*No longer am I angry with the young man who murdered 27 children and women at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Granted, tempering my bitter incense has not been easy. The media’s daily release of new lurid details–how many guns he took to the school, all the ammo he reportedly had, his obvious sense of planning–can trigger my recurring fantasy: I am a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who gives the shooter the surprise of his life–possibly his very last surprise–by returning fire.
But my boiling blood soon cools, giving way to the obvious notion that America is in desperate need of some gun control laws with teeth. To hell with the proverbial “national dialogue” on the subject. We have that same exasperating conservation every time mass murder is perpetrated. It’s time to actually do something about this. Now.
However, gun control, no matter how stringent, is only part of the problem. The other dire component is the fragile mental health of our citizens and the country’s ridiculously dismal state of mental health care.
Say “mental health” and words like “deranged” and “insane” come to mind. That’s the extreme. The harrowing reality is closer to home: The soccer mom who sometimes struggles with activities that are usually routine; the teen who conceals a debilitating anxiety, or the CEO, spouse, sibling or extended family member who can slip into a deep, days-long emotional abyss, from which no amount of prodding, tough love or words of encouragement can deliver them.
For these people, it is not a matter of merely “snapping out of it” or “thinking positive.” This is a sinister, enfeebling force that can render one powerless.
You know someone living in the clutches of this pain. It might even be you. Those who quietly limp through life this way emanate from all social and economic backgrounds. Their numbers have reached epidemic proportions.
More often than not, all that stands between the homeless person camped outside the local 7-11 and a healthy, productive existence is professional care and medication. Mental well-being is something we all deserve, whether we can financially afford it or not. Life is challenging enough with a sound mind, let alone one in clinical despair. It’s the humane thing to do and it’s good for the country.
When proper mental care isn’t available, things happen. People can reach the end of an already short and tattered rope. A private hell suddenly goes terrifyingly public, and a society suffers. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves, pouring billions into bomb-building and war, while investing little in our personal and societal peace of mind.
Tragically, that young man in Newtown, Connecticut murdered the only true friend he had in this whole, wide world, his mother. With apparent premeditation, he mercilessly slaughtered children, mankind’s most prized resource, young, innocent and helpless. I don’t believe the man wanted to do these terrible things. I think the voices in his head finally got their way.
Despite the carnage and subsequent bold declarations, don’t hold your breath waiting for comprehensive national gun control. We The People have quite the incurable sense of privilege and entitlement, and we possess a woefully short memory. There are few game/culture-changing events about which we ultimately don’t become positively blaze.
Look how long it took us to give the AIDS crisis the concern it demands. Or 9/11. The terrorist attack ushered in a new era of American life. Yet six months later, were we complaining about having our bodies searched before flying. We’re still complaining. Remove my shoes? I’d travel in a disposable, government-issued hospital gown if it kept a madman from blowing up the plane at 30,000 feet with me on it, but that’s just me.
Credible gun control won’t happen, because the people who own guns are not who you think they are. They aren’t just bank robbers and gang members or wild-eyed militia men stocking up for The End, or garden-variety criminals.
A great many gun owners are decent, responsible citizens you’d never imagine possessing weapons. Some collect guns the way the rest of us gather sports memorabilia or fine art. They hunt. They target practice. They’re law-abiding. They’ll fight to keep their guns.
Then, somehow, yet another gun will get into the hands of another emotionally tortured soul, and once again the nation’s grief will serve as a tearful, anguished backdrop to angry cries for reform. Crazy is relative.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]