American Elephants


The Do-Something Disease. by The Elephant's Child

Reflecting on the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have you ever noticed how very brief the period is when the murder is blamed on the perpetrator, and how quickly the blame shifts to society in general? It’s not the perpetrator — it’s us. We are too violent as a society. We have a love affair with guns. We allow assault weapons in our society. We play violent video games. We allow and enjoy violent movies. We are bad parents. We don’t put our mentally ill people away. And so it goes. We must all understand that it is not the fault of the perpetrator, it is our fault.

Blame immediately shifts to guns, and not just any guns, but “assault weapons,” which seem to be any kind of guns that look scary. Assault weapons have been banned before, which didn’t do much good, and Congress twisted itself into pretzels trying to describe what constituted an “assault weapon.” It is not a descriptive term. An assault weapon is one used to assault someone, and could be a baseball bat or a kitchen knife. Semi-automatic simply means not automatic. So naturally, a large group of people marched on the National Rifle Association headquarters, which perhaps made them feel good.

The questions about mental health are more difficult. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has lobbied for laws that prevent people from being committed in most circumstances, and account for much of the mentally ill homeless being on the street instead of being treated. It is very difficult to get anyone committed or restrained. Mental health professionals are the first to point out that those who most need help are often not amenable to treatment of any kind, and that it is not really possible to correctly designate those who are most likely to commit mass murder.

The New York Times headline said “N.R.A. Envisions ‘a Good Guy With a Gun’ in Every School.”

The N.R.A.’s plan for countering school shootings, coming a week after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was met with widespread derision from school administrators, law enforcement officials and politicians, with some critics calling it “delusional” and “paranoid.” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, said arming schools would not make them safer.

National Review correctly and quietly pointed out that 1/3 of public schools already have armed security on staff, as of the 2009-20010 school year, the most recent data, and a number of states and districts that do not use them are discussing the idea.

In the wake of a dreadful shooting, particularly of helpless schoolchildren, it is natural to want to do something to prevent such happenings.

When Major Nidal Hassan, an Army Psychiatrist, supervised by other Psychiatrists, shot 13 people and wounded 29 others,at Fort Hood Texas Nov. 5, 2009, there was, in retrospect, all sorts of evidence that should have warned his superiors that he was a danger.  Three years later, he has not yet been tried. The incident is described by Homeland Security as ‘workplace violence’ and those wounded are not allowed purple hearts nor any of the benefits that those wounded in combat are entitled to.

Looking back at other mass murders should make us a little more cautious about our rush to do something. There are no easy answers. New laws need slow and careful consideration, not dramatic action when emotions are high. We do need an ability to restrain or commit those who really need help, but past history shows that those who badly need help are only identified after they have committed some horror.

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