Thus far on this blog, I have kept things light-hearted and fun; I’ve told stories of my day to day life and various amusing anecdotes, but this week has been too much. This week there has been much too much sadness, much too much tragedy. I can’t keep it light and full of fluffy bunnies and happiness, because that’s just not the way the world is this week. This week, we mourn.
In Seattle, in Oregon, and far too close to my friends and family in Las Vegas, approximately 8 people have lost their lives to mass shootings just in the past five days. All of these deaths were preventable, and so many times in the past few years, when gun violence has shaken our nation to its core, we thought, perhaps naively, that those with the power to stop it would do so. As much as we would like to think that these things will just go away, they won’t, and for quite a few reasons.
1. The Failures of Our Mental Healthcare System
Perhaps it would be more apt to say the distinct and utter lack of a real, effective mental health system is partially to blame for the incessant gun violence that plagues our country. It is important to note, however, that not every gun crime is committed by someone who is mentally ill. While it is certainly an immense problem that needs immediate solution, we cannot simply decide that the only problem with our system is the lack of accessible mental health treatment. While this is an incredibly important component, it is not the only ingredient. That said, it is equally important to note that reforming the mental healthcare system would not only provide help to those who may have the inclination to commit these crimes, but it would be wildly beneficial to the population as a whole.
We have certainly come a long way from the mass incarceration of the mentally ill in state-run asylums during the twentieth century, we have not, as of yet, made enough of an impact to truly be benefiting those who need it. While the same activists who (rightfully) protested the existence of asylums have successfully eliminated this massively dehumanizing treatment, there has been a distinct radio silence on what has become the modern equivalent of the state asylum: the state penitentiary. Numerous studies have told us that in so many ways, the nations prison system has come to act as a modern asylum, placing hundreds of thousands of mentally ill men and women behind bars.
In this piece, recently revived in this past Sundays’ edition of “60 Minutes,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart discusses how the Cook County Jail has become, by some estimates, the largest mental health institution in the country.
Unfortunately, a great many heinous crimes are committed by those who are mentally ill and unable to receive treatment. Some of the most recent and infamous mass shootings–Aurora, Sandy Hook, Fort Hood, the Washington Navy Yard–have been committed by those who had not been treated for sever mental illness.
Our answer is not to return to our previous system of abuse. Nor is it to continue the status quo as if nothing is wrong. We must put a decided and united effort towards reforming our mental health system. Not only is it one way to help reduce the frequency and severity of mass shootings, but it is also something that should simply be done to affirm the humanity of all, regardless of their mental health status.
2. Refusing the “politicization” argument
Generally, when the demand for legitimate and comprehensive action on gun control arises in the aftermath of a mass shooting, politicians, influenced by the seemingly omnipotence and omnipresence of the NRA, claim that those demanding reform are simply “politicizing” a tragedy. This argument allows law makers on all levels–municipal, state, and federal–to avoid the issue entirely and lay low until the tragedy is less potent in the minds of the masses and they can move onto their next issue.
This refusal to make a change is inherently detrimental. Not only does it negate the importance of those who lost their lives in these tragedies by refusing to make changes that would save others in the future, but it tells the world that the protection of the health and well-being of our citizens is merely a political issue. It says that a movement that says we care about the safety of those around us is merely reactionary, not ever present, and merely a tool to promote a political agenda.
The death of tens of thousands of men, women, and children each year is not an issue of playing politics. The constant nagging fear in the minds of parents as they send their children off to school, away to college, is not a matter of being a republican or democrat, but of being human.
Last October, I received generic CNN news alert stating that there had been a shooting at a middle school in my hometown of Reno, Nevada. As an older sister to two middle school aged brothers, the sheer terror of this alert struck me to the bone. The worst part? Knowing that hundreds of thousands of parents across the country receive alerts like this every day, alerts that strike fear into their very cores. But, of course, the wish to ensure that all parents, siblings, and family members do not have to worry that their loved ones won’t come home from another school day is merely politics.
3. If I want a gun, I can get one: the hyper accessibility of high powered fire arms.
It’s no secret that it’s incredibly easy to purchase a gun in the US. Pretty much anyone can go into a firearm shop and purchase any weapon of their choosing, regardless of their mental health status, safety training, or non-criminal history (i.e. if a student has a violent history in his or her school, this would not come up in any background check so long as the others involved chose not to press charges). Simply put, it is far too easy for anyone to purchase a massive, military grade firearm on a whim. If one acts through private means (like Craigslist or a gun show) it’s even easier, as even their published criminal history will go entirely unchecked.
And it isn’t as though all they can purchase is a small pistol or a hunting rifle; it is terrifyingly easy for someone to purchase a high power assault weapon and equally simple to obtain limitless amounts of ammunition. If I decided that I wanted to commit a crime and I wanted a high powered assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition to do it, it would take nothing more than a simple Google search. The best part? If I were a budding criminal, politicians would say that my possession of this clearly excessive weaponry was probably for hunting purposes. Just a note: if you need an assault weapon and hundreds of rounds to take down a deer, you probably shouldn’t be hunting in the first place.
The fact that anyone can purchase a firearm of any caliber with any amount of corresponding ammunition is a terrifying prospect, and one that is clearly abused all too frequently. Stopping someone from buying high caliber weaponry is not infringing upon their individual, Constitutionally granted rights; it’s ensuring that the protection of the lives of those around them is infinitely more important.
I am not a gun expert, and I do not pretend to be. What I am is a person whose heart beats a little faster when she sees someone with a gun holster at the local mall and who plans elaborate escape routes when I see a rifle in the back of a truck. I do not, by any means, advocate the banning of firearms in their entirety. I believe that the Second Amendment grants rights to a certain extent, but not to the point where I am legitimately afraid to be on the campus of my college or on the grounds of my brothers’ school.
I do not have grand visions of my personally changing this issue. Contrary to what we’ve always been assured, a single voice attempting to yell above all others is all too easy to drown out. I am not King Arthur; I will not pull the sword from the stone and be personally responsible for the reform of our gun laws and the end of partisan politics. But I am also not alone. There are millions of us, those who recognize the imminent need to make a change to our gun laws, and if we unite together… well we just might be able to make our voices heard.
Use this link to find your Representative. While the person you call and yell at will be an overworked, unpaid intern, the sheer volume of calls will be noticed. Let’s take action.