For the past several days, across our country, we have been glued to the news at the horrible events in Newtown, Connecticut. The word “tragic” just doesn’t seem to do any good to describe this awful event. But it finally has this nation talking about several subjects that have been off limits for the past several years. I’m not here to discuss gun control or not. I did that in an article last August when no one else seemed to be talking about it after the shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin. Though we have talked about the news story, everyone seemed to leave the overall issues aside. As the country now debates gun control and even mental health issues, I can only assume that the larger issue will be completely overlooked and the secondary ones will resort to the same old political rhetoric that have scared us away from them in the first place.
I’ll start with the overall secondary issues, and first on that list is mental illness. Though the media might put on the term of “deranged” onto any individual who caries out these mass shooting spree that is not an indication that they are mentally ill. According to an article from the St. Louis Beacon, “Statistics show that the overall contribution to violence by mentally ill people in the United States is ‘exceptionally small’.” So though the media might put on words to make us think in such a way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true. Some of these individuals are just committing suicide, but because of the way our media and the viewing public operate, they decide to go out in a blaze of glory that will forever get them remembered, and they always try to outdo the previous ones. Think about it… with all the mass shootings over that past several years, how many of the gunmen’s names do you remember and how many of the victims’ names? We obviously can’t stop people from committing suicide 100% as much as we would like to, but we can take away their motivation for doing these mass shootings… especially if the person committing these vile acts remained nameless. But what about those that are mentally ill, even if it is a small percentage. Obviously, this puts the spotlight on mental illness again. In this country, we have tended to ignore mental illness for the past several years. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26.2% of Americans 18-years old and older (about 1 in 4 adults) has a mental disorder. When applied to the 2004 national study conducted by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that is roughly 57.7-million people. These could range from social phobias, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and autism to major depressive disorder, bi-polar disorder, and suicide. There are two sets of stigmas that we should be addressing with mental health. First is the stigma we place on the individual. We tend to treat them differently as if they aren’t part of our society. We tend to chastise them, make fun of them, and overall place a “bad” image of them on the people that are around. The second stigma comes to parents that have children that have a mental disability. Every parents wants to think their child is perfect, but sadly that is never the case. The stigma here goes to the parent feeling like they are a failure if there is something wrong with their child, and they want to hide it away as much as possible. The only failure is when a parent refuses to admit there’s a problem and seeks that help for their child. I’m not claiming every parent is like that as many parents do seek help and guidance from professionals in those situations, but there are still those that don’t. And even as these children grow into adults, parental guidance can sometimes go out the window. It is imperative that family and friends continue to watch to make sure that the individual is getting the help that he/she needs as an adult as they might have gotten as a child. And as a society, we need to start disassembling the stigma that there is something “bad” about mentally ill people. Most struggle with it, and, in fact, you probably know someone who is but you may not be aware of it. Most are kind and caring people that wouldn’t do anything like what we’ve been seeing on the news, but there are those few “bad seeds” that ruin it for everyone else.
So can we stop these types of shootings? Not really. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about gun control or the Second Amendment (as it has been defined by the Supreme Court). According to statistics (cited both in The Arizona Republic and The Washington Post), overall crime in the US is down. However, to the untrained observer, it would appear that mass murders are increasing. But according to official police reports to the FBI as stated in The Boston Globe, there has been no increase in mass shootings in the past few decades. An average of 20 such shootings occur annually and an average of 100-people die each year according to the data. That puts it rather coldly if one thinks about it in such terms. So the conversation now moves to gun control, and let’s first get the old political rhetoric out of the way… gun control does not mean they are going to take away law-abiding citizens’ guns. According to an article in Mother Jones, from 1982-2012 most of the weapons that the assailants used were purchased legally and that the weapon of choice was usually a semi-automatic. Depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on… more gun control or more guns, one can always find statistics and facts to back up their claims. And both can be used as a solution to this part of the problem. As stated earlier in the paragraph, most of the weapons used in these mass shootings were purchased legally by today’s law, though if the laws were tweaked a bit, it could keep certain individuals with mental health/psychological disorders from purchasing their weapons. And Congress could put back in place the assault-weapons ban which expired in 2004… which the extension of the law had the support of then-President George W. Bush; however, the Republicans in Congress had been brainwashed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Democrats were too afraid to go near the subject and risk political backlash. There is no reason for such weapons in our society. Sure, most that own them do so legally without incident. Even in the case of Newtown, Connecticut, as it appears now, the weapons were bought legally by the shooter’s mother and were hers, and that he took them. Again, you can’t prevent that, but you can limit the amount of semi-automatic weapons that are out there to carry out such horrible attacks. But there are other things other than placing a ban on semi-automatic weapons in place. Out of the first world countries, the US has the most lax gun laws. According to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, to buy a gun in Japan, a person must pass a written exam, a skills test, a drug test, and a mental health exam. What would be wrong with such regulations here? Most law abiding citizens would still be allowed to own a gun. And the flip side of this argument, if more people were allowed to carry a gun, then some situations could have a drastically lower number of fatalities… and there have been some instances when lives have been saved by someone taking out a gunman with a personal weapon that they were carrying. So both worlds are needed. There needs to be common sense regulations (i.e. the ban on semi-automatic weapons) but also allowing people to conceal and carry as well. Both can exist together.
We’ve tried to break this whole situation down to gun control in this country with some people attempting to bring in mental health, as well, and both are certainly key to it. But we need to look at our culture… which includes the media. We are fixated on violence… from TV shows to movies to video games. It’s what sells, so that’s what gets made. And the media doesn’t help by covering not the victims of such an attack but rather the person that carried it out. I asked a hypothetical earlier which you should answer to yourself. How many victims do you remember and how many shooters? We need to reform our culture and thus our society to not be fixated on such things. Some of the individuals that do this want to go out in a blaze of glory, and they achieve that by who we are and what we do. If we put all the attention on the victims and none on who did it, they would lose their main reason. Notice that each time it happens, they try to outdo another one that came before. It’s one thing to commit suicide (as most do kill themselves in the end), but it’s another to take out a bunch of other innocent people before doing it. Is anything we do going to solve this problem 100%. Nope. There will be times when people will find a way to carry out these attacks. And though they can’t be prevented, they can be reduced in numbers so that we aren’t hearing about them every month.
As our politicians tackle the issues of mental health funding and gun control laws, we, the people, must focus on our society and how we correct a wrong turn that we made a long time ago. We must be willing to seek help (for ourselves or for someone we know) if they need it. There is nothing “bad” about having a mental illness and needing to get that help. We must teach our kids that value of peace and love. This does not happen by returning God into our schools. I am a religious individual, and, to me, God belongs in our homes, our places of worship, and most importantly, in our own hearts. Those are lessons that need to be taught at home. Home life can be hectic, but there needs to be time for such lessons. We should be discussing all of it. And when I say we, I mean everybody from the President and Congress to the moms and dads and children. The event in Newtown has awakened a discussion that we should have started having a long time ago before it ever got this bad. Don’t let this moment slip through the cracks. Let’s all start doing our share of this national conversation so that when we say “no more”, we can actually mean it. This latest mass shooting tore at every heart string we had, and I don’t want to see what the next one will consist of to outdo it. No more turning a blind eye. It’s time for the real discussion to begin.