I wish I knew what to say, what to advise, what to suggest in the light of recent stories in which people with guns fell into a funk and “snapped” before erupting in unfathomable violence.

In Fayetteville, N.C., a faithful church deacon who was to all appearances loving and kind gunned down his wife and two children before killing himself: relatives and friends had apparently tried to boost his flagging spirits shortly before the shootings.

At Fort Hood in Texas, an Army psychiatrist unhappy about an upcoming deployment went over the edge and opened fire on a busy army base, killing at least 13 and wounding 30 fellow soldiers and some civilians. Although he is Muslim, he was a native born American who had been in the service since 1995. Much remains to be learned, but his actions appear to have stemmed more from a personal breakdown than a terror plot.

In the first case, the shooter was a beloved member of a community who cared about him and tried to help. In the second, the gunman was a trained psychiatrist who worked among people who knew that he was unhappy. Did they try to intervene? I don’t know.

What internal workings drive someone to the point of losing all rationality and thinking even for a moment that the weight of a weapon, the sound of gunfire, and the cries of victims can salve the screaming soul within? In countless other cases, what inner demons could lead someone to beat a child, strangle a spouse, or drive into a tree?

I don’t know. And, while mental health professionals could certainly offer considerable insight, it’s hard to imagine that any of us could fully understand what’s going on inside someone else’s head.

I don’t have the answers I’d like to have, but stories like this remind me of the need to be sensitive to others, to watch for signs of stress, and to offer a safe place for troubled folk to blow off steam before they explode. We can’t fully know what’s cooking inside our friends’ and neighbors’ heads, but we can care.

We can, and we must.

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