East Penn Press

Sunday, July 5, 2020


Wednesday, August 21, 2019 by The Press in Opinion

Preventing mass shootings

Banning the sale of long guns will not stop someone hell-bent on killing large numbers of people in one horrific event.

Most who have committed mass shootings (the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas massacre excluded) are young males in their teens or 20s.

I have no doubt if AK-15s or AK-47s were banned, the mass killings would continue, perhaps on a much larger and deadlier scale.

Take away the guns and bombs could be next.

Instructions for making bombs are readily available on the Internet and the components can be purchased easily at local hardware stores.

Instead of the 22 innocents murdered at Walmart in El Paso, Texas, hundreds could have been killed and maimed had the accused, a 21-year-old who is alleged to have white nationalist sympathies, tossed a bomb through the front door.

There is “evil” in this world.

Whether a baby is born evil or learns to be evil is up for debate by religious and behavioral scholars.

Hate is taught. “Evil” may be genetic.

Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico, in a Nov. 15, 2011, BBC interview, discussed the connection between the brain and the lack of empathy exhibited by serial killers — psychopaths.

Kiehl studied the brain of Brian Dugan, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to the 1983 rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl.

Dugan, who previously had been convicted of several rapes and two murders, showed no remorse for his crimes.

Kiehl scanned Dugan’s brain.

“He struggles to try and understand why people even care about what he did,” Kiehl said in the BBC article.

Kiehl also has scanned the brains of numerous individuals in prisons.

“I tend to see psychopaths as someone suffering from a disorder, so I wouldn’t use the word evil to describe them,” Kiehl said. “Clinically, we define it as someone who scores high on traits such as lack of empathy, guilt and remorse. They are very impulsive: they tend not to plan or think before acting. They tend to get themselves in trouble by a very early age.”

Kiehl said the paralimbic system of the brain, which includes the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex, may be responsible for this lack of empathy, the ability to place one’s self in another’s shoes.

“...Psychopathy seems to involve a lack of development in these regions — which may be genetically determined,” Kiehl said.

That being said, empathy also can be taught.

“How would you feel if...” has been said by many a parent when his child has committed an infraction against another.

Instead of yelling at or punishing the child, the parent seeks to have the child imagine himself as the person on the receiving end of the transgression.

This weekend on a “Madam Secretary” rerun on television, son Jason McCord spoke unkindly of two girls.

Dad, Henry, asked him, “How would you feel if...”

Differentiating between a genetically predisposed psychopath and a child who has had no positive guidance needs to be done while he is young, before that child reaches his teens.

If future killers are getting in trouble at an early age, it seems to me someone must be aware of their aberrant behavior — parents, family, friends, pediatricians, teachers, law enforcement.

In an effort to prevent mass shootings, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Aug. 16.

One key element of the executive order is the creation of the Division of Violence Prevention within the Department of Health.

Finally, someone is recognizing the mental health component of mass shootings.

According to the news release from the governor’s office, “The two new offices (Office of Gun Violence Prevention and Division of Violence Prevention) will work together to tackle gun violence from both the gun safety and public health perspectives.

“Together, they will establish new oversight and data sharing, reduce community gun violence, combat mass shootings and halt domestic violence-related and self-inflicted shootings.”

Wolf also called upon the General Assembly to “pass safe storage legislation to reduce the number of accidental shootings, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, also known as the red flag law, lost and stolen gun reporting, and universal background checks by the Pennsylvania State Police on all gun purchases.”

The executive order also addressed juvenile justice programs that are proven to “reduce violent crimes and expanding positive behavioral intervention and supports, a proactive approach to improving school safety and promoting positive behavior, in schools statewide.”

In addition, Pennsylvania State Police were directed to “expand monitoring of hate groups, white nationalists and other fringe organizations and individuals and conducting investigations, online and in communities, related to any threats of violence by these groups or individuals.”

State police and the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission will coordinate with local first responders to develop training on how to facilitate and handle warnings of suspicions of potential mass shootings.

Is the governor’s executive order enough to absolutely prevent mass shootings in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

Sadly, no, but it is a step in the right direction.

Deb Palmieri


Parkland Press

Northwestern Press