Like most of you, I’ve spent a good part of the weekend thinking about the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We all want specific solutions that will prevent more of these tragedies, but what we’re dealing with is too big and too gray for that.
A lot of people are debating gun control. Some people think the world would be safer if every law-abiding citizen had a firearm. Others say they support the Second Amendment but that there’s no reason for anyone other than police and soldiers to have access to weapons that can fill a body with scores of bullets in the blink of an eye.
A lot of people are also debating what this tragedy says about how we should treat the mentally ill. Some people think the mentally ill should be locked away. Others cry out for better services and educational tactics to drive disturbed individuals away from the the path Adam Lanza took when he grabbed his mother’s guns, killed her and headed to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he stole the lives of 20 precious children and six heroic adults who died saving the children who made it out alive.
Would stricter gun control prevent future massacres like this? I doubt it. Would giving every school principal a gun prevent it? I doubt that, too. I believe in the right of citizens to bear arms, but I don’t see how that makes it OK for people who aren’t soldiers or cops to carry handheld weapons of mass destruction. A hunting rifle for hunting and a handgun for self-defense when a home is invaded is one thing. High-powered rifles are something else entirely.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that on the subject of mental illness, I agreed with those who said we need better treatment and counseling to reach troubled youths before they become murderers.
Maybe I’m biased because I was one of those troubled kids. People made fun of me in school and I could never seem to get the hang of sports and other things that might have made me more socially acceptable. There were times in my youth when I’d occasionally think of how sweet it would be to grab a rifle or a knife and tear into the bodies of those I felt were oppressing me. Luckily for me, there were enough positive influences in my life to make the difference.
I know one kid who has a lot of emotional issues and has been through every kind of therapy and drug treatment known to man. He’s doing well, but a paper-thin line separates the sweet side of his soul from the side that could send him on a rampage. The more positive influences he has now, the better.
As for those who suggest we simply lock up the mentally disturbed: who do you think qualifies for the cage? You’ll likely point to the troubled guy who walks down the street shouting obscenities at everyone he crosses paths with, but that doesn’t mesh well with the profiles of those who went on to shoot up schools and movie theaters. This latest gunman had no criminal record and was described as a fairly docile person by family and neighbors. Charles Manson’s most blood-thirsty followers were model students and athletes in high school.
At some point their minds became twisted and sick, but outward appearances wouldn’t have indicated that they should be locked up. That’s something else I have firsthand experience with. During some of the worst periods of mental illness in my life, I was able to put on a smile and calm exterior. I could function in society, but inside I was a time bomb.
You want an easy fix for this problem? You can’t have one. It doesn’t exist.
The answer is much more difficult but worth the effort: If you know a young man or woman who goes through periods of depression, rage or self-imposed isolation, someone who struggles to fit in, try to spend time with them. Show them love and kindness. Mentor them.
Doing so has a better chance of preventing the next school massacre than more or fewer guns. We can’t catch every troubled soul and turn them around. The task is simply too big for any of us to handle.
But if we can guide one or two of them, that’s huge.