We can learn to be vigilant.
There are a lot of very sick people living among us. More than we may realize. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people suffer from some form of mental illness. We all need to be vigilant. We need to be more observant. We need to trust our instincts. We need to pay closer attention to social cues. And we need to alert others, including experts and authorities, to potential problems.
We can learn that all action and inaction has consequences.
The mass shootings that we are witnessing are not happening by accident.
They are the natural and foreseeable consequence of our historical failures to act. And they are happening with increasing frequency. We have ignored mental illness and the causes of mental illness for far too long. While struggling to make our own way, we have ignored the plight of millions who live in poverty, hopelessness and despair. And we have ignored the growing need for mental heath care. This failure to act has consequences. And one of those consequences is increased mental illness.
We can learn that we need to change our own behavior.
Albert Eisenstein said, “We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Decades of neglecting the poor and the disenfranchised (and the communities they live in) has lead to increased crime, incarceration, unemployment and a breakdown of the family. This in turn has lead to increased mental illness. We need to change the way we think about these issues and we need to change our approach toward them.
We can recognize the true nature and scope of the threat.
After decades of neglect, many of America’s communities have become breeding grounds for crime, hopelessness and despair. Foreign actors (including, but not limited to, Russia and ISIS), now recognize the strategic significance of this vulnerability and are exploiting it on social media. It’s time that we recognize what these foreign governments have already recognized – that this is a dangerous condition that has profound implications for all of us.
We can learn that we have options.
This is not a condition that is beyond our control. We have the ability to change what is happening. To create change, we need to change our thinking and our approach. We can create change by recognizing that humans (like every other species), are profoundly interdependent. What happens to one of us impacts others – our families, our friends, people we work with, people we interact with – at church, at concerts, in malls, offices and at schools. We can move from a “me” mentality to an “us” mentality. We can invest in rebuilding all communities, but especially those communities with the greatest and most urgent needs. We can reduce crime in communities plagued by crime. We can clean up our neglected communities, invest in them, and create employment opportunities. We can provide more mental health services. We can actually do all of this with or without government. We simply need to make that choice.
We can learn that every action and inaction has a cost.
Regardless of what we do or don’t do there is a cost. There is a cost in investing in our neglected communities and there is a cost in not investing in them. One of the costs, in not investing in them, is increased mental illness. We think of social services as serving “other people’s needs”. The truth is that the society we live in is defined by our collective quality of life. How good is anyone’s life if you can get shot in your house of worship or while attending a concert? We live in a society. We do not live in isolation. Our lives are interdependent. By helping others – we help ourselves.
We can learn that guns are a separate but related issue.
Yes. People kill people. Actually, mentally ill people kill people. And they typically use guns – notably AR15s. They could use other things like knives – but they typically don’t. And if they did, they would often kill fewer people. We are seeing an increase in mental illness. And we know that mass shooters suffer from mental illness. Therefore, absent some change, it is reasonable to expect a continuing increase in mass shootings. We can create change in two ways. The first is to change our approach toward mental health and its underlying causes. And the second is to create reasonable limitations on access to firearms.
The Texas church shooter was court-martialed in 2012 for assault on his spouse and assault on their child. This information was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations. That needs to change. All of our military forces need to be extremely vigilant in reporting criminal activity and evidence of mental illness (among military personnel) to civilian authorities. We also need to provide treatment for the mentally ill – both in our military and civilian communities.
We can learn that we need to change the way we analyze and address these issues.
Identifying mental illness, as a cause of the problem, does not lessen the need to control access to firearms. It increases the need. Increased supply, results in greater opportunity for access. The easier we make it to obtain a gun, the greater the risk that these guns will be accessible to both the mentally ill and to criminals. While it is true that many criminals and some of the mentally ill will obtain access to firearms, regardless of what laws are passed, many will not. The more difficult a weapon is to acquire (due to increased costs and/or regulation) the fewer people that will have access to them. Hence the argument that criminals and/or the mentally ill will obtain guns anyway is only partially true. By reducing access many will not have access to weapons that are capable of inflicting the most damage in the least amount of time. By reducing access to firearms, that have typically been used in mass shootings over the last decade (like the AR15) it is reasonable to conclude that we will reduce the number of mass shootings and/or the number of lives lost in such shootings. By addressing the root causes of mental illness and by treating mental illness, it is also reasonable to conclude that we will reduce the number of people likely to engage in mass shootings.
We can open our minds to increased information and alternative perspectives.
We need to look at all of these issues rationally and with a fresh perspective. We need to consider all variables, costs, and consequences, in an effort to arrive at intelligent solutions – solutions that serve our common interests in increased safety and security for ourselves and our families. We need learn from our mistakes. And we need to make better decisions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to recognize that “We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” We need new ideas, multiple perspectives, and critical thinking that embraces all viable options.