I’ve been thinking about what to say about the Sandy Hook tragedy, but my mind has been too cluttered and conflicted. It wasn’t until tonight that a comment on Facebook suddenly helped me make sense of things.
Most of you by now have likely seen or read the article titled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”, which has been spread all over Facebook and Twitter. In it, the writer, Liza Long, describes being the mother of a mentally ill teenage boy–a violent boy she can neither control nor understand. The article is very good, and makes important points about the current state of mental healthcare in the United States, and about the culture of violence.
But my uncle, Frank Matheson, made the following comment on Facebook, which really moved me:
“No, she is not Adam Lanza’s mother. Her story makes it even more inexplicable why Adam Lanza’s actual mother would stock her home with multiple semiautomatic assault weapons, fail to secure them, and teach her son to use them.”
I’ve long been a gun rights advocate. In fact, 2nd Amendment issues are one of the few reasons I have refused to register as Democrat and still remain unaffiliated.
But something needs to change.
As regular readers of my blog know, I have multiple mental illnesses, the worst of which has led to violent self-harm, and I have been voluntarily hospitalized in the search for help.
I remember very distinctly when my mental illness hit a new milestone, and I told my wife I had the urge to bleed from my head. (My self-harm is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I get these intense urges that flood my thoughts and it takes everything I can do to not act on them.) My wife set to work going through my office/workshop, gathering up every possible weapon she could find–and there were a lot: Exact-O knives, box cutters, chisels, scissors, awls, drills, wire cutters and more. She filled a large tupperware bin with these tools and took them away for weeks, until I had talked to my psychiatrist, had adjusted my meds, and no longer felt those urges.
The scary thing is that I’m a normal guy. I’m married. I have three kids. I not only have a college degree, I have a graduate degree. I’m a published author. I’m a god-fearing church goer. And yet I was overwhelmed with the desire to self-harm so completely that I had to ask my wife to save me from myself.
And–and this is where it gets very uncomfortable–it’s not like it stops there. I’ve had suicidal thoughts. And, once, when things were at the very worst, my mental illness put the following thought into my head: “You should kill yourself–and your whole family.”
I know. Uncomfortable, right? Unthinkable. Unimaginable. And yet that thought appeared in all its OCD madness.
Fortunately, I had enough sense to immediately call the doctor and get immediately treated.
And do you know what his first questions were? First: Have you made a plan? And second: do you have access to a firearm?
Thank God I could say no to both. Thank God I had a doctor who knew my case, and who I could reach with ease. Thank God I had a wife who I could confide in, who would help me get treatment.
I can’t say that I know the perfect solution to stopping mass shootings, to preventing the Adam Lanzas of the world from committing their heinous acts of destruction. But I can say this:
1. In four months, my health care coverage (COBRA) will expire, and no other insurance provider has yet been willing to cover me. The denial of health care coverage for the mentally ill has to change. It simply must.
2. I could get a gun if I wanted to. No law in place would stop me. While I’m mentally ill–while I’ve been hospitalized–the hospitalization was voluntary, and that does not put me in a database to fail a background check.
Stopping shootings is not going to be as simple as creating a new law or two or three or ten. But we CAN, and we MUST take actions to address at least some of the problems. We can make sure the mentally ill have access to treatment. We can make sure that guns are harder to get.
And there are non-legal actions we need to take, too. We need to be more responsible. We don’t know all the details of the Sandy Hook case, but imagine if Adam Lanza’s mom did something as simple as putting her guns in a safe and not give him the combination? Or use gun locks and not tell him where the key was?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. We can’t simply legislate our way out of this problem. But we can’t throw up our hands in defeat, either. We must act, as individuals, as states, and as a nation.