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17 December 2012

I’m tired of writing about these. I hope to god you’re tired of reading about them. No one yet has crafted words sufficient to address events of December 14th, in Newtown, Connecticut. I won’t be the first. It is simply outside of my ability to comprehend. What I can say is that this one, finally, feels different. In myself, and in my read of the culture after the event. Over the past twenty years, as these events have piled upon one another, child after child after child dying, sometimes at the hands of adults, sometimes at the hands of other children, I have seen the response change, slowly.

We must not simply tell another grieving community that our hearts wail with theirs and then stand back and do nothing again. We must not continue to fill our graveyards with children’s coffins and throw up our hands saying we cannot prevent these massacres. We must not silently consent to sacrifice another schoolyard of innocents to a centuries-old scrawl of ink on parchment, unadorned by the passage of time and circumstance.

Two horrific shooting incidents in 1996, one in Scotland (disturbingly similar in profile to Newtown) and one in Tasmania, led to legislation in the UK and Australia, respectively, essentially banning (though not completely banning) private ownership of firearms. I don’t know if that is the right thing here, even if it could be done. I am not anti-gun ownership in a blanket way. However it is absurd to have fewer restrictions on guns than we do on the right to board an airplane or purchase cough medicine. Perhaps we need a new amendment, to clarify and restrain the second.

And we need better and more comprehensive access to mental health services. As I wrote when I wrote about Jared Laughner, mental illness does not absolve one of responsibility. It does not excuse the killer. And many of the mentally ill can, as I prove myself, lead ordinary productive and positive lives when they engage with treatment. I don’t know for certain if Mr. Lanza was suffering from any mental illness (there has been report of Asperger’s Syndrome). However, as @sciliz said in the immediate aftermath, no one meaningfully sane can commit such an act.

There is an increasing call among mental health and public health workers to see such acts as a public health issue. So many are dying because of the lethal combination of easy access to weaponry and untreated mental health needs.  It is true that we will never be free entirely from disturbed persons who kill. Expecting that is an unreasonable goal that not even the staunchest of firearm-proscription advocates claim. What is reasonable is that we have the ability to make these events both rarer and less deadly.

We do that by expanding our ability to treat all persons with mental health issues early, before they become desperate. While their lives too, can be saved. We cast a wide net, by eliminating the stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health issues. We do that by reducing the availability of firearms and by carefully screening anyone (and perhaps anyone who lives with anyone) who wants to purchase a gun. We do that by making the penalties for illicit gun ownership very severe.

We grieve, this week, with Newtown, Connecticut. As we should. It is no longer acceptable only to grieve. We must address the specter of violence made manifest in children’s graves.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Syd permalink
    17 December 2012 16:41

    I hope that we will be able to enforce the existing laws and bring back the assault weapons ban. The data certainly point to lack of mass slaughter in countries which have strict gun control. The mentally ill having access to weapons is clearly not a good idea.

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