On Friday, a tragedy of indescribable pain struck a small town in Connecticut. Though the horrific event took place in a community that barely numbers 2,000, it brought a country of 311 million to its knees. As we watched the incident unfold on TVs across America, the tragedy at once brought the country together, and revealed the horrible gaps and chasms in our broken system. Just as quickly as the nation took to sharing tweets and facebook posts of consolation, hope, and prayer, we also took to initiating discussions of gun control, mental healthcare, and the culture of violence.
While we weep for the loss of innocent life, magnified by the tender young age of so many of the victims, we also come to realize that our government has failed to design a system to keep dangerous artillery out of the hands of people who misuse it. And despite the overwhelming evidence in every other country of similar wealth that gun control reduces homicide, and even in the wake of such a terrible abuse of guns, there’s reason to believe that our gun control policies won’t change – because they haven’t before. The issue is greater than the 2nd Amendment and individual freedoms – guns contribute to mortality, and guns are a public health issue. And like other public health issues, there is a method of prevention – we have just consistently let the fear of politics prevent us from taking action.
In incidences such as this one, when a lone shooter takes the lives of so many, it is easy to place blame. They have failed us. What is harder is to examine our portion of the blame, because we have failed them. Because this has happened before, we know that the shooter is not the healthy, happy child, but the often ignored, sometimes provoked, misfit or loner or outcast who never got whatever it was he needed, which is usually enough attention and dedication to recognizing a health problem. Aside from the stigma of mental illness, access to mental healthcare is expensive and support often limited. The struggles of families who deal with mental illness are very real – and no one has summed it up better than this mother.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation of this tragedy, though, is that it is not unique, or uncommon, or unfortunately, unexpected. Shootings, and even mass shootings, are not rare in America. After previous such killing sprees we have been warned that they will happen again – and they did. This time, it came just three days after a man in Portland shot down shoppers in a mall. This type of tragedy has become a part of our culture, a culture of violence, that is entirely our own – and a culture that has manifested itself in our educational system, arguably the core of our country.
In the 50s and 60s, students at schools across America did air-raid drills where they were required to hide under desks. It was a scary, if useless, drill, in an attempt to protect our nation’s children against the worst of our country’s enemies. Today, students practice lock-down, hiding in the corners of their classrooms from their own fellow citizens. It’s not a political move – it’s the very real fear of our own fellow citizens. While the air-raids that children prepared for fifty years ago never occurred, Friday proved the very real need for the necessity of our modern-day drills, and the ways in which our culture of violence has reached the most innocent citizens of our nation.
The deaths that occurred on Friday represent immeasurable heart break. The videos, images, and testimonies that have emerged have brought America to tears. At its worst, the tragedy renders us hopeless – but at its best, it awakens us to the brokenness of America, of its policies, resources, and procedures. Those 28 lives are lost forever, but their memories need not be. In the words of our President on Sunday, “For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”
I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve written. This is a multifaceted problem. It’s not going away with a single fix or in a single day. An act of Congress, an Executive Order, or even a SCOTUS decision will not fix any of the causes that led to the tragedy in CT. People in Public Health, Mental Health, Injury Prevention, Criminology, and many others need to come together and offer evidence-based solutions for what ails us.
Thanks for writing this. You put into words what I haven’t been able to do since Friday… Correction… What I haven’t been wanting to do since Friday.