Shooters, We Can Give You a Future!
We all know what happened at Uvalde last week. A Texas elementary school was attacked by an 18-year old gunman who killed 19 children and 2 adults. This event comes right on the heels of another massacre in Buffalo, New York where 10 people were killed and 3 were wounded. Both of these killings were committed by 18-year-old men. The gunman in Uvalde turned 18 a week before he shot up the school; his birthday present to himself was two assault weapons, the ones he used in the shooting. This young man had no future. He had a family history of criminality - his father had been in prison numerous times for assault, his mother was a drug addict, his grandfather was a convicted felon out on parole, and his grandmother appeared to be hopelessly incompetent. This young man grew up in a chaotic home with no social skills, was a high school dropout, unemployed, and didn’t even know how to drive a car. So there he was, no girlfriend, no job, no high school diploma, not even a driver’s license, living in a family with a criminal history who could do nothing to help him until finally he bought a gun, drove to that elementary school, and killed all those people before finally being killed himself.
What can be done to stop these human time bombs before they explode? I know something of what it’s like to grow up in a similar environment that he did. I had no father, so I lived with my paranoid, mentally ill mother and my angry, critical grandmother. I was bullied at school and had no social life, but I’ll tell you what helped me. Being on the basketball team in high school helped stopped the bullying and later on in life, I became one of the members of the Lanterman Regional Center Board of Directors. That was extremely important because it gave me the skills I needed to become a winner. When you come from the kind of background that I do, you have no idea what it takes to become a winner. I was attracted to people who had good hearts and wanted to do good things, but who lacked the social and emotional ability to back that up. I knew a lot of people who came from very violent and abusive backgrounds and they were in the same boat as me; they didn’t have the skills to be successful. That would’ve been my fate if I hadn’t ended up on the Board of Directors of the Lanterman Regional Center. I learned a great deal from being around those people and I gained many social and emotional skills there. Later on, I became involved in self-determination and advocacy work. I think we need to employ the same techniques to help shooters and prevent these angry teens from going down the rabbit hole of hate and mass murder. We need to have a nationwide program to convey to these human time bombs that they can have a future and we can help them. The way in which we can help them is to teach them the skills they need not only to survive, but to succeed and make the world a better place. In short, we need to give them alternatives to hate and murder. We all talk about gun control and while that is needed, we’re going to have to do a great deal more than that. We have to find a way to change these people. We need public service announcements telling people that if they are lonely, angry, don’t know what to do, and think a gun is the only answer, we can help them. When we do get these people into our hands, we need to give them a job aptitude test and find out what their strengths are so we can build on that. We need to find a way to help them develop whatever strengths they may have and get a team of people together to help them presume competence and devise a plan in which they can do something they love. We also need to train mental health professionals to do self-determination work. Most self-determination work has been done with developmentally disabled people like people with autism, and while it does indeed help the disabled, I also feel it can be used to help shooters and people who have other kinds of problems. If I had something like that back when I was in high school and college, if somebody had sat down with me and assisted with finding out what I was good at, that would’ve helped me enormously. I would’ve benefitted immeasurably from something like that 50 or so years ago because growing up in an environment like mine where I had an angry grandmother and a mentally ill mother who couldn’t help me from being bullied at school, I was barely able to survive on my own when I went out into the world. When you’re in that kind of situation, you know something is wrong and that something is holding you back, but you don’t know what it is. You haven’t the slightest idea that the people who are able to do things are on a higher emotional level than you are. Back then, when my friends said they could do something, I took them at their word. I assumed if you really wanted to do something and were really passionate about it, you could do it no matter what. It never occurred to me that these people didn’t have the emotional ability to back up their good intentions. Had it not been for the basketball team and the Lanterman Regional Center Board of Directors, I would’ve never found my way out. Most of these shooters are never going to find their way out. We need to find a way to help them. I believe that self-determination and person-centered planning is a big part of that. We need an answer to mass murder because we cannot ask our nation to send their kids off to school every day knowing they might not come home alive. This is going to destroy our nation’s soul if we don’t put a stop to it now. We’re going to have to educate people in the mental health field on how to use self-determination practices and person-centered planning. Most mental health professionals don’t know how to deal with people who are potentially violent. We have to start being proactive or else there are going to be many more tragedies like this. Our biggest problem is that nobody is thinking outside of the box; nobody is thinking about how to short-circuit shootings before they happen. We have to learn how to conduct interventions with dangerous people. We need to get to them before they get to us and shoot our children. If we don’t, the soul of this country is going to die. The message we must communicate is, “Shooters, we can give you a future!” Let that be our battle call.