Mental Health, Guns and Violence Go Together

I cut my teeth as a cop beat reporter in the 1980’s during the heyday of the “Cocaine Cowboys,” an era of both infamous and unspeakable crime and violence in Miami.

I’ve covered killings —some that occurred for money and some for vengeance. I’ve seen families tortured and children slain. Some cops I knew never came home. In 30 years of covering news, I’ve seen lots of gore, but never anything quite like what happened Friday night in Connecticut.

In Spanish, we have a way of describing the worst crimes such as Friday night’s massacre of 20 first graders, six teachers and a mother. The saying is “solamente para ver la sangre correr.”  The words convey the senselessness of this crime in a way that English cannot. It means killing “just for the sake of watching the blood flow.”

This is the type of crime that incenses us, but it’s the “why” that most confounds us. And as reporters, whether experienced, or even hardened and callous, we too feel the sadness, the anger, the outrage and the frustration.

We are frustrated by the weapon, a semi-automatic rifle with 30 rounds in the magazine, frustrated by the laws that allow it be readily purchased and frustrated by a school that, even with security measures, seems only too easy to break into.

Most frustrating of all though are the new details about the killer’s mental condition. Adam Lanza suffered from a severe personality disorder which, according to his own mother, “was getting worse.”

Friends say Lanza was becoming, “impossible to control.” In fact, more than one family friend is quoted as saying it was so bad, he was incapable of feeling pain.

One anonymous source familiar with the situation told the N.Y. Daily News that Adam’s mother Nancy was getting more and more worried about her son. He said, “Nancy told me he was burning himself with a lighter. In the ankles or arms or something. It was like he was trying to feel something.”

There are also reports that Nancy Lanza warned her son’s babysitter to “never turn you back on him.”

What does that tell us? What should it tell us? More importantly, what should it have told her?

To be sure, the vast majority of persons with personality disorders are not murderers. And the same can be said, of course, for those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which is allegedly what afflicted Adam Lanza.

But experts warn parents about the potential link between Asperger’s and violence. The number one ranked website for parents who’s children have Asperger’s is called Here is how they answer a mother’s question regarding anger and violent behavior:

“Kids (and adults) with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism are prone to frustration, anger – and sometimes violence. The rapidity and intensity of anger, often in response to a relatively trivial event, can be extreme. When feeling angry, the child with Asperger’s does not appear to be able to pause and think of alternative strategies to resolve the situation. There is often an instantaneous physical response without careful thought. When the anger is intense, the youngster with Asperger’s may be in a blind rage and unable to see the signals indicating that it would be appropriate to stop.”

While hardly an excuse for his heinous and monstrous behavior, the above response does give us a somewhat clearer picture of the severely jumbled and chaotic mind of Adam Lanza. It also makes us even more acutely critical of the folly in allowing him access to such an arsenal of weapons.

If Democrats, Republicans and President Obama are really interested in more than merely arguing about gun control for a spell and then doing nothing (which is the norm after incidents like this one), they must act decisively and act now. The country is tired of senseless tragedies. They want action. There’s an urgency and momentum.

Part of what must take place is a debate on gun control. But that’s only part of the solution.

Let’s not neglect what may have been the source of the problem for both of the latest mass shootings in the U.S. Like Adam Lanza, accused Aurora Colorado Shooter James Holmes suffered from mental illness before his “Dark Night” theater rampage back in July. According to his lawyer, he “was not able to get the help he needed.”

Autism and Asperger’s syndrome are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the likelihood of a child being diagnosed with either or both has increased more than 20 percent in the last five years. Yet mental health experts say our present health care system, including the so-called “Obamacare” provisions, short-shrift the problem. They point out that most mental health provisions of Obamacare don’t kick in until 2014. And some experts also fear that higher out-of-pocket costs and cheaper medications will cause many sufferers of Autism and Asperger’s syndrome to get worse.

Debating the availability of guns without also debating availability of mental healthcare and resources won’t get us far.

Maybe it’s time that we as a country offer help to the mentally ill, make it available at no cost to those in need, before it’s too late. We can’t afford not to. After all, given a chance to pitch in and pay for Holmes or Lanza’s care —knowing what we now know— who among us would say no?

This piece originally appeared on