There are Christmas presents that won’t be opened tomorrow in Newtown, Connecticut. In Aurora Colorado there will be empty places at holiday meals where in past years a smiling person sat. Across the land there will be thousands of households that will celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa minus loved ones who were present last year. These folks come from different situations, different backgrounds, different perspectives, but they are forever united as Americans who have been affected by gun violence.
“This time it will be different,” the pundits have been saying since that awful Friday morning just over a week ago. Maybe. The hopeful side of me says maybe. Maybe this time the better angels of our nature will finally win over the demons of fear and greed. Then I listened to the “news conference” called by the National Rifle Association. I listened for half an hour as a clearly defective human being named Wayne LaPierre told us that mental illness was to blame, that video games were to blame, that movies and tv shows were to blame. Everything was to blame…except the guns.
You may choose to stick your head in that same sand that Mr. LaPierre has his buried in, and you can choose to tell yourself that there’s nothing we can do…that a mentally unstable person with a gun cannot be stopped. They have mentally unstable persons in Germany, don’t they? What about Japan? Don’t they play the same violent video games in Japan that we play here? In England they flock to see the same Hollywood “shoot-em-ups” that we see, right? So how come those countries, along with virtually all of the western industrial world, see much lower rates of gun violence than we see in the United States? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that in the U.S. you can buy a semi-automatic weapon easier than you can buy a can of freon to recharge an old air conditioner, would it? Not according to the NRA.
It seems that all we have heard from some quarters over the past ten days is that something has to be done to improve mental health care in America. But most of those same voices have spoken out loudly against “Obamacare” over the past two to three years, and continue to speak out against it now despite the fact that the law provides better and easier access to mental health care for more people. There are still sticking points, though, even with the Affordable Care Act. For example, how do you identify someone who has mental health issues? Many people who struggle with depression, bi-polar disorder, and so forth don’t look or act any different than everybody else. Besides, if you can identify such persons, how do you go about getting treatment for them? Then there is the whole issue of anti-psychotic medications. There is evidence that in at least some of these instances the killer had been taking prescription medications for one mental condition or another. There is a good possibility that the events were triggered either when the person stopped taking the drug, or the even more chilling possibility that the drugs themselves were what put the person over the edge.
Those who choose to deflect any portion of blame for events such as Newtown from the availability of weapons in this country have said many times that a mentally ill person who wants to kill will find a way to do so, regardless of whether guns are available or not. By a strange twist of fate, a deranged man with a knife in China attacked a group of school children on the same day that the Newtown attack occurred. Tonight, all of those children in China, though injured, are with their parents. Not a single one was killed.
There is a segment of the population who cling to their ideas about guns because of the Second Amendment and the various writings about it, from both America’s early days and more recent times. Regardless of how someone may choose to interpret terms such as “militia,” and “free state,” this much is true: In the late 18th century the fledgling United States was the only democracy in a world that was governed by kings and princes, some with the constraint of a parliament, some without. The notion that a government could be selected by the citizens who were to be governed was a novel idea, and it is also worth remembering that when the U.S. was born our fathers chose to extend the franchise only to white male landowners over the age of 21. So it stood to reason that in the 1780′s there was a legitimate concern about government usurping power from the hands of the people. Now we are more diverse and more citizens have the right to vote. Many other countries around the world have joined the American experiment, and the power of kings has waned to the point where most of them are mere figureheads. Although some of those sympathetic to the “cause” of the confederacy would disagree with me, there has not been a time in American history when a corrupt and despotic government has turned on our people.
Have you ever stopped to think about what might happen if the “government” came to “take you away?” Who would come to your door? It would likely be a police officer, an FBI agent, or the like. Those folks are your neighbors. They have kids who attend the same schools that your kids do, they worship at the same churches, root for the same football teams. What kind of grand conspiracy would have to be afoot to bring them out to arrest you for some “crime” that had been cobbled together out of whole cloth? Maybe the first sign that you shouldn’t have weapons is the belief that you need them to “protect yourself from your government.”
Just a short two weeks before the Sandy Hook tragedy I learned that I was going to be a grandfather. I don’t want my grandchild to grow up in a country where he or she has to pass through metal detectors just to enter the grocery store, or where everyone he sees on the street is carrying a sidearm. I don’t want her to go to a school where she is greeted by an armed guard in the morning who then patrols the halls all day. Some say that this is the “price” of our freedom, but is this freedom at all, or if we go the route advocated by the NRA and others in the “arm everyone” crowd, will we just be imprisoning ourselves in our own fear? Yes, mental health issues need to be addressed. Yes, our violent culture needs to be addressed. But be aware: if we do not address the availability of sophisticated weaponry, Sandy Hook will happen again. And again. And again.
I called this post “A Christmas Wish.” This is my wish: that this time, unlike Aurora, unlike Virginia Tech, unlike Columbine, unlike the other times that have become too many to recall, maybe those victims, those children from Connecticut whose families will grieve for their absence both silently and aloud tomorrow, will be the beginning of America coming to our senses. We can only hope.