Any time a life is taken it is a tragedy. No person lives in isolation. Every life touches others, from family to friends to neighbors and acquaintances. It is so much worse when those lives taken are children, who will now not ever have the opportunity to grow older and have families of their own.
There was a shooting today at an elementary school in Connecticut. I have not read or seen many news reports, I have mostly been following via my Twitter feed, so I do not have all of the details, and I cannot claim to have all of the answers to the difficult questions that have to be asked on such a day. I know that there is a God in heaven who loves His children. I am reminded of the 7th chapter of the book of Moses which details the vision of Enoch. “And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept. And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” ( Moses 7: 28-29). And God responds, “The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood” (Moses 7:32-33).
To this wonderful scriptural passage I add my testimony that our Father in Heaven weeps for us and stands ready and waiting with open arms to receive us and comfort us and pour out his love and his spirit upon us, when we approach him in humble and sincere prayer. To all those affected by today’s news I say that there is hope, there is still a place to turn for love and comfort, there is still goodness to be found in the world — but it requires us to stand up for goodness.
As I read my Twitter feed, there are two main issues that people are talking about in relation to this tragedy — Gun Control and Mental Health issues. I would like to take a moment to write a few thoughts that I have on both of those subjects, more as a way of helping me find out what I believe, than in any attempt to persuade others to agree with me.
Gun Control is a very complex and complicated issue and I find myself agreeing with people on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, it is a right guaranteed by the US Constitution for citizens to be able to bear arms. It is easy to see why that was added to the Constitution, when you realize that “a well armed militia”, as the amendment describes, is the reason we were able to stand up to tyranny and gain independence. Along with that, there are a lot of citizens who enjoy hunting and other recreational sports that require the use of guns. While, personally, I have never been hunting, and would never own a gun, I respect those who do enjoy hunting and their right to do so. But, I do not see why a person needs semi-automatic weapons and other military-grade equipment to hunt deer or rabbits or whatever.
Which brings us to the other side of the issue — After conceding that gun ownership is a right protected by the Constitution, where do we draw the line? How do we protect our citizens from exactly this situation, where someone can use that same gun to hurt and kill others? I know and recognize the counter-arguments — there are many other ways to kill a person that we do not make illegal, such as knives, hands, etc. The owning of a gun is not the criminal act, it is the using of it to kill that is illegal — and it is already illegal, do we need more legislation than that? Part of me wants to say that the laws already exist that make using a firearm to harm or kill illegal and punishable, but part of me wants to say that firearm technology is advancing so much that it is not just one person who is usually hurt or killed by these incidents, the injured almost always number in the double digits. At what point does the safety of the greater population take precedence over one person’s right to own a gun?
So, on the one hand, I want to say to all those who wave the Second Amendment around as their sole justification for owning a gun that they can have all the guns they want, as long as they are no more deadly or technologically advanced than those which existed when the Second Amendment was ratified. How hard would it be for police to subdue gunman who was only armed with a musket that could only fire 3-4 shots a minute instead of hundreds of rounds a minute, and how many would be injured in a shooting spree with such a weapon? I recognize the importance of the Constitution, but I also recognize that the world is constantly changing and a document of that importance needs to be updated and reevaluated to fit modern circumstances.
Yet, on the other hand, maybe Gun Control isn’t the issue, which brings me to the other main issue brought up today – Mental Health. If it were easier to recognize and treat mental health issues, if health care were more affordable and treatment more readily available then maybe we could prevent these atrocities. I look at the rest of the world, countries like the UK or Germany where there are much stricter gun control laws and they do not have nearly as many gun related incidents as the US does. Even countries like Switzerland where most citizens do own guns, do not have as many incidents. One of the big differences I see is their attitude toward health care. I would highly recommend the documentary Sick Around the World, which can be viewed online via PBS. This reporter went to five different countries around the world and analyzed their health care systems, comparing them to the US. He found some things these other countries did better, and he detailed some ways in which their health care systems could be improved. It is a very interesting documentary, but my favorite line comes towards the end as he is speaking with the president of Switzerland. The president says, essentially, that the reason why they are willing to pay the kinds of taxes required to have the kind of socialized health care system that they do is that they feel that every citizen has a right to affordable health care. In the United States we do not have that same feeling. We believe that things like freedom of speech and the bearing of arms are rights, but we do not talk about health care as a right.
So, in the end, I find that I am in favor of what people are calling Gun Control. I think the government does have the responsibility, in the name of public safety, to limit the sale and distribution of harmful materials, such as weapons. But, at the same time, we need to step up personal responsibility in this country, as well. Individuals need to be held responsible for their own actions and decisions. And people who do have mental health problems and cannot easily determine right from wrong, or good decision from bad decision, need to be treated or cared for in a much better way, to protect themselves and those they might harm. As with anything in life, there is not a single cure or panacea that will solve this problem. We need to sit down, with clear heads, in a day or two, or a week or two, when our emotions have calmed and we can discuss and debate rationally. We need to posit ideas and elicit ideas from the other side, work together to find the common good and work toward making the country a better place to be for all citizens, not just those who agree with me. Together, we can make a difference for everyone through love and respect and compromise and open, honest communication and discussion.
So, I open it up to you: What are your thoughts? Am I right, wrong, misunderstood? Let’s talk about it.