Mass shootings, mental health, and the sensationalization of violence — at what cost!

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Monday, December 17, 2012

The latest shooting rampage of 26 people, including six adults and 20 children in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, is a senseless tragedy, Adam Lanzaand words cannot convey the horror and the magnitude of the loss of innocent life. The second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was carried out by 20-year-old Adam Lanza (photo, left), a loner with a personality disorder — and in critical need of psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Once again, these deadly rampages are the result of failure of the mental health system.

Consider the case of Jared Loughner, a 22-year-old disturbed individual who shot and attempted the assassination of former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. He also killed five others, including an innocent 9-year-old student and a judge, and wounded fourteen other people in 2011. There were signs of psychiatric illness and social pathology, that should have alerted those around him and called for mental evaluation and psychiatric treatment. But Loughner, like Lanza, fell through the obvious cracks.Jared Loughner

The case of Loughner in Arizona (photo, right) is particularly revealing because a consensus has been reached that the mentally deranged individual should have received psychiatric evaluation and treatment, which were not administered.(1) The same conclusion is being reached as more information is rapidly coming to light in the latest rampage by Adam Lanza in Connecticut.

"Convicted felons and mentally unstable people," as I stated in a James Holmes after arrestprevious article, "forfeit the right to possess arms by virtue of the fact they are a potential danger to their fellow citizens. This has been recently demonstrated by the tragedies that took place in Arizona and in Aurora, Colorado (James Holmes, photo, left); and not only in the United States, but also in Oslo, Norway."(2)

In the recent case in Norway, after bombing a government building in Oslo and then taking over an island, a homicidal killer perpetrated a Anders Behring Breivikhorrible massacre. Anders Behring Breivik (photo, right) massacred 69 of his fellow citizens, systematically hunting down unarmed youths at a camp, methodically killing mostly defenseless teenagers. Imagine if just one person had carried a gun and knew how to use it to defend his or her life and the lives of others! But Norway, for all practical purposes, like most of Europe, is like the schools in the U.S., a "gun-free zone," where guns are not allowed and a deranged individual can enter and kill with impunity.

These three specific incidents represent cases of criminal insanity associated with regrettable and overt failures in the mental health system, rather than the easy cliché of “too many guns” in the hands of people. In my article, "America, Guns and Freedom" I also cite other recent cases, including the two reciprocal incidents in Aurora, Colorado, earlier in the spring and summer of this year. One incident was widely reported; the other, where a citizen stopped a rampage and saved the lives of others, was not. The vast majority of citizens use firearms responsibly.(2)

Incidentally, the United States is a Federal Republic, and the fifty states of the Union have some leeway in passing and enforcing gun laws. We already have 20,000 gun laws on the books. We don't need more statues. The failure lies elsewhere. The killer in Connecticut operated with impunity in a state that does not easily allow persons to carry guns for self protection, and most states in the U.S. already have a "zero tolerance" for guns in schools, which are in turn "gun-free zones," where firearms are strictly prohibited. Perhaps it is time that we consider allowing teachers to have special concealed carry firearm licenses to protect students in this mad, dystopic world we are creating in which we are permissive to criminals and deranged individuals, while we easily blame and propose more laws and controls to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens in society at large.

Guns are inanimate objects. The responsibility for crimes rest on the criminals and those who facilitate their crimes! Elsewhere, I have discussed failures in the criminal justice system, leniency and use of revolving prison doors that allow many of the same criminals to commit the vast majority of serious crimes.(3) I have discussed the aforementioned failures in the mental health system. There is a sinister contributing factor, and an even more serious problem — namely, the problem of media reporting and sensationalization of violence that in association Jerry Springer reality TV showwith the "fifteen minutes worth of fame" and the pursuit of celebrity status in vogue today are all pervasive.(4) What more evidence is needed than the immense popularity of vulgar "reality" television shows? (photo, left) It is not a big step to link extensive coverage of shooting rampages in both the press and the colorful electronic media as a major contributing factor in the pathologic and even morbid attainment of celebrity status even in death.

While the media has sensationalized violence and the mass shootings of hapless victims (who are virtually forgotten), they have not given defensive, beneficial uses of firearms (e.g., protecting or saving lives and property), the attention these positive acts deserve, which go usually unreported. By and large, to read about the cases where law‑abiding citizens use firearms for self and family protection, one has to read independently published books, such as Robert A. Waters' excellent tome, The Best Defense (1998).

Only infrequently do these cases even get publicized in the mass media or published in the medical journals by public health investigators in their “gun and violence” research.

The death of innocents, particularly children, is a tragedy, and responsible media commentators should be compassionate while remaining honest, objective professionals in dealing with social problems of this magnitude. We cannot use atrocious crimes charged with Breaking Newsemotions to incite even more passion to effect a desired public policy. And the media moguls need to get their minds together to begin the systematic de-sensationalization of crime and making morbid celebrities out of criminals.

In medicine, surgeons cannot guarantee results. Complications and sometimes bad results occur; the same can happen with guns. Firearms in the hands of terrorists, criminals, or the mentally deranged, are dangerous. Those using the latest tragedy, eliciting emotionalism to push for another round of gun control (5) — while ignoring the accumulated objective research published in the criminologic or sociologic literature (6) — are not only sensationalizing violence and not lamenting the deaths of the innocents or sympathizing with their families, but attempting to score points, political points at the expense of the victims.

My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the grieving families in Connecticut!


(1) Faria MA. The Tragedy in Arizona — A Mental Health Challenge Failure., January 12, 2011.

(2) Faria MA. America, guns and freedom: Part II - An international perspective. Surg Neurol Int 2012;3:135.

(3) Faria MA. Women, Guns, and the Medical Literature — A Raging Debate. Women and Guns. October 1, 1994.

(4) Faria MA. California: Another Lesson About Children and Guns., March 12, 2001.

(5) Newton shootings: Democrats Malloy and Feinstein seek gun controls. BBC, December 16, 2012.

(6) Faria MA. Public Health and Gun Control: A Review (Part 1: the Benefits of Firearms). Medical Sentinel, April 12 2001. I'm indebted to the work of Dave Kopel, Don. B. Kates, Edgar Suter, M.D., Timothy Wheeler, M.D., Gary Kleck, PhD., and others. 

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine. He is an Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI), and an Ex-member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2002-05; Former Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Sentinel (1996-2002), Editor Emeritus, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS); Author, Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995); Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine (1997); and Cuba in Revolution — Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). His website is

A different version of this article was published earlier today on as "Faria: Mass shooting and mental health — at what cost?" A more abreviated commentary appeared in the Macon Telegraph on December 30, 2012 as "Faria: Campaign against gun ownership is misguided." A scholarly, longer and fully illustrated version of this article was published in SNI. The link is available above under heading Source.

Copyright ©2012 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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Comments on this post

Who is responsible?

So who is responsible for these attacks, the mental health staff, security guards or law enforcement? How about those who provide guns to these unstable people? 20-year-old Adam Lanza was psychologically challenged so that the school staff, teachers had not reported him as a mentally ill suspect student. A school counselor should be able to identify a student with such disorder.

Mental health staff are not providing educational information seriously needed. Mental health awareness in important, whether it is given in school, meeting halls or through the internet. A mental health social network, where people can share thoughts (anonymously or nor) and without interference, is needed. Visit aboutmentaldotcom

Gun talk!

From the MT version Dec 30, 2012:

BenCats: "With all the outcry for banning guns, I step back and look at who's doing most of the crying!
The lame street media  (they're lame because they can't stand on their own two feet) and the majority of Liberals! To be clear I must point out at least 90% of the media is also Liberal. So I take note that they are against the idea of arming teachers yet President Obama's kids go to a school that has 11 armed guards. So does Mr Gregory the oft outspoken biggest Liberal on NBC and so does the kids of the Mayor of Chicago, Emanuel. So every time Obama goes out in public there are at least 23 guns protecting him by secret service agents to include a SUV that has several machine guns in it. Emanuel also has armed guards when he goes out in public  Are you starting to get the drift?

"If that's not being hypocritical I don't know what is! Molon Labe:  "Let them Come and Get Them!"

"Great article Dr Faria, don't even intimate to liberals that mental health may be the issue here, they have enough compulsive disorders to worry about already!"

unned: "One of the first steps in a Marxist/Communist nation is to Have control of the Media,then ban weapons(Piers Morgan and others) then place folks in jail for speaking out against the Administration(Harry Belafonte)
"If you are a celebrity or in Congress however; your children are protected by Armed Guards on the way to their private schools. Sound familiar?"

"Great Article Dr. Faria. Those of us that truly believe in protecting our Second Amendment for the purpose it was intended must not stop fighting 'for it'."

MAF: The great statesman Solon in ancient Greece stated that one of the ways to recognize good government is when the rulers obey the same laws they pass on to citizens. This is apropos to, not only our politicians, but also applicable to the liberal elite members of our society. With money and power, they can bypass the restrictions imposed on the rest of us.

You have provided excellent examples of armed guards protecting those who push for gun control for everybody else. Thank you for your excellent post, BenCats and uneed. And my you also enjoy a happy and healthy New Year!

Top: "Dr Faria, excellent piece and to your point on systematic failures in the mental health system, consider the information going around in a chain email to which the original link with detailed reporting is here:


MAF: Top, thanks so much for this list. It absolutely demonstrates a strong correlation of mental illness, particularly depression, to mass shootings. The medications themselves were prescribed because there was already a problem, and they were needed. Lawyers would try to blame the medicines for the derangement, but it was the mental illness that, despite treatment did not improve but actually continued to worsen ( i.e., poor follow-up, non-compliance, need for hospitalization or even institutionalization for recalcitrant cases, etc.), and in my opinion is the real culprit. Happy New Year, Top, and may you and your family prosper in 2013!

guntoter: "Very well written and to the point. But sadly it will fall on deaf ears. It is so much easier to Ban Guns as a way to solve an unsolvable problem. Everybody knows as an absolute fact that alcohol kills more people yearly then all gun deaths, but you will not see alcohol ever being banned again.  We are willing to give alcohol a total pass. But guns, well that is an entirely different issue. Being how the Democratic party needs the American public unarmed to take complete control, guess where their issues are these days..."

MAF: Alcohol prohibition is a telling story. The  XVIII Amendment (Prohibition) had to be repealed with the XXI Amendment because of non-compliance by Americans. Prohibition brought about a black market and organized crime  and violence  in full force to America.   I have published a graph in one of my articles showing how crime spiked after prohibition and came down only gradually after Repeal.

The War on Drugs have been a failure...
Trying to register, ban, and confiscate (one follows the other) over 300 million firearms owned by Americans would bring about a situation an order of magnitude worse than Prohibition — and a veritable police state to the Land of the Free. Thank you for your comment, guntoter.

Poignant comments

Susrum (MT., Dec. 17, 2012): “The Montreal massacre was in part why the guns laws were tightened specifically as to types, not loosened. What has been done away with is the gun registry a proven failure of admin. excesses. 70% of all guns used in the commission of a crime in the Toronto area are  traced to either Kentucky or Virginia and 100's each year are confiscated at the border."

AJC, Dec 19, 2012:

#1 "Politics influencing gun studies? Remember Emory University's Bancroft Prize winner Michael A. Bellesiles, who faked data to "prove" in his book "Arming America" that gun ownership in early America was really not common? His conclusions had wide, wild-eyed support among the liberal intelligensia, though were so preposterous that it didn't take long to prove his "scholarship" was faked."

#2 "If you want a true measure on gun violance and whether or not the public at large are safer with or without guns, all you need to do is go to the FBI. Their studies have shown that gun ownership has increased from 2010-2011. With that, violent crimes dropped 4% in the same time frame, and are at a 40 year low."


"When I first heard that an elementary school shooting had occurred, I guessed aloud the shooter’s profile: white male, 18-25.

"Adam Lanza, 20, turned out to fit the profile. Lanza joins a sick lineup of similar shooting “stars”: Eric Harris (one of the Columbine shooters, was almost 18), Dylan Klebold (the other Columbine shooter, 18), Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter, 23), Jared Loughner (the Arizona shooter, 22), James Eagan Holmes (the Colorado theater shooter, 24).

"All of them shared other traits too. All had psycho-social problems to the point of being suicidal, pathologically vengeful, or at least dangerously out of control. All wanted grand notoriety. All had people around them who knew there was trouble brewing. All were from well-heeled families and apparently had good medical coverage. All were reportedly skilled video gamers, enough to be desensitized to the implications of pulling a trigger with bodies in the cross-hairs. All had too-easy access to real guns…"

David Oedel, Law professor, Mercer University. MT. Dec. 21, 2012

Maconsense MT., Dec. 21, 2012): "The World Trade Center was destroyed by an airplane.  The Oklahoma and the first attack on the Trade Center were accomplished with fertilizer and diesel fuel.  In Europe and the Middle East, the preferred method is by bomb.  The one thing all have in common is a murderer.  It is the person who is the problem, not the instrument."

Marty Dean (MT., Dec. 23, 2012) : "If it hadn’t been a gun, it could have been a knife (see story, Chinese man cuts 20 children) or explosives (Timothy McVeigh) or homemade sarin gas (Aum Shinrikyo, cult-subway attack)."

Children and adolescents should be loved but also taught moral absolutes and given close guidance, particularly as they reach the vulnerability of adolescence. So guided, as they journey through the path of life, they are able to distinguish right from wrong --- and fulfill their destinies with benevolence and kindness. Increasingly, this is not being done, and children and adolescents are left to wander, rudderless and alienated, and they become easy prey to the temptations of evil. MAF

Criminal Insanity!

From John Fund, National Review online, 12/16/2012:

"First, the mental-health issue. A lengthy study by Mother Jones magazine found that at least 38 of the 61 mass shooters in the past three decades 'displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.'

"New York Times columnist David Brooks and Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson have both suggested that the ACLU-inspired laws that make it so difficult to intervene and identify potentially dangerous people should be loosened. 'Will we address mental-health and educational-privacy laws, which instill fear of legal liability for reporting potentially violent mentally ill people to law enforcement?' asks Professor Jacobson. 'I doubt it.' ”

“Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., Batman-movie shooting."

Texas has the right idea!

One Texas town knows what it needs to protect its children. Teachers are trained in firearms and carry concealed weapons. They have had no mishaps. Here is the article:

If we trust our police, our security guards, pilots, then why not teachers, many of them having Masters' degrees and know child psychology. In fact, it was a teacher who stopped the carnage in Pearl, Mississippi in 1998.