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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun Control Won't Fix Everything - But It Can't Hurt

Twenty children, little children, first grade children, the same age of the children that I taught many years ago.  Killed.  Gone.  

Six adults whose life work was educating and caring for children, little children; work that I did a decade ago.  Killed.  Gone.

One young man, social problems most of his life, the same age as a young man in our extended family who committed a crime and took his own life several years ago.  Dead through suicide.  Gone.

One mother who undoubtedly loved her son, agonized over his problems, probably tried to figure out how she could help him, the same way that the parents of the young man in my family agonized for years and tried to help.  The mother of the young man in Connecticut was killed and is gone.  The parents of the young man in our family still live, still deal with depression, often anxiety;  even though several years have passed, they are still trying to understand what happened to their beloved son.

Newtown, Connecticut. 

Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Adam Lanza.   Two days ago these names were meaningless.  Now they are not.  We all know where these places are.  We all know who Adam Lanza is.  

We know the names of many of the victims, both the victims who lived and the victims who died.  We know of the first grade teacher, Kaitlin Roig, who herded her children into a bathroom and managed to keep them quiet.   They all lived.  We know of another first grade teacher, Vicki Soto, who herded her children into cupboards and cabinets, somehow keeping them safe but not herself.  We know of the principal, Dawn Hochsprung,  and the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, who instinctively tried to run to the gunman to physically make him stop.... but he got them first.  We know of the teacher,  Ann Marie Murphy, who threw her body on her little ones.. but her body didn't stop the bullets.  She died as did her young charges.

We saw television news personalities tearing up, some actually cutting their schticks short due to imminent emotional breakdown.  We saw the President of the United States in tears as he talked about these little children, six and seven years old, who died.

The cacophony of minutiae

And now the cacophony of minutiae, opinions, accusations, counter-opinions,  and counter-accusations.  The noise has been too loud for me, and I have barely posted or written in the past 48 hours as I deal with the conflicting feelings and memories; too many of the details are too close to things I have lived through as a teacher and as a human being in my extended family.    

  • Lack of gun control is the problem, many cry out.
  • Carry and conceal in schools is the answer!, others claim.
  • Armed guards in every school!, say some.
  • This is what happens when you take God out of schools, shout a few.
  • The President is weak, say others.. He needs to seek some kind of gun ban!
  • More mental health help!, others yell.
  • What's with that mother?  Why did she have guns around if the kid was mentally ill?
  • The media got everything wrong!  And interviewing kids?  That was horrible!
  • Mental illness, personality disorder, autism spectrum, Aspberger's.  People throw these terms around as if they know what they mean.

Look, people, I know a young man who stole his father's guns and held up a convenience store and then shot himself when he was about to be apprehended.   I know the family;  I knew the young man since he was very tiny.   

Gun control would not have saved him.

More mental health resources would not have saved him.   

We do not have the details of what happened to Adam Lanza.  Was he violent?  Did he threaten his mother.. or anybody, for that matter?  Had he ever so much as hurt a fly before December 14th?  Was he getting mental health help?  Was he diagnosed with anything? 

We don't know the answer to any of these questions... yet.  And even when we do get the answers to these questions, they may not help us to understand what was in Adam Lanza's head Friday morning, and they may not help us to understand how to prevent another Newtown, Connecticut, massacre.        

The Mother's Obsession With Guns

The mother's obsession with guns was profiled here at the New York Times.

Here's a comment:  

I hate guns and I do not understand why people would buy them. 
Until now, I have always blamed the NRA and have been somewhat optimistic that we only need people to get a bit more organized in order to improve legislation. 
Today, the statistic cited in one of the other articles was a real eye opener. Apparently 60% of Americans are happy with the current gun laws and do not want any additional restrictions. 
I do not see how the tragic situation in Newton could have been prevented. Mrs. Lanza bought the guns legally and had even trained on how to use them. 
I haven't read anything about her son having demonstrated any violence earlier, so I have to assume that is the reason she did not take any additional precautions. 
Obviously, in this country we have serious violence issues, which get compounded by loose legislation on guns. We also have serious mental health issues, but apparently the killer's condition had not raised concern. 
Most people in the NYT forums are vociferous about the need for gun control. I am with you, but I am also realistic and very pessimistic about any possible changes.

I do not see any need for those multiple clips that allow people to shoot a hundred rounds in a few seconds or a minute.  I don't know why that kind of firepower should be protected.

As I mentioned above, I knew a young man, close to the age of the Lanza young man, who had a lot of issues but no history of physically aggressive or violent behavior, who broke into his father's locked gun cabinet at the family's vacation home.  He and a friend took those hunting rifles and held up a convenience store.  As the police closed in, he shot himself.  Nobody was hurt except the young man.

I'm sure people would say the same thing about him... Why did his father have hunting rifles?  But there was no reason for the father NOT to have hunting rifles in a locked closet.  The son was not aggressive or violent.  He hadn't threatened anybody; he was just snotty and rebellious.  He'd been in various kinds of therapies, various special schools, various treatments for various addictions for years.  

Would this young man still be alive with stronger gun control laws?  I can't imagine that.  These were registered hunting rifles in a locked closet in a vacation home.  I will say that the family felt a sense of relief that the young man didn't take anyone with him as he checked out, unlike Adam Lanza.

I do think we need stronger gun control laws, and I welcome efforts to introduce legislation to outlaw assault weapons.  And we certainly need to eliminate the gun show loophhole.  But not all of these tragedies are going to be prevented unless all guns are outlawed.. and that will never happen.

Other articles and comments: 

I am Adam Lanza's Mother:  A great article about what it is like to deal with a seriously mentally ill adolescent, but I don't think we can say that the problems of this mother and her son are equivalent to the problems of Adam Lanza.  But a must-read article nonetheless.  My comment:

I completely understand the author's pain and I empathize with her son.. and with her love for her son. 

But we don't really know that Adam Lanza was like her Michael. We haven't heard of any hospitalizations, any other episodes of violence, any diagnoses that might shed some light on his actions. 

Adam was in public or private schools for about 10 years. He was pulled out when he was a sophomore or junior in high school, but, while people who knew him talked about how "strange" he was; nobody has mentioned out of control or aggressive behaviors. 

I don't think we can read this very heartfelt, very moving article and assume that Adam Lanza had the same issues. 

Now.. I do know children who had similar problems to those described by Michael's mother. I agree that mental health understanding and treatment of these children is not very solid. I taught elementary school for many years and I can remember two children who exhibited these kinds of completely out of control behaviors. Both were placed into specialized settings for children with behavioral disorders. Both had siblings who were completely "normal".  

These children are being lost, and that is so, so sad. 

And, no, the solution is NOT a slap or a spank as some (comments) here have suggested.”

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