I left work early today. I found myself unable to focus, unable to deal with the bickering and changing requirements in my after lunch meeting. So I canceled my other meetings, and left. Liz is right that today was a very long day, and in the end, it was too long for me. I considered going home, but I promised Petunia that I would pick her up "apper nap" today, and I do not feel inclined to break promises to my kids right now. Besides, Pumpkin has swim lessons on Mondays, and Mr. Snarky has to leave work early to take her. He needs me to pick up Petunia.
And so it has come to this: I can't even work out the logistics to have a proper break down.
I cannot explain why I have come so unglued. I was on shaky ground before this, for reasons I don't really understand and certainly can't express. I'll work on that soon. But I also know that today, the underlying cause is Sandy Hook. Rationally, there is no reason that this particular horrific tragedy should affect me more than the other horrific tragedies that have come before. But it has. I am not fine. And since I have found writing to be a very effective way of working through things, I am writing about it. This post will necessarily be a bit self-indulgent and unnecessarily a bit long, and I apologize for that. But I found Gravity Circus' so-called "self-indulgent" post to be just the sort of thing I needed to read, so I will go ahead and share it anyway. As she says, you can click away if you don't want to read it.
I considered going to the Starbucks and typing there, but I decided that I don't trust myself to be in public. People would want to help the crying woman, but probably wouldn't know what to do with my request that they fix our gun laws, please. So I drove to Torrey Pines State Beach, and am parked above it, listening to the waves, and watching the sun sink lower over the ocean. I am writing this in Notepad and will post it later.
Mr. Snarky and I work within a 5 minute walk from each other, so he came and walked with me for awhile, and that helped. He told me that Pumpkin's school no longer allows parents to walk their kids in to before care through an open gate. He had to take her through the office and sign in. We shared a wry chuckle at the ridiculousness of this piece of security theater- the school in Newtown had a locked single point of entrance. It was blasted open.
But what can we expect our schools to do? In the face of military-grade weapons, what can we expect them to offer except security theater? I made the mistake of engaging in conversation with some gun proponents over on Scalzi's post, and they were seriously arguing for armed teachers and fortified schools. I'm not sure what to do with people like that. Pumpkin's school already has a 7 or 8 foot high chain link fence around it (which Mr. Snarky hates- note, people, that such fences are not necessary in all countries). It would be easily scalable by an adult. Shall we add barbed wire on top? I'm sure the prison atmosphere would be very conducive to learning.
Last night, I forced myself to read the coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting, so that I could be prepared for questions Pumpkin might have in case she hears something at school- we have not told her about this, and no, I do not know if that was right or wrong. We'll find out tonight, I suppose. It was devastating reading, but I was struck by how brave those teachers and school staff were. How they did everything "right" and no doubt kept the death toll from being even higher. They truly were heroes, every last one of them. But then, teachers are heroes in other, more ordinary ways. How unfair of us to ask them to take on this, too.
So, no, I don't think the answer is more school security, or better trained teachers, or anything like that. I just don't. I hate that we spend money from already squeezed school budgets on the security we have.
I have seen a lot of calls for better mental health services, or better access to the ones we have, too. I will not argue with those. As I said over on FeMOMhist's excellent post, we should work for better treatments and improve our mental health system because the people who suffer from mental illnesses are human beings, suffering through no fault of their own. They deserve the same chance at a full and rich life as anyone else. I agree whole-heartedly with Julie at A Little Pregnant that we failed Adam Lanza, too. As Julie points out, he was once a little boy as full of promise as any other. Something went wrong, and I doubt our society is blameless in that, if only in that we utterly failed to keep powerful guns out of such disturbed hands. Whatever his problems or illness, we had a role in making it fatal, and we're kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.
I'm all for more research and better access to mental heath help and all that, but really, let's not kid ourselves. That is not a solution to the problem of gun violence. Not all people who kill other people- even in mass shootings like this one- are mentally ill. The vast majority of mentally ill people will never hurt anyone. Our understanding of mental illness is far from complete, and many of the medications we have to offer have very unpleasant side effects.
By a strange coincidence, I had occasion to attend a seminar about translational research in schizophrenia this morning. (Translational research is the research to translate knowledge gleaned from lab experiments into medically useful treatments.) It was a good seminar, and discussed a lot of good research. But my god, this is a challenging problem. Even developing useful animal models of this one disease has taken decades, and the work is not complete.
I am humbled by people's confidence in the ability of the scientific community to tackle this problem, and we are indeed working on it. But I'll refer you back to an earlier rant- the funding is scarce. Do not expect any magic treatments, please, certainly not soon.
