“I’ll take ‘Meaningful Conversation’ for 500 Gazillion, Alex…”

Hello. Yeah, its been awhile.  Like the rest of the country, and the world – I  have been mourning the precious, priceless lives lost in Newtown, CT last week.  And having a very, very, very  hard time dealing with it all.  The incessant media coverage most particularly.  While I want to stay up to date with breaking news, I must – and have – shut down the news except for brief periodic check ins for no more than 10 minutes at  a time.  My Christmas tree, so incandescent and sparkly at this time last week – has lost its brightness and luster.  Christmas Carols make me cry.  I’m crying at odd moments regardless. The feelings are overwhelming. We’ll get through it – but we won’t EVER get over it.

So, just how DO we have “meaningful conversation” about this horrible tragedy and move towards prevention of a repeat? The issues are so multi layered and interconnected.  The knee jerkers would institute a broad ban of firearms.  I speak now as a country girl with a long family history of responsible firearms use behind her.  My grandfather was featured in a 1967 issue of American Sportsman magazine (before it was a TV show) – as one of the preiminent hunter/sportsmen in the New England area.  At his knee, we all learned how to responsibly and carefully use guns (in my case a .22 rifle). One of the things I learned was this, :  “Use the gun you need to get the job done, nothing more, nothing less.”  Which brings me to my first thoughts:  Civilians do not need to own or have access to assault weapons. These firearms belong in the hands of well-trained and evaluated military and police personnel, period.  Hunters and outdoors men don’t use HK6’s or a bushmaster to shoot deer or elk.  There wouldn’t be much left to the carcass if they did.  Sure, it gives people a thrill to utilize that kind of firepower -but these types of guns are not necessary for hunting or for self defense for the average citizen.  A 9mm Glock, or a Smith and Wesson.38 or .45 will do the job quite nicely, thank you.  Just because one WANTS the rush of a 100 round a minute shoot-em-up does not mean one NEEDS to have it.  Its time we wake up and realize as Mick and the boys would say ” We can’t always get what we want.”  Or rather, we SHOULDN”T always get what we want.

I am a strong supporter of the right to bear arms. But with that right comes a great and terrible responsibility.    In my mind, this has to mean meaningful CHANGE in the processes by which we allow our citizens to arm themselves.  It should not be easy to obtain or retain ownership of a firearm.  I propose a certification and training system similar to how we license people to drive.

1. Minimum age requirement. I suggest 18 and up. My hometown was sadly the scene of a horrible tragedy in 2008 when an 8 year old was STUPIDLY allowed to fire an Uzi; shot and killed himself in the process because he did not have the motor skills or the hand eye coordination to handle the weapon safely.

2. Certification from a physician that in their medical opinion there is no physical or mental impediment to the person owning and using a firearm.

3. Completion of an intensive multi-hour training and certification course (like drivers ed at least 20 hours of gun range time and also classroom instruction) BEFORE you are allowed to even purchase a weapon. And, mandatory recertification every few years. We can track when dog licenses expire and fine owners.  We should be doing the same type of thing with firearms.  (and generate a new revenue stream in the process….)  Also, making ammunition more expensive.

4. Legislation that would hold gun owners completely liable if they do not store and lock their weapons safely and someone gets hurt as a result of their negligence.

5. If you are living with someone with mental illness you cannot own or possess a firearm. You should be held criminally responsible if you do, and something happens.

Meaningful conversation about this also MUST include a discussion about mental health. I have worked in Human Services for over 30 years and I can tell you we are most definitely NOT doing enough to assist our brothers and sisters who are afflicted with developmental disabilities and mental illness, their families, or  the hardworking staff who support them in their daily lives.  I started out in the field doing per diem shifts at group homes for the mentally ill.  Doing “awake overnights” much of the time. And being scared, a lot.  Staff are provided “applied non-violence” training which consists of about 24 hours of hands on and classroom instruction about how to defuse explosive situations and physically get yourself out of hairpulls, choke holds etc. And how to restrain someone when necessary.  I can tell you from experience this training is only helpful when you have to use it on a regular basis. And, if the individual gets hurt as a result of any intervention a staff does, the staff is required to report themselves to the DPPC (Disabled Persons Protection Commission) as an alleged abuser – even if the person just got a bruise in the course of being restrained.  Direct care staff take off their rights as individuals when they arrive at work just like you take off your jacket when you get home. I have multiple scars from bites and scratches, and arthritis in my shoulder and hip from injuries I received while working with aggressive individuals.   All this staff do for the bargain basement price of about 10 dollars an hour, barely above minimum wage.  That in itself is not right.  Direct support is an incredibly difficult job. Staff must be caretakers, negotiators, mediators, teachers, chauffeurs, and also dispense medication. They are also required to do charting, write progress notes and reports as well.  Most of them are not college educated.

