After a week like this one, we're sure to see a string of teary-eyed politicians telling us we've got to do something to prevent these kinds of tragedies from ever happening again - as if politicians have the power to stop anything bad from ever happening or causing anything good to happen for that matter. Politicians live to make laws. It's the politician's raison d'être. A politician does not feel like he or she is a politician if there's not a law passed with that politician's name on it. The media encourages that by remarking sagely as to the number of laws named after a politician when the pundits and political hacks are evaluating said politician's career (usually after the former senator, congressman, mayor, etc. is safely dead). Passing law is the mark of political success. I've never heard of a politician being praised on the six o'clock news for getting rid of laws, have you?
It makes sense then that in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings that politicians would feel and overwhelming urge to pass a law. And you can bet it will be a gun control law. The thinking is that if you get guns out of the hands of these people, then they can no longer go on shooting rampages. Only they won't go that far because the NRA is too powerful. They'll just reduce the legal size of magazines, figuring criminals won't be able to kill as many people if they can't shoot so many without reloading.
Problem is, these guys aren't criminals that shoot up schools and shopping malls. They're people who should be in a mental hospital. Virtually every one, from the guy who shot Gabbie Gifford to the autistic kid who felt no pain in Connecticut, virtually every one was identified as mentally ill at some time prior to their shooting rampages.
Making the gun harder to get is not going to stop them. Making magazines smaller or doing away with semi-automatics isn't going to help. Charles Whitman killed 13 people, an unborn child and wounded 32 others. He seemed normal enough, even exemplary in his behavior. He was an Eagle Scout and ex-Marine. He used only bolt-action rifles, a shotgun and some pistols. He had no automatic weapons.
A gentleman with a handgun stopped a man this past week who attacked people with a knife and was set to start a mass slaughter. He didn't have a gun. An off-duty cop working as a movie theater security guard at a San Antonio mall stopped a man who was planning to shoot up the place. The people who do this kind of thing are not generally working with both oars in the water. Sweden has the most restrictive gun laws in the Western world and a terrorist managed to kill 70 unarmed people at an island resort there.
Even though these things are horrific, they aren't really getting more frequent. We just hear about them more often because we have 24 hour news and, as political commentator Armstrong Williams aptly noted, "If it bleeds it leads." Still, when we hear about this stuff, all of us are seized with a desire to make it stop.
The problem is, you can't stop it. Evil and lunacy exist in this world and will, on occasion, strike. We decided almost three decades ago that putting people willy nilly in insane asylums was a bad thing to do. Government-run asylums, we discovered, were terrible places. So we turned them all loose - or at least most of them. That's how the government solves a problem. If there are people locked up unjustly and you demand they stop doing it, the government just lets everybody go. Big government is not subtle We had an explosion of homelessness after the great release experiment in the 80s when all those who had been in institutions hit the streets with no place to go.
The problem with the folks at the government being the ones to stop school massacres is that the government always takes a sledge hammer approach to any problem it tries to solve. You don't get a lot of nuance in decision-making when it comes to laws being written in Washington and designed to provide a one-size-fits-all solution for 350 million people.
So, they jump on gun control as the easy fix for what is actually a mental health problem. People can't get help for mentally ill loved ones who need it. I know. In my own family I've had to watch loved ones with mental illness deteriorate to the point that they attempted suicide quite spectacularly. I've got a loved one living in a storage building 3000 miles away and I'm too broke to help him. The system tries to do as little as possible and only helps when they absolutely have no other choice. Any kind of even temporary committment is next to impossible because they fixed that in Washington back in the 80s after a Mickey Rooney movie about the subject of unjust mental incarceration. It was widely viewed and in true Washington fashion, laws were passed to "make it stop".
Our mental health system is a wreck. In working with therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, I've experienced first hand what they go through in trying to help patients. I spent two years in a graduate rehab psych program and worked in mental health programs for 25 years. The average mental health practitioner walks among his patients like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs (occupied by lawyers). They are so hemmed in by regulations and potential lawsuits that people who should be taken off the streets for their own good as well as the safety of the community can't be. Sometimes a mentally ill person volunteers for a stint in the hospital, but if they volunteer, they can check themselves out whenever they want to, like when the killin' urge comes over them.
I worked at a treatment center for kids and watched severely disturbed kids turn 18 and be turned out into the world with virtually no supports. That's how the law worked. Some places tried to provide them help - usually faith-based facilities with church partnerships to help the kids integrate into the community. Most such programs operated without public support and under the disapproving eye of state mental health authorities.
In the past 30 years, we've learned more about the human brain and how to treat it and what to expect of various types of brain diseases. Yet with all this knowledge, we find ourselves prevented from doing the very kinds of things that would prevent people from going berserk and shooting up an elementary school.
But that's what happens when you get politicians doing hip shot law-making. You want to prevent mass murders in our country? Two things:
- Protect likely targets. If a movie theater can hire a sharp-eyed security guard, a school can. Off duty cops have the training and are always looking for extra work. Ex-military guys can be trained for the work and lots of them come home looking for jobs. Protecting kids is a job they were trained for.
- Get those with violent mental illnesses off the street. Yes it will cost money, but not nearly as much as the massive bureaucracy needed to manage the highly restrictive gun control laws that are being proposed right now. And hospitalization is not a life sentence. Proper treatment and medications can help unstable people cope and learn ways to avoid going out of their minds and committing these heinous acts.
Everyone asks why this happens every time it does. Some blame it on the devil. Others blame it on God. Some, like the president in his memorial speech in Newtown, do both. Obama remarked that evil exists in the world and then qualified that by saying "God called them home". So we've assigned blame to both God and the Devil. Throw in Republicans and the NRA and that should spread the blame around even more.
We look for a reason for the unreasonable, when these things happen. There is no reason other than the obvious one. When you ask God to leave you be; when you tell Him you want nothing to do with Him, He goes away and leaves you alone. We've no excuse for asking where God was. We've asked Him to stay out of our schools. We've left the crazy people out on the streets, uncared for till they lost their minds altogether. And worse, when the angels left along with God, we didn't replace them with security guards.
If we're not willing to open our schools to God's protection and if we insist on trying to solve this problem in Washington instead of in our communities, homes and churches, where things like this happen, then the carnage will continue unabated. We cannot keep waiting for the government to do for us what can only be done by us. We do not have to wait for permission to fix our own communities; to make them safer.
God will make things right in the end, despite our best efforts to muck it all up. While I don't believe He chose how those kids would die - that He "called those children home" as the President suggested - I do believe He will take them home one day when He comes back to clean up our mess.
God help us all when He sees what we've done to this place.