letters | massacre in colorado

Ceremony of futility plays out in our reaction to shooting

And so, after the Aurora, Colo., shooting, the ceremony of futility begins again.

First, the ritual condemnations of this “senseless violence” (note to speakers: please identify recent instances of sensible violence), followed by the endless interviews with tearful survivors.


Then, gun-control advocates will note yet another instance of a legally purchased assault rifle (with a high-capacity clip) being used to wreak unimaginable horror. This will be answered with a well-financed public relations campaign by the pro-gun lobby, arguing that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and that if only those theatergoers had been armed, the gunman could have been stopped.

Politicians will posture; clergy will pontificate.

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Next, speculation on the role of mental illness in the shooting will run rampant. Mental health experts will correctly point out that psychiatric illness alone (absent substance abuse) is rarely associated with violence, but that untreated psychosis or unbridled rage, coupled with easy access to lethal weapons, often leads to bloodshed.

How many times will our nation witness this predictable tragedy before we ban rapid-fire assault weapons and high-capacity clips?

And if untreated mental illness proves relevant to the Aurora shootings, will we finally ensure that all citizens have access to affordable mental health care?

Dr. Ronald Pies


The writer is a psychiatrist and bioethicist.

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