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Steve Lunetta: Stopping gun violence at the source

Posted: February 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.

In the first two installments of the series, we examined gun control and the potential impact it would have on school violence. We also looked at President Obama’s initiatives and rated each one on effectiveness.

In this final look, we will explore the potential causes for the development of young male shooters in schools and what we can do about it.

Like my wonderful Uncle Earl, I always try and approach issues with a "common sense" approach. Further, we need to balance the "quick fix" with a more long-term solution that will have a lasting effect.

Mind you, I am no psychologist and have no claims to wisdom greater than anyone else. However, I believe that controlling assault-type weapons is only one part of this issue. We need to consider how a young man becomes a school shooter and deconstruct the causes to end it.

Understanding the psychology of the shooter is critical and, after a cursory review of the literature available, seems to be an area that we are tragically lacking. The President’s initiative to put money into research is a good idea.

However, one recent work that can start our understanding is Dr. Peter Langman in his book Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters, which examines the Columbine shooters to understand their motives and problems. Langman said that many of the shooters fall into two types of mental illness: psychopath and psychotic.

Psychopathic killers tend to be "individuals with antisocial personality disorder." This means that the internal personality has a bigger impact on their actions than the environment. A psychopath tends to feel no shame, empathy, or remorse and hostile urges are not counter-balanced by any emotion that is not self-centered.

Psychotic killers tend to "suffer from a very weak sense of self that makes them unable to establish meaningful relationships with others or identify with social norms and values." This mental illness drives a person into seclusion and fantasy worlds where normal human contact does not happen. The illness becomes hidden and difficult to detect.

Forming public policy to address mental illness is the tricky part. It seems like a good place to start would be a comprehensive training program for teachers and counselors to look for the signs of mental illness. Identification is always the first step towards a solution.

Let’s create resources in schools for both students and parents to be able to report and discretely investigate individuals with potentially dangerous mental illness.

Once an at-risk teen is identified, resources must be made available to counsel, instruct, and help both teen and parent. And, if necessary, commit the individual to an institution so that the greater student body does not remain at risk.

So, what about entertainment? There has been much talk of the violence in movies and games. Frankly, I am astounded by the level of gratuitous gore in media today. My kids have Assassins Creed 3 where much of the action involves a knife and a hatchet. And you can guess what is done with those weapons.

Dr. Jerald Block MD sees video games as having two effects. In moderate doses, a video game can be healthy and actually lower an individual’s aggression and stress. But to an individual like a psychotic or psychopath with a weak grasp on reality, these "games can be isolating and turn a fragile situation to something dangerous."

We would be kidding ourselves if we think that purchase controls on movies or games would have any impact. I am talking about making extremely violent media restricted for sale to individuals under 18.

What about a "violence tax" on violent movies and games? Add an additional 5 or 10 bucks to the purchase or rental of any movie or game with a tremendous violence level? Then, we can plow this money back into identification and treatment programs. Violent media would fund the programs that resist it.

Another piece we seem to ignore are social institutions that can help parents in ways the schools cannot. Like it or not, churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are still excellent venues where young people can connect and socialize. Connections to these organizations should be actively encouraged.

No, banning guns is not the answer. Some types of guns, maybe. But we need more solutions than just the knee-jerk "ban guns" response. The problem is bigger than that and requires a more long-term approach.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Placerita and crazy about his guns. Wait. That came out wrong. He can be reached at


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