Let’s talk about gun control. Since January 15th there have been shootings in a New Mexico middle school, a Fresno, California neighborhood, a charter high school in Philadelpia, PA, at Purdue University in Indiana, South Carolina University, and the Columbia Mall in Maryland. The shooters ranged in age from 12 years old to 31 years old. The 12 year old had a shotgun. The 19 year old had a shotgun and makeshift explosives.
Where does a 12-year old get a shotgun? Where does a 19-year old learn how to make explosives? And are these issues of gun control or is there a larger issue at the root of these shootings? Those who are in favor of gun control will say if guns were unavailable or not so readily available these killings would not have occurred. Those against gun control will say these are people who have mental illness and would have killed whether they had a gun or not. Most of us have heard “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” This is argued with people can’t kill people if they don’t have easy access to guns to commit the murders.
Let’s examine the question I posed earlier. Where does a 12-year old boy get a shotgun? We know he did not walk into Wal-Mart, slap a few hundred dollars on the counter and say, “I’ll take one of those and a couple of boxes of ammo.” I don’t know where he got the gun. I read a report that stated there had been a picture of the boy on Facebook next to a deer he had shot on a hunting trip. He was also described as “bookish”. If he did have the gun on a hunting trip I can only assume his parents were aware of his gun ownership. The boy obviously knew how to handle a gun if he was skilled enough to shoot a deer. When did he stop distinguishing between hunting deer and hunting school mates? What button was pushed that made him think it was acceptable, even necessary to shoot another human being. Even if he was being bullied, and he might have been bullied, why would he resort to murder as a response? Isn’t it more likely that the issue here is not his having a gun or access to a gun but the mindset that told him his actions were reasonable?
The 19-year old in Maryland walked into a Mall and killed two employees and committed suicide. He also used a shotgun which he had purchased legally. According to a NY Times article Maryland does not require a permit to purchase a rifle or shotgun. The young man was described as quiet by people who knew him. He noted in his journal that he was depressed. I don’t know why he was depressed. Again the questions are raised. Did his family know he was depressed? Did they know he bought a rifle? What, if any, connection can be made between his depression and the two people who now lay dead leaving families stunned? What happened in his mind allowing him to do something so drastic?
Gun control might have prevented these shootings. But the question remains, if guns were not readily available, would another weapon have been substituted? Could weapons have been acquired illegally? Is the problem really gun ownership or is this indicative of an underlying mental disturbance that says if you don’t like what a person says or does, the way a person look or acts, can you just react and harm them?
It seems to me we have a problem with mental illness and a society that does not recognize signs of these illnesses. These students went to school; they interacted with teachers, guidance counselors, and other students regularly. Even the most isolated student had to speak to teachers at some point. Did they hide their mental problems so successfully that no one saw a problem brewing? Did no family member look at their child and think something was wrong?
We can argue endlessly about keeping guns out of the hands of potential killers. But it seems to me potential killers are not driven by gun possession but instead are driven by something inside of them. The issues are psychiatric and raising awareness in our teachers, our religious leaders, and medical professionals so that when a 12-year old boy is upset he is not going to have a gun to carry out an action that will forever change his life and the lives of those around him. Let’s look at making mental health assistance more widely available, less costly to get, and not a dirty secret. Let’s take a serious look, as a nation, at what might be wrong in our society that is driving people to resort to violence and use weapons instead of words to solve problems.