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December 20, 2012

Guns Are Not The Only Issue

Patricia A. Kelly

Most American adults would give their lives to save the life of a small child. That someone would shoot 20 of them and their loving, caring teachers, is almost unthinkable.


We all know it happens. We all know it just happened – and in an exceptionally safe place.


Horrified, we want to find out why, and identify solutions, preferably simple ones we can implement right away. In the face of the unthinkable, we want to do something. We want to fix it.


We can‘t. There’s only rage and grief and prayer. There’s no quick fix.


Our country, overall, is a safe place to be. Schools like Sandy Spring Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, or my own granddaughter’s beloved Parkway, are places of safety, love and caring. The teachers and administrators know and value the children, and watch over them scrupulously.


But things happen. Remember the horror of the massacre of the Amish schoolgirls in Pennsylvania, to mention only one. Generally speaking, though, we are safe.


That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for improvement.


The rush to control guns isn’t really justified by statistical evidence. George Will, on ABC’s This Week Sunday, reported no statistical difference in U.S. murders between the Kennedy era assault weapon ban and now. For more detail on gun-related statistics, read Farrell Keough’s column, Emotionless Discussion a Necessity, at


This doesn’t mean laws shouldn’t change. Guns are as dangerous as cars. They should be licensed. Something equivalent to the MVA should be developed to license them. Just as do drivers, gun owners should demonstrate knowledge, proficiency, vision and reasonable mental and physical health to own a gun. Maybe assault weapons, as do tractor trailers, should require a special license. This would not limit the right of Americans to bear arms. It would make us safer.


The common denominator in virtually all non-political mass killings is mental illness. The seriously mentally ill should not have access to guns, or other weapons for that matter.


In the Newtown case, the killer’s mom had guns and allowed her son to use them. As a survivalist, she believed the breakdown of society was imminent, and, mistakenly, believed that her mentally ill son would learn respect and responsibility from handling guns. As in virtually every other case of a massacre by a mentally ill person, his mother reported to friends that he was getting worse before the killing. Tragically, when the pent-up feelings he couldn’t express erupted, he had weapons at hand with which to express himself.


In this case, and pretty much always, the mentally-ill killer signaled that things were getting out of hand.


As a society, we are failing the mentally ill. We went from warehousing the weird, often under atrocious conditions, to turning loose the truly ill, believing that newly developed psychotropic drugs would cure them. We often give them the right to refuse this drug therapy, even when they have no understanding of reality. We protect their privacy so much that we won’t tell the families who care for them about their condition. We take them, when in extreme crisis, into the hospital for a few days, give them a few drugs, and turn them loose without a safety net, even as their closest caregivers beg for information. We are ignorant of the signs of impending crisis.


This is pathetic!


As rare as it is for a mentally ill person to be the aggressor, rather than the victim, when it happens it is very terrible, and largely preventable.


We need to change some laws, and re-interpret others. We need to change service availability and insurance coverage for the mentally ill. We need to become aware and educated about mental illness, and about signs of danger. It will take careful thought and work, but the tools and information are available.


Another concern, glorification of violence in society, remains really difficult to assess. When I was little, my brother and I played cowboys and Indians. Now, my grandsons, and their dad, spend lots of time playing violent video games. We all “shot” the bad guys. We all “saved” the innocents. Is it worse now? I think my grandsons know the difference between reality and play, as I did, in spite of their vastly superior “weapons” and graphics.


I’d much prefer to see everyone concentrate on Wii bowling than Call of Duty, Black Ops II, but I don’t know of compelling evidence that the latter increases the risk of violence in mentally healthy people.


As Christmas approaches, as we pray for the people of Newtown, let’s hug our loved ones, revel in warmth and love, and begin work on the essential changes inspired by our latest, heartbreaking mass murder.


Let’s put in the thought and work necessary to do it right.



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