Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Another School Tradegy

It has happened again. Another case of where a person with mental health issues takes a gun and shoots up a school. Children and school personnel, along with the shooter, were killed. Now, quite predictably, the cry is going up for "gun control."

Totally misguided. Gun control is not the answer.

We are a gun-oriented society. This die was cast back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when our nation was first settled. Our forefathers, for the most part, were not the elite of European society. They were the ones who could not, or would not, fit into the rather rigidly structured society of Europe. They were the adventurers, the ones persecuted - and sometimes, prosecuted - for their religious beliefs, the ones who wanted more than European society would give them, the ones willing to toil for years to pay for their passage, the ones who would leave everything they knew behind and set off into the unknown, and - yes, in some cases, criminals who were exiled in lieu of prison.

The first arrivals had a wilderness to tame. Their tool of choice was the gun. It provided meat for the table and protection from predators - and occasionally, from hostile natives and competing colonists. Later arrivals found towns and cities, but they were much the same type of people - rough and tumble, and self-reliant to a fault.

By the time of the Declaration of Independence, almost every household had at least one rifle. Villages and towns organized militias to provide organized protection. Crime had already become an issue.

As we expanded westward, our most important tool was our gun. It still provided us with meat and protection. When attacked, our first reaction was to reach for our gun. To this day, this reaction pervades our literature and our thinking.

We are also a violent people. It is in our genes. When pushed and prodded, whether by overseers, government or businesses, we fight back. We go on strike. We litigate. Many times, our sit-ins, strikes and peaceful protests have turned violent in a flash. Our criminals are far more prone to violently assaulting their victims than European criminals.

In contrast, we are also a peace-loving people. If you leave us alone, we will usually leave you alone. When disaster strikes, we pull together, cooperate, clear the debris and get started rebuilding - usually, before government can get its act together.

I believe our two biggest societal problems are mental illness and crime. Some would say that this is only one issue - that criminals are mentally ill. Perhaps they are. Gun control advocates say that by keeping guns out of the hands of the public, this limits the ability of crminals and others who want to injure or kill others to get guns. This is a falicy: there are too many guns in the world and guns are too easy to manufacture. Regardless of the penalties, there will always be people who will take the risk to supply contraband - be it drugs, child pornagraphy, slaves or guns - if the price is high enough.

Growing up, I lived in New York State. Due to the Sullivan Law, getting a handgun legally was a difficult and time consuming process. Fireworks were also illegal. For the Forth of July, I would talk to someone who could put me in touch with the local, allegedly "Mafia," fixer who would, for a fee, tell me where to meet a supplier. When we met, he always had a trunk full of fireworks for sale, along with an assortment of handguns, ammunition, and other illegal objects.

There will always be people who will be violent, whether by choice or driven by internal need. These people, if they plan their attacks, will chose one or more weapons to intimidate and injure their victims. Based on our culture and history in the United States, the weapon of choice is most often the handgun. During the planning stage, they will acquire their weapons legally or otherwise.

I currently live in a rural area. The average response time for the county sheriff's deputies is on the order of fifteen to twenty minutes - mostly because of the distances that the responding deputy must travel. From the newspapers, I read that, due to budget cuts, the response time in many urban areas is not much faster. This means that by the time help arrives, a violent crime is already over and the criminal has fled. In other incidents, like the recent school shooting, many victims are already injured or dead. Law enforcement is usually too late to stop the violence.

I believe that we are not going to stop gun violence by taking away guns. Those who are planning violent acts will still acquire their guns. Their victims will, however, be unarmed and basically defenseless - lambs led to slaughter. Therefore, I propose the following:

  • All residents should be required to learn about guns and the safe handling of guns. Start this in middle school or junior high. This will prevent many gun accidents. I am not advocating that everyone be required to own a gun, just know how to safely handle one.
  • All residents should learn to shoot and practice regularly at a certified rifle and pistol range. Again, as most shooting ranges have weapons available, there is no need to own a gun.
  • Schools, offices, factories and places of employment should have designated staff with site-specific training who have access to weapons at work. The training must be thorough and with periodic refresher sessions.
  • All places where people gather should be required to hold periodic emergency drills, including fire drills, medical emergency drills, hazardous chemical spill drills, and other types of disaster drills. This teaches people what to do, where to go and how to respond to a real emergency without panic and confusion - both of which kill more people that the actual emergency does.
  • Everyone should be able to access mental health facilities as easily as they access medical facilities, and with just as little stigma. If you need or just want to see your doctor, do you want to be put an a waiting list to get an appointment or do you want to set an appointment now? When it comes to seeing a mental health professional, waiting lists to get an appointment are unfortunately common.
  • The stigma attached to seeing a mental health professional has to end. We are encouraged to see our doctor regularly for our annual check-up. By the same logic, we should also visit our mental health professional for periodic check-ups.

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