It is inevitable that shortly after a massive shooting the volume of the gun control debate increases. It’s not that shootings don’t occur every single day. It’s not even that victims don’t amount to the double digits every day. Our response is more connected to how and where a critical mass was attacked. We are understandably shaken to the core to consider the fact that we too have been to; movie theaters, high schools, daycare centers or grocery stores. It is completely natural and normal to respond strongly to something to which we can personally relate. We may (fortunately) have never lived in a neighborhood rife with gun violence. We may have never played in parks where gun toting teens hangout. But when violence happens to people not associated with “unfortunate circumstances” we pay attention. Headlines are rarely grabbed for what we consider commonplace. (Case in point: a house fire that killed three children and two adults in Connecticut was on the front page [literally and figuratively] for days if not weeks. A house fire killing three children and two adults in Newark is on page 17 today.) Considering that change often occurs when people in power decide to make a difference, we have the luxury of seeing this inequity in a positive light.
Most of us would agree that there are people who enjoy guns. They like to hunt, or collect or grab this particular right as if it’s all they have left of the American Dream. But anyone who states (with a straight face) that how we should deal with a mad gunman using semi-automatic weaponry is by arming everyone with a handgun is not a gun enthusiast. They are lots of other things; but not a gun enthusiast. Even if all those teens (and babies) and suburban adult moviegoers were sharp shooters they could not neutralize the affects of a madmen with semi-automatic weaponry. Even movies that glamorize violence are more realistic than that. There is no legitimate reason (which I can discern) why semi-automatic weapons fall under any right to bear arms protection. There is no rational reason that it is so very easy to purchase such weaponry.
We would be much further along in the gun control conversation if we focus on classes of firearm. If we decide as a society that we as individuals are not “entitled” to weapons of warfare we would be much further ahead.
As critical as examining the sanity of the weaponry ‘free market’ is how we examine and treat the mentally ill. How many times do we turn a blind eye to that woman or man who seems off? How many times has a seriously mentally ill person been turned away from a facility because they are not in immediate danger? How many institutions employ or teach very fragile individuals without providing them support? Why are we so frightened of mental health issues? We were shamed into tearing down the worst of our nation’s snake pits and walked away relieved. “Well, that’s done!” We have done nothing concrete or systemic since deinstitutionalization. People of good intentions try to help individuals and are often left in a labyrinth of closed doors and catch-22s. The system is designed to protect the rights of the mentally ill individual. By definition someone experiencing mental illness is not in his/her right mind. Somewhere between the snake pits of yesteryear and the benign neglect of today lie compassion, humanity and a solution.