Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown Shooting: The Time for Action Is Now

Normally, I try to avoid using first person pronouns whenever I write up a blog post, but today, I feel compelled to abandon that practice. Rather than writing as someone who is potentially practicing for a future career as a journalist, I am writing today as a citizen not only concerned for the future of our country, but also concerned about the state of the world that I am likely going to be bringing children into within the next few years.

Today’s events in Connecticut have been a truly gutting experience for me. It amazes me that in today’s day and age when we are supposedly evolving into a more understanding and compassionate race, with issues like civil rights and gender equality being at the forefront of this movement, there is still the capacity for such depraved evil as what we witnessed in Newtown today. 20 kids and numerous adults were gunned down by a mentally disturbed individual, and just 11 days from Christmas, there are scores of families who are going to be looking at this time of year as a time of pain and suffering rather than joy and celebration, and there really aren’t words to articulate just how terrible that is.

My wife and I do not have kids yet, but that does not mean that I am incapable of conceiving just how much pain the parents of these murdered children are feeling right now. It’s not like these parents sent their kids to Iraq or Afghanistan, where the chances of them returning in a body bag were ever-present. Instead, they put their kids on the bus or dropped them off at school, fully safe in their assumption that nothing worse than perhaps a skinned knee or a bully’s cruel joke would be the biggest of the problems their offspring would face.

Instead, they are left with images of the sick and twisted horror that unfolded in that school this morning. I find myself at a loss when I try to imagine the last thing that those victims saw as this masked and armored gunman walked into their classroom and began firing with a weapon that looks like it has more of a place in a “Rambo” movie than in an average American’s gun case. Those final moments of terror hit me right in the gut in a way that I can’t explain. I am normally a sympathetic person by nature, as I always am cognizant of not wanting to cause undue harm to someone else, but this character trait has been a curse today, because every time I hear a story about a kid running from that school, I feel a fresh stab of pain in my stomach. Then, as if that isn’t visceral enough, I then think about what the parents of both the survivors and the deceased are having to deal with, and I feel guilty for even trying to imagine that pain. I feel like I’m cheating somehow, because I don’t have a personal stake in this. 

Except that I do. We all do.

This shooting needs to serve as a wake up call to all Americans. No longer can we be content to just bury our heads in the sand whenever tragedy strikes, and just moan and wail, offering prayers but no concrete action to fix the problem that is facing our society. Since the Columbine tragedy in 1999, there have been 31 mass shootings in schools in the United States. Compared to 14 in the rest of the world, that number is insanely high, and is due in large part to the unwillingness of our elected officials to do something to curb the violence. That irresponsibility on the part of our leaders cannot be overlooked, but neither can the reflection of our own faces in the mirror. We elect these people to do their jobs and to keep us safe, and that duty is one that all of us, liberals, conservatives, socialists, and libertarians, can agree upon. And yet, as they have abdicated their responsibility, so have we to do our due diligence and punish those who aren’t performing the will of the people.

That will is one that we need to stoke into a blazing inferno in times like these. Instead, we see events like the shooting at a Safeway store in Tucson, Arizona, which killed 11 people and severely wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and we turn the other way as politicians loosen restrictions on guns and gut programs that help people seek health care for mental illness. Hell, even in Michigan YESTERDAY the Republican-led lame duck legislature passed a bill that legalized carrying guns in day cares and schools.This tone deafness to the problems of our nation, as well as the need to solve them, is something that we need to address immediately.

The temptation, of course, is just to avoid the issue all together with a blanket statement of “bad people will always do bad things”. Hell, even the Republican Party issued a picture last week of a rock and joked that it was the “first assault weapon.” So long as this nation acts like apathy is an effective alternative to actually doing something, our kids are going to continue to die, and what should be completely unacceptable to every American is indirectly endorsed by all of them.

People can say all they want that it’s too early to start talking about the “politics” of this tragedy, but the fact of the matter is that the time for kicking the can down the road is past. There are a couple of steps that our Congress needs to enact IMMEDIATELY that can at least help deter future crimes like this.

-Mandate that all health insurance companies provide COVERED access to mental health screenings and treatment

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, a big deal was made about the elimination of exclusions for pre-existing conditions, as well as the lifetime caps on treatment of ALL illnesses. This meant that people with mental health problems could get treatment for them, and when the mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance goes into effect, this will have a big impact on the amount of people able to access care.

Unfortunately, there are still too many roadblocks to receiving adequate mental care in this country. Oftentimes, the coverage is offered, but there are significant co-pays involved in obtaining it. That makes people less likely to seek out the help that they need, which could help prevent some of these types of events from occurring.

