Monday, December 17, 2012

The Real Nightmare Before Christmas

...and during Hanukkah, and before Solstice and Kwanzaa, or the secular winter celebration of your choice.  Losing a child or family member is horrific at any time, but especially at a time of year so focused around family.

via In Loving Memory of Sandy Hook Elementary Victims

The massacre at Sandy Hook sucks. As did Clackamas, and the Sikh Temple, and Tucson, and Aurora, and Virginia Tech, and Columbine. And, and, and...

It's only marginally better when it is only one sick man killing his estranged wife and then himself (though not any better for their children and their family).

That kind of thing rarely even makes the headlines anymore, outside the local papers; the body count isn't high enough.  Josh Powell got national attention, but only for a few minutes.

The dynamic we, as a country are going through, is not unlike the battered spouse cycle. 

We experience a horrific incident, where a mentally ill or psychopathic person takes innocent lives. We collectively shake ourselves, "That's it! Not going to put up with this any longer!"

But writing letters to legislators takes time, and talking about mental health issues makes people uncomfortable, and "Look, Dancing With The Stars is on!" We manage to push it to the back of our minds, till the next time.

Look, I get it. I would rather read and write about hot men and steamy romantic encounters.  I think mental illness and domestic violence are important issues, so I do blog and write about them frequently, but I can't handle doing it all the time.

Still, we, as a country, need to stop lying to ourselves.  These incidents don't "come out of nowhere." The Gift of Fear describes many pre-incident predictors that a loved one or a co-worker, or even a stranger, may be about to commit a violent act. IMO, the book should be required reading by every human resources department. By every adult person, really.

The summary in the video clip below by Rachel Maddow, and the description of the kind of people who commit these acts by Dave Cullen, author of Columbine , are both enlightening, and sad.

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Sad, because the vast majority of mass murders can be predicted, and might be prevented. 

We don't have to keep putting up with this. 

We can make mental health screening and treatment a priority in our country. We can educate ourselves about depression and mental illness, so we recognize the signs that a loved one may be crossing the line from "quirky" or eccentric to dangerously ill. We can change the laws so that the family of an adult person who has a malfunctioning brain does not have to persuade their sick loved one to reach out for and accept help.

[Important note: the mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of a violent crime, than the perpetrators of one. All mentally ill people deserve help, support and treatment, just as do people with diabetes.]

We need sensible gun laws, not babble about how all kindergarten teachers should be armed and ready to shoot back. 

It's obvious that for some people, an arsenal of big, powerful guns and piles of ammunition gives them an almost sexual thrill. Other people feel that way about scrapbooking, or dog shows - and people should be free to indulge in any hobbies they like, provided they can do so without endangering others.

The Second Amendment refers to a "well-regulated" militia. It is not an abridgment of the Second Amendment if we regulate the sale and possession of firearms, especially ones that the Founding Fathers could never have dreamed of.  We don't allow Joe Citizen to stockpile nuclear warheads or rocket launchers, do we?

There are types of weapons and ammunition that no American needs for hunting, target practice, or self-protection.  I hope we can and do agree that those with criminal records or mental illness should be denied access to most lethal weapons.  (Acknowledging that you can kill someone with a pillow, or pair of scissors, I'm unaware of any record of mass murder by pillow.)

We require those who want to operate a motor vehicle to pass certain tests, to prove they can safely operate one without the likelihood of killing someone. When someone has racked up a number  of DUI's or accidents, they lose the right to drive because they are a danger to our society.  Grandpa reaches a certain age, and we take away his car keys.

Yet when it comes to guns, if a buyer doesn't have a criminal record, or is at a gun show, that buyer is presumed to be sane and to be able to safely handle the weapon, with zero proof of either capacity. For all a gun seller knows, the buyer will load the gun, leave it on the coffee table where her toddler can reach it, and drink till she passes out.

Maybe we shouldn't presume gun buyers are sane and responsible until proven otherwise.

Maybe gun buyers should have to pass a gun safety course and mental wellness screening test, to get a gun license. We require licenses to go fishing, and a limit on how many fish someone is allowed to catch. Maybe we should require that in homes where people under 25 years of age or with mental illness, suspected or diagnosed, are present, all guns must be kept in combination-locked gun safes.

Some will argue we ought to work on gun control first; then address mental health issues. Some will argue it should be the other way around.

There's no reason we can't address both mental health issues and gun control issues.

We're Americans; we can multi-task. And the argument that because we can't prevent all incidents, we should throw up our hands and not even try... well, that's crazythink.

via In Loving Memory of Sandy Hook Elementary Victims
I'm sick of lighting candles, and crying for murdered kids. And murdered mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands....

Adding a P.S. here. Ann Curry, on her FaceBook page, suggested:
Imagine if we all committed 20 acts of kindness to honor the lost children of Newtown..(or 26 acts, including the heroic teachers.) I'm in. A growing number on Twitter are in. #20Acts #26Acts What do you think FB friends? If yes, share!

I'm in, in fact, I'm going to try for 30 acts, in memory of my darling friend Sidney Patrick, BUT... I want to be careful I don't get so caught up in the warm and fuzziness of doing kind acts, and being all self-satisfied, that I forget to be pissed off with this. I want to stay angry enough to press for changes in how we deal with mental illness, and with our gun laws.

Your thoughts?