I don’t subscribe to any kind of television service. As such, I am typically blissfully unaware of the horrible things people have done to each other on any given day. I prefer it this way. On a global scale, there is simply too much violence going on to be able to even focus on it meaningfully. About the best folks can do is offer their prayers, whatever that means.
This past week, my family took a vacation. One of the most novel parts of that trip was a television with cable. While watching said cable, I was forced to witness the aftereffects of two mass shootings, one at a mall and one at an elementary school. Today, I learned of an Arizona school that was evacuated after a cafeteria worker noticed an unidentified gunman on school grounds.
Seeing things like that happening in close geographic proximity to me makes me feel very lucky that my children are too young for school. My fear, though, is that they will eventually get older. This frightening thought has led me to consider the violence of recent days and how they apply to me locally.
When I first heard about the Arizona gunman, the first question that came to mind was “How do they know he’s trying to hurt anyone?” Arizona has very lenient gun laws. If I wanted to, I would be allowed to carry an assault rifle in public. In my city, it is perfectly lawful to carry a firearm into a bar. You can’t smoke there, but you can smoke suckas there.
On January 8, 2011, in Tucson, AZ, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire during a political rally, wounding eighteen people, killing six, and famously shooting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head. Loughner bought his Glock legally. He bought the ammunition legally. He used it illegally to great effect.
There is a lot of talk going around about how gun control laws need to be stricter. And there is just as much about how gun control laws are fine, but we need better mental health care. And there are some people who just think the answer is more lenient gun control laws, including the ability to carry firearms into elementary schools.
It seems crazy to me that the mental health argument and the stricter gun laws argument (I’m not mentioning the looser gun control argument because it’s moronic) are being considered as separate issues. Mental health care is not going to be improved to the point of eliminating violence in anyone’s lifetime. I wholeheartedly believe that is a good path to follow, but it isn’t enough. In the meantime, I would be much more comfortable if gun laws would be made stricter. At least in the interim.
The fact stands that in Arizona, it is easy to get a handgun. You might have to go through a waiting period, but if you are free of felonies, you’ll get it. Handguns and automatic weapons, in my opinion, are the biggest problem. A shotgun or rifle is not easily concealed and requires effort to reload. There’s no ungodly number of rounds per second being discharged. There’s not the ease of storing a dozen clips in one’s pockets. When written, the Second Amendment referred to muskets in a time of social and political unrest. It is mad to think that those same laws should apply to an AK-47. That law that protects your right to own an unreasonable firearm also protects the right of the untreated mentally ill to do the same.
The most often cited argument in the defense of carrying firearms here in Arizona is the right to protect oneself. In the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, no one with a gun saved the day. That duty was left to the frightened woman who luckily grabbed a fallen clip, a guy with a folding chair, and a bleeding Army veteran who pinned the shooter down. That was clearly a case in which the Arizona gun laws worked against the safety of all the individuals present, with the notable exception of the guy who wanted to kill everyone.
It gets yet more personal than that for me. My father was seriously mentally ill. He legally owned guns while being treated for his illness. He owned rifles and handguns. He was known to be violent and ended up taking his own life. I had another person very close to me who was a charter NRA member. He carried his weapons publicly and later died when he engaged in an attempted murder-suicide. Both of their deaths happened this year.
I guess my point is that mental illness is tricky. Some people are good at hiding it. Really good. And even if they’re not, the system often fails. My dad should have been considered a “prohibited possessor” by Arizona state law, but he wasn’t. He didn’t kill anyone, but he very easily could have. Eliminating the right to publicly carry firearms might very well result in fewer shootings. We haven’t tried that yet. This other thing, where any unhinged lunatic can carry the firepower necessary to end my life in a second? Yeah, that’s not working. As evidenced by the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, it’s all a matter of chance. Being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time. It clearly is not necessary to use a gun to bring down a gunman. In fact, opening fire in a public place, even if you’re aiming at someone who is trying to kill people, is almost as dangerous as being the nefarious gunman yourself.
So, yes. By all means, fix the mental health care problem. But don’t forget that a significant amount of time exists between the start of that effort and its conclusion.