My experience as a direct support staff working with the mentally ill ended thusly:  I worked the awake overnights at an “Intensive Supervised” apartment program in town. Which meant I worked with people with severe mental illness.  I was on my own from 10 pm to 8am with 3-4 individuals. I could ring a buzzer to summon a staff from the third floor if there was a problem but back in the 80’s that buzzer was high up on a wall – I could not press it wirelessly.  One day, we were informed at a staff meeting that we would be getting a new admission. This young man had been arrested in town after breaking into a gun shop and wandering down the street with the loaded rifle – while hearing voices that he should kill people. He was promptly involuntarily admitted to the State Hospital which was still in operation at the time. The clinician who was reporting to us at the meeting said that, while he was still having issues and hearing voices, he was considered stable enough to be discharged.  That night, I had a horrible nightmare that I arrived at work to a bloodbath on the walls and the young man jumped out from behind a wall with a bloody axe – screaming in my face  “You’re next!”   I quit before he was admitted to that residential program, and found meaningful work within the developmentally disabled population, where I have remained ever since.  I brought up this incident a few years later in conversation with The Viking. In a strange coincidence he informed me that he had been asked to come down to the police station for a line up  identification after the gun shop break in – because he lived down the street and had the same physical description as the mentally ill young man (6’1″, blond hair, blue eyes, late teens/early twenties)   Weird, huh? These days I work in an administrative capacity – direct support is most definitely a job for younger folks than me.  But I digress.

Better care of the mentally ill starts with better medical insurance coverage for families who’s members suffer from this terrible disease.  It contunues with better access to facilities for treatment, better access to psychotropic medications at an affordable price, and a more streamlined involuntary commitment process (in balance with and a sensitivity to individual rights of course) And a system that is willing to assist people in making difficult choices.  We must keep in mind that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.  We must  increase wages for direct care staff and provide them all the support and training they need to help the individuals they work with every day.  In my opinion we must also reopen discussion about institutionalization for those with severe mental illness. Those who present a danger to society because of their disease. This is already happening within our penal system. We are warehousing the mentally ill in places like Rikers Island in New York and have been doing so for quite some time.  Prison is not the place for these people, surely we can do better. These folks have no choice about their behavior.  We have to assure that those folks living in the community stay on their medication, and if they won’t – make sure they are institutionalized safely where they cannot harm anyone.  We must also support family members to monitor their loved ones.   Its not gonna be easy. EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE ON THE TABLE in order for any conversation or solutions to be “meaningful”.  These issues are too important, we need to act thoughtfully, responsibly and quickly.  I’ll end with a prayer:

Dear Lord:

Please guide our steps and heal our hearts as we move forward through our grief to finding sensible solutions to the problems we face. Help us protect our most vulnerable citizens; and give our leaders the moral strength to make the decisions that do the most good for the greatest amount of people. Please place your loving protection around the families who have lost so much – and help the rest of us to support them as we too grieve their loss.  Amen.


16 thoughts on ““I’ll take ‘Meaningful Conversation’ for 500 Gazillion, Alex…”

  1. Thanks Donna for your response. I did mean 119,000, but I misquoted data from another post, that had other verifiable data. I was referencing US soldier deaths as a comparison to the 119,000 children and teens who have died in gun deaths since 1979. According to Wikipedia. the US lost 117,000 soldiers in WWI, 405,000 in WWII, 58,000 in Vietnam and 36,000 in Korea. The author of the post where I pulled this was still correct in that 119K children and teen gun deaths is a tragedy comparable to the losses in three wars. To your greater point, on the same day the NRA chief made his inane remarks, there were five othe stories of gun deaths in my paper. I often tell people to pick up any paper and read the number of gun deaths in your region. This stuff happens everyday and is the greater tragedy to your point. Many thanks and may 2013 be a great one for you and all of us. BTG

