Young Killers

02-25-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

After yet another mass murder, we find ourselves grappling to find answers to why this happens and how to prevent it. So far, we have employed a strategy that insulates us from the effects of a would be terrorist, assassin or mass murderer. After 9/11 we came up with the TSA to screen out the less than one percent of travelers bent on using a plane as a weapon. In our schools we have trained staff and students in disaster drills and now how to respond to an active shooter situation. We have also mandated seat belts and airbags in vehicles to protect against among other dangers, drunk drivers. But none of these strategies, while they may reduce harm, get to the heart of the problem.

For instance, the problem with drunk drivers is alcohol, or people drinking to intoxication and then driving. So why not just get rid of alcohol? No alcohol, no more intoxicated drivers, no more drunk driving fatalities. But you might say that too many people use alcohol responsibly and it is an ingrained part of our culture and we have plenty of laws restricting access to alcohol and penalties for abuse. Besides we tried it in the 20th century and it didn't work as promised. The same argument can be made about guns: too many people use them responsibly and they are part of our American culture. Besides if we banned them, just like the bootleggers during Prohibition, people will find a way around any ban.

So, in the case of school shooters, let’s look at the actual shooters. In about 90% of the shootings the individuals were troubled to the point of having been recognized as mentally ill. These individuals were either taking psycho-active medications or had stop taking them (withdrawal can cause serious erratic, violent behaviors as well). These medications may well be the reason someone goes from thinking about and even planning an assault to having lost all self-control to actually take action. This may be a rare side effect from powerful drugs that disrupt brain chemistry, but when they happen the results as we have seen are deadly.

So here is a plan to weed out any potential drug-induced violent behavior. (Remember the side effects listed on many of these psychiatric drugs include: suicidal ideation, suicide, violent behavior etc.). First, any person prescribed these drugs must have an accountability partner. That means a third person is educated in all the possible side effects of these chemicals and reports any side effects, changes in behavior etc. to the prescribing physician.

Secondly, the person prescribed the drugs has to be temporarily banned from purchasing a firearm until it is demonstrated that the drugs are working safely, maybe six months to one year. If the person owns firearms they have to surrender them to a third party before being prescribed the drugs and can have them returned after treatment is completed. Or if they live with someone who possesses firearms that person has to store them in a secure location unknown to the person.

Since we know that the common denominator in 90% of the school shootings is in some form of recognized, if not diagnosed mental problems, along with different types of psycho-active medications, this would be a good beginning strategy to prevent a potential mass murderer from taking action. It certainly is not the only strategy that needs to be tried.

As someone who runs a school, I have a vested interested in preventing any more school shootings. But proposing politically unfeasible solutions or tinkering at the edges has not solved the problem. But we can come up with protocols that provide a troubled young person with the highest level of care, scrutiny and long-term care and treatments other than medication. Nothing is fool proof. But if we are going to take more actions to insulate us from the dangers we can also take actions that deal directly with the individual who potentially can cause harm.

Love, Fr. John B.

PS Two of our physicians are working on a really ingenious new tool to help diagnose potential violence in young people in our schools as well as effective interventions.  Pray for their enlightenment.