Sunday, December 16, 2012

As We Near Christmas Eve, A Nation Grieves

It's the holiday season, and right on schedule I am battling another bronchial infection.  Good news?  It's a little before Christmas so I should be in good shape for the holiday if I am not stupid and don't stop.  I came to a dead stop 2 days ago, and have spent the time doing absolutely nothing but watching a "Psych" marathon on Netflix, and cleaning up my computer files a little.  Haven't had much energy for anything else.  Angela and Josh are also sick, but of course they just have a head cold.  Matt already had it (Thanks, Matt, for giving it to me!), so we have Olesya, Kenny and Dominick trying to avoid it.

Whaaaa...I sound like a real whiny Gus, don't I?  I really have no reason to be over a minor illness.  Kind of hard to consider anything I am going through as "bad" when compared to the sort of heartache experienced by so many yesterday in Connecticut.

I just can not imagine the horror so many must have felt yesterday, hearing the news on the radio, TV or from a friend that their child or loved one was in grave danger.  Rushing to the scene with hearts racing, prayers mingled with tears as they held on to hope with all their might that their child was safe.  I could hardly look at the photos, so familiar as we see the faces etched with grief, the candlelight vigils, the First Responders lined up to clean up the carnage.  The location may have changed, but the pattern of response has not.

And that is the problem.

This sort of nightmare should not be occurring with such frequency that we all know how it will play out in the days that follow.  Yet somehow, in our First World Nation, we have children who are experiencing Third World Horrors.

I know there are advocates on both sides of the gun issue.  There are those who say that the problem was that no one else was armed on campus, there was no one capable of "taking out" the shooter.  Others say that guns themselves are the cause, that guns ought to be banned, and startling statistics,if they are to be believed, appear on Facebook about gun deaths in other countries with strict gun control laws, and numbers of deaths that number less than 100, while America stands at over 10,000.

It is an issue that is more complicated than we might think at first glance.  Yes, we need to enact gun laws that are sane.  The American gun culture and my Dad's beloved NRA have done wrong by us, selling us a bill of goods that many have bought hook, line and sinker.  I have no doubt that even my own Dad, were he with us, would look at the news and say, "OK, something has to change."  No one needs a semi-automatic for self-defense.  No one needs an assault rifle.  No one should be able to purchase a weapon in a transaction that can be simpler than obtaining a driver's license.

We can also see that tighter regulation without going as far as banning gun ownership has a significant impact on gun deaths.  It may not stop it entirely, but it certainly helps:

However, as necessary as much tighter regulation on firearms purchases is, there is a missing component, one that America seems unwilling to talk about as deeply as they are willing to talk about regulation.  We must...absolutely must...find a way to provide better mental health care to individuals in need.  We need laws that allow family members to obtain help for their loved ones who are incapacitated by mental illness and yet kept from the very care that might save them by our "rights".  We need to have affordable mental health care available to every single American.  I am of the era that remembers our own, somewhat infamous, Camarillo State Hospital being closed down due to funding cuts.  We see people in need of mental health services all around us, and yet often the very people who want desperately to get help for their family member or friend discover they are helpless because of either lack of access to care that is affordable, or the inability to get a mentally ill person committed for more than 72 hours.

I realize it is a fine line when it comes to our rights as individuals, I get the arguments against it.

However, I'll bet there are loved ones of 27 victims who are left wondering tonight about the rights of their children, sisters, wives, and friends.  And yes, I include the family of the shooter, for they have to live with the loss of a mom, a son, an ex-wife, just as the rest of the victims do.

I think back to Gabby Giffords and the Arizona shooting.  Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman, was a very, very sick young man.  Friends, co-workers, and family members all noted a "personality transformation".  Later diagnosed with schizophrenia, it seems completely out of kilter that he could be forced to take medication so that he could stand trial, but no one could force him to take medication prior to his arrest...medication and treatment for an illness that might have prevented this tragedy.  Likewise, Seung-Hui Cho who committed the horrendous Virginia Tech shooting rampage was also documented as having very serious mental health issues.

According to statistics noted in an article in the Washington Post yesterday, there have been sixty-two mass shootings in the past three decades in the United States.  SIXTY-TWO!  No WONDER our media has become expert at reporting these awful incidences.  Research indicates that at least 38 of these mass murders involved a perpetrator who had exhibited previous signs of mental illness.  

Interestingly, according to another related Washington Post article, most of the guns obtained that were used in those sixty-two mass shootings were obtained legally. 