  2. Donna, many thanks for you well thought and experienced view on this complex topic. I am in agreement with many of your suggestions, but especially the part about good dialogue around this topic. Arming everyone as proposed by some is not the solution, nor is arming the teachers. We should not have kids around loaded weapons. Having more armed guards is another thing, but here is where a hypocrisy creeps in. Our school system cut $2 million from its budget by reducing guards in schools – this is one of those services tax dollars would support, yet that is another subject .The greater tragedy is we had 2,694 children and teen gun deaths in the US in 2010. That is 100x the number at Sandy Hook. We have 87% of the children and teen guns deaths out of the richest 23 nations in the world. And, we have had over 119,000 children and teen gun deaths since 1979, which is more than the number of soldiers who died in WWI and WWII combined. Please check out the comment from a Canadian blog friend to my recent post “Gun Death and the Bigger Context.” He would agree with your grandfather. Let me close with a new mantra – “People who have access to guns kill people. People who do not, don’t.” We are beyond the tipping point and reasonable gun owners like you need to keep the dialogue moving. By the way, I have missed you and your comments. Have a great holiday, BTG

    • BTG, Thanks for writing. I’ve had a lot going on and have not been able to make time to write much recently. This year has been a trying and difficult one on so many levels. I’ll be glad to see 2013! Onward and Upward!!

      Just to clarify, I don’t currently own any firearms, but I was brought up around them and I’m certainly careful; and cognizant of the power they have, in anyone’s hands. I guess it boils down to personal responsibility again. It’s ironic that I keep returning to that theme time and again in my writing…. And of course it’s also a case of the bad apples spoiling it for the whole bunch of us. Because we have to make laws to address the “idio-cracy ” running rampant these days.

      Another point. We’re spoiled rotten. Many countries already armed teachers and their kids go to schools inside what amounts to fortresses. Countries that live with all types if terrorism every day.

      The NRA can complain all it wants, if but banning modification kits that turn single shot semi-automatics into fully automatic weapons , requiring people to take multi-hour training courses and recertify regularly, having an age limit for ownership, perhaps even making it mandatory for palm locks that would make the guns impossible to fire by anyone other than the registered owner, ENFORCING the laws already on the books, and making treatment for mental illness easier to access. If these things can save another classroom of kids – then to me they’re worth it.

      And did you mean to say 119 million? Because 119 thousand seems low for a combined combatant casualty count for both World Wars….

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours! Love and Hugs! D.

  3. This is a very personal issue for so many people involved. It’s incredibly easy for anyone to become angry when discussing it because it touches all of us, whether we have kids or not, because everyone wants to do what they think is the best solution. Nobody wants to see this happen again; nobody wanted to see it in the first place. It incites rage to think about someone doing this, and it’s not each other we’re mad at, it’s the act and our failure to have prevented it. We have to remember that this is the gunman’s fault, not ours.

  4. Momma, every parent on the planet feels the same thing you do. My wife and I just pulled our 5 year-old out of Kindergarten because we Homeschool anyway and no longer feel that schools are anything more than the latest trend, let alone safe. However your ideas on gun control are misguided at best and I’ll explain why.

    First, the 2nd Amendment has absolutely zero to do with hunting -never did. The 2nd Amendment was created to suppress an overwhelmingly oppressive government, like they had dealt with. Therefore, barring private ownership of the same weapons military Service Members use only serves to put the government in a position to abuse those weapons in much worse ways than any private citizen ever would. You are right when you say that Hunters don’t need those weapons. In fact they don’t need ANY weapons. They could use traps, or if they wanted to, they could use knives, swords, bows & arrows, rocks, etc. Again, our Right to keep and bear arms is the ONLY concept in the US Constitution that offers justification for its existence: “A well-regulated militia, BEING NECESSARY TO THE SECURITY OF A FREE STATE, the Right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

    Now on your notes:
    1) Minimum age requirements are a good idea but can fall well within the bounds of adult status, so 18 is a good recommendation, but is also implied and if we continue to fabricate redundant legislation, then we jeopardize the sovereignty of all laws prior to it.

