Democracy: Shootings And solutions
MULTIFACTORIAL CAUSES FOR MASS SHOOTINGS
AND RADICAL BUT COMMON-SENSE SUGGESTIONS FOR
SEATTLE, WA -- (INTERNET WIRE) -- 12/22/99 --
This important though controversial Editorial
Opinion on gun control was published in the
Seattle Times on Friday Evening December 17th
1999. As a perspective, Vernon M Neppe MD, PhD,
an internationally respected neuropsychiatrist
and psychopharmacologist and expert on aggression
is author of three books.
His latest book, the recently published Cry
the Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope, has a section
confronting the dilemma of gun control in the
context of the psychiatric patient. Cry the
Beloved Mind is written in the new style of
sciction --- science through literature--- for
the general public as well as patients, family
members, students and even medical and psychological
colleagues and also deals with brain medications
and other ethical and social dilemmas encountered
by psychiatrists and neurologists.
This op-ed is reproduced below courtesy of
the Seattle Times newspaper.
Beyond democracy: carnage and change
by Vernon M. Neppe
Special to The Times
Carnage! Tragic murders in the workplace and
shootings at schools, from Seattle and Honolulu
to Columbine. It's becoming an everyday event
- adults and children committing the ultimate
acts of mass violence.
But "it's not the guns that are responsible,
it's the people. Don't blame the guns!"
When will we learn? Do we need the 10 plagues
before we respond to this? Yes, guns alone don't
kill. But guns come with people, and the combination
is orders of magnitude more likely to kill than
people without guns. A child at school in a
fight before may have had a bruise from a fist;
now, shootings take place.
The victim is society, and the perpetrator's
actions are rationalized according to the latest
psychological, medical, social or cultural theory.
It's easy to latch onto one of several logical
explanations for any of these events:
- The enticing psychological concepts - alienated;
inferior; teased; evil; unidentified mental
illness; impulsive aggression; underlying
repressed anger; paranoid projection of resentment.
- The all encompassing biological speculations
come next - abnormal brain function; genetics;
illegal drug use; treatment not given; medication
- Then there are the popular socio-cultural
explanations - distorted family dynamics;
powerfully bad influences of clans and gangs;
ignored cries for help; too much leisure;
availability of weapons of greater destruction.
- The truth is most likely multifactorial,
as it is with most events. More than guns
are, however, involved. We should recognize
that not all people are equal emotionally,
and that logically, the population at risk
to become perpetrators is growing as:
- Acute and long-term effects of recreational
drugs play a greater role given their widespread
- New societal influences are arising. virtual
reality games of destruction, as well as the
witnessing of numerous murders every day on
TV, have potentially lethal influences. These
conceivably anesthetize the horror of violent
death, impair reality and ego-boundaries,
and provoke identification with aggressive
- Moreover, subtle influences in certain
movies may provoke inappropriate, sometimes
even delusional, identifications with characters
The vulnerable sub-populations may be a small
percentage of the whole but their reactions
to these stimuli may be dangerously different.
Until such risk groups are well-defined, we
may need to impose broader limits. We have reached
Our society needs to re-examine factors that
can help prevent future catastrophic attacks
on groups and individuals. We're compromising
everyone's safety by allowing the vulnerable
potential perpetrators to identify with killing,
to play violent games, to learn know-how pertaining
to bombs, to access weapons, and to receive
We have, paradoxically, gone beyond democracy
by allowing equal access to potentially lethal
materials. Because we sometimes cannot predict
future dangerousness, the necessary, albeit
unfortunate, solution may be added controls.
We need to confront reality with change. Solutions
exist, though they are difficult and often major.
- We should not allow easy access to weapons
of destruction, such as firearms of all kinds,
as this loads the bases.
- The word "censorship" raises great consternation,
but it is time to look at what we are exposing
our children and our society to - graphic,
concrete and planned violence in the media,
in movies and on television.
- The possibly positive reinforcement of
the virtues of aggression in virtual reality
and other "action" games should be recognized.
Life should not become a fantasy where winning
- Science and knowledge may be neutral and
we must not confine such information to a
few. But the advent of inappropriate presentation
of dangerous information on the Internet (e.g.,
how to make a bomb) presents an urgent dilemma
of producing appropriate rules.
- Research should be reviewed and, if necessary,
further undertaken to establish whether fame-seeking
perpetrators of crimes should not have their
names published by the media.
- We must recognize that ultimately the individual
is responsible for his actions; but actions
are in part determined by availability of
the means to the end.
- Most important, we need to educate. There
must be an awareness of the three dangers
of firearms - impulsive, planned and accidental
acts - and we must recognize that the "firearm-people
duo" does much, much more harm than any kind
of protection this duo may afford against
We have gone beyond democracy because we have
allowed pseudo-freedoms: Freedom implies safety
from harm and the sense of basic security that
attends that; freedom does not imply license
to act wherever and whenever we choose. We need
to urgently review the evidence and act decisively.
Vernon M. Neppe is author of "Cry the
Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope" (http://www.brainvoyage.com),
director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute
in Seattle and adjunct professor of psychiatry
and human behavior at St. Louis University.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vernon Neppe, MD, PhD, FFPsych, FRCPC is a specialist
in neuropsychiatry and psychopharmacology as
well as a forensic expert. He and his family
live in Seattle, Washington, where he practices
medicine as Director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric
as University of Washington clinical faculty
(where in 1986 he founded and directed the first
Division of Neuropsychiatry in a Department
of Psychiatry in the United States) and as Attending
Physician at Northwest Hospital. Dr. Neppe also
is adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Human
Behavior at St. Louis University, St. Louis,
MO. During his prestigious career, he has received
numerous board certifications, specialist qualifications
and international professional awards and he
has published and lectured extensively round
the world. His deep empathy, special expertise
and important discoveries form the foundation
of Cry the Beloved Mind directed towards general
readers, patients and families, as well as students
in psychology, medicine and related areas. He
is in-demand as a speaker on brain and medicines
and and because he has a special skill in communicating
with different audiences. he is ideal for media
interviews. His expertise ranges from brain
conditions like amnesia --- he was, for example,
interviewed for TV in the famous Jody Roberts
case --- to aggression and gun control, unusual
behaviors and seizures. Discussing the impacts
of mind-altering chemicals on the brain, generic
substitution, normality and the paranormal,
and medicolegal issues, make his profile for
news media even broader.
Cry the Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope By Vernon
M. Neppe MD, PhD. 1999.
Published by Brainvoyage. com in conjunction
with Peanut Butter Publishing in Seattle. 367
+ XVI Pages; Bound book: $22. 95, ISBN: 0-89716-823-2;
Electronic Version, $17. 95, Mac/ PC, ISBN:
More information on Cry the Beloved Mind: A
Voyage of Hope including an author interview
and media data is at http://www.brainvoyage.com/ctbm;
order bound or electronic book: http://www.brainvoyage.com/order.