Monday, December 17, 2012

Exposing the problem (updated)

Our good friend JCF is not happy that I seem to equate the nudity debate in San Francisco with the gun shootings in Connecticut.  As I responded in a comment, I don't equate them the way JCF fears:  obviously, one is tragic and elemental, one is ridiculous and superficial.  yet, I think they point to the same sickness, part of which is a disconnection between our concept of liberty and a concept of community. And in San Francisco, finally they decided to tackle their faintly ridiculous problem of public nudity, despite claims that they were offending freedom.  i fervantly wish that we as a people could tackle the much more serious issue of guns, which have the same cries (albeit from the opposite sie of the political spectrum).  And if you think I view the NRA as the same as wankers, I do, only more so.

Here's the problem, From an op/ed in the NY Times:
I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be. We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it....
More horrible still — to me at least — is the inevitable lament, “How could we have let this happen? 
It is a horrible question because the answer is so simple. Make it easy for people to get guns and things like this will happen. 
Children will continue to pay for a freedom their elders enjoy.
As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.
Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism — I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings — and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be.
Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. 
There is a really provocative piece over at Digby's, talking about the roots of our gun culture being an obsessed fantasy about a  deep-seated desire to unwind the social contract and cleanse undesirables who are allegedly stealing their tax dollars.  Go have a read of that.

But I will argue that the gun control debate is  at some level a symptom, not a cause.  The shootings in CT happened in part because guns were too easily accessible, which is because of the gun lobby.  Yet stronger background checks, licensing, insurance, and more restrictive gun control would not have prevented these shootings.  The guns were purchased legally by one of the victims (the shooter's mother), who registered them properly.

But I don't want to keep talking about guns. Because, trite as it is, the guns did not shoot up the school, a person did. The problem here, in this horrific case, is not just gun control.  Now, don't get me wrong:  I  absolutely believe most strongly that we need to tackle this love affair with violence and this peculiar notion that we should all have semi-automatic weapons;  the Founders writing the Constitution viewed guns as muzzle-loading muskets which were not agents of mass murder.  But that's not the only thing we need to work on.  We need to work on the care and treatment of those with mental health issues.

Have you looked at the boys who have committed too many of these murders?  Their faces are eerily the same, they are bright, but misfits, bullied, unhappy, unable to fit in to the snake-pit of modern high school.  We as a culture drove them to take action...and thanks to the guns, we provided the tools, and thanks to our obsession with violence, we provided the idea.

This powerful piece is going around:
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan -- they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me...

By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

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..... 
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.
Talking about guns will not solve the question.  The CT killer used guns, and yes, we want to make those guns less accessible. Let's not lose sight of that.  We want to delegitimatize violence, and restore our reaction to it, to one of horror.

But the root cause of the shooter's violence, and why he violent, was not guns per se.  It is something deeper, and more difficult, which we did not successfully treat or heal. And why people like the shooter are still sick, well,  that is a conversation we also need to have.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has a very personal reflection about mental ill-health.


Murdoch Matthew said...

There's a story on the Web about how one English town stopped a cholera epidemic. No vaccines, no medical outreach -- they closed the well that was spreading the disease. Infections dropped immediately.

IT said...

And Murdoch, what in this analogy, would be the well?

JCF said...


JCF said...

Re the Digby piece ("gun culture being an obsessed fantasy [to] cleanse undesirables who are allegedly stealing their tax dollars"): a week before the shooting, I was at my gym at a local strip mall, when an SUV drove past w/ this white-lettered on its back window "Keep Your Guns Loaded/Civil War is Coming" (FYI, I live in deeply-Blue Sacramento CA, not Alabama)