    2) It’s bad enough that healthcare and insurance are mandated around the country. It’s bad enough that we have absolutely no liberty left that we now have already added yet another dynamic to our self-indentured servitude that we allow STATE LICENSED people to dictate our liberty. If I were a doctor and didn’t like you or your hair color, I could lie and say you are incapable of voting, which some might argue is more dangerous than gun ownership (generally speaking, not in reference to you specifically).

    3) Making ammo more expensive will only cost you and me because the military and police will need this expensive ammo too, again taking away from our Rights. Licensing also allows the government more control over who gets to use their Rights and who doesn’t. And for those they deem “worthy” or “loyal,” they are tracked and the government can plan its aggressive oppression more accurately. What if I told you that you have to pass a US History course to vote. Then, what if you fail it? What if I make it impossibly difficult for you to pass it so I can only make my friends “qualified” to vote?

    4) Just be careful of this one because if you make it so impossible to access a gun in an emergency, you only create more victims.

    5) ANYONE can be deemed “mentally ill.” So, in denying one person a Right because of a government-controlled condition declaration, you are basically saying that I can tell you that you can’t vote because your neighbor is an idiot. You cannot be convicted of a crime committed by someone else, and you cannot take violate an individual’s Rights without due process.

    I think I could summarize most of what I’m trying to say by telling you that no matter what laws you make, no matter the restrictions, no matter the limitations you try to place on all people, only the ones who are not a threat will abide. If someone has such little regard for life will certainly have less regard for the law.

    If you want to make progress on what you’re trying to accomplish, you would be much better advised to work on repealing the 2nd Amendment but you heard it here first -when they take away our Right to own guns or to limit ownership, the rest of the Rights you DO want no restrictions on will vanish entirely.

    We are all hurting over this, but I can assure you that the ONLY way to prevent things like this is to follow the one course we seem to be so reluctant to do, and that is observe the 2nd Amendment for the wise concept that it is, and to arm ourselves. These cowards conduct these attacks because they know that most people are unarmed. History and even current statistics prove that gun-friendly places have less “successful” attempts at violence while other places are filled with people who simply don’t care and victimize the rest of us.

    • I should have been clearer and indicated that self defense usage of firearms was included in my thoughts, rather than just hunting. I completely understand your thoughts on this. Must disagree with some of what you say. To date, other than Ohio in 1971, I know of no incidents of the military or police turning on civilians and using assault weapons to mow them down. Civilians do not need assault weapons to defend themselves. I’m talking about what I view as common sense precautions to make sure people who have no business with a gun cannot have access to guns. An eye for an eye eventually makes everyone blind. i would also like to think that our govt. is not out to oppress us. If there can be civil or criminal penalties for negligence perhaps people will take more of an interest in storing firearms safely and securely. We don’t need to give up our firearms, but we need to have systems in place that adequately reflect the seriousness of the responsibility attached to that right. To that end, sacrifices and compromises have to be made. I’m very happy to read your thoughts and participate in continued thoughtful discussion which I hope more people will jump into. Thank you for sharing – always great to hear from you.

      • All of our Rights carry an inherent and implied set of responsibilities. You can’t say what you want without having to listen to what you don’t want. You can’t carry a gun without being responsible for how to handle it. You can’t preach your own religion without enduring the teachings of other religions. You can’t cast a vote without first knowing what you’re voting for. These teachings come from the home and not the government. The government teaches polarization and division. No nation was ever built by the State, but by the family.

    • The only thing left out by Quabbinite was the ridiculous “taking the gun from my cold, dead hands” statement. Well you know what? there are 26 sets of “cold, dead hands” in Connecticut, who had nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment, the NRA, or the Gun Nuts. That hasn’t left them any less dead.

      Widespread guns carried by individuals, concealed or open, do not bring a sense of peace, they bring a sense of dread, of fear that if I say the wrong thing, or inadvertently upset the wrong person, out comes the gun and I am looking at the wrong end of the barrel.

      Protection in a crowd? Hogwash! Hundreds of patrons, in a dark theater such as Aurora, Colorado, and someone starts shooting? