Wednesday, December 19, 2012

This Is Not Supposed To Happen

Dwight Eisenhower once said, "There's no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were." The incident in Newtown, Connecticut shook everyone. 26 victims, 20 of them children, had their lives extinguished like a flame being pinched out on a candle. Questions abound with the public. "What could make someone do this?" "Is this what our society had come to?" "Were there warning signs?" In short, we want to know "why."

An unsettling truth when we look for the "why," is that we know that, at least in part, WE are to blame to a certain extent. It isn't as if we haven't seen incidents like this before. In April of 1999, 12 students and one teacher were murdered at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in a similar incident. In April 2007, 32 people lost their lives at Virginia Tech when a shooter went on a rampage. In January of 2011, six people died in a shooting in Tuscon, Arizona which also wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords. In July of this year, 12 people lost their lives in an Aurora, Colorado theater when a man opened fire on the audience.  The warning signs were all over the place, and while we were saddened, outraged, disgusted and/or heart-fallen during each of these incidents, we ultimately did nothing to try to prevent events like this from happening again beyond installing metal detectors in some schools.

Is the problem gun control? In part it is, however it is not the only part. My old buddy, George W. Bush, once famously decreed that one of the greatest threats to The United States was the "Axis Of Evil," comprised of the "rogue states" of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. It was a quaint statement, and made for a great soundbite, and since this country seems to feed on soundbites, I have a new one for them. The problem we are facing, and have to overcome to prevent more tragedies like this from happening is a "Trident Of Terror," comprised of gun control, media sensationalism, and neglect of societal issues.

Yes, gun control is a problem. While I am not a personal fan of guns, I am not anti-gun either. I have absolutely no problems with people who use them for hunting, but even the hunters that I know will tell you that they do not need a fully automatic weapon to bring down a rabbit or a deer. For people who want to carry one for personal protection, I get it - some neighborhoods are shadier than others; however, if you need a clip that can hold upwards of thirty shots attached to a weapon that can empty that clip in a matter of seconds, I suggest you find another neighborhood. 

As is usually the case, The Second Amendment will be in the middle of this debate. The only thing I ask people to keep in mind is that when that was written, the best shot in the world could only fire three rounds a minute. Perhaps it is time that we reevaluate that Amendment through civil discussion, and true debate. Maybe it is time we repeal it. It's not like that would be unprecedented - Prohibition was an Amendment, and it was repealed. Then again, maybe not.

Media sensationalism. One of the reasons we're not likely to see meaningful discussions happen on this topic is that it is bad for business. The media thrive on divisive stories that pit two sides against another in a great epic battle. Nothing sells like chaos and discord. While we may enjoy talking with a friend that has opposing views on a given matter, and reaching an agreement point with them on a given topic, society wants their media to be entertaining, and watching a civil exchange of ideas working towards a compromise without inflammatory statements, cheap shots, or name calling, just doesn't sell well.

Neglect of societal issues. A process of deinstitutionalization began in this country over 60 years ago. It was designed to help clear out some of the asylums and other mental health facilities, and to reincorporate those patients back into society. The hope was that through the use of newly available anti-psychotic medications that there was a chance many patients would be able to survive well enough outside the walls  they were in. The experiment has failed. Approximately 20-25% of the homeless in America have some sort of severe mental disorder. It is estimated that upwards of 50% of mental illnesses in the country are either undiagnosed, or untreated.We need to get a grip on this because the numbers are increasing. 
Keep in mind that these are what would be considered clinical mental illnesses, not to be confused with a guy who snaps because he was backed into a corner due to job loss, and the ensuing financial hardships that can bring. We need to get people back to work. Hands that are busy all day building something, are too busy to be loading and firing guns.

If by some freak happenstance we were to wake up tomorrow and during the night some reasonable compromise on gun control was hammered out, the media vowed to return to its objective (rather than subjective) roots, and people with mental health issues were able to receive the treatment they deserve and everyone was back at work, even then that would not stop a tragedy like what happened last Friday from happening again. We do not live in a Utopic world. Bad things happen. Sometimes they happen to good people. Sometimes, as unfortunate as it may be, they happen to children. Out of all the services I worked on, and all the earth I turned, the most difficult ones were when there was a child in the casket.

When the Reaper comes, death happens, and Charon has the "souls" on his skiff, we strive to make sense of it all - some things are beyond reason.We want to remember, and we want to forget all at the same time - to remember the beautiful memories, and to forget the tragedy. We memorialize the life in some way that is meaningful to us. A fitting memorial to the lives that were taken last Friday would be to break the spikes on the Trident Of Terror, to try to create real change to reduce the likelihood of something like this ever happening again. The natural order says that children should bury their parents. Regrettably, that is not chiseled in stone.

To the twenty children that had their light extinguished last Friday, and the countless other victims of such tragedies;
Rest In Peace. I'm sorry that I did not do more to prevent it from happening.