Just a few thoughts about deranged shooters, like the one in Newtown, CT.
Some people think that violent video games contribute to these behaviors. I am not a psychiatrist, so what do I know? Well, I know something about how people behave, because I am one, and I observe them, and ethics is all about why people do what they do. I think that someone whose mentally balanced and who has a good ethical foundation will not be induced to violent acts by violent games - and let's include violent music while we're at it. I do think, however, that a person inclined to violent acts may be facilitated by the violent entertainment. They work themselves up to believing that what they want to do is doable - celebrities and the heros in the games endorse the violence in their media after all. And so they want to go one better and do it for real.
One of the classic definitions of insanity is the ability to distinguish right from wrong. People who know a thing, deep down, to be wrong can convince themselves that it's right. You can see how ethics and mental health go together. But some people think that the violent prone individuals need medication and counseling. What it seems to me they really need is a strong foundation in ethics - knowing right from wrong - so when they battle their demons (real or figurative) they can keep telling themselves, "NO, that's WRONG, it's EVIL, I will NOT do it, I want to in a way, but DEEP DOWN, I do NOT want to." And while bonafide mental illness may be behind why some people actually do violent acts, but that does not mean it is behind all violent acts. Many other maniacs do not start out mentally ill, but make themselves that way by working themselves up to do something they sort of want to do but know is wrong. I am not a professional on this issue by any means, as I say, and these things are complex, but I know how hard people struggle with the desire to do things one ought not to do. Just take a simple case of losing weight or controlling cholesterol. We stare at the forbidden food both wanting it and not wanting it, and wanting to overcome our own resistance until we do... or don't. If we give in, we begin an unhealthy pattern of behavior, and why should the dynamics necessarily be different when the object of the act is violence instead of bagels?
Some people think that guns promote violent acts. I say if someone is prone to commit a violent act, he will do it with whatever weapon he has available. As Samuel L Jackson - a star of violent action movies - it's not about guns but about people not valuing life. He makes the point of being surrounded his whole life by people with guns in Tennessee, and no one ever committing a violent act against another human being with them. So Mr. Jackson also sees the problem being a poor foundation in ethics and morality. Certainly the availability of guns to people inclined to such things is something to look at and if possible restrict. But universal gun control is clearly not the answer.
Yes, there is mental illness involved. Yes, guns play a role. Yes, the situation is way more complex than I can imagine.
But we also live in a world where ethics are all about what "I" want and not about distinguishing "right" from "wrong" except insofar as these concepts conduce to what "I" want. And until we recapture our ethical bearings in this society, we can see more and more of this sort of violence.