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Guns Don’t Kill People, But They Sure Do Help

December 17, 2012

There is so much that has already been said about the recent massacre of small children in Connecticut and it’s implications for our society. sandy-hook-victims-listSome examples are here, here, and here. I asked myself, “Do I really need to weigh in?”. The answer is apparently yes, I do.

There is one article in particular circulating all over social media today entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”.  In it, a mother details her struggles with her sometimes violent son who is clearly suffering from some sort of mental illness that eludes diagnosis and any clear path for how to live and deal with it. It is a powerful piece and her assertion that we need to start having serious discussions and action plans for how to deal with mental illness in our country is inarguably true. What we’re currently doing, which is essentially ignoring or locking up the mentally ill is not working. Something has to be done and until it is we will keep having these shocking episodes where somebody who always seemed “a little off” or “not quite right” surprises everyone by showing the world exactly what they were capable of. Would it have happened if Adam Lanza had gotten all of the help he needed? Perhaps. We’ll never know. My guess is probably not. What we do know for sure is that had he not had access to deadly assault weapons he simply could not have inflicted the damage he did in such a short period of time.

The thing this mother says in her article that  I cannot agree with is that while mental illness is a difficult conversation, gun control is not. She says it’s easy to talk about gun control. It is indeed easy to argue about gun control, to throw around statistics and to get worked up about it on both sides. But there have been no meaningful discussions surrounding gun control. There is always one side who says that there has to be limits and another side who claims infringement of their rights at even the suggestion that ordinary citizens should not have access to semi-automatic assault rifles.

Can anyone tell me of a single instance of an armed civilian stopping a mass shooting? I don’t know of any, but I’d love to be proven wrong. This idea that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun doesn’t hold any water. The only thing that stops someone intent on killing as many people as possible is limited access to the weapons that would allow such a slaughter. Some have brought up the attack on children in China that happened the day before the shootings in Connecticut as proof that there are crazy people everywhere. And it’s true, there are mentally unstable people everywhere. The difference is that some of them have access to guns and some of them only have access to knives. I’d much rather have a child that was injured in a knife attack than a child that was killed in a shooting assault, wouldn’t you?

Every time I hear someone invoke the 2nd amendment to explain our right to carry assault rifles, I am reminded of the Pharisees who missed entirely the intent  and spirit of the law as they attempt to condemn Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat from the wheat fields on the sabbath. What is the intent or spirit of the 2nd amendment? There is much debate about that, though I think we can all agree that it had a lot to do with providing an assurance that the federal government would not be able to use the army to control its own citizens. It was also meant to allow a person to protect themselves in their own home.

I personally do not believe that any civilian citizens should have the right to own firearms. I also do not believe that police should carry firearms. Military personnel, excluding MPs, are not allowed to carry weapons unless deployed overseas or serving guard duty at military installations and the like. They are not permitted, as police officers are, to carry their weapons home with them. And the fact is, we could all be armed up to our eyeballs, but if the US military chose to attack its own citizens, we’d be helpless to stop them. Our military and our government, with plenty of blessing from its citizens, have developed weapons far more powerful than anyone could ever hope to thwart with an assault rifle. Owning or carrying a gun may make you feel that you are safe from the bad guys or from our own government, but it is just that – a feeling. It is simply not true. An armed society is not a safer society and when we cannot even send our children to school without worrying for their safety, are we truly free? If we are not free and we are not safe, what is the point?

The other issue I have with the invocation of the 2nd amendment is the inferred belief that the US Constitution and amendments are sacred. What’s to say that we shouldn’t take a second and a third and fourth look at these things to see if they need to be changed or updated? The constitution was adopted in 1787. Just four years later the first ten amendments were ratified. Clearly, our forefathers did not see the constitution as the unchangeable thing that we tend to see. The world has changed a lot since 1791. Science and technology have created more marvelous and terrifying things than the founders of our country could have ever imagined. Why shouldn’t the constitution change as the world changes? Perhaps our current interpretation of the 2nd amendment does not serve the cause of the greater good. Perhaps we are missing the intent and spirit of the law.

So yes, we need to have meaningful discussions in this country about guns and mental illness. We also need to have meaningful conversations about the media. This tragedy has once again highlighted how reckless and irresponsible the American media has become. In their quest for what – ratings? sensationalism? – they report what they hear before they have the facts to back it up. Journalism is not simply repeating here-say. That is called gossip. And much of what we heard in the first few hours after the shootings was just that – gossip. From reports of the shooter’s identity to reports that his mother was a teacher at the school to the completely unverified reports that continue into today that the shooter was diagnosed with Asperger’s . That has not been confirmed by anyone who would know and yet the media seems to have no trouble spreading this as if it were confirmed fact. Think of how horrifying this must be for the parents of children with Asperger’s and for the children themselves. There has never been any link proven between Asperger’s and violent acts and if the shooter did indeed have Asperger’s it was not the underlying cause of his incomprehensible actions. If anything, it may have made it more difficult for his mental illness to be recognized and treated. But we simply do not know.

What we do know are the names and ages of his victims. Why is the media continuing to print the shooter’s name and picture when they could instead be helping to ensure that none of us ever forget his victims? We should not be reinforcing the precedent that was set with the Columbine shootings in 1999 that the killers get more media attention than their victims. And yet, this is what American media does over and over. They repeat the name of the killer. They show his picture over and over again. They allow this person to live in infamy, thus giving the idea to any other mentally disturbed person who imagines that the only way to mean anything is to kill innocents that they too will live in infamy if they can pull off such an attack. The media’s stand in these cases should be to refuse to give any meaningful press to the perpetrator of such a horrifying attack. Instead, let us focus all of our attention on the victims, their families, and their community.

In a situation like this we are all left with one question: why? It is often this question that instead of getting answered, gets buried under accusations and arguments. How many more people have to die in this horrifying way before we gain the moral courage to face that question? We, as a nation, have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, why? Why does this keep happening? And what can we do to stop it? It is only when we answer that question that any of us can truly feel safe and free.



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