Friday, December 14, 2012

Diverging from Hockey: The Newtown Shootings

I'm sure there'll be people out there who feel as though I have no business writing and commenting on the tragedy that happened in Newtown, Connecticut. "You're a hockey blogger! Why does your opinion matter!? Shut up and talk about hockey and lockout!". Well, I'm also a human being, for starters. I'm also a teacher. My wife is a teacher. My sister-in-law is a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher. My mother works at a secretary in the high school I graduated from. Did I mention I was a human being?

It doesn't make me an authority on gun control, mental health services, or politics. But I do have perhaps a better understanding than some people on all of those things, and I'm certainly entitled to share my thoughts on it. Sure, last night I recorded a podcast, but posting that today seems trivial and stupid. I'll post it soon, to be sure, because we do have to get back to our lives. But I wanted to take the time to consider what happened today, and hopefully the handful of people who read this will take some time, as well.

1) Anyone who says "Now is not the time to talk about gun control" is an idiot: Technically, they're correct, because the time to talk about gun control was really before these shootings happen. Certainly to say "We need to ban all guns because of Newtown" is being insensitive and is really not intellectually sound. But to also say we shouldn't talk about gun control because that would be insensitive in this time of tragedy is even more intellectually unsound. And it's really dishonest. Equally dishonest are people who say people are going to "use this tragedy to justify taking away gun rights!" as if that is somehow uncommon or unacceptable.

We "use tragedies" to justify things all the time. We used September 11th as a reason to enter into two wars in two countries. We used it to justify the PATRIOT Act. There are intellectual ways to argue for and against those policies, but let's not forget they were motivated, at least in part, by an emotional response to a tragic event.

So yes, let's "use this tragedy" to talk about gun control. Now is the time to have these kinds of discussion. We cannot keep putting it off.

2) I don't care what the discussion yields as much as I care about the discussion: I doubt that a serious discussion about gun control is going to come to the conclusion that we should have more guns and looser restrictions. However, if that is the conclusion we come to as a nation, and if that conclusion comes from a place of informed discussion with facts and statistics and expert analysis, so be it.

Those who we might characterize as "pro-gun" - which isn't really accurate because there's people who like guns who want tighter restrictions - have to be comfortable with the possibility that gun laws need to be more restrictive and could become more restrictive. Meanwhile, "gun control advocates" - which is also not entirely accurate - need to be comfortable that the laws could move in the opposite direction. However, the fact that you might "lose the argument", so to speak, is no excuse to avoid having the argument. If you oppose having this argument, for any reason what-so-ever, you are a coward and your argument is invalid.

3) Alongside the conversation about guns, we need to have a conversation about mental health: There are people who argue that guns are simply tools, and the violence doesn't come from the guns but from the people wielding the guns. I personally don't totally buy that argument, however it isn't completely wrong either. Yes, there is a mechanism called a safety on a gun that prevents it from firing, however anyone who has ever fired a gun will tell you that for that to happen, the shooter has to decide to shoot, and they have to mechanically operate the trigger to make the gun fire.

Misfires do happen, and they do occasionally cause injuries and death, but certainly cannot be considered in today's tragedy.

I think we can all agree that in order for someone to walk into a school and start shooting, that person has to be mentally ill or deranged in some manner. Whether it's manic depression, schizophrenia or extreme and misguided religious zealotry, nobody of sound mind would do what was done today. It is entirely possible that this person's weapon of choice is irrelevant. Maybe he was so fucked up in the brain that he would have used an axe, or a knife, or a bomb or whatever to do the terrible things he did.

We have to decide, as a nation, that recognizing people in mental and emotional trouble and getting them help will play a major role in curbing violence. Whether it's due to physical trauma or just emotional and mental illness, if we truly want to keep these things from happening, if we want to stop families from collapsing and relationships from exploding, we have to do a better job of treating people with mental illness distress.

Part of this is going to be creating an atmosphere where people who're suffering have to be comfortable with acknowledging their problems. Especially men. If your leg is broken and there's people around to help you,  you have no problem asking for and accepting help. If your brain is broken, there have to be people around to help you, and you have to be able to ask for help. Otherwise, your leg will turn to gangrene and you'll die, and your mind will turn to darkness, and a lot of people can die. Or you can die. Either way it doesn't end well.

4) Anyone who interviewed a student, or allowed an interview of a student to happen, or showed an interview of a student on TV or the Internet should be ashamed of themselves

These are children. Elementary school children. They were just shot at. They had classmates, parents, teachers and administrators shot and wounded and killed. As many as 30 people died, and these kids, to one degree or another, were witness to that.

Whoever thought, "I should shove a camera and a microphone in their face, mere hours of it happened, and asked them to share their story" is an inhuman monster. That goes for the so-called journalists who did it, to their superiors who authorized those interviews and aired them for people to see, to the parents who allowed their child to be exploited that way.

People should lose their jobs. Parents should be slapped. We're adults, we're supposed to protect children. And while I won't say you failed to do so with regards to the shooting, you certainly failed to do so by exploiting them - which is what these interviews did, they exploited children - in an effort to gain ratings or notoriety.

I don't care that you needed to tell the story, or wanted to bring perspective to the events. You exploited a child. Get fucked.

5) If you are scared, upset, disgusted or enraged by what happened today at the school, you have a very limited set of options

First and foremost, you need to find any way you can to send your love and support to the victims, their families and the community in Newtown. I'm sure the American Red Cross will probably offer services to the area, and hopefully there will be other charities and such offering aid. I'm sure information will be forthcoming of ways you can send assistance. Do so.

Second, you need to be in contact with any elected official that represents you on the state and federal level. Don't know who represents you in the United States House of Representatives or the United States Senate? Well now, you have no excuse because I just showed you how.

To find your state representatives, go to your state government's website or fucking Google it. Let them know that they need to develop gun control laws and mental health services that will address the desperate needs of your state and of this country.

Finally, if you or anyone you know, is suffering from depression or seems to be entertaining sincere or extreme thoughts of violence, please find help. The American Psychological Association has information about dealing with a myriad of problems, including a button that says "Find a Psychologist".

There are people who love you and care about you, and professionals who just want you to be healthy and happy. Let them help you. It could save your family, it could save your friendships, it could save your life and the lives of other people.

And if you still aren't convinced that we, as a country, as human beings, need to react to this, I'll leave you with this thought: There are parents of the estimated 18 children who were murdered today who will, at some point, go to their closet, the trunk of their car, their attic or basement - somewhere in their home - and have to sift through the gifts that they had intended to give their now dead child for Christmas, or Chanukah or just because they loved their son or daughter. And they will have to decide what to do with those gifts instead. In what reality is this something that we, as a species, are comfortable with?

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