Last Friday we once more saw the results of unspeakable savagery, this time in an elementary school in rural Connecticut. Twenty first graders and six adults who tried to keep them safe were murdered in a senseless rampage of violence.
We grieve with the families of the murdered children and adults and every mother, every father and every grandparent in this country who has children of school age feels the pain.
We all must be asking when and where will be the next time and how do we stop this history of violence that seems to be becoming intrinsic in our society.
As early as today, as funerals continue in Newtown, we will start to look for answers on how to curtail the violence. The questions and answers will fall primarily in two areas: what do we do to identify and treat those with who might be the next mass murderer before they commit a violent act; and, how to curtail the types of guns that have little legitimate use outside the military and public safety, while not infringing on the legitimate reasons of people to own guns.
In fairness, most gun owners are not sociopaths and potential killers. They are law abiding citizens who are horrified by senseless acts of brutality. They may be hunters or have legitimate security issues either professionally or personally.
The first concern is the recognition that in many states, particularly Michigan, the challenge of identifying individuals with mental health issues and then getting them treatment is not being properly addressed. There are no public or private facilities specifically established to house and treat those with mental health issues in Michigan on a long term basis.
To be sure there is a floor at Beaumont Hospital, as I am sure there is at other hospitals but no facility specifically for treatment of mental health issues in the public sphere since the closing of the facilities in Pontiac and Northville before it. There are of course facilities for drug and alcohol substance abuse and that is a positive step but hardly what it would seem was necessary here. To be sure I am not advocating every “nutcase” be locked away as some have suggested and in fact I find the very use of the term repugnant. There are people throughout the country that have serious issues and need what could be long term help. It behooves us to strike the right balance and make sure they can get it while maintaining their rights as individuals to protection of the law and due process. I do not have answers other than that first, we must provide the facilities for treatment both private and public and the care must include long term options. Second the facilities must be more than the old Eloise, which seemed more a place to house mentally ill or challenged with virtually no hope of bringing them back to society.
The other issue is beginning the process to remove the means for these acts from the marketplace. To be sure that task is daunting in terms of what is already out in society which may be impossible to do anything about without the cooperation of the owners. Going forward there is something we can do by re-instituting the ban on assault weapons and many other firearms capable of firing at overwhelming speeds and killing power.
The argument that the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to bear arms period end is flawed and has hardly stood the test of time or judicial dictum – the Hiller and McDonald decisions both being 5-4 and coming in the last few years. Historically going back to the Congressional debates, every version of the amendment that was finally passed by the three fourths of the states in 1791 (two years after being introduced by James Madison) contained a reference to and link with militia. It is further reinforced by a 1794 Federal law requiring states to establish a militia to include all “free males” from the age 18 to 45 (what was to become today's National Guard). It also required that members of the militia were subject to the call of the state or Federal government and each member was required to have their own musket or flintlock and sufficient ammunition and powder for twenty-four rounds (as well as a knapsack and powder box to carry the ammunition).
Late in the 19th century the first major Supreme Court decision held that the state were not prohibited by the 14th amendment from regulation of the sale of firearms. By 1939 a unanimous Supreme Court held that the Federal government did in fact also have the right to regulate firearms, using the criteria of whether they were the type necessary to a well maintained militia. In that case the weapon was a sawed off shotgun, and a federal law prohibited the carrying of a shotgun with a barrel of less than 18 inches.
More recent decisions in 2006 and 2008 broke with the earlier court decisions as noted above. Perhaps it is time to rethink that position given the history of gun related violence. Since 1982 there have been over forty incidences of mass murders or serial murders by individuals.
I hate to even give credibility to the supercilious argument that “guns don’t kill” or “you don’t blame the lead in a pencil for an error on a page" - such statements are merely poetic slogans with little factual or logical meaning. There is only one purpose for a pistol or rifle and that is to kill – even target shooting is intended to hone ones skills at using a weapon to kill, be it an animal or person.
The debate on both issues will be lengthy and to be sure one can expect that at times it could become emotionally charged. But at the end of the day decisions must be taken with the goal of reducing senseless acts of savagery by both reducing the means and creating an environment that allows society to find solutions to the identification and treatment of individuals before they become the cause of statistics like those of Columbine, Virginia Tech or Newtown.