Another interesting fact, which seems to further confound the issue. According to a Gallup poll, gun ownership in the US is on the decline, as you can see from the chart below:

And one can draw a correlation between the above chart, which reflects a decrease in the number of firearms owned over the past 30 years, and this chart, which shows that there is also a decrease in the number of overall firearm related deaths (All deaths, not just mass shootings).  What ought to be sobering, is the incredible difference between America,and all of the other 34 nations that are currently partners in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development:

I know that many say now is not the time to "politicize" the whole gun issue, that now is a time for mourning and reflecting, of grieving and healing.  But I have to ask when does it become the right time?  When we hit 75 mass shootings?  80?  100?  When do we decide, as a nation, that we do not want to send our children to schools and fear for their safety?  When do we decide, as a nation, that we want our moms and dads to make it home from their workplace safely each night?  When do we decide, as a nation, that we want our fellow Americans who suffer from severe mental health issues to get the help they need so their families don't have to get an unimaginable phone call after trying, often for years, to get them the help they need and knowing deep in their hearts that someday, their child, or husband, or brother will hurt themselves or someone else?  When do we, as a nation, de-stigmatize mental illness, or stop ignoring it, or stop funding the care for it?

We need to move beyond platitudes issued from press briefings.  We need to move beyond candlelight vigils, and makeshift alters.  We need to move beyond partisanship and rhetoric, and be moved to do something about it.

Ten days from now, many families will be forlorn, aching, no doubt crying out in gut wrenching anguish as packages already bought and wrapped sit beneath a Christmas tree, never to be opened. Having experienced that myself when my own Dad died a mere three weeks before Christmas, I have a little tiny sense of the kind of special heartache it is to lose someone around the holidays.  I also know that my own grief that year can't come close to the sort of heavy pall that will hang over Newton this year...and for many years to come.  It is also a never ending loss when it is your 6 or 7  year old child who will never be returning home from school.

We grieve as a nation, as we well should.  But for once, let us take that grief and use it.  After the vigils are done, after the last little stuffed animal and poster has been removed from the front of Sandy Hook Elementary, let us as a nation not allow our attention to be quickly captured by some other event.  Let's finally do something to try and prevent the frequency with which such awful tragedies occur.  Let's thoughtfully approach the issue from all angles, and let us not settle for a quick law change, but work to see to it that the bigger picture is addressed as well.

May hearts be comforted as best as possible in Newton this night, and the many dark nights ahead.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful, compassionate response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. I think of a map of the US with pinpoints on it and waves of grief rippling out--places where violence large and small have occured. Each one triggers renewed grief from those who have endured violence in the past.

I just looked up NAMI's website--National Alliance for Mental Illness. In the month of December we have finally eliminated "lunatic" from legal language for mental illness, but we will not sign the UN Treaty giving rights (based on our own legislation)to the disabled, and we have given parity between mental and physical illness in insurance.

You are right, Cindy. We must reclaim our compassion and reponse to mental illness. Over a decade ago the residential facility for acute and chronically mentally ill here in Montrose was closed. Shortly thereafter, the few beds dedicated to short-term treatment of mental illness at our local hospital were also closed. Our neighboring county reports their suicide rate as 3X the nation's rate. Yet we continue to loose assault weapons into the population while hoping that those needing help and compassion will not instead find AK47s and ammunition.

Thank you, Cindy. You have helped me find a response to this tragedy. I hope others can find their own.

One of mine will be prayer, which will certainly include the family of the shooter as well as all the other victims.

. said...

Definitely some good thoughts here, but it sounds like you are advocating forced medication for mental illness? Is that really what you are proposing? Slippery slope, very. Could have very drastic ramifications on folks you know and love. Very big brother, very scarey. Plus at least half of mass murders committed in the last few years have been done people ON psych drugs or very recently coming off them. I'd REALLY be careful about what you say and advocate/vote for.
Shan in CO

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to tell you that your first photo is incorrect. Handguns do not kill anyone. People kill people with guns.

Anonymous said...

Back in the area of Vermont where I lived just before I moved here to North Idaho, a small, local grocery store owner removed all the DVDs he rents out that have violence warnings on them. He's done this in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Some have responded that he is using censorship and should not have chosen to do that. By the same token, I believe another contribution factor to things such as this latest mass shooting is the amount of violence we are subjected to through the media, whether it be fictional or real.
Peace and blessing!

Anonymous said...

I am a fully functioning person with a mental illness--brain disorder--fortunate to have access to medicine, medical care, and medical facilities if needed. Not all are so fortunate. The least we can do is see that these are available and that we continue to do research into the origins of brain disorders and their treatments. The issue of forced medication is another issue altogether and will probably be decided in courts on a very individual basis after a violent or law breaking incident.

I have also been a hunter. We own guns--none are automatic or semi-automatic weapons. There is no place for either in the arsenal of a legitimate hunter. They should be banned, registrations tightened, background checks extended to gunshows. I can still hunt. I still have a gun cabinet. I could still defend myself if someone were to come to my home, but I support a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Many things kill people, but guns in the hands of people are extremely efficient and swift killing machines.


Mama Goose said...

I appreciate the statistics you put here, as I JUST got off the phone with my brother who spent some years teaching abroad, and was talking of the non-circulation of guns over there, as well as his experiences teaching here in the US.