We Need to Treat Violence as Public Health Issue

By Art Caplan (cross-posted from his Vitals column on NBCNews)

The mass murder of 20 children and six adults Friday in Newtown, Conn., has provoked yet another round of recrimination, finger pointing and breast-beating. Was the shooter mentally deranged? If there was more gun control, would this have happened? Did violent video games play any role? What we fervently want as we continue to reel from a story whose misery seems to know no bounds is to find a clear cause – a reason why this happened – so that we can fix it.

We hope to see something in all the stories, analyses, commentaries, Facebook postings and Twitter speculation that gives us the reason behind what happened and thus a guarantee that if we understand and act on it then no 6 year old or her parent need to worry ever again what might happen at their school. We hope that no college, hospital or mall will ever again have a reason to practice drills for “shooters” and no play or movie-goer grow anxious over who has snuck into the theater with evil intent.

But, there is no simple answer. We have ourselves to blame for where we find ourselves in terms of mass shootings. Our culture is too far down the road of tolerating and even extolling violence. We do so in our popular entertainment, we permit the mass marketing of violence to young kids, and we thrill to it in too many of our sports. A lot of people make a lot of money selling violence. I doubt that will change.

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