Everybody's going to have an opinion about the Connecticut shooting horror. FWIW, here's my two cents in the editorial I wrote for today's paper. It isn't meant to offer solutions, just the place where the conversation should start:
There are two things we desperately need to talk about – the availability of guns and the failures of our mental health systems. We can't seem to talk seriously about either one, but for different reasons.
With guns, it's because of the polarization over the issue.
[. . .]
With mental illness, it's because we're afraid to talk about the subject at all, because those who suffer from it remain the most stigmatized people in America.
[. . .]
[T]he trick is to find the balance between the rights of the individual and the need for public safety.
Finding such balance won't be easy, but the effort is imperative. Only if we make the effort will we ever get to the crux of the matter, which resides at that point where mental illness and access to guns intersect.
Yeah, I know, it reeks of that unhelpful "we must reason together" pompousness, but sometimes nothing else seems appropriate for getting the door open.
I'm generally skeptical of gun control, for all the reasons that have been offered here over the years. We're not likely to get anything new, just a rehash of arguments we've all heard before, the only difference being they will be intensified by the hideousness of this particular outrage. What it boils down to, I think, is: If you can think of a way to get rid of all guns for all time, hooray for you, and let's hear it. Otherwise, there's no way around the fact that a responsible person with a gun is the best defense against an irresponsible person with one. If you want to get into all this again, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundithas a lot of thoughts and a lot of links. This, in a link to a John Fund piece, especially caught my eye:
Mass shootings are no more common than they have been in past decades, despite the impression given by the media.
In fact, the high point for mass killings in the U.S. was 1929, according to criminologist Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections. . . .
With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.
The arguments about the mental illness aspects of such incidents aren't as familiar because, as I said, we haven't really had any serious conversations about it. For anyone who wants to start thinking about it, I offer these two links.
First is this piece by Clayton Cramer about the unintended and, for the most part, unexamined effects of deinstitutionalization:
Deinstitutionalization played a substantial role in the dramatic increase in violent crime rates in America in the 1970s and 1980s. People who might have been hospitalized in 1950 or 1960 when they first exhibited evidence of serious mental illness today remain at large until they commit a serious felony. The criminal justice system then usually sends these mentally ill offenders to prison, not a mental hospital.
The result is a system that is bad for the mentally ill: prisons, in spite of their best efforts, are still primarily institutions of punishment, and are inferior places to treat the mentally ill. It is a bad system for felons without mental illness problems, who are sharing facilities with the mentally ill, and are understandably afraid of their unpredictability. It is a bad system for the victims of those mentally ill felons, because in 1960, a mentally ill person was much more likely to have been hospitalized before victimizing someone else. It is a bad system for the taxpayers, who foot the bill for expensive trials and long prison sentences for the headline tragedies, and hundreds of thousands of minor offenses, instead of the much less expensive commitment procedures and perhaps shorter terms of treatment.
Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was one of the truly remarkable public policy decisions of the 1960s and 1970s, and yet its full impact is barely recognized by most of the public. Partly this was because the changes did not happen overnight, but took place state-by-state over two decades, with no single national event. While homelessness received enormous public attention in the early 1980s, the news media’s reluctance to acknowledge the role that deinstitutionalization played in this human tragedy meant that the public safety connection was generally invisible to the general public. The solution remains unclear, but recognizing the consequences of deinstitutionalization is the first step.
Then there is this blog entry sent along by a reader. It's from someone who calls hersefl The Anarchist Soccer Mom. Her desire to remain anonymous is understandable given the stuff she writes about, including this explanation of why she is terrified by her 13-year-old son:
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
[. . .]
No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done."
Self-pity is the enemy of agency, and nothing is more important to recovering from mental illness than acquiring a sense of agency.
If you feel helpless to solve your own problems, you will either (a) descend into a bottomless slough of despair, or (b) engage in scapegoating, blaming other people for your problems. It is reaction (b) that turns otherwise harmless kooks into dangerous menaces.
Sympathy toward the mentally ill often leads to an apologetic attitude of indulgence, of tolerating anti-social behavior, and proclaiming that the poor kook just can’t help himself.
Well, guess what, folks? “Crazy” is not synonymous with “stupid,” and kooks are capable of learned responses. Sympathetic attention is a powerful carrot, to use Cynthia’s analogy, and if being a kook gets you sympathetic attention, then kookiness is thereby incentivized.
Look: Somebody has a mental health crisis and what do they get? Doctors and nurses who are paid to take care of them, to listen to them describe their problems, to supply them with medications and therapy and otherwise invest in their well-being.
They are being rewarded for being crazy.