Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thoughts and prayers won’t end the violence

Another school shooting. Another round of "thoughts and prayers".

That doesn't cut it. Never has. Never will.

Even Jesus Christ knew that prayers weren't enough. So, he went out and boldly changed people and took on the norms.

That's what we have to do. We have to fix broken people and broken systems.

Yet, why haven’t we? Standing idly by while kids continue to get butchered is a sign of a dysfunctional society….one as broken as the minds and souls of the perpetrators of these crimes.  

The 1999 Columbine massacre and its 13 dead should have been a wake-up call. It wasn’t.

Neither was the Sandy Hook incident in 2012, even though 20 of the 26 killed were children aged 6 or 7.  Innocent, cheery children were gunned down in a place that is supposed to be safe, in a country that is supposed to be safe.

It happened again in Parkland, Florida, last week. All those prayers that were tossed around after Sandy Hook did absolutely nothing to save those students and their teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

It’s time for action. It’s been time for action.

It starts with an improved semblance of gun control.    

This is coming from someone for whom guns are a part of his everyday life. As I write this column, I have a pistol next to me that is used for defense of myself and others. In a few hours I will be eating a lunch the meat of which was provided through the use of a gun.

But guns shouldn't be part of everyday life for all Americans. There are an incredible number of mentally unstable people out there, many more on the fringes of instability, and others who have committed heinous acts of domestic violence or are battling life-changing addictions.

They shouldn’t have guns. They shouldn’t be granted pistol permits. And, they shouldn’t be allowed to purchase any long guns. Period.

Yet they are getting them. In almost all cases with school shootings the weapons were acquired legally. The universal background check obviously isn’t working.

We’re getting to the point now that every gun owner should be certified with a more detailed background checks – including mental health evaluations -- and the related installation of red flags that prevent that person from purchasing and owning weapons if something is wrong.

As I look at the plight of America, I don't mind being "inconvenienced" by a background check or evaluation if, one, it allows me and the vast majority of sane gun owners to keep our firearms rather than losing all of our rights wholesale because of the murderers and, two, it keeps crazy people away from guns and from massacring innocent children and adults.

But, this is about more than guns.

It’s about people, too.

Why do people do these evil things? How are their hearts and minds so devoid of light and love that this is the escape? How many people harbor those feelings and desires and have never acted upon those thoughts? How did they get to that point?

The answers, quite simply, are that they aren’t getting the help they need nor are we offering it to them.

Our modern medical system treats mental illness, especially the hardest cases, like the so-called redheaded stepchild. New hospitals and health campuses are being erected across the country at spectacular rates (look at the acres of splendor assembled at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus) and they are being handsomely funded by taxpayer dollars, but the focus is always on physical health. No one is interested in making multi-bed facilities for the most mentally ill.

It doesn’t help that in the 1970s it became the in-thing to close institutions once known as “insane asylums” due to a rash of such organizations mistreating their patients and the continued development of psychiatric drugs (never mind that those drugs create their own problems).

Sure, there were plenty of real world examples of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” but many hospitals did wonders in helping get people cured or giving them a consistent, comfortable environment in which they could manage their illnesses and their lives.

Mental health experts say there is a 95 percent decline in mental hospital beds since 1960, even though there are many more people who deserve that level of help.

So, where are all these people who need such help now?

They’re out there. Walking the streets.

It shouldn’t be that way. Public health policy should be about curing and helping the whole person. But it’s not. We need to help the sick – all of the sick -- which, in turn, helps society. Ignore them, and you hurt them….and potentially every one of us.

A little gun control and a lot of psychology and psychiatry can go a long ways in fixing what ails America. It’s worth it if parents like me know we can send our kids to school with some understanding that they’ll be safe…and that we will be able to see them again after the final bell rings.

From the 19 February 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News   

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