Right to Bear Arms vs Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness
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America doesn’t feel so safe anymore.

The school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, has left three teens dead and their families devastated. The alleged killer has forever altered his life and the lives of those whom he killed and injured, and countless others. Sending one’s child to school used to feel like a safe thing to do. Not anymore.

Frank Ochberg, in an article on CNN’s web page entitled Why Does America Lead the World in School Shootings,” concludes that there are a number of factors leading to primarily boys going into schools with guns, including bullying and revenge, mental illness, violent role models, drugs and access to guns. (see http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/28/why-does-america-lead-the-world-in-school-shootings/?hpt=hp_c1) But Ochberg says that such problems exist in other countries as well. Why is America leading the pack, and why doesn’t it feel safe anymore, not like it used to?

I remember growing up in Detroit, I had no fear. Particularly annoying would be guys talking with their friends in the middle of a side street; one friend would be in his car and the other friend would be hanging onto the open window of the driver’s side. The two would be chatting as if nobody else in the world existed. You could honk your horn and, though the two buddies wouldn’t move immediately, you didn’t have to worry that they would pull out a gun and blow your brains out.

That’s not the case anymore. There seems to be unrestrained, wild anger amongst people, anger which people either cannot or do not want to contain. Rather than deal with their anger, more and more people reach for a gun.

It’s troubling that that seems to be the modus operandi in general, but the fact that kids have so much anger and despair that even they resort to gun violence makes a tenuous situation even more frightening. A child (and yes, a 17-year-old is a child) presumably doesn’t have the control that an adult has, nor does he or she really understand the repercussions of what they are doing. Kids generally have less fear as well, because it seems that it is life that provides us the experiences that makes our fear so solid. Kids have lived fewer years, and so have had fewer opportunities for carmelized fear…but the experiences they have had, it seems, has wrecked them to their very souls.

When I was young, a fist fight was the way to handle conflict. Not anymore. It makes me shudder to think that many people, especially kids and young adults, are carrying concealed weapons, because it’s legal to do so. Cell phones have made it so that we do not have much privacy anymore; the ready and easy access to guns have made it so that we do not have the luxury of feeling as safe as we once did.

Ironically, incidents like the Chardon High School shooting, or the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings, do not make the outcry for more restrictions on guns in this country louder; no, the defense of the right to bear arms becomes more tenacious, because violence brings with it the fear of more violence. People look on mass shootings as evidence that there needs to be more access to guns, not less.

I refuse to enter into that argument, but what I am concerned with is that we are missing something early on. We are not learning, and therefore are not teaching, effective ways to handle conflict. Nor are we paying attention to a malady which is as prevalent as is heart disease or cancer: mental and emotional illness. In Ochberg’s article, he mentions schizophrenia and depression as being major mental illnesses that we pay way too little attention to, to our own detriment.  Nobody wants to admit that they don’t feel so good in their spirits or in their minds, and so they go on being sick, and doing things that only a sick person would do – like shooting someone because he or she offended, betrayed, bullied or ignored you.

My hunch is that T.J.Lane, who will remain in custody pending his trial for a triple murder, has been sick and tormented for a long, long time. My hunch is that he gave signs but that nobody paid attention, or, if they noticed, ignored what they saw.  My hunch is also that there are a lot of kids “out there” who are angry, depressed, lost, alienated and scared…and who would, if given the chance, do just what T.J. Lane did, or worse.

I doubt we will ever gain serious ground against those who defend the right to bear arms, but we had really better let go of our inexcusable fear of mental and emotional illness. It is a problem our society cannot afford to ignore – especially since the right to bear arms is a right that some hold more dear, it seems, than the need to take care of our sick. If we don’t open our eyes and our minds, I doubt that America will ever feel safe again.

A candid observation

Are Kids Trying to Tell Us Something?

We must be doing something wrong as a society.

Today a young teen was shot and killed and four others shot and injured by another teen at Chardon High School, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. The alleged shooter is a young man named T.J. Lane who reportedly went into the high school’s cafeteria a little after 7 a.m. and began shooting. Young Lane was said by newscasters to have had a “lot of resentment.”

Only he knows why he is so unhappy. One student at the high school who knows him said he comes from a broken home, but that he was “quiet and nice.” Then whatever happened? For how long has this young man been unhappy or mad or sad, and nobody noticed?

There seem to be a couple of issues in these types of situations: first, a young person is sad or unhappy and either nobody notices or nobody cares. Depression among young people is high, but very often, teens are ignored and their depression or other serious mental imbalance is regarded as “normal,” if unpleasant, behavior for teens. There still is no clear understanding why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 13 classmates in the horrendous shooting at Columbine High School in 1999.  Investigators say they had not been bullied, a common reason given for teen violence, but clearly, something was wrong. Those two young men were not happy.

Neither is there much understanding as to why Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. Apparently the young man showed signs of being disturbed and unhappy, but few took him seriously.

Whatever the reasons for these horrible shootings, a second thing that seems to keep coming up is that young people seem to think that violence is the way to handle their pain. They must be learning that from us older people,  who too frequently resort to violence as well. How many times have we heard that children will do what you do before they will do what you say? It seems fruitless to tell a child or young person not to be violent when they see adults resort to violence all too often.

Not only, however, do the kids direct their violence toward others; too often, they turn the violence on themselves as well.

Something is very wrong.

It seems that people in general are violent, notwithstanding belief in God, a Constitution, or “family values.” America‘s history is peppered with violence, from the time the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Diplomacy and fairness do not seem to be favored or respected ways of handling conflict; violence, on the other hand, has had a prominent role in conflict management from the beginning.

“Drive-by shootings” were commonplace way before now; in pioneer days, gunfights were common and during Prohibition, gangsters made drive-by shootings almost romantic. Elliot Ness and others were romanticized for their conquests taken by and through violence.

The point is that it seems that we have taught our children that the way to handle our pain is by eliminating “the enemy.” How many of the kids who have gone into schools, shooting, or disgruntled employees who have done the same, have voiced discontent with the way they have been treated by others? Violence is often the last resort of people who feel powerless. Ending someone’s life, or seriously hurting them fills that void…or does it really?

I don’t think young Mr. Lane feels all that powerful now. He has destroyed his life and taken the life of at least one other young person. We older people, I think, need to stop and think. Perhaps we are failing as mentors and leaders and advisors for too many young people, who are struggling with problems of self-esteem and self-love, and who are on a path of self-destruction.

I cannot imagine the pain of the parents of the young man who left home this morning for school, only to die a senseless and tragic death. My hope is that we can learn something before something like this happens again. Violence doesn’t bring a sense of power to one who feels powerless.It only brings pain and, too often, a desire for revenge.

Enough, already.

A candid observation.