As a parent, I am both saddened and angry over the tragic gun related deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary. Any senseless death is troubling, but when kids are murdered at such a young age, it goes beyond belief and we can only look to the heavens and ask why Lord? Yet, as tragic as all of these deaths are, a greater tragedy occurs everyday in America that when added up dwarf these deaths. Due to the accessibility of guns in our country, coupled with humans who get angry, impulsive and depressive, gun related deaths occur that could have been avoided if the guns were not at hand.
In August, I wrote a post called “Another Day on America – 16-year old kills 13-year old friend.” This post was written after the Aurora and Wisconsin shootings that occurred earlier this year. This post has been getting more hits of late, as it attempts to speak to this broader context. I would encourage you to scroll back and read the earlier post as I have some statistics that might be of interest. I will cite some of them below.
I am writing this now for two reasons. First, we can no longer tolerate the number of gun deaths we have in America. We are beyond the tipping point and must act. Second, some of the ideas thrown out to remedy the Sandy Hook type massacres will actually not solve that problem and will create far greater problems down the road. We have to look at the greater context at what is happening everyday in America.
Let’s set the stage with a couple of statistics noted earlier. Per the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery and Medicine, the United States has:
– 80% of all gun related deaths when measuring deaths in the top 23 wealthiest nations;
– 87% of all gun related children deaths of these same 23 countries; and
– 14 gun related deaths per 100,000 people as compared to Mexico with 13, Canada with 4 and Great Britain with 1/2;
The comparison to Canada is very pertinent as Canadians love their guns like Americans. Yet, we have over 3x the gun related deaths that they do. There are many reasons noted in the earlier post – but Canada has better gun laws, less poverty and better access to mental health care as three of the reasons.
Quoting the NRA who likes to pontificate “guns don’t kill people – people kill people” I find this trivializes the point. The more true phrase is people who have access to guns kill people. And, generally, the converse is true – people who do not have access to guns don’t kill people. The greater context to this issue is humans are an impulsive, imperfect lot. As noted earlier, we get angry with family, friends, acquaintances, enemies and people who we perceive as treating us with disrespect. Every day in America, someone has killed another person as he or she has acted impulsively and was in close proximity to a weapon. Someone got mad in a Pizza parlor the other day, went out to his car, retrieved a gun, went back inside and killed the person who offended him.
However, it goes beyond this. In my previous job, I sometimes consulted with a Behavioral Psychologist who helped employers provide improved mental health benefits in their healthcare plans for employees. She often cited two statistics that resonated with me – 20% of people will at some point in their lives have mental health issues needing treatment. At any given time, 10% of an employer’s healthcare plan participants will be accessing mental healthcare treatment. This treatment may be as simple as being prescribed with antidepressants or it may include ongoing therapy. Her modus operandi was to get people with antidepressants prescribed by a medical doctor to also see a therapist. The meds help, but the care by a professional psycho-therapist is crucial.
With access to guns, people who have been or are subject to depression, could act on an impulse and take their own life. Or, if affronted, could possibly take the lives of others. This is a key reason letting kids have guns on college campuses is about the dumbest idea possible. You marry complex social circumstances with kids being away from home and without fully developed brains, the kids could more easily act out an impulse and their life is over.Without the gun, the suicide may be avoided. I know of one college close to where I live that has allowed guns on campus. So, the outside chance of preventing a rare Virginia Teach shooting, may lead to more gun related suicides and homicides.
So, our leaders need to focus on the bigger context. We know where the NRA stands – they want to sell more guns. Everything else said by the NRA is dwarfed by that mission. People wanting to arm everyone should be thanked for their comments and then quickly ignored as those ideas are ill-conceived. You give a teacher a gun and I can assure there will be more children deaths due to kids finding a loaded gun in the classroom. In Gun Ownership 101 it says keep loaded guns away from the kids.
At its simplest, getting a license for owning a weapon that kills, should be harder to obtain than other licenses. Gun licensing needs to have a longer waiting period and thorough background checks should occur. To do otherwise is irresponsible, end of story. If you are under psychiatric care on meds, you need to bring a note from a psychiatrist or psychologist or no gun for you. We won’t let people in the military for some mental health reasons, but they can get a gun here. And, no one in America should have an automatic assault weapon. If you do and are not in law enforcement, then I question your motivations. The Brady Law which was let to expire in 2004 will address some of these issues, if reinstated. Yet, law enforcement officers have suggested another item that will reduce guns deaths – register the sale of bullets. The police say encoded bullets will become traceable and help solve crimes, yet the NRA is against this practice. If I were a leader, I would listen to my police force who does not have a vested interest in any decision.
However, as noted above, this is only half of the story. The other half is we must encourage better access to mental health care. If you are on meds prescribed by a MD, please go see a psycho-therapist, as well. A Medical Doctor is not trained in psychiatry or psychology. Further, please take your meds. This could be said about any medicine, but people in need often stop taking their meds to save money. The Affordable Care Act will help in this regard extending healthcare coverage. Finally, referencing the 20% mental health prevalence statistic noted above, please help eliminate the stigma around mental healthcare issues. Every family has or knows someone who needs recurring mental healthcare help. Living with mental illness is something that is and can be dealt with.
Let me conclude with two final contextual points. First, poverty is rampant in America with almost 50 million people in poverty. As a result, the opportunities for gun related crime are increased in America. This issue is complex and deserves its own post, but the distance between the haves and have nots in our country is not healthy for many reasons. We have to afford opportunities to work for reasonable pay.
Second, we have a more violent culture in the US than in other countries. We have far more violence in movies and TV and we have greater access to violent video games. This prevalence of exposure to violence in entertainment is highly correlated with gun deaths. Is it causal? More than likely. To demonstrate a point for the younger readers, in the 1970’s TV crime shows rarely ended with the death of the criminal – the criminal was taken off to jail. Yet, toward the end of that decade, the trend changed where the shows concluded more and more with the good guy killing the bad guy. Now, we have video games, where your character is the bad guy killing others.
This is a complex issue and deserves concerted attention. Yet, it also requires a focus on the greater context. Who, where, why and how are the gun deaths occurring across America? As tragic as the events of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Wisconsin, and Virginia Tech are, they are dwarfed by the many gun related deaths which occur every day in America. That has to be the focus of our mission to reduce gun related deaths.