If it was just about the mental health of Adam Lanza would the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary have been avoided? If only we could scoop up every disturbed, angry or depressed person, maybe we could prevent these shooting spree massacres. But what about when it is about a person of Middle Eastern background? Any one of them could be an Arab terrorist. Or, what about those who harbor racial anger or hatred? How easy would that be to find solutions to the recurrent problem of shooting sprees and murder in America if we could just profile the potential killers and interdict? Perhaps we should profile those who come from families that collect firearms? Certainly the vast majority of people who have guns are not prone to become shooting spree murderers, anymore than someone who smokes pot is likely to become an addict. Most people who drive cars are not likely to become dragsters or road rage killers. But then, it happens. And how are you going to prevent the worst? The national debate seems to be a call for easy, one size fits all solutions. Let’s not make ourselves too uncomfortable in our effort to reduce the likelihood of more spree shooting massacres.
As we encounter these shooting sprees, it is all too common to hear that the perpetrators were quiet poorly socialized people, sociopathic or progressing into a mental illness. Wade Michael Page , age 40, exploded in his distorted perception of a racist world, acting alone, murdered 6 and injured 3 before being wounded by responding police and turning the gun on himself at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI on August 5, 2012.
We can never forget James Eagan Holmes the 24 year old neuroscience graduate student who quit school and nurtured his violent thoughts. His psychiatrist, Lynne Fenton, MD, tried to warn the authorities. Apparently lacking any policy to address such warnings the university and city police did nothing leading up to the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting spree that killed 12 and wounded 58 on July 20, 2012.
Jared Loughner, a 24 year old college dropout recently received a plea bargain sentence of seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in prison, without the possibility of parole for his murderous attempt on the life of Representative Gabby Giffords on January 8, 2011 killing six people and wounding 13 others.
Nidal Malik Hasan, MD , a psychiatrist himself, of Palestinian background and exposed to the horrors of war by his returning war hero patients faced a transfer to Afghanistan before expressing himself at Fort Hood, TX on November 5, 2009 killing 13 and wounding 30.
Seung-Hui Cho, a 23 year old student at Virginia Tech had apparently had enough from his peers. This reportedly quiet and submissive long suffering student went on a shooting rampage killing 32 and wounding 17 before committing suicide on April 16, 2007.
And the one that really helped to trigger a recognition of spree shootings as a problem to be dealt with, the Columbine High School massacre of April 29, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado perpetrated by two of its own students, seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Twelve students and one teacher killed; 21 injured. They both ended the rampage by committing suicide.
This list goes on and on for our own country and throughout the world. And just what has changed in public policies, the laws or social services? What is the one common element most likely to impact the frequency and nature of these shooting spree rampages? Ah yes, don’t blame the guns. We do need to strengthen our mental health knowledge, awareness and ability to respond to those harboring an explosive potential. There is no question that we must pay attention to our suicide rates, the consequences of bullying and the needs of those less able to cope effectively in a social environment.
But what if we lived in an environment where the weapons most associated with killing were limited to law enforcement, the military and “well ordered militias”. Yes, that is what it says in the Second Amendment. This is a government of the People, by the People and for the People. So what did our founding fathers mean? Did they intend to create an anarchic heavily armed public environment in which the most unstable among us may run amok from time to time? Or did they mean that military and police organizations, or even licensed paramilitary organizations must be allowed by the federal government provided that they are “well ordered”, a nice way of saying “regulated”. Just who are the “People” whose rights shall not be abridged?
Surely if those with a history of mental illness or a criminal history cannot own firearms, then our laws are regulating access to that right. Doesn’t that make it a privilege to qualify for the right to bear arms? Why limit the right to bear arms to everything up to assault rifles and armor piercing ammo? Why not include mortars, hand grenades, rocket launchers and bombs? These are all small arms generally regarded as defensive weapons in the military.
Now comes the NRA (National Rifle Association) spokesman , Vice-president and CEO Wayne LaPierre. Mr. LaPierre made the official NRA response statement on Friday, December 21, 2012, proposing volunteer armed guards in all schools as a protection force to be federally funded and a virtual criminalization of mental health because nobody could understand a crazy person. Far from recognizing a need to set realistic standards for the access and use of firearms, the NRA has mapped out a position of increasing the presence of firearms in the hands of poorly trained and weakly regulated “volunteers”, much like an armed “Crime Watch”. This NRA statement, despite a denial of “politicizing” the issue in the face of the New Town, Connecticut tragedy, this was a disgusting statement taking the opportunity to move the NRA to an even more extreme posture on creating the prospect of an armed camp America.
According to a Congressional Research Service study on Gun Control Legislation by William J. Krouse published November 14, 2012, there was an estimated 310 million firearms available to civilians in the United States in 2009 and growing. Justin Peters of Slate.com’s Crime Blog wrote an article on December 20, 2012 estimating between 2,446,294 and 3,261,725 AR-15 assault-style rifles in the United States. Clearly it would be unrealistic in our gun friendly country to even suggest a forcible forfeiture of any class of rifle or gun featuring large magazine and semi-automatic capacities. Would it be unrealistic to fund a program for a voluntary weapon recovery program? Would it be unreasonable to fund a voluntary gun safety and handling program for those who own such weapons? With a program in place that would reduce the prevalence of unsafe gun ownership, in light of our domestic history, a ban on future sales is both realistic and prudent. Universal background checks for criminal and mental health histories, as well as a requirement for mental health professional s to report patients who may pose an imminent danger to themselves or others and an obligation for both public and private public safety organizations to respond to such reports would also be prudent and realistic. The purchase of any firearm or deadly weapon ought to include required safety and handling training of the purchaser for the specific type of weapon purchased, also providing time for those pesky background checks. These programs can be self-funded by taxation on all weapon sales, including firearms, ammo clips and ammunition.
The current culture of armed defense and offense now clearly being promoted by the NRA must be changed. If we are to prevent future spree shootings a legal culture that frowns upon the ownership and public use of assault style semi-automatic weapons must be created. Deprivation of access is the number one step in suicide prevention and must be the number one strategy for the prevention of future shooting sprees. No single or combination of prevention strategies will be 100% successful. A good multi-pronged strategy that will reduce the prevalence and access to these weapons will make it harder and less likely for a deranged attention seeking killer to take out multiple targets. And isn’t that just what we all hope to accomplish. Let’s get the debate of politics and ideology for gun rights set aside in order to pursue a path of common sense and public safety without depriving the most responsible of us of our rights.