Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guns, God and Mental Illness

I wasn't going to post about the Sandy Hook tragedy because I don't think I can provide a unique perspective on the issue. BUT, after seeing endless news stories about gun control, and Facebook post after Facebook post suggesting the shooting would have been avoided if "God was allowed in schools", I'm mad enough to share my opinion - if only to be one more voice advocating for some common sense.

My guiding point on the issue is this: no sane person walks into a school and open fires on a bunch of innocent kids - not one sane fucking person. I don't understand why everyone is fighting so much about gun control and God, and talking so little about providing resources to people who are mentally ill. 

I'm not saying that gun legislation isn't important or relevant here - when violent, sick people have easy access to weapons, it's obviously not a good thing. I am sure that tighter gun laws can save more than a few lives. HOWEVER, gun control doesn't address the real problem. I'm going to totally pull out the ol' "guns don't kill people; people kill people" quote here, but it's true. Mentally ill people with guns kill people en masse because they are sick. Why aren't we talking about that? 

The one person who, in my opinion, best summed up the mental health problem in relation to the Sandy Hook shootings got a lot of bad press for doing so. Liza Long posted a blog entry entitled "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" where she talked about her mentally ill son and the challenges she faces in getting him the help he needs. Subsequently, she was shit on by The Internet at large for violating her son's privacy, for being a Bad Mom, for being an attention seeker... Basically, people drowned out her message by talking about stuff that doesn't matter (again). I don't care if she's a saint or a villain - the points in her article are all valid and deserve some consideration. More consideration, I think, than the "Rah Rah Guns Good" or "Rah Rah Guns Bad" debate that has been saturating news feeds lately. Talking about the quality of Liza Long's character is just one more thing that detracts from the real issue.

Another thing that detracts from the real issue? The topic of God in schools. Quotes like this have been popping up everywhere:

Are you kidding me?! Your God is so petty that he would allow someone to off 20 first graders and the teachers who tried to protect them, just because some school officials took prayer out of homeroom? Or are you so powerful that God needs Your permission to enter a building? I'm a little confused here. I thought God was supposed to be with you always, like a creepy stalker, just hanging out everywhere you are, waiting for you to notice and love Him. Creepy stalkers don't give up just because you tell them never to contact you again, and neither does God. 

Not to mention the fact that God isn't a great role model when it comes to mass murder, anyway. He wiped out the entire population of Earth (spare Noah and his wife, plus a few pets) in a single flood because they weren't leading a life he wanted them to live. You want to teach that to my kids?

It goes without saying, I don't think the solution is more religion in schools (to be honest, aside from the fact that when people refer to "God" in schools, they are referring to the Christian God, thereby discriminating against kids of other faiths, I'm not opposed to teaching kids about religion in school. Just show all world religions, all sides of the debate, and have the kids think critically about them so they can choose their own path). I don't think religion in schools, or the lack thereof, is where the disconnect lies. I think school (and society, really) shoves a lot of "you are special just because you're you" crap down kids throats now, and it comes at the expense of more community-minded values (that deserves a post all on its own). You don't need God to teach good morals - just an appeal to common decency. I think a focus on the greater good, treating others as you'd like to be treated, and making the world a better place would go a lot further than "allowing (a narrow view of) God back into schools".

Furthermore, learning how to be a decent human being should be taught at home. If you want to do that through religion, by all means, please. But don't blame the school system for raising little shits or corrupting a generation of people. That's on you, parents.

Okay, I'm going off on a tangent now. My point is, we need to stop focusing all of our attention on guns and God, and work toward doing something to de-stigmatize mental illness and support those who need help. I am not quite sure how to do that, but opening a dialog about it is a good place to start. As is donating to mental health organizations* and writing to the government about funding for people struggling with mental illness. 

I'll step off the ol' soapbox now, and just add that this is clearly a more complicated issue than what I've outlined here. I'm just saying that tighter gun control and religion on their own won't prevent tragedies like this from happening again. Offering more support to the mentally ill isn't a magic cure-all, either, but at least it's a different approach we can add to the solution.

My heart aches for the victims and the families who have been affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook, including Adam Lanza and his family. I can't begin to imagine how much pain they are in right now, and they will be in my thoughts for a very long time.

*Interested in donating to a mental health organization? There are a ton to choose from. Here are just a few suggestions (disclaimer: I am not an expert on which organizations have the most impact. I'm just a chick with access to a search engine. You will have to do your own due diligence):

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) -
Canadian Mental Health Association -
Mental Health America -

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