have seen in Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and elsewhere. We should also recognize that such extreme acts of violence are only the most visible manifestations. Many lesser incidents combining psycho-social strain and the exposure, motivation, and opportunity for violence also lead to intense suffering. To create social policies capable of averting future tragedies, it is necessary to set aside narrow, ideological and single-issue perspectives in favor of systemic approaches.