As we're all aware by now, last week's spirited discussion of gun violence turned out to be tragically prophetic.
Politicians from the president on down have vowed that the unspeakable events in Newtown will spur a renewed commitment to stamping out this country's horrific (and embarrassing) plague of gun violence. Much as I'd like to see these weapons removed from the public sphere, I don't know whether it's pragmatically, constitutionally or logistically viable to take the nation's estimated 300 million guns out of circulation. I only know that the more I research the problem, the more it seems clear that tragedies like Sandy Hook will continue to occur as long as guns are out there.
I would address the balance of this (hastily thrown-together) post to people like Republican Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who argues that the solution lay in arming even more Americans. Over the weekend, Gohmert colorfully rhapsodized about a gun-totin' school principal who confronts a would-be assailant and "takes his head off" before he has a chance to fire a shot at students.
Please consider the following statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health and elsewhere (as linked), then ask yourself whether it really makes sense for America to be arming itself (or, more to the point, whether it makes sense for America not to disarm itself):
- About 2.4 million American adults, or an estimated 1.1 percent of the adult population is schizophrenic, treated or untreated, in any given year.
- Bipolar disorder afflicts 5.7 million adults, or 2.6 percent of the U.S. population over age 18.
- Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18+, have a mood disorder in any given year.
- Nationally, about 10 percent of us are on antidepressants; antidepressant usage is up 400 percent since the baseline period ending in 1994, according to the CDC. Increasing evidence suggests that these concoctions can cause sudden, intense bouts of suicidal/homicidal thinking, particularly in young adults. Here's an informally compiled timeline of recent acts of violence linked in one way or another to antidepressants.
Even leaving aside actual pathology, human nature is shockingly mercurial and inconstant in ways large and small. Each year of late, about 2.2 million of us go to the altar promising to "love and honor till death us do part." I am certain that the pledge is sincere at the moment it's given. And yet the long-term statistics make clear that about half of those "forever" partnerships will fail in time. People change. Love turns to indifference or hatred. In fact, in too many cases the "death" that "parts" the couple comes about as a direct result of a violent act by one of those partners who promised to love and honor: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, on average, each day in this country, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners. Guns are the usual culprit.
Which is why I was also struck by the words of one lawmaker who told an interviewer on a Sunday morning talk show of his own proud gun ownership, and why we shouldn't throw the babies out with the bathwater. "I'm not the one you have to fear," he said. To which I would reply: No, maybe now you're not. Not today. But in a year, five years? Who knows? He doesn't, nor do we. For similar reasons I almost lost my lunch when I heard a legislator in the wake of Virginia Tech opine about how different things might have turned out that day if other students had been armed. I'd agree, maybe that day things might have turned out different. (Maybe, although I don't think crossfires are something we want to encourage.) But what about every other day? What about every weekend, when those campuses are roamed by binge-drinking, testosterone-driven frat boys who are also packing heat?
Finally, there's what we learn from the shooter's mother, Nancy Lanza, who is said to have kept guns in the house out of fear of what might happen if the social order collapsed. As it turned out, her desire to defend herself against that hypothetical apocalypse made her the first casualty of her son's insane rampage. Nancy Lanza was killed with one of the guns she thought would protect her. This is hardly an aberration. As has so often been true in the international arena (e.g our support of Afghanistan during their war against the Soviets), we end up arming the very people who will one day point those guns at us.