When it comes to garnishing global action and doing whatever we collectively can to fight preventable causes of child deaths, such as diseases like polio and malaria, nobody argues against it. Everyone agrees that as societies, governments and individuals, we have to do whatever we possibly can and whatever it takes to stop children from dying of causes which we already have the tools to prevent and curb, and at minimum, we have to take every possible measure to minimize the risk of lives being lost for reasons that are anything but out of our control.
Deaths caused by guns should be treated the same way – as deaths brought on by preventable causes. So should deaths and violence resulting from untreated mental illnesses. We know what actions can be taken to fight gun violence. There are preventable measures that can be implemented to minimize the risk of horrible events such as the massacre that took the lives of 20 children and seven adults at the elementary school in Newton. We know there are ways to help families battling with mental illnesses and psychiatric problems. We know we can do more – and yet, we keep failing, over and over again, to properly address these issues. And more lives are lost – from preventable causes. “Delay is the deadliest form of denial” – and there has been enough delays in taking concrete action to change the situation of gun laws and mental health problems in America. The delay is becoming too deadly, for too many.
More guns are not the solution to gun violence, and it seems almost as an oxymoron to even suggest such a solution. For someone to step up to claim, after such a horrific massacre as the Newton shooting, that the solution is to ensure more guns are available in places such as schools, is not only absurd and stupid, but also appalling. As this Mother Jones article explains, it is extremely rare for an armed civilian to prevent a violent crime from happening. The article also notes that while it has become more easier to obtain and carry a gun in the US, the rate of mass shootings has also increased. There is absolutely no evidence that points to more guns resulting in a safer society – quite the opposite. Let’s be honest – guns are not meant to protect, they are meant to harm and ultimately, kill. Guns do kill people, just like bombs kill people and drones kill people. That is what weapons are built to do.
This beautifully written piece by a mother of a mentally ill son points to another, equally important problem that needs to be properly tackled with resources, finances, policies and laws in order for change to truly happen. Untreated mental illnesses are not only extremely draining and challenging for the families who have to deal with a mentally ill family member, but also pose a grave risk to others around them. We cannot blame anyone from mental illnesses, but we can expect a society like the United States to do more to support families to obtain proper help and treatment for individuals battling with psychiatric and mental challenges. Nobody should be turned away from treatment and care because their insurance won’t cover it, or they cannot afford to pay for it. The cost of such situations can be extremely high not only for those who are ill and can’t get help, but others around them. There have been only speculations so far as to the mental state and health of the shooter, 20-year old Adam Lanza, but I strongly suspect – and to be honest, hope from the bottom of my heart – that he had to suffer from severe mental issues. The idea of someone who isn’t mentally ill to be able to walk into an elementary school and slaughter 26 people, twenty of whom children, is simply too much to bear.
Nobody is arguing that tighter gun laws will eliminate gun violence or the risk of these kind of massacres entirely. Nobody is saying that America should ban all guns from civilians. It’s also clear that not all mentally ill people will ever get treatment in time, or find treatment that helps them – but every possible measure should still be taken to ensure that mentally ill, unstable or violent people do not have access to fire arms, legally or illegally, and to ensure that people who suffer from psychological and mental illnesses have access to treatment and care. Preventable measures can be costly to implement initially, but they can be instrumental in ensuring that something like Newtown won’t happen again. There can be no price that is considered too high, because there isn’t anything that is as valuable as a human life – and even more, a child’s life.
It is absolutely clear that America is in desperate need of tighter gun laws. Nothing drives me as crazy as the Second Amendment-talk that always emerges around gun debates – the “right to bear arms”. Life is a right. Security is a right. Non-violent society is a right. And it should be the right of each and every child to be able to walk into their schools without having to worry about someone in there carrying a gun. It should be the right of every parent to know that their children attend educational facilities without fire arms. It should be the right of each and every citizen to know that when they enter a bar, or a church, the person next to them cannot legally be carrying a concealed weapon. The perceived right to carry weapons cannot be exercised at the expense of so many other, essential rights that protect people’s safety and security. As New York Times columnist Nick Kristof points out in this op-ed, we are ready to regulate many things in our lives for the sake of higher protection and security from accidents, illnesses and injuries – but for some reason, guns and mental illnesses don’t seem to fall under things we are willing to tackle. Why not? Why aren’t we willing to do whatever it takes to make sure nothing like Newton will ever happen again?
I think it is because we – and when I say “we”, I mean us, as societies, as families, as people collectively, Americans and everyone else – get very protective of our individual rights and liberties and things we consider as private. We get defensive when we feel like those liberties are threatened, and we also feel like it is not our job to meddle into other people’s private affairs. But we can’t do that anymore. We can’t try to protect what we think is private at the sake of collective security and good. And we can’t shun away from “meddling” when we think something is wrong – everyone has to step up. This is not just about the government, or laws, or regulations, or health care – it is about collective action. It’s about stopping bullying. It’s about getting support and help for our children when they need it. It’s about keeping guns away from kids and being better at regulating who can legally purchase them – and what kinds of guns they can purchase. It’s about ensuring mental health services are available and affordable to everyone who needs them, and about encouraging people to get help when they need it and not feel ashamed about it. It’s about supporting children who are “different” to be okay with and learn to handle their differences, whether it be autism, aspergers, ADHD, social anxiety, or anything else – and teaching the other children to accept those who are a bit different.
There is a role for all of us to play here. I can do more. You can do more. The government can do more. And I think it does take all of us to change this. The bottom line is that things do need to change, and no more delays are acceptable, because 20 children just lost their lives from preventable causes – and that just cannot happen again. Even one life lost like this is too many. And, to Mr. Huckabee I would like to say, that no – this did not happen because “God has systematically been removed from schools”. It is not God’s job to prevent these things. It is not God’s responsibility to protect children and citizens. It is not up to God to make sure guns do not end up in wrong hands, or that mentally ill people get help. It was not God who failed those children and adults in Newton.
This is not something God or religion can fix. We all have a role to play, and I think we have to be ready to step up to those roles now – there is just no more room for more delays or denial. It is getting to bee to deadly to bear.