“We need help.” That was the cry from mourners gathered at the memorial for nineteen children and two teachers murdered recently at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex. I am sure you have heard about this and perhaps like many, many others, including myself, wept over this horrific tragedy.
The shooter was himself only a child of 18. At that age in Texas, he couldn’t buy a drink at a bar, but he could buy an AR-15-style rifle at any gun shop, and he did. Then he shot his grandmother in the face, crashed her car by the school, walked inside and started shooting—in an all-too-familiar scenario. This kind of mass killing happens nowhere in the civilized world except here at home, in the United States of America.
It’s just us, and it’s because of the easy access we have to weapons of war. I own a gun. I have for decades. It holds five bullets and has never been fired. When I was a Boy Scout, I was a marksman and enjoyed target practice with my dad and the guys in my troop, but I have never killed a living thing and never wanted to. Other people use guns for hunting. Nothing wrong with that either.
The problem, of course, is when guns are held by someone who is mentally deranged — how else could this latest massacre have happened? Insanity is another worldwide pandemic we have yet to beat, and it will keep on killing unless our gun laws change.
Mental health issues are at the root of all homicides, suicides and mass killings. Clearly if people couldn’t so easily get their hands on guns, these crimes would never happen. Real gun control in the U.S. will take a huge effort by those of us who have had enough, but now is the time, and we have to act.
Today you can buy a gun or make one with your 3-D Printer. You can also build a bomb with instructions easily found on the Internet. Ammo can be found almost anywhere, and the disenfranchised and deranged men and boys who are committing these acts of violence are not being watched or reported on while they are preparing. That has to change too. It’s easy enough to come up with a profile of the shooters: they typically felt bullied, didn’t have a girlfriend, and didn’t have a close tie to their families.
The truth is, we can start to end this cycle of violence by taking greater responsibility for what our children do. A lot of this must fall on the shoulders of parents. If you want to keep your kids on the straight and narrow, one of the best things you can do is simply to have dinner as a family every night and talk about life. That one thing makes all the difference.
I know this sounds too simple, but it works, whether you’re an advocate of gun control or an advocate for guns. Families and guardians of children also need to do the following:
1. Create a support structure for those you love.
2. Look for and act on any warning signs.
3. Check on your child’s social media accounts.
4. Get your kid evaluated if you see or sense unusual behaviors.
If your child protests, especially to that last suggestion, remind them of who the parent is — and always remember that your job is to protect your children, to teach them how to live without you, and how to love.
If a child receives love and learns good values, chances are they aren’t going to turn into a murderer. Family ties are what hold us together—and when things get really tough and we find it hard to function or want to strike out in an unthinkable way, a family may be our only safety net.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is an award-winning therapist and humanitarian. He is also a columnist, the author of seven books, and a blogger for PsychologyToday.com with nearly 27 million readers. He practices in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles and is available for video sessions. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sundays and Tuesdays in the News-Press.