Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Irresponsible Words, Mental Illness, and Guns Get Together

During the election last fall, there were those who seemed to feel that our country is in such bad shape that "second amendment remedies" might be needed. Others targeted those they wanted to defeat with images of cross-hairs. Since the horrific tragedy in Arizona, those who followed such expressions have quickly gone on the defensive to say "that's not what they meant and their words should not be blamed for anything that a nut-case decided to do." I will accept their quick reaction and say that I do not believe that's what they meant. But what did they mean with those words and images?

Words really do have consequences. Every day we use them to convince, persuade, even intimidate, if necessary. Words are a remarkable gift we have for good or ill. Use them consistently on a theme for a period of time and they will burn like acid into someone's mind and who, if that mind is twisted, will eventually act on the implied suggestion.

Now we have calls for more gun control. This urging has its moment for a short time after such a tragedy, but seems to quickly die. We are a country in love with our guns. If guns were used only for self-defense, hunting, and sport, the legs of the anti-control arguement might stand a bit stronger. But guns are not used for those purposes alone. That are purchased with the full intent and purpose of killing someone else. Why are some guns even available? Their only reason for existence is for killing people.

One might think that there would be at least a pause in guns sales, for a brief period of time. But, no. In Arizona, sales of semi-automatic weapons increased by 60% on the Monday after the tragedy; 65% in Ohio, 33% in Illinois, 16% in California, and 5% nationwide.

I watched a Congressman give his take on tv about the whole situation. He quickly stated his anti-gun control stance and said that could never be the answer. Instead, he said that this killer was mentally ill and that a mental health answer needed to be applied. If early on, someone had just put this person into the mental health system, this tragedy might have been avoided. I actually agree with the Congressman's statement. But if he really believes that and wants to work toward that end as an answer, he is going to have to do a serious amount of homework about the mental health system.

In most states, the system is broken. Mental Health Reform is a buzz-word of recent years and it has failed miserably. Mental Health workers do their best, but they are tied down by enormous amounts of red-tape and limited budgets in all the states. Beds are being emptied in mental hospitals. People with mental health needs are sent back to communities where often they wind up on the street. If one does not have insurance or medicaid, they probably have little, if any, hope of treatment.

There used to be the day when a person who demonstrated harm toward himself or someone else could be picked up, taken for evaluation, and even hospitalized, albeit involuntarily. Now, in many settings, that person has to give evidence of having a plan - a gun, a knife, a bomb, or whatever will get the job done. It is no longer enough to hear one say that they are going to kill themselves or someone else.

So it is an explosive mix. Words designed to convince, occasionally do just that. Mental Health planning and treatment that falls way behind the needed response.
And guns. Put them all together and lives will continue to be blown all to pieces.

It just seems like this is an issue that we can't let go unattended much longer.

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