What the Hell

What the Hell

Friday, October 23, 2015

Gun Control, Civil Rights and the World We Live In

This afternoon someone I know is spearheading a campaign to push for dialogue and action towards solving the "guns in schools" problem, beginning with a rally in downtown Seattle.  Hard to believe that it has become commonplace for us to turn on the news and hear about yet ANOTHER school shooting (elementary, middle, high school, college....it matters not) in which there have been fatalities from some crazed gunman.  And I do mean crazed.....mental illness is at the root of this problem.

That said, there should be restrictions on guns in people's homes; i.e. laws that require proper storage (in a locked cabinet) to prevent the senseless shootings you hear about between siblings who don't know any better, not to mention REAL CONVERSATIONS (between parents who own guns and the children who are fascinated by them) about how to properly and safely use them, how to manage one's more volatile emotions like anger, and how dangerous both of these can be given the right (or in this case, WRONG) circumstances.

But how about passing laws that make it mandatory for anyone who has a mentally ill person living with them (often these people have already been diagnosed and/or received treatment, or refused treatment) to disclose that information to the neighborhood and school where he/she attends (if applicable) through a state or county-maintained database, much like as done with sex offenders?  Oh, I know, I know.....this violates the mentally ill person's right to privacy and all that.  Well, it certainly does.  However, there are times in any civilized society in which one person's (or group's for that matter) civil rights are violated in the interest of public safety.  There are also times when one's civil rights need to be suspended to respect a more basic civil right of someone else....but since there seems to be no one with enough sense of decency and respect for others to determine when to do this, it just doesn't happen.  For example, your right to carry a handgun if there is any documented reason to suspect you might be a danger to others (AND THESE DO EXIST) is superceded by someone else's right to LIFE.  

Being a diagnosed depressive myself, I have always been up front about the fact and find it extraordinarily stupid to hide it.  I would expect no less of myself if I fell into such categories as  Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or other similar  in the DSM (that's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for the unaware).  You see, depressives don't go around killing other people; they kill themselves, but there are other types of mental illness that don't just represent a danger to the person who has them.  The two should be treated differently.  And understood differently.  

The so called "Extreme Protection Bill" that was defeated in Washington state earlier this year was a step in the right direction....and yet.....  It did not adequately address the role that mental illness plays in these events.  Yes, there are all sorts of good reasons to deny an individual's access to firearms.  Not that these will affect those who obtain guns illegally,but it's a start.  There was a clause BURIED in the bill that would allow for the right to gun ownership to be denied (temporarily, to be reinstated upon re-consideration and further review) to those who have been INVOLUNTARILY sent to a mental health facility.  Well, DUH....that's a no-brainer.  But let's go farther than that....say, anyone diagnosed with such a disorder that could possibly make them a danger to someone else, who refuses treatment or refuses to take prescribed medications would be reported to authorities, and it would be against the law NOT to report them.  Are you hearing me, parents of seriously mentally ill children, whatever their age?  And how about legislation that requires a school to:  a) advise the family of a student acting in a manner that may indicate an undiagnosed serious condition which could potentially endanger him or herself or others, to seek professional help for him or her  or else b) notify the authorities? 

There is much heated debate on this issue.  Those who support the right to bear arms feel that any restrictions on gun ownership are the "slippery slope" to the eventual federal government disarming of ALL of its citizens.  This is not even sensible.  Nor is it a valid argument.  The likelihood of that happening is so remote that it does not in any way make it acceptable to do NOTHING about these senseless deaths.   The aforementioned Extreme Protection Bill is a beginning, but it is not enough.  

There is one more factor in these killings.  It is a crucial truth found in human nature.  The need to know the most horrible of thing....the impulse that makes a person want to see what has happened at the scene of a horrific traffic accident, slowing down traffic to a crawl....or makes otherwise sensible people rush to the scene of a fire or any disaster; not to help, but to get a good look.  This is the basic human impulse which our media feeds like dry tender to a fire.  Yes, it sells to focus on the negative and most disturbing events for our news, but does that make it a good idea?  Yes, we need to stay informed about what is going on within reason.  But the FOCUS on such events as these school shootings AD NAUSEUM by the press is not geared towards finding a solution, or even towards understanding what happened.  It is about readership and the amount of attention these stories get.

But there is a tragic consequence to this focus.  It gives these seriously psychotic individuals what they want.  Which is notariety, or infamy if you will.   One thing that any depressed person will tell you (and I suspect it is the same in other mental disorders as well) is that when you feel at your absolute worst and become suicidal, there are usually two lines of thinking that go through your mind.  The first, that you will do anything to get the pain and mental anguish to stop.  And second, the delusion that either a) your loved ones and everyone left behind will be better off with you gone, or b) they'll be sorry they didn't listen/treat your better/etc, etc.  The last one is often the motivation for the rampage.  And anticipating the publicity they KNOW they will receive afterward (even though they are not living to see it) gives them the sense of vindication they crave and is reward enough.  There is also the even worse danger of some other unhinged individual out there seeing all the attention that was focused on this event, and being inspired to do something similar on their own.  IT HAPPENS, PEOPLE.  They call these unfortunate individuals copycats for a reason. 

So, tragically, I see no reason why these horrible events won't keep occurring; given that human nature being what it is, people do not want to give up or even partly restrict what they see as their "rights," and are also (with good reason, given the litigious times we live in) extremely afraid to be seen as restricting the rights of someone else who they don't think they can beat in court.  People also don't want to give up the cheap thrill that our sensationalist media gives us by going over these events OVER AND OVER AGAIN, feeding our insatiable appetite for the gory details, regardless of the results.  I won't even attempt to address the desensitization to violence that occurs as a result of viewing the ridiculous amounts of it being portrayed in movies, books and TV.  Well, at least not in this post.  I admire those who still think human beings have enough goodness in their souls to band together for real change, but I just don't see it happening.  But in this case, I REALLY do hope that I'm wrong.