Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Streets of Heaven are too Crowded with Angels

I have struggled with how to respond to the events in Newton, Connecticut yesterday. I have struggled with how to even begin to comprehend such tragedy. 

I've seen probably too much in the news and in social media about it. Did the gunman simply make a bad choice yesterday morning or was he suffering from mental illness? When is the right time to discuss gun control? Are these mass shootings happening because there is no prayer in public schools? Who's really to blame? Could we, as a society, have prevented this or was this the despicable act of one guy who has nothing in common with any of the other mass shooters in the past few decades? I've seen these and many other questions asked since yesterday morning. 

I dont have any answers. I've got opinions, but everyone has at least a few, so I'm not sure I want to just start ranting about my opinions here.

Wait. That's not true. This is my blog and that's why I write it. So here goes. Buckle up.

Yesterday, a woman I've known since high school posted on her Facebook page that she learned in her social psychology class that life is full of choices and the shooter should have made better choices, as though he woke up yesterday and rather than having Cheerios for breakfast, he decided to blast away his family and a bunch of innocent 5 to 10 year olds. I asked if she was suggesting that mental illness played no part in this. She responded by saying that even if the gunman was mentally ill, he had choices. I think that's incredibly pollyanna-ish. Yes, we all have choices, but we also have environmental and biological factors that greatly influence us.

Mental illness is not a choice. It's also time to start talking about what we, as a society, are doing to exacerbate the problems of people who are mentally ill. We are shaming them and their families by saying "you just need to make a better choice each day." That's implying that they're weak, have no desire to be better, and are failures.

We need to acknowledge that mental illness is as much of a disability as having no legs. We need to fully fund real programs for the mentally ill, not just drugs, which we also don't even fully fund.  Somehow, in the State of Illinois, we manage to almost always slash programs for the mentally ill before we cut other programs when we need to make budget decisions. Why is that?

We also need to have honest to goodness gun control conversations. Allegedly, the guns used yesterday were purchased and owned legally by the shooter's late mother. I'm sick of the NRA screaming about how stricter gun control will take away people's rights and how every person needs to be armed in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening. You simply can't convince me that having guns in classrooms would be a good idea and wouldn't cause more tragedy than it would solves. If that works, explain the Fort Hood massacre from 2009, when a single shooter killed 13 people and wounded another 29.

It's not too early to talk about gun control. It's too damn late. It's too late for all the kids who die in Chicago every weekend (did you know that 10 people, including 4 teens were shot in Chicago yesterday and last night?), the innocent people who died in Aurora, CO, Clackamas, OR, Columbine, CO, Tucson, AZ, or in any of the countless other mass shootings, including at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech University. Of course, as a Chicagoan, I'd be remiss if I didn't include the people who died in 1988 at Hubbard Woods Elementary School at the hands of Laurie Dann. I remember that shooting like it was yesterday. Not to be flip, but the time to talk about gun control was long ago.

When are we going to learn? We simply can't take away the social safety net and not expect there to be consequences. Horrible tragic consequences.

In honor of all those that died in all of these shootings, let's finally take action and examine what role we, as a society, play in these shootings. Maybe my friend is right. Maybe it is all about choice and, we all have been making piss poor choices and passing the buck for far too long. But we can fix that and we owe it to all those who died yesterday, and previously, to do so immediately.

Finally, I'm reminded of a great scene from season four of The West Wing in the episode "20 Hours in America." A tragic shooting had just occurred on a college campus and President Bartlet speaks words that are completely applicable today. The video is just over 3 1/2 minutes. Watch the whole thing. It's worth it.

In case you can't watch the video, here's what he said:
President Josiah Bartlet
: More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. 44 people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition. When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran *in* to the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Well said... moving speech from West Wing as well.


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