Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fear, Guns and Mental Health

I often get ranty, but mainly about rampant stupidity in the publishing industry, and I rarely get political. This time is the exception.

Like pretty much everyone else in this country, I was horrified by what happened at Sandy Hook. I'm a parent who took my kid out of public school. One of the reasons? He was getting beat up on a weekly basis for being the wrong skin color. I was terrified that things would escalate.

Before I start, I'll tell you right now--I don't have the answers. But I think we need to be asking ourselves some pretty serious questions.

There's been a lot of talk about teachers carrying weapons in schools. Yesterday, I posted the photo above on my Facebook page for two reasons:

1) My cousin Marie is a retired police officer. I roomed with her in D.C. back in the '80's when it was the murder capital of the U.S. She taught me a hell of a lot about self-protection and being aware of your surroundings. She also worked undercover for both of Reagan's inaugural balls. We've had several talks about the difference in attitude of the Secret Service between the 1981 and the 1985 balls, not to mention how you can't buy an off-the-rack ballgown with easy access to a sidearm.

2) The picture points out how many trained men with weapons surrounded Reagan. Yet, a lone nutcase managed to shoot four people with explosive bullets before an unarmed civilian wrestled him to the ground.

My comment on the picture I posted on Facebook: All I'm saying is after meeting some of Genius Kid's public school teachers I wouldn't trust them with a butter knife.

Needless to say, I had a troll leave a comment less than an hour and a half later, making factually inaccurate statements about the Reagan assassination attempt. When I pointed out that it wasn't an armed person who stopped Hinckley, but an unarmed one, the troll got really nasty.

I don't mind spirited debate. I usually learn something. But this wasn't a debate. The troll didn't even offer an alternate solution to the actual conversation I and another follower were having--arming public school teachers. He simply wanted to argue.

Which brings me to my real concerns:

A) The culture of fear deliberately generated in this country.

The reasons for it are many and varied, but it comes down to power. By generating the fear, the person manipulates you into giving them your power. It's not much different than being in a psychologically abusive relationship. These types say that everyone is out to get you but him, and only he can protect/save you.

Are there dangers in our society? Yes. I'm not naive enough to think there aren't. Hell, I had two assholes try to either rob or kidnap me and GK on fucking Easter Sunday of all times. I had a date try to rape me in college. I'm cautious, but I'm not living my life in fear.

B) The gun culture.

I grew up with guns. Everyone I knew had guns. When I was in high school, it wasn't unusual for classmates to have hunting rifles in their pick-ups during deer season so they could hit the fields and woods as soon as classes let out.

We had a new principal my senior year of high school who was from Cleveland. He freaked about unloaded rifles in the kids' trucks. But as the school superintendent explained to him, we were farmers, not gangbangers. We were taught to respect firearms.

And we did. We never pointed a gun at a person. If one of the parents caught us doing something stupid, all they'd have to say was, "Do you want to end up like Mike. B.?" Yes, Mike B. actually managed to shoot himself in the eye when we were in grade school.

Needless to say, most of my family are avid hunters, too. Deer, ducks, bear, you name it. The first time DH came to my parents' farm, he reached into the freezer for ice cream, but pulled out a Ziploc baggie with one of my brother's rabbit carcasses and said, "What the hell is this?"

Marie wasn't the only one who carried a handgun. Uncle Ray, her father, was a police officer, too, after he served in Germany during WWII. Another great-uncle served in the Pacific theater. Both my FIL and two other uncles fought in Korea. Marie's brother was drafted for the Vietnam War. Another cousin was a lifer in the Air Force. Only sheer luck kept him in Hawaii when Desert Shield was launched, but he saw other things that I'm not supposed to know about. A third cousin has done three tours in Iraq with the Marines.

Again, gun safety was paramount. None of them took a weapon lightly. They'd seen the results first hand.

But I've also seen the dark side. A close friend of my dad's swallowed a bullet. He'd had problems with depression for years. The same with the dad of my Air Force cousin. That uncle borrowed a target pistol from a friend, saying he needed to kill a ground hog that was tearing up his garden. He took the gun down to his basement, and well, you can guess the rest. According to my mom, the really sad part is this uncle rarely hunted with the rest of the male family members because he said he was afraid of guns.