In the near term, if we want to tackle this problem through mental health services, what we are really talking about is involuntary commitment. I agree that we need to make it easier for concerned families to get their ill loved ones the help they need. But we should also remember why we made it harder to commit someone: the system was abused, quite badly in some cases. So, to avoid placing limits on the 2nd amendment rights of gun owners, we will trample the 5th and 8th amendment rights of people with mental illnesses. I am not saying that infringing on those rights is not sometimes a necessary and overall good thing to do, but, wow- what a huge burden we would be placing on psychiatrists and counselors, and on the friends and family of mentally ill people- to sort out which people need to be locked up against their will and which do not. What horrible guilt we force them to live with when they fail to be clairvoyant and perfectly predict who is dangerous and who is just disturbed. I do not think we have the disagnostic power to support this as our method for preventing gun violence. I just don't.
And so I come back to the guns, in particular the semi-automatic weapons.
I was struck by the first graph in this blog post, showing the correlation between gun deaths and gun ownership in OECD countries. I was struck by how lonely the US is on the graph, with its high number of guns and high number of deaths, but that was not a surprise. I was initially surprised by the outlier that is off the line: Mexico, which has far more deaths per gun that the other countries. But I thought about it a bit, and it makes sense. Mexico is not a country with loose gun laws. If you do not live near the border, you may not know that most weapons used in the drug wars in Mexico come from the US. They are semi-automatic weapons purchased legally here and then smuggled to Mexico. It would appear that we have allowed our neuroses about our 2nd amendment to spill over into a death toll in other countries. I am deeply ashamed of that. (And yes, I know correlation != causation, so perhaps there are other reasons... but the fact remains, the guns in Mexico largely come from us.)
I stand by my statement last Friday: I have no interest in taking away people's guns. I only care that we figure out how to regulate them so that the price of one person's liberty to own a gun is not other people's right to life and the pursuit of happiness. As Scalzi pointed out, even Justice Scalia allowed that the rights granted by the 2nd ammendment were not without limit. So let's stop acting like they are, and put some limits in place.
My arguing over at Whatever did not convince any gun proponents to change their minds, but it did crystallize one thing for me. I realized that we need to change the debate. We have been trotting out statistics and studies to show that guns are dangerous, and arguing our case for new regulations in that way. I think we should turn that on its head. Guns are dangerous. Of course they are- that is sort of the point of them. Semi-automatic weapons are even more dangerous- again, that is the point of them. I see no reason that semi-automatic weapons need to be kept in homes in our communities. If you know of one, by all means, explain it to me- but if you say "self-defense," I'm going to ask who, exactly, you expect to come barging into your home, an army? And if you say "yes, an army," then I will dismiss you as either irrational or involved in some highly suspect behaviors.
So I say to the gun proponents: if you want to keep these self-evidently dangerous things in your home, then you should propose some regulations that will ensure that this can be done safely.
And if you will not do that, then you have no right to complain if the rest of us figure out the rules under which we are comfortable with your guns. At first glance, I like the idea of mandatory gun insurance, with premiums that increase with increasing risk factors (like children in the home), and I think that semi-automatic weapons should be restricted to gun clubs and shooting ranges. Shoot them there and store them there, and slap large penalties on any facility that allows you to remove them. (How would they stop you, you ask? Well, we can put security guards there or arm the staff- that was your solution for the schools, wasn't it? Or really, if there is any place that should be full of the armed private civilians that gun proponents think will stop mass shooters, it is a shooting range.)
But to be honest, I don't know what the best answer to fixing our gun problem is. I just know we have a problem that needs fixing. I cannot explain why it took a tragedy of this magnitude to shake me out of my complacency on that fact. I am ashamed that it did. We all should be. But we should be even more ashamed if we won't try to fix it even now.
Over the past few days, I have realized that my conscience requires me to try to fix this. I do not yet know what I will do, but I will have to do something. I want to do some research, and some soul-searching, before I decide what I will do. I know that some of you will disagree with me about guns, and that is fine. I do not intend to turn this into a gun control blog. I may update you occasionally on what I decide to do, but will mostly continue to write about the subjects that I have always written about. I just needed to write this post, to get my anger out in the world, so that maybe I can let my sadness out tonight, after the kids are in bed, and move on. I need some time to educate myself on an issue I have not previously bothered to fully understand before I decide what to do. I also need to leave this topic for awhile and get in the holiday spirit, for the sake of my children and the rest of my family, so I'll be turning to happier topics next.
I will move on. But I do not intend to forget.