A few further thoughts on guns and violence
Much has been said about the idea that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and that therefore it’s really a question of dealing with mental illness.
As it happens, I used to work with paranoid schizophrenics back in Massachusetts, and in my experience they were far more apt to hurt or kill themselves than anyone else. Once in a blue moon, sure, someone would harm a “normal” person but, statistically at least, they are getting a bad rap in the press.
What’s true is that, more often than not, emotionally unstable people seem to be the perpetrators of mass killings. And when you’re talking about instability you are suddenly including a much wider swath of the American public.
All of us experience instability at one time or another; all teenagers and young adults, for example, are on an emotional rollercoaster over which they have no control; they just have to grow out of it. Fortunately, most of them do. But common sense, often written into law, tells us it’s not smart to let a teenage imbibe alcohol or marry or drive a car before a certain age. Why? Because they’re unstable.
It’s also likely that anyone who loses the love of their life or gets booted out of their job or home is temporarily unstable and prone to poor decision-making. A very few of them may return to their former place of employment or the evicting bank, pull out a gun and wreck havoc. We’ve seen it so often that it’s not even front page news anymore.
The horror of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School will be examined from all angles, and it should be. And hopefully, the government will have the courage to pass laws mandating background checks and waiting periods and measures that limit assault rifles and ammunition clips.
And yes, mental illness is a topic that requires much more of our attention. But we also have a responsibility to exercise some common sense as a society. We aren’t helpless; there are simple things we can do.
For example, I believe that if you have a teenager in the house it would be prudent not to also have a gun in the same house. Or, if you must have a gun, for God’s sake lock it up in a safe or at least render it inoperable until a rational, responsible adult intervenes.
I say this not because all teenagers are likely to go crazy and act out, but because in this country we now have a grim record, a history of violence, that far exceeds the rest of the planet. Why take a chance?
Those two kids at Columbine were not certifiably insane; they were unstable, loners, troubled, lost in their own world surely, but there are lots of people like that walking around the halls of our high schools right now.
And the young man who decimated all those people in the Aurora movie theater was, by all reports, a very bright, high functioning, though detached, individual.
I don’t know all the facts about Newtown, Conn., but I suspect that the shooter there was not all that different.
The point I’m trying to make is, you can’t lock people up in this country for being weird. That’s a good thing. And meanwhile, guns are here, and guns are not going to magically disappear any time soon.
So if we want to mitigate gun violence, we have to start being responsible for one another. We can no longer afford to live as strangers. We, as a society, have to take precautions when we find ourselves in the presence of unstable individuals. If we don’t, there may not be much society left to protect.
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Andy Weinberger is a resident of Sonoma and proprietor of Readers’ Books.