Which brings me to...

C) The abyssmal state of mental health care in the United States.

The Reagan assassination attempt, Sandy Hook, the Aurora theater, Virginia Tech. In nearly every mass shooting incident, the perpetrator has been mentally ill.

Many people who need mental health care fail to seek it because of the stigma in our society. Because of that same stigma, research into its causes and medications is a drop in the bucket compared to physical illnesses. And those people that find the courage to get help often cannot pay for it, either because they're uninsured or if they are, they insurance carrier won't cover the full cost of treatment.

So what's the answer?

Maybe we start by supporting more research into mental illness. Maybe we start by mandating background checks on ALL prospective gun buyers, including health records. Maybe we need to support our family members in seeking help if we suspect there's a serious problem. Maybe we stop listening to pundits who only want to cause problems and panic instead of seeking solutions.

Maybe we need to stop taking life and death so lightly. I wonder if some of these commenters on the internet have ever seen the light go out in a living creature's eyes. I wonder if they're hurting inside and don't know how to find help. I wonder at times how the human race has survived this long with the hate I see spewing from all sides.

I don't think there's any one answer to this problem because there's not any one cause. But if we don't start looking for real solutions now, I fear things are only going to get worse.


  1. Wow...this was an Awesome post, Suzan! I feel the same way, just couldn't put it into words. Scared and frustrated are the only two I could come up with. LOL Quit the "Blame Game" and work to find a solution to fix the real problem. And you're right, I think it has alot to do with really caring for and about others.

    1. The "Blame Game" is running pretty rampant, right now, isn't it, Melissa?

      Some of the proposed new laws aren't going to stop someone like Adam Lanza from taking his mother's guns.

      Taking away all guns isn't the answer either. Timothy McVeigh performed a spectacular act of carnage with fertilizer, and Al-Quaida used box cutters.

      The knee-jerk reactions from both sides without analyzing the situations is incredibly frustrating as you pointed out.

  2. I agree that mental health is a key factor that the people lining up on either side of the gun battle rarely talk about. Health care in the US is abysmal in general, and it's even worse when it comes to mental health. I've been inside that system, when I had a fresh scar on my wrist and no income, and I'll tell you, the hospital (really a small holding tank) where I spent the night couldn't kick me out the door fast enough the next day. And when I stopped seeing my P-doc after several years of no real results (none of the many meds we'd tried on me worked very well) and an argument about something else, his office didn't even call to see if I wanted to make another appointment, much less send out the cops/ambulance/whatever to my house, the way they always seem to on TV when someone being treated for a mental disorder disappears from their doctor's sight. The reality is, nobody cares unless you're actively homicidal or suicidal, right then and there, even if you have insurance, which I did when I was seeing my P-doc, but didn't at the earlier point of crisis.

    You're right about the stigma being part of it. The lack of funding and research. And the simple unavailability of care for people who need it most, who are often unable to hold down jobs, much less afford insurance. The public mental health clinics barely have enough resources to bandage the sucking chest wounds, to use an image from the physical side. Anything else? Forget it, they can't afford to care.

    Until we fix this part of the problem, focusing on the guns isn't going to help us solve the problem of the lone whack-jobs who suddenly blow a socket and start killing people wholesale.


    1. *sigh* I really wish I could say I'm surprised by your experience, Angie.

      And even when the family wants to do something, sometimes they can't without putting a third party's life in danger. We're in the middle of that one with a family member.

      Or the legal channels are too onerous to help. I've got a friend who finally got custody of his son back from the bipolar ex who was abusing the kid. He's beating himself up over not fighting harder for custody during the original divorce.

      But like you say, until the killing starts, no one has the strength, money, or authority to do something.

  3. until the killing starts, no one has the strength, money, or authority to do something

    Exactly. But somehow we, as a society, can find ten or a hundred times the resources to clean up the (literally) bloody mess after the person who didn't get help explodes. It's crazy thinking, but it's SOP in this country today. [sigh]