To all those who believe that now isn’t the time to talk about gun control: You’re right.
Twenty years ago today, Wayne Lo, an eighteen year old student at Simon’s Rock College of Bard, the school I currently attend, killed a student and a teacher in an early incident of today’s unfortunately classic school shooting model. He bought his gun legally, despite showing signs of racial bias and homophobia, as well as mental illness. And then, he killed Ñacuñán Sáez and Galen Gibson, wounding Teresa Beavers, Thomas McElderry, Joshua A. Faber, and Matthew Lee David. That was the time to talk about gun control.
Since then, there have been exactly 100 school shootings in the US. Not all of them were massive, not all were aimless, but none would have occurred if the shooter was prevented from getting a gun. Today is the latest of these incidents, and unless we experience major overhaul and quickly, won’t be the last.
So, despite those who have told me that today is not the day to discuss gun control, I will, because I refuse to let another 20 years and 100 shootings pass by like these.
Ask Gregory Gibson, father of the Galen Gibson shot and killed here at Simon’s Rock if it’s time to start looking for solutions. I’m putting out a call for answers to anyone who has one: how can we stop the killing? I have a few of my own:
First, I’ll adress the larger problems behind school shootings, one of which is this: It is cheaper and more socially acceptable to buy a gun and ammunition than it is to get a bottle of anti-depressants and a therapy session.
To see a licensed therapist for 45 minutes to an hour, it costs about $100. Seeing a psychiatrist can cost anywhere from $120 for depression and more “manageable” disorders to $250 for schizophrenia, psychosis, and other diseases. Zoloft costs $14 and up for a month’s supply, Cymbalta costs at least $35, and Lithium, a medication for Bipolar disorder costs about $27 per month, not including the required blood testing (at first every week, then every month). Neuroleptics like Abilify cost $373 to $508 for a 30-day supply.
As for the stigma: in the 2009 Republican National Committee election debate, all candidates claimed to own at least one gun, including Katon Dawson, who claimed to own “too many to count.”
Compare this to a study by the University of North Texas in which over 40% of respondents claimed that “anyone with a history of mental illness should be excluded from public office.”
According to a CNN survey after the Aurora shootings, 40% of guns are sold unlicensed. The survey also said that there are at least 310 million non-military guns in the United States. It wouldn’t take much for just one gun to reach the hands of someone with intention to kill large sums of people. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a multiple-victim shooting happens every 5.9 days in the US.
In Connecticut, it is legal to carry a concealed firearm. All three guns used in the shooting (2 handguns and a semi-automatic rifle) were legally purchased by the suspect’s mother. Connecticut considered a bill to outlaw high capacity magazines: ammunition feeding devices that store over 10 bullets, however, it failed.
I’m not asking to outlaw guns entirely. But mutually assured deterrence doesn’t often work when the perpetrator is as removed from reality as the shooters in incidents like those in Aurora, Tucson, and Virginia Tech. Many mass shooters kill themselves.
I’m asking for a ban on concealed weapons. If someone wants to carry a gun, they should carry it out in the open. If they truly want to “deter crime” rather than shoot criminals, gun carriers should show potential criminals that they are carrying a gun instead of hiding it to pull out when attacked.
Secondly, high capacity magazines need to go. To my knowledge of hunting, if an animal isn’t hit, it is scared off after the first shot. There is no way that hunters need 30 rounds to kill a deer. Perhaps they may be more convenient, but sometimes a sacrifice is necessary to prevent violence, and this is certainly one that would make sense.
Besides that, we NEED to reduce the stigma on mental illness. My first thought when I heard the news was to hope that the shooter wasn’t a person of color, so that racists wouldn’t have another person off which to base their stereotypes. Then, I thought of the “crazy” factor.
About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with major depression. For me, this wasn’t news, but it was nonetheless difficult to deal with the stigma. Instead of telling teachers I was going to therapy, I’d say I had “a doctor’s appointment”, and I was careful not to tell anyone about the Prozac I took in the nurse’s office at 8AM each morning. I was afraid that people would treat me differently, or would use this as yet another reason to avoid me.
All these things are hard to handle, and I’m someone with complete awareness of the stigma and it’s repercussions on society. Part of this is because I remember a time during my freshman year of high school in which the scariest thing I could do was share my thoughts. I was too afraid to tell anyone that I couldn’t stop thinking about self-harm and suicide. I was too afraid to say anything about the chemical dispair in my mind. If I spoke, I would be labelled a “crazy”, I would loose my independence, I couldn’t go to college, and the list goes on. This is what the stigma does.
We can start to relieve it by coming out of the mental illness closet, by standing up and telling the world about our struggles and experiences. According to the CDC, one in four adults has a mental illness, and so if half of us were to start talking about it, we could convince our neighbors, friends, and families that mental illness doesn’t turn a person into an invalid.
If we can start by getting rid of the stigma for depression, then we’ll start to see more people in need of help seeking it. Often times, depression is commiserate with diseases like Schizophrenia.
Yes, the shooter in today’s tragedy, as well as the past 100 have likely been severely ill. But if they were encouraged to treatment, this may never have happened.
My struggles and thoughts were inwardly focused. I wanted to hurt and/or kill myself, not someone else. But, if I didn’t seek treatment, chances are I would have succeeded in suicide. The same goes for those with an outward focus.
As I mentioned earlier, therapy and psycho-pharmaceuticals are expensive, and most basic insurance plans don’t cover them. Under the Affordable Care Act, access to mental health care under Medicaid is being expanded.
If we increase government funding for free and sliding-scale mental health clinics, then hopefully more people can afford to get the care they need.
Still, this is not a complete solution for the crisis. Anyone else have ideas?