Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary

The first reaction always seems to be: “How could this happen?!”  In shock, we wail it.  An objective, factual answer exists, of course.  Law enforcement investigates and then reports how such carnage happened.  But this wailed question goes beyond the facts and touches on the human heart, the human mind and soul.  How can a human do evil?  No satisfying answer exists.

I have visited Fairfield County in Connecticut and have relatives who live there.  They are devastated.  It’s hard to believe that such modern brutality could occur in a place steeped in peacefulness and life.  Warm and friendly, the people I met there loved where they lived, loved the quiet and safety country living offered.  In ten minutes last Friday morning, that sense of security and peace was shattered by a young man who’d grown up in their community, attended their schools.

How did Adam Lanza acquire the guns he used to shoot 27 people?  They were lawfully owned by his mother, Lanza’s first victim.  We are once again talking about how easy it is to buy guns in America, what right the Second Amendment confers on citizens, how to control the access to guns, and how to ban certain types of guns.  The National Rifle Association has finally indicated a willingness to work with government to help prevent another horrific mass murder from happening.  Both Republicans and Democrats who were opposed to gun control have indicated that they are reconsidering their positions.  After all, no one needs an assault rifle to hunt deer.  Semi-automatic firearms with multi-bullet clips are used only to damage and kill people. 

Gun shops have reported an increase in gun sales the first two days of this week.  Their customers fear the government will implement a total ban on guns.  This means there are more guns out there, not less. 

Adam Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism.  This in itself would not predispose him to violence.  Indeed, no one associated violence with him, not even his mother.  Because he killed himself, we will not have the opportunity to ask him what happened.  He also took action to destroy his computer’s hard drive which indicates that it holds some clue to his behavior and violent eruption.  It’s also not impossible that he had developed a mental illness and perhaps his mother had seen signs of this in the days before the shooting when she told friends that he was “getting worse.”

While a national conversation about guns is needed, we also need to talk about how we treat the mentally ill among us.  We stigmatize them.  We ignore them.  We make it difficult to get effective treatment for the length of time it actually takes, and it’s also difficult to obtain disability for mental illness.  Maybe we need to stop thinking of mental illness as a defect and approach it the way we approach physical illness.  Maybe it’s time to educate ourselves about mental illness in order to understand how wrong stigmatizing and ignoring the mentally ill is. 

The medical community educates us through the media and online about the symptoms of a heart attack, the symptoms of stroke, and what steps need to be taken to save the life of the person with the symptoms.  How come we don't have the same kind of education about mental illness? 

What we really need to do as a nation and society is discuss what kind of a nation and society we want to be going forward.  Are we satisfied with the level of violence or would we perhaps want to have a more peaceful and compassionate society?  Are we satisfied with the imbalance we live with now between the individual and the community?  Or perhaps we might want to find ways to balance our attitudes and think more about the greater good instead of our individual self-interest.  Why do we have so much criminal activity?  Maybe that has something to do with the disparity in economic opportunity and income levels.  OK, competition can create incentive to achieve, but what about reaching back and giving someone else a hand up?

We are imperfect beings living in an imperfect society, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to improve….

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