By Ken Mysogland
On a recent drive into school, my step-son and I switched from listening to ESPN and moved to CNN. Gunshots instead of jump shots. Another school shooting.
We reviewed; “Tell a faculty if you see anything suspicious…remember the kid that got expelled, if he comes back, tell the teacher immediately…text if you need anything.” At the drop-off, my suspicious eyes scanned the parking lot. When I arrived at work, I called the school, spoke to an administrator to confirm how secure the building was and when the new cameras were going to be put into place.
Then I asked myself, “How did we get here?”
Our grandparents had drills to prepare for air raids. As a youth, I grew up in the Midwest where we practiced protecting ourselves from tornadoes. Now we need drills for active shooters.
What is the answer? Arm everyone? Arm no one? More intensive background checks? How does one debate a Constitutional right? Can we ever fully amplify common sense? Is it the gun or the person with the gun? Is this a mental health issue or one of deviance? What role does the family play?
150,000 students have experienced gunfire on their campus since the Columbine shooting in 1999. Add to that number the faculty, parents and first responders. In each shooting since that day, wounds re-open when the news hits that another school has been the target. Remember, concerts, movie theatres, and the streets.
Each day in the United States it is estimated that 96 people die due to gun violence. Embedded in that number are 7 children and teens who lost their lives. A toddler shoots someone weekly when they gain access to a firearm.
Our country now is at a crossroads. Yet, haven’t we been here before? We are outraged and saddened. Traumatized and mobilizing. Unfortunately, also posturing.
We have the right to bear arms. We also have the right to be protected from violence. One side says the problem is the gun. The other side, the person with the gun. Today is a call for vigilance.
Is gun violence the result of those with a weapon who has a mental illness? Experts disagree on the answer. Peer research indicates those with substantial mental illness are more likely to commit violent acts.
One set of studies shows that 59 percent of the mass shootings that took place since 1900 were the result of a person who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or showed signs of a serious mental disorder prior to the incident. Yet only one-third of those individuals actually received help for their conditions prior to the attack.
If we believe mental illness is the root, do we as a society truly understand how to recognize mental illness? What stigmas are attached here? Do we know who to contact? How do we make treatment accessible and affordable to everyone?
A 2016 academic study found that only 4-5 percent of gun violence was associated with serious mental illness alone, as the single factor of the violence.
Keeping this in mind, what are the other factors which lead to these unspeakable acts? Early childhood trauma? Bullying? A dysfunctional home? Substance use?
Will race play a role in how we decide the gun debate? Is it easier to look at a shooter who is Caucasian and say the issue is one of “mental health”? What if the shooter was a person of color? Would the debate change and the act looked at as one more “deviant” in nature? It takes courage to enter into this conversation.
Does the gun debate simply center on a weapon inappropriately in the hands of a person prone to violence?
A recent poll indicated 97 percent of Americans are now in favor of establishing a universal background check. What do you think this should include? A review of all calls to law enforcement pertaining to a particular person? Perhaps a review of school records and interviews with family members? What would you say about your neighbor if asked? You might ask how long a check would take. I can already hear the opposition. I would then ask them, how long should it take to save someone’s life?
Let’s talk about access. In some states, you can buy a gun at 18 years of age, yet at that age, you cannot legally drink in that same state. Some say 18 years old is too young.
Yet we arm young men and women when they are 18 years old to defend our country. So what if we do raise the age to 21 years? Experts say the brain is not fully developed until you are 25 years old. Are our laws inherently in conflict with science?
Listen to the gun debate. We have forgotten about gun violence in the inner cities. Why? Does socio-economic class play a role in what lawmakers feel is important?
Again, courage is needed to raise this issue. Gangs have become the new families. Youth from broken homes search not to just belong in their communities, but simply to survive another day given the gun warfare which surrounds them.
In my hometown, outreach workers tell me 50 dollars can buy you a stolen gun and a box of bullets on the street. How did we get here? My Chicago Cubs won the World Series in the same year the City of Chicago experienced 762 gun-related homicides.
With heartache, this year we lost a youth to gun violence with whom I enjoyed a close relationship. What is his legacy? What is the legacy of the students, teachers, concert-goers, nightclub participants and all those victims of gun violence?
We have to solve this problem no matter what side of the debate you find yourself. Rhetoric and sound bites no longer work.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Ken Mysogland, MSW, is an Adjunct Faculty member at Sacred Heart University who has taught Perspectives on Family Violence in the Social Work Department for the past 21 years.