The world continues to mourn 12 lives cut tragically short during the July 20 cinema massacre. Some have decided that the best way to honor the dead is to avoid mentioning the culprit in order to deny him a legacy. While subscribers to this philosophy—including author Neil Gaiman, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and President Barack Obama—are certainly well intentioned, they seem to be forgetting the purpose of history: to learn from the mistakes of the past.
There’s a reason students are taught about the tyrannical rise to power of Adolph Hitler and the criminal empire of Al Capone. In each circumstance, society allowed evil and fear to take control, and many paid the ultimate price. We recount these dark chapters of our past not to emulate them, but to understand what went wrong, and to learn how to prevent a particular breed of evil from ruling our lives in the future. Accordingly, we must not simply mourn for Aurora, we must learn how to prevent future Auroras. For this reason alone, the name James Holmes should never be forgotten.
Cliché though the gun lobby’s favorite slogan “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” may be, there is no denying that it is accurate on many levels. As kitchen knife stabbing sprees—like a triad in China in 2010, Japan in 2001 and 2008, and one in Utah halted by a gun-wielding citizen in March of this year—can attest, simply removing guns from the equation does not stop mass killings from taking place. In order to prevent mass killings, the deranged perpetrators must be found and treated for mental illness before they become killers.
For more than 30 years, America’s mental health system has been woefully inadequate. Reforms meant to curb entitlement fraud and to stop sane people from being wrongly institutionalized have backfired, and now millions of mentally ill and at-risk people are not getting the help they need. Someone, be it the gun range owner who denied Holmes’ membership after hearing his terrifying voicemail message or, more importantly, the psychiatrist who Holmes was allegedly visiting, must have realized that the 24-year-old Ph.D. candidate was experiencing a psychotic break.
A system needs to exist whereby thoughtful observers can recommend disturbed people, who would not normally seek help on their own, for confidential psychological analysis. It should also be easier for psychiatrists treating particularly troubled individuals to commit them to institutions, a process made more difficult by today’s insurance environment and legal system. A particular onus rests on universities to design such systems for their students, as many mental illnesses like schizophrenia set in around a person’s twenties.
For the sake of those who died in Aurora, we must not forget the perpetrator of this heinous crime. We will honor their sacrifice if we can learn from this tragedy and prevent another troubled youth from becoming the next James Holmes.
PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons