I thought more than twice about writing this post. On Saturday I told The Cyclist I had to write about this. Instead, on Monday I told you what I would be eating for Christmas dinner. But I can't escape the fact that something needs to be said. Not because it hasn't already been said, but because if enough of us keep saying it, maybe something will change.
I was sitting at my company Christmas lunch in San Francisco on Friday texting with The Cyclist when he broke the news. A gunman had entered an elementary school in Connecticut and killed 20 children.
I wished he hadn't told me.
I continued about my day, finishing shopping and catching a movie with my co-workers, but all day it floated around in the back of my head. As soon as we got on the bus to go home, I started searching the news on my phone. It made me sick to my stomach. I couldn't sleep.
I know that nobody will be able to help me understand how or why someone could do this. Even if they could, I don't think I would want to know. But left in the wake of this tragedy are two giant red flags for our society: assault weapons and mental illness.
I really don't know anything about guns. I don't have one, I don't want one. I have shot one. I am respectful of them and the power they contain. I don't necessarily think they should be illegal. I appreciate that there are hunters who use guns for sport and law enforcement officers who use guns for their jobs. And, although I personally wouldn't choose to have a gun for protection, I understand why some people would choose that.
Here is what I don't understand. What is the purpose of an assault weapon? The shooter in Connecticut had three or four guns, including two pistols (a Glock and a Sig Sauer) and a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle (source). It appears the rifle is the gun he used at the school. It shoots 6 rounds per second (source). Six rounds per second. It is said he had many "high-capacity clips" (source). I am having trouble understanding exactly how many bullets these things can hold at once, but as far as I can tell it's up to 30 (source). Assuming that is what he used, in as little as 5 seconds, he could fire 30 rounds.
And the shooting lasted for 3 minutes.
So again I ask, what is the purpose of an assault rifle? I am not asking to be snide or ironic. I really want to know. I don't see a deer hunter using a gun like this. I don't even know if they are available to law enforcement. Are they? The articles say they are used in the military. But why would the average person have a need for this type of gun? The only reason I can come up with is for collection and/or entertainment/target practice (?). If this is the case, is it really worth it?
Is it really worth it?
Have you ever thought about all of the laws we have surrounding vehicle safety, compared to the lack of laws we have surrounding gun safety? Did it occur to anyone else that a man with a bomb in his shoe who didn't kill a single soul changed security at all of the airports in the world? We took him seriously, why aren't we taking gun control seriously?
I understand some people buy assault weapons citing personal safety. If you really think you need an assault weapon for your personal safety, please explain to me why....and when you're done I'm going to ask you again, is it really worth it?
Beyond assault weapons, the other red flag here is mental illness. Mental illness is taboo in our country. We don't talk about it. We aren't supposed to talk about it. Things like that should be "taken care of at home". The plain fact is, mental illness affects many of us. With the right treatment, some mentally ill people can be productive members of society. There is one guarantee about mental illness and that is if we keep pretending it doesn't exist, we can expect more of this to happen.
Unfortunately the care is lacking, especially for those who can't afford it. Mental illness is a real thing. If we continue to ignore it, tragedies like these will not only continue to happen, they will get worse. If you have not read I am Adam Lanza's Mother, you should. What would you do with a mentally ill child? As parents, we should ask ourselves this. Would we be as brave as this woman to drop her child off at a mental hospital because she takes his threats seriously? Or would it be easier to look the other way? Cast it off as teenage behavior?
As I sit here, I don't want to pass judgement on the real Adam Lanza's mother. But when I read articles like this one, in which Adam Lanza's aunt, Marsha Lanza is quoted saying, "if he had needed consulting, she would have gotten it, Nancy wasn't one to deny reality", it just, stops me. This quote is in the same article that says Nancy Lanza warned a babysitter not to turn his back on Adam, that she had to go to his school to diffuse "situations" with him and, most disturbingly, the account from a friend who says Adam was "clearly a troubled child" but also says his mother "told him she introduced guns to Adam as a way to teach him responsibility". Of course, this is just a compilation of quotes from random people in an article. They could be untrue. But the quote from Adam Lanza's aunt gives me the chills. Clearly this boy needed counseling of some kind prior to the shooting ever happening. Clearly.
What is the solution? I sorry but I don't have one. The best thing I can come up with is to pay attention. When and where you have the opportunity to make a positive change with regard to gun laws, do it. Trust your gut. Know your children. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Don't be afraid to say this isn't OK. And most importantly, none of us should allow this to slide by as just another shooting incident.
The 20 little kids who died last Friday deserve better than that. So does every other victim who came before them.