Rather than making insurance companies simply offer the option for mental health coverage, the Congress needs to do one better and ensure that mental health screenings are available for FREE to any citizen that wants help. Cost should not even be considered as a factor when it comes to saving American lives, and the reciprocal benefits of this wouldn’t just be felt in less worry about mass shootings. Suicide would decrease, violence of all types, including domestic, would decrease, and America as a whole would be a happier place.
Of course, no one should be naïve enough to believe that everyone would take advantage of free mental health evaluations and treatments, but even if only ONE American seeks help and gets it through an expansion of these types of programs, then it would have to be qualified as an unmitigated success.

-Revise and re-pass the Assault Weapons Ban

A lot of folks, me including, have been arguing that assault weapons serve no real world purpose other than killing other people, and that they should be banned. The type of weapon used by the shooter in Connecticut today is capable of firing 100 rounds of ammunition in a single minute, making it a perfect tool for killing massive numbers of people in fairly short order.

We can have all the security guards and armed citizens that we want, but as long as extended magazines (like the ones used in the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings and the Tucson shooting of Representative Giffords) , body armor, and automatic weapons are readily available, killing is going to be all too easy for those few bad apples that slip through the cracks.

Not only do these types of weapons need to be banned (and all those who possess weapons obtained after the banning date need to be arrested), but the manufacture and sale of these weapons needs to be banned as well. There are almost more guns in this country than there are people, and that doesn’t really need to be continued, does it?

If people want to have guns for hunting, then they should be able to make due with rifles that aren’t firing multiple bullets per second. If people want to have guns for protection, a pistol kills someone just as dead as an assault rifle does. The answer to this problem is not for more of the item that is causing it, but rather to restrict and eventually eradicate the implements of that destruction.

It is a process that will take time and is not 100% foolproof, but it is far better for us to at least be proactive and do something about this epidemic than to throw our hands up and just say “we’ll never cure the issue, so why even attempt to treat it?”

Our nation is at a crossroads when it comes to our rights to bear arms. Gun rights activists are quick to point out Benjamin Franklin’s axiom about freedom, “those who are willing to forfeit their liberty for their safety deserve neither”, but the fact of the matter is that Americans have a more fundamental right at stake than the one on whether we can own efficient weapons of mass destruction: our fundamental right to be safe in innocent places like schools and movie theaters. This right far outweighs the desires of some right winger who feels that his best expression of American liberty is to own gobs of weapons, and is the one that Congress should be protecting over the limited interests of groups like the NRA.

My wife today posted on Twitter that she wants to homeschool our kids after the events in Connecticut this afternoon. While the temptation is certainly there (as are the emotions involved in reconciling myself to the notion that THIS is the kind of world I’d be bringing my offspring into), I feel like this is exactly what an oppressed people would do in the face of adversity, and I refuse to believe that the United States of America should be afraid of anyone. When Osama bin Laden directed planes to be flown into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, did I stop flying? Absolutely not. When shooters took scores of lives in schools, churches, and theaters, did we stop going to those places? Absolutely not.

If your reaction to today’s events is to hug your children a little harder today, then you are doing your duty as a parent and should be praised. If your reaction to today’s events is to pull them out of school and run the risk of them becoming paranoid and scared individuals devoid of human interaction, then you are doing a disservice to them and to this nation. Rather than retreating into our caves like all of those terrorists like bin Laden and Saddam Hussein did when they were under assault, we need to be the country that is the envy of the rest of the world, and that means facing our problems head on and fixing our path.

There is no better way to honor the victims of this senseless tragedy than to carry on and make this world a better place. Someone on Twitter pointed out, correctly, that it isn’t “too soon to talk about gun control. It’s too late.” While we lack the technology to go back and undo the best, we do NOT lack the fortitude and political will to do something and create a brighter future. Instead of debating among ourselves when the appropriate time for action is, we need to resolve instead to ENGAGE in action, and to prevent more hideous events like the one that befell those children in Connecticut.

I, for one, am tired of being cowed by the fear that someone hellbent on unleashing destruction in a “last blaze of glory” hail of bullets. We need to address this problem on multiple fronts, including mental health and restricting access to unnecessary guns, and we need to address it now, before more citizens are subject to the kind of terror that the students and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School were faced with today.

Enough talk about taking our country back from political extremists. Let’s focus on taking it back from the apathetic hands on both sides that are currently ushering it along as if nothing is wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment