Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mourning in America...

Since I wrote my last post (which was forever ago--sorry, life happens!), we've had another school shooting. The gun people immediately countered with some of those whacko statements ("Guns don't kill people--PEOPLE kill people"; "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns"; "If everybody was armed, these things wouldn't happen", etc. etc.) I call these statements "whacko" because from a logic standpoint, they are total nonsense. Oh, and I left out one that really gets me: "Saying a gun killed someone is like saying a spoon made me fat." What? One fact that is lost in all of this is that guns were created to kill--period. They are killing machines--a small "nuclear weapon" one can carry in a purse or pocket. Capital punishment--judge, jury, and sentence in the palm of your hand. Spoons are, well, they are spoons--an implement designed to aid in eating or portioning out substances. What part of this don't gun people understand?

After the flurry of whacko stuff came a few that, on the surface, make some sense. Fostered by the belief that people who shoot up schools have mental issues, the NRA and other gun rights spokespersons suggested that we need to do a better job of dealing with mental illness in America. That would fix the problem. Great. However, a vast majority of gun people (and this is according to some of their own surveys) advocate for tax cuts and cuts in programs that are designed to expand aid to persons with various spectrum disorders and mental illness. And most of them oppose the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") that seeks to provide healthcare coverage--including therapies for those with mental disorders--for many persons who, otherwise, would not have it. So, the "America needs to deal with mental illness" is a straw-man statement meant to take the spotlight off of the real problem--the rapid proliferation of guns in America and the ease with which a person can buy a gun, including at "roving loopholes" called gun shows.

Another statement you will hear--which sounds sane on the surface--is "We need to enforce the laws on the books." Well, take a look at some of those laws. Of course, you have to go from state to state, because the NRA has succeeded in keeping most laws about guns at the state level. Many of these "laws" are either unenforceable or are clearly inadequate to regulate the myriad ways a person can now buy guns (massive gun shows of the variety we have today, and the Internet, were nonexistent when these laws were passed).

And then there are the "entitlement" philosophies--but not the ones you are thinking about! What I mean is the almost universally prevalent idea that if I have a job and am a "hard-working" American, I should be entitled to all of the services I need without having to pay for them through taxation. These are the people who want "smaller government" and tax cuts until their kid winds up in a declining school system, or their streets need paved, or when they are living on Social Security and a COLA raise is not forthcoming. Many of these same "entitlement" people decry the public assistance and SNAP programs for those who are either not able to work or who can't find a job making enough to live on. Let's face it: There will always be people who never progress beyond a "low skill" ability and who may never be able to have a job beyond the service or hospitalities industries. We need those people and we need those services. Why not pay them a wage they can at least survive on? Or, do we just let them starve? Sorry, I got a little off track here, but I do see a lot of this as related. After all, if I can't keep a job because of a mental disorder and have either no--or poor--healthcare services, but have no problem buying a gun, is this not a recipe for disaster?

This whole scenario is extremely complicated. Solutions will require the best minds, malleable laws, compromise, and funding. We'll not fix any of them--the gun issue or that of mental illness--with trite, nonsense bumper sticker quips.

And, here we still are, in the wake of more senseless gun violence. Of course, the statistics tell us that better than 60% of gun deaths annually are suicides. Hmmm, sounds like mental illness to me. And about 10% are accidental--people who die because a child gets ahold of a parent's unlocked, loaded firearm or in accidental shootings that occur when someone buys a gun and has no idea how to operate it (other than pulling the trigger) or make it safe. [My own nephew could have been killed when a "friend" was eager to show off a new handgun and because he did not understand his own gun, accidentally fired a bullet through my nephew's shoulder, inches from his heart.]

Are there some simple things we can do to address some of these cases? Sure--simple, but not without costs. Here are a few ideas:

1. Create a national, computerized background check system that screens applicants for mental illness (including catching those being treated by psychotropic medications). Persons wishing to buy a handgun would have to sign a waiver permitting this system to access their medical records.

2. Eliminate any exemptions for gun shows or Internet purchases.

3. Require mandatory training about the weapon in question before it can be possessed by the buyer. [A few years ago, my wife and I bought "his" and "hers" identical automobiles a year apart. When we picked up the second vehicle--from the same salesman who sold us the first one--we had to sit through a complete orientation to all of the controls. When I reminded him that we had been driving the exact same car for a year, he said, "I am required to give you this training before you drive the car off the lot." Hmmm.]

4. If a person seeks a concealed carry permit, they again should have to go through the background check AND have a mandatory marksmanship training class at a gun range. [Even the best-trained police officers only hit their intended targets 30% of the time when using a gun in the line of duty, not on the gun range.] Imagine what happens when the untrained open fire--actually, you don't have to imagine, as their are tragic statistics about the "collateral" injuries which result.

"Law-abiding gun owners" should have no problem with these kinds of regulation. There is nothing here that would prevent a mentally stable, law-abiding individual from owning (and even carrying) a gun. When I ran these ideas by a few gun people I know, the immediate reaction was that if we allow more gun regulations, "soon they will be after our guns." No...haven't we had speed limits and traffic laws since the horseless carriage hit the streets, and no one is trying to get our cars, are they?

Now, here's the punchline: If these measures save even 10% of those who currently die in shootings each year, we would save over 3,000 lives! We wear seat belts in our cars because of far fewer fatalities when that law was passed. If you examine the statistics I listed earlier (60% of gun deaths are suicides, 10% are accidental), note that this leaves only 30% of gun deaths that fall into the "criminal" category. And yet, if you listen to the NRA, you would believe that there are two kinds of gun people--law-abiding citizens and criminals. There is a whole third category they miss--victims.

What can we do about this? Begin by writing your public officials. And if they don't listen, vote for new people. Become informed. As people of faith, pray, and work with your church or parish to urge instituting safer gun laws and providing better treatment and care for those with mental illness. If we don't begin to do something, we can just count the days until the next shooting and wring our hands once again about how sad it is.

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...