My heart and profound condolences go out to all those parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, teachers and neighbors who have lost loved ones and those who are injured by the brutal massacre in Connecticut. I have been there. My beloved friend was brutally shot to death at point blank range. This happened in President Obama’s town — Chicago in 1978. Life is never the same. Her assailant was out on parole for serial rape when he abducted her. He was also the husband of a prominent Chicago Council woman.
My beloved friend was murdered with a “Saturday night special”, a hand gun easily obtainable in 1978. John Lennon was murdered two years later, precipitating a national discussion on gun control. Then with the near assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 along with James Brady (his Press Secretary), Timothy McCarthy and Thomas Delahanty, the issue gained more ground. President Reagan, who always projected the image of the Wild West’s cowboy par excellence, had initially been against gun control. However, he ultimately endorsed a gun control bill in 1993 that had been lead by James Brady and his wife, Sarah, who also founded the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Israelis, who know violent conflict all too well, remain shocked that guns are so easily obtainable in America. Even though young people know that they will serve in the military, their relationship to weapons is entirely different. Weapons are not venerated. Guns are hard to come by and there are strict controls for civilian use. In fact if an individual wishes to obtain a gun, he or she must obtain permission from the Ministry of Health stating that they do not have a “be’aya nafshit”, a mental problem.
Elsewhere I have written along with my colleague Joan Jutta Lachkar, Ph.D. on the parallels between the jihadi attacks, the Columbine Massacre, the Virginia Tech Massacre by Chou, the Fort Hood Massacre by Major Nidal Hassan, the psychiatrist and even the tragedy in Norway by Breivik, not to mention recent mass murders in Oregon, Colorado and Wisconsin.
Indeed following the Fort Hood massacre, John Gallagher, the lawyer for Major Nidal Hassan defense, called to ask me to be an expert witness at trial. He had found my writings on line and my book — The Banality of Suicide Terrorism. I had to recuse myself because at the time of the attack, I was at Fort Irwin in California working with the army on a Human Terrain Team which was slated to deploy to Helmand Province.
This kind of violence shares many elements in common. The bottom line, though, is that these perpetrators adhere to a perverse fantasy world with accompanying ideologies, where they act out their violent fantasies in real time. They only know how to ATTACH to people through violence, murder and death.
The inability to bond to people in a healthy way without rage, hating and violence stems from some kind of disorganized attachment problem, occurring most likely very early during childhood development. The problem has to be early because these murderers have NO EMPATHY. Empathy is something that is put down very early during the infant’s bonding to the mother and the mother to the baby through the development of mirror neurons in conjunction with other factors, such as oxytocin. There may also be genetic factors as well compounded by intervening environmental factors. Thus the interplay between nurture and nature is key and something went terribly wrong.
Tragically in the case of Sandy Hook, the mother was murdered first by her younger son who then went on a rampage using guns from her arsenal. He tragically targeted young children, as if envying their better environment and development.
I do not mean to blame the mother or the female but something speaks through this violence that the mother had an obsession with guns and did not feel fundamentally safe herself which probably goes back to her own childhood. Females, even in western cultures, often bear the brunt of horrendous abuse. Such feelings about not being safe are inevitably communicated, unconsciously and nonverbally to the infant compromising the maternal attachment environment during the most crucial years where the brain of the baby quadruples in size, where and when empathy is acquired. I do not mean to write the father out of this picture. The role of the paternal is also important but by and large attachment focuses on the female.
Why is it, that we are unable to ask the simple question — why did this young man lack empathy? What went wrong? Why were earlier interventions not made? And even here, we can not guarantee that earlier interventions can solve such deeply engrained problems in relating to others nonviolently. However, this doesn’t mean that we should not try.
I do not want to leave this blog on a wrong note — I am in complete favor of stronger gun control laws. However, murderers who want to massacre will find a way to obtain such weapons in order to live out their flagrant perverse fantasies. A gun control law is unfortunately little more than putting a band aid on the problem. This does not mean that we should not advance such legislation but let us not be naive. The psychic violent wounds for these murderers happened early in life.
It is urgent that we begin to factor in the significance of early childhood development if we genuinely seek to stop the violence. The question is not “What motivated them to commit such a heinous crime?” Rather the question which should be asked is — “What went wrong in their early years that they never developed a sense of empathy?
Again my heartfelt condolences to all.