Dec 20 2012
the pastor and the bartender: gun control, mental health, and what makes america crazy
I guess I felt like I needed to add my voice into the flurry of conversation occurring around the issues of gun control, access to mental health care services, and whatever else people feel like they can finally say now that there has been another horrible, awful, horrific tragedy in our nation.
First, I was and am completely sickened with what happened last Friday. And I feel a little guilty, too. Like, why does this effect me so much more intensely than knowing that literally millions of innocent Africans (many of them children) are raped and systematically hunted and killed in civil wars? Or just dying by the droves because they don't have clean water? How can I sleep at night knowing that, and yet hearing about Sandy Hook has me nearly throwing up in the car? Because those children at Sandy Hook look more like me and my daughter? Because it's closer to home? I guess. I don't know.
Second, I'm really interested in learning more about guns, what is meant by "assault weapons" (it's not at all a clear-cut term), why Americans are obsessed with having guns (including my husband), and whether restricting access to them is a reasonable measure. I don't know about this either.
There is a lot of comparison right now between America and the other developed (i.e. rich) nations, showing that we have astronomically higher rates of gun ownership, and gun violence, than any of the others. I'm sure this is true. But I'm not sure that restriction has a direct correlation to this. Americans just seem more crazy than their counterparts. I don't know how to quantify that statement well, except just to put it out there. Until we deal with some of the underlying issues in our culture that cause us to act so violently toward one another, guns will just be a presenting issue.
Jeff and I were talking about this over the weekend, so indulge me in a bit of what may be revisionist history. Two hundred, or even a hundred years ago, pretty much every rural household had a gun (and probably most urban ones too). I'm sure there were TONS of accidental deaths due to children handling loaded, unlocked guns. I'm also sure that most young people learned how to handle those guns early on because they had to - to hunt for their families or defend their property. But I really doubt there were these kinds of massacres that we have to deal with on an annual basis now. Something has changed in our society. It's a sick mixture of cults of celebrity, enshrined violence as a national myth, access to the kinds of weapons that were not available two hundred years ago, and environmental factors that just seem to be making us more severely crazy.
Third, I'm definitely sure that we don't have good access to mental health care, especially affordable long-term in-patient residential facilities for the seriously mentally ill. I have no idea if Adam Lanza was one of those seriously mentally ill. He had no formal diagnosis that I know of. That's part of the problem. Tons and tons of people in our country are very sick and have no formal diagnosis, because access is such a problem. I hate that it took another massacre, but I am really glad that this conversation is making it onto the national radar.
I know first hand from many situations in our family that finding good mental health professionals who will accept and file your insurance is not easy. And this is coming from a family that actually has employer-provided health care! Much less someone who doesn't have those resources. Scheduling takes weeks. If you were in an acute crisis, there might just not be anyone to talk to.
It's not as easy as gun control legislation + better mental health care access = less dead people. I mean, that might happen, and that would be awesome! But we can't just import a formula that works in, say, Sweden. Swedish people don't rage at each other on the highway. There is more under the surface here, and I'm not sure how we fix it.
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