Yet another young white man has killed a number of people with a weapon made to do just that, to kill large numbers of people. No one knows, or will ever know, what made this young man do such a terrible thing.
It may be confirmed that he was taking a psychiatric drug that is known to stimulate urges to violence in ordinarly non-violent people, or that he shot his mother because he knew she was attempting to have him locked away in an institution. There may be deep traumas hidden in his past; violent images in TV and video games may have desensitized him; the culture of white masculinity may have made it seem possible and acceptable for him to act on his feelings of rage without regard for the value of the human lives he destroyed.
We can and should explore what it is that makes U.S. such a violent country, and as I said elsewhere, we need to start from the top down. It is difficult to teach nonviolence when our country's President, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, sends drones to kill civilians, including children, in Pakistan.
We can and should ban the kind of weapons that are easily used in crimes of mass violence. Hunters and those who want a gun for self-defense do not need this kind of weapon. Even if they might like to have it, they should be asked in the name of peace to accept that this desire cannot be satisfied.
As a person who has been labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis and proud member of the Mad community, I am alarmed at the way that "mental health" is now ubiquitous in discussions about violence. I am alarmed that our society seems more comfortable referring questions of ethics and self-control to a discourse on "health".
We mistrust law (for many good reasons) and mistrust the ability of any laws to truly change anyone's behavior. It also seems kinder to address a person's health, including their history of trauma, than to hold them up to the harsh light of personal responsibility and facing the consequences in punishment.
But if we focus on healing individuals we will be right back to authoritarian interventions that have a veneer of niceness: forced psychiatry, outpatient commitment, "re-education," rehabilitation as something done "to" prisoners to make them fit to live among others. This presents a dilemma for proponents of restorative justice, but it is the dilemma we have to grapple with: how do we create peace out of conflict, rather than merely suppressing conflict or declaring a one-sided victory?
I do not believe that we have the answer yet to this question. And I want to hold the question open and not be satisfied until it is in fact answered.