America is at a crossroads, and what is at stake is beyond politics and gun control.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the president “would make gun control a ‘central issue,’…promising to submit broad new firearm proposals to Congress no later than January and to employ the full power of his office to overcome deep-seated political resistance.”
In light of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the issue of gun control has once again become a high priority for both politicians and citizens. Certainly the tragedy in Connecticut will never be forgotten, nor should it, but how do we move forward without sacrificing the rights of citizens while protecting ourselves from those who intend harm? The question is not an easy one, but to focus on anger and fear will only insure more acts of tragedy.
No matter what your viewpoint is regarding gun control, we need to remember that guns don’t kill, people do. Healthy people do not commit acts of violence. The event in Connecticut was a tragedy, but perhaps equally tragic is ignoring the root of the problem—the issue of mental health in America.
Mental health care in America continues to be hindered by budget cuts and stigma, and many people truly in need of help are not able to have access to the care they need.
ABC News reports that “since the recession forced budget cuts in 2009, state general funding for mental health care has decreased by an estimated $4.35 billion nationwide, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, which serves 6.8 million patients a year.” And “since 2009 alone, 3,222 psychiatric hospital beds are no longer available to patients, and another 1,249 may disappear soon because of proposed closures, according to the association.”
“That’s about 10 percent of all state psychiatric hospital beds gone in about three years, said Dr. Robert Glover, the association’s executive director, who said he’s never been more worried.”
The ABC News article goes on to point out that “One in five American adults reported suffering from mental illness within the past year, with one in 20 reporting serious mental illness that resulted in ‘functional impairment,’ according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s latest annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report.”
Although not yet officially stated, Adam Lanza, the shooter in Connecticut, was more than likely mentally ill, driven by some dark rage fueled by fear. And while “most mentally ill patients aren’t dangerous, it’s very difficult for psychiatrists to predict who will become violent, said Dr. Carol Bernstein, a psychiatry professor at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.”
When someone does “lose it,” it’s virtually impossible to stop them. Insane people aren’t concerned about the law, nor are they constrained by it. You can’t reason with them. When they hit that proverbial wall within their own tortured minds, they find a way to act out, using whatever is at hand—a gun, knife, explosives, vehicle.
In America, there’s a tendency to want to fix the end results without looking to solve the problems that created the situations in the first place. In hindsight, the warning signs were there: Adam Lanza’s mother apparently knew he had a social/mental disorder, yet kept a fully stocked arsenal of weapons at their home, even going so far as to train Adam on how to be a marksman. James Holmes, the Colorado shooting suspect, was undergoing treatment for a mental disorder. Jared Lougher, who killed six people and seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was declared mentally ill two years prior to his killing spree.
When will we learn? As we enter these final days of 2012 America appears to be at a crossroads, and what is at issue is beyond politics and gun control. It’s about stopping the catastrophic anger and rage that leads to these types of tragic acts, and it’s about recognizing and treating those who are in desperate need of help before they spin out of control and cause harm. Most importantly, it’s about choosing love and forgiveness and compassion over fear.
The people of Newtown, Connecticut, have made their choice. All across the city windows bear signs with a simple message: “We are Sandy Hook. We choose love.”
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