The Human Condition

By Martha E. ConwayConway, Martha 092812

(Dec. 2012) I knew after Sandy Hook it wouldn’t be long before renewed screams for gun control were heard, and I knew discourse on mental health couldn’t be far behind, but it was sooner than I could ever have imagined. Between that and now the ambush on first-responders in Webster, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that something is broken.

But the law, while certainly imperfect, isn’t it.

Gun control is not going to fix what is wrong in our country, and neither is “…a frank, honest discussion of mental health care.” The problem runs much deeper in the U.S., demonstrated best in our reactions to these tragedies when they occur. We try to affix blame, victimize the perpetrator and quickly assign labels of mental illness to behaviors we simply cannot – or do not want to – accept or understand.

Just because the act is senseless to us doesn’t mean the actor was mentally ill, but the rest of us can sleep a lot better knowing it was just some random, crazy act, right? If we can label it, we can make sure it doesn’t happen to us…

It is notable that countries with populations and gun inventories comparable to the United States may see 15 murders by gun per year … compared to our 11,000 to 15,000 gun homicides, depending on which sources you consult.

Why? I believe the problem is multi-faceted, but I don’t think any of the following have much bearing on what we’re seeing.

Gun Control?

Some say gun control is non-existent, yet the vast majority of mass killings have occurred since gun control measures were implemented and, in most of these slayings, the weapons were legally obtained. The fact is criminals can get their hands on anything, if they want it badly enough.

Ask any ex-convict about the supply chain that exists for even the incarcerated.

I do have to say I always favor harsher penalties, though, for violators.

Mental Health Care System?

Others blame the mental health care system – or lack thereof – for a shortage of beds and little to no insurance coverage for mental health treatment. I will not argue there is not improvement to be made here, but there is this thing called the Constitution, and we cannot incarcerate someone without cause.

All too often, the massacre is the first indication there is a problem – or at least the first indication of a problem big enough to warrant restricting someone’s freedom, but by then it is too late.

In other cases, someone acts out and is temporarily incarcerated, stabilized and thrown back into free society, only to cease counseling or medication (they are free citizens now) and have the behavior escalate.

We cannot deny someone their freedom based on the possibility of what they MIGHT do; unfortunately, they must first act.

Mental illness is a minority cause in these incidents. In the “Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law” (2008), Jason C. Matejkowski and co-authors reported that 16 percent of murderers imprisoned in state penitentiaries were mentally ill.

I can only assume that means the other 84 percent were not.

The Evil Media?

First the term “media” needs definition because it’s not just traditional news outlets. It is social networking sites, movies, video games and music. If you are posting opinion, reviews or links to blogs, editorials or articles on your Facebook or other social networking page, let me offer you your media credentials; quit pointing your finger at anyone else.

All of the above are globally available now – translated into myriad languages and shipped to the far corners of the world – yet other countries don’t have the same problems we do.

With the movies, games and music I “consume,” my body count ought to number in the four-digit range, yet it is nil. These things affect only those predisposed to blame them for reinforcing their already held notions.

Low Self-Esteem?

It is thought the people who perpetrate these crimes suffer from low self-esteem or were victimized themselves early in life; while it is true that traumatic upbringing impacts people for a lifetime, studies of serial killers and other violent offenders indicate these populations actually have higher-than-normal levels of self-esteem. They know what they are doing is wrong, take extraordinary measures to obscure their wrongdoings, but they feel that their right to gratification outweighs any rights held by their victims; therefore, they take what they want without concern for victims or survivors.

My Money is on Our Culture and Attitudes

It starts early now: we feed our children a steady diet of false positives – everyone goes home with a gold star, ribbon, medal or trophy – depicting a world of all winners and no losers; there is no distinction for true achievement because everyone is equal. This is particularly sad when we’ve dumbed down the American education to the point at which it now sits, and we are so far behind globally, I don’t know if we can ever dig out.

Talk about setting up future generations for disappointment.

Add to this the fact that we have the most sexually sophisticated yet least accountable teen population in history, and our young people are consumed by self-concepts that encourage them to focus only on their decorative properties and not any kind of well-rounded sense of purpose in family, community or society as a whole.

And that lack of accountability is further nurtured by figureheads who help assign blame to others for bad behavior, poor performance, mediocre grades and lousy choices. Parents follow their children to school – and I’m not talking kindergarten here, but COLLEGE – to continue cultivating those feelings of powerlessness. I imagine that instills confidence issues – obviously they cannot be trusted to resolve conflicts or make good decisions.

What we need is an attitude overhaul. From their earliest years, our children need love and nurturing, but they also need to fall on their backsides a few times and figure out how to pull themselves up. You don’t learn to roller skate or ride a bike without a few skinned knees and elbows or even a bloody nose.

Coping skills are tragically lacking, and young people are given choices where none ought to exist instead of decision-making being encouraged where it is reasonable for a young person to do so.

Children need to learn the humility of a sincerely delivered apology and the ability to accept one. No one ever died of embarrassment, no matter how desperately they may have wished to do so.

And a hefty dose of conflict resolution is in order. The court of FIRST resort in this country all too often is “I’m gonna kill that [expletive deleted]!”  without any attempt to determine if the perceived slight was an accident or misunderstanding.

I’ve said it before, and I will repeat it to my deathbed: “parenting” is an action word. It is a tough job, but we need to be parents to our children, not their friends. We need to stop seeking labels for society’s children and try fixing problems with something other than medication.

Young people need boundaries, consistency and reasonable expectations. And when those expectations are not met, natural consequences are in order.

It is time to stop saying, “My child would never…,” and start imagining the possibilities of what they MIGHT… no matter how unpleasant. It is time to stop bailing them out and make them face the consequences of their actions.

It is time to let them gain some confidence that they do have the power to solve their own problems … without a gun, and without whatever they dream up after guns are outlawed.

Martha E. Conway is vice president of M3P Media, LLC, and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing Follow her on Twitter at or Facebook at

By martha

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