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How to Prevent the Next Massacre

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Like most people, I'm still recovering from the shock of the violence that occurred in Newtown, Conn. I still feel the grief over the lost lives, the confusion about what happened and why, the rage at the killer and the fear for my own family and friends who will continue to live in an increasingly violent world.

The facts, as I understand them, are these: On Dec. 14, 2012, a 20-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and opened fire, killing what is currently being reported as 26 people, 20 of whom were children. He also killed his mother before he went on the killing rampage at the elementary school.

According to initial reports, the killer may have had access to at least five guns, a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation said. Four weapons were recovered from the school on Friday: a semiautomatic .223 caliber rifle made by Bushmaster, which was the primary weapon, as well as two pistols made by Glock and a Sig Sauer that were found with the suspected gunman's body, and a fourth weapon found nearby. The weapons were legally purchased by the gunman's mother.

The social media are abuzz with posts about what should be done. There is a lot of talk about guns. One post said:

Columbine. Red Lake, Minnesota. Essex, Vermont. Lancaster, Ohio. Virginia Tech. To name a few. It's time to stop the violence. I don't have a gun. I don't want a gun. I don't need a gun. But somehow the guns always wind up in the hands of people crazy enough to use them irresponsibly and dangerously. THIS HAS TO BE STOPPED.

Another post said:

If we really want to stop the killings of our children, we have to take constructive action. I think we should permit all school personnel to carry concealed weapons. Potential killers would think twice before going into a place where they knew people were armed. Look at Switzerland. They have a very low rate of violence. That's because every citizen is permitted to carry a gun.

It seems that there are a lot of ideas about what someone else should do to prevent future violence. I think we each need to ask ourselves, "What can I do?" For me, I think I need to go deeper and wider to better understand how to reduce violence in the world and protect those I love the most.

Going Deeper to Prevent Violence

I have to admit that when I go deeper within, I recognize some of the energy of the perpetrator in me. I remember times as a young parent when I would lose control and grab my daughter roughly. She had done something that triggered my rage. I would apologize later, but I know I caused damage. She's now a parent, and I often see her rage at her own children. When I look at the causes of my own violence, I recognize the feelings of being out of control, frustrated, down on myself, inadequate and ashamed. If we are going to prevent violence, we have to heal our own wounds and help others heal theirs.

I also recognize the victim in me. I remember being beaten up by bullies in my school when I was a kid. I had to learn to stand up for myself and fight back. When I was 6 or 7 I was also pinched and bitten by a girl two years my senior who was the daughter of one of my parents' friends. I never felt that I could fight back, because I was taught that "you never hit a girl." They would visit often, and the girl seemed to take delight in abusing me when no one was looking, knowing that I would just take it. I know some of my adult rage toward women comes from that feeling of helplessness I felt as a kid.

When I think of the killings in Connecticut, I ask, "What part of me has the energy of the killer? What part of me has the energy of the victim? What part of me has the energy of the hero who stands up to violence with strength and love?"

Taking a Wider Perspective to Prevent Violence

Writing helps me better understand who I am and why I do what I do. I've written 10 books since 1983. In The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, I wanted to understand violence and the relationship between violence turned inward (suicide) and violence turned outward (homicide). Drawing on information in The World Report on Violence and Health published by the World Health Organization, I described the three types of violence: self-directed violence, interpersonal violence and collective violence.

Self-directed violence includes suicidal behavior as well as ways we abuse ourselves through our destructive habits and behavior. Interpersonal violence focuses both on the family and the community. In the family we can look at violence directed at our partners, children or elders. In the community we focus both on violence expressed toward those we know (anger toward those we date or work with, for instance) and those we do not know (such as the violence of road rage). Collective violence is the use of violence by people who identify themselves as members of a group against another group or set of individuals, in order to achieve political, economic or social objectives. It can take a variety of forms: armed conflicts within or between states, genocide, repression and other human rights abuses, terrorism and organized violent crime.

All three aspects of violence are related, and if we are going to guard against violence, we have to do a better job at being kind to ourselves, treating our children with more love and less anger, treating our spouses (and ex-spouses) with more care and respect and opening our hearts and minds to "the other" (the other political party, the other news network, the other religion, the other country). We may even want to connect with our Earth with more love and respect.

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