Can we please not?

Can we please not blame mass killings on people’s brains? Can we not say that Adam Lanza committed the Newton, Connecticut massacre because he might have been autistic? Can we not say that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect, might have committed the crime because he had boxing-related traumatic brain damage? Can we not say that his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, aided in the bombings because he was a teenager and his brain hadn’t fully developed yet, and thus he was easily influenced by his radical older brother?

Just like can we please not place blame on these people because they are Muslim or Christian (or not), can we not claim psychiatric or neurochemical differences as the “reason” why they committed these crimes?

There are millions of people in the world with autism. There are millions of former boxers and football and rugby players who have suffered concussions and do not build bombs. There are billions of us who have successfully passed through adolescence without ever committing an act of terror. So can we please not say that these attributes are the “reasons” why these men have committed these horrendous atrocities?

I fully agree we need better mental health care, better education, better outreach and assimilation to immigrants. But I also believe we need better gun laws to prevent people from having the capacity to commit some of these crimes in the first place. I understand the need to try and find reason behind these acts as they are truly devastating, seeming to stem from a place of pure evil. But let’s not forget that similar atrocities, and worse, are currently being committed around the world in war-torn areas. And placing the blame on a generic mental illness or neurological state, rather than on societal shortcomings or personal perversion, does not help. It only garners distrust and hurts those who do suffer from these illnesses and need help, rather than persecution.

So please, can we just not?

Dana Smith

PhD student in Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge