08/01/2012 11:28 am ET Updated Oct 01, 2012

I Disagree With the Mantra 'Ignore the Killer'

Like everyone else, I listen with deep sadness to the descriptions of and tributes to the people whose lives were senselessly snuffed out by a -- by a what -- madman? Angry isolate? Psychopath? Exploiter of lax gun laws?

Death is forever. As night follows day, dead people are forgotten, not only by those who never knew them, but even in most cases by their loved ones. Indeed, that process is natural, even necessary. For a living person to devote his or her life to the memory of a dead one is a second tragedy.

The call to avoid mentioning the Aurora shooter is appropriate etiquette at commemorations of his victims. But it is madness not to perform forensic dissections, both publicly and among policy makers, in the aftermath of such events. Psychological, social, policy autopsies are our only ways as a society to get a handle on incidents that otherwise threaten to overwhelm us, particularly when they are repeated so regularly as mass gun murders are in the United States.

So I commend efforts, beginning with compiling and presenting the data on such events. Kudos to Mother Jones for mapping and annotating mass murders in the U.S. We also have quite a bit of data available on gun deaths in the U.S., including comparing them within America over time (they have declined since highs in the mid-1990s, but not in the longer run), by region (they are highest in the South), and relative to other wealthy nations (10 times as high*).

Often, simply analyzing the data strongly suggests policy initiatives. What this dismal exercise accomplishes in this arena, as with many American social policies (e.g., health care, addiction, mental health), is to point out that American exceptionalism comprises ignoring outcomes and international practices and policies.

I am more concerned with psychological forensic profiles. That is, how do people like the shooter emerge -- what makes them want to kill and able to carry out such cold-blooded assaults as the one in Aurora? I am impressed by how isolation accompanies such madness in America, both seeming to motivate the killers ("look how people reject me") and allowing them to kill. How could they compile the weaponry needed to kill if they had intimate relationships, and would they want to if they had someone to share their feelings with? Noting their aloneness pushes the question back to asking how the killers have lost all meaningful contact with others.

And, of course, I wonder if there are more isolated individuals in America than in other countries. Is the loss of community and aloneness of so many of our citizens the real meaning of American exceptionalism?

*Gun deaths in America are staggeringly high compared with other nations, taking a tremendous economic toll, according to the Wharton School. In 2000, about 11,000 people were murdered with guns while more than 16,000 people committed suicide using firearms. The European Union -- which has a larger population than the U.S. -- reported about one tenth the number of firearm homicides (1,300) that year. In Japan, the number was 22.

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