Open any news site today and you’ll see reports on two different theater shootings. The Holmes trial is in the sentencing phase, just miles from where I live. The Houser shooting happened less than a week ago. These two events have me ranting in a quiet anguished way. Three factors make these events personal to me: proximity, gun control, and mental health.
July 19, 2012 I flew home from a work trip. It was late. I drove home, and from the highway I could see the Aurora movie theater where less than three hours later James Holmes would open fire during The Dark Knight Rises. I was right there. Holmes could have passed me on the road as he made his way to start killing.
This February my family and I stopped at a great restaurant in Lafayette, GA while driving from New Orleans to Houston on Mardi Gras Day. I made the mistake of ordering barbecued shrimp, forgetting that they come with the heads still intact. After beheading my lunch I enjoyed my meal just blocks from where John Houser opened fire in a movie theater and killed two women and himself on July 23, 2015.
There is something about proximity that makes horror real. I was there. I can picture both of these places. I have swam in meets at Arapahoe High School and have friends who went to Columbine. It makes me wonder, are each of us one step away from knowing a victim or knowing a shooter?
I want there to be an easy solution to this problem. I want some politician to stand up and say, “That’s it! No more guns in this country, at all, ever.” Except I don’t. I am solidly torn on gun control. I grew up with guns in my house. I learned how to shoot, I learned to respect guns, and I fondly remember the hours I spent watching my dad and grandpa reload after target practice. I enjoyed target practice. If I walked into a gun shop today the smell of it would bring back happy memories.
My dad hunted. As a child hunting put meat on his family’s table. I don’t hunt and never have, but I can tell you that nothing will teach you to respect a weapon like watching your uncle and dad gut and skin a deer they have killed. I have never questioned what a gun can do to a living creature. I don’t like play guns. We weren’t allowed to watch violent movies or play violent video games as kids. We were taught to respect guns to the point that I still feel a little weird pointing a Nerf water gun at my daughter and spraying her.
There are people who believe they need guns for personal protection. There are so many guns out there already that we can’t make them go away. I can’t round up every kid in the country and teach them the power of a gun, install new morals, and make them respect weapons. The problem seems insurmountable especially when there seems to be no middle ground.
The other thing Holmes and Houser had in common was a history of mental illness. So there should be an easy solution there. We just need to take care of the mentally ill in this country and we won’t have anymore mass shootings. Well, let me tell that it is not an easy problem to solve either. I’ve got close personal experience with mental illness in my family: depression and bipolar disorder have wreaked havoc on the Aftheads and extended Aftheads. I can tell you that even when mentally ill people want help it can be next to impossible for them to get it, or for their families to get it for them. There aren’t enough doctors, there is horrible stigma, the meds are expensive and can make people worse instead of better.
I’m obsessed with the news filtering in about Houser because it is all so true. I’m not surprised by the loophole in the law that allowed him to buy a gun. The rights of mentally ill people are slippery. Even if someone is a danger to themselves and others, there is a limit to what you can do to get them help. In the end, they are people and you can’t just go around limiting people’s rights, even if the people who love them are begging for help. I’m not surprised by his brother’s comments that the shooting wasn’t a surprise, and his words resonate with a truth that only some unlucky families get to experience. The kind of sick his brother was will rip apart families for a lifetime. I’ve seen it happen. Eventually you have to pick between your own life, your own family, your own safety and caring for the guy who just might end up being a shooter. With little to no help, no support, and no power what is a family to do? The problem is so big it seems hopeless.
This is a hard problem, and you do not make hard problems go away by ignoring them or doing nothing. I know that. We all know that. So, we have to start a conversation that’s going to make everyone uncomfortable. We are going to have to talk about guns killing people and we might slip up and talk about crazy people and we might end up with a solution that limits some rights. This will all piss people off, but isn’t it okay to piss people off to make sure that there is never again a room of dead first graders? (I’ll admit, as the mom of a daughter who just graduated first grade Sandy Hook is a horror story has a closer proximity than I can even comprehend.)
My favorite article about this topic is from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. It’s called Guns, and it’s worth the $0.99 to read it on your Kindle or $2.99 to listen to on Audible. I have both versions. Know that if you buy it you are supporting the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. You might not be into such a charity, or Stephen King, so I’ll highlight his three measures to curb gun violence:
“Comprehensive and universal background checks.
Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds.
Ban the sale of assault weapons.”
These seem so reasonable to me, and such a good start. Yes, people can still die if you have a gun that has a clip that holds ten rounds, but Holmes couldn’t have done what he did without assault weapons. Sure, people can still steal guns or buy guns for their family members, but Houser couldn’t have bought a gun with stricter background checks. King doesn’t provide a road-map for solving the mental health issues in this country, but he does ensure that when someone has a history of going to dark places they can’t buy weapons. That’s a start and we need a start. If there is a chance that someone is going to use a gun to kill another human being, isn’t it worth it to limit that freedom to make sure that we don’t end up being a country where every single person either knows a shooter or a victim? Can we start taking some steps to solve the hard problem before the next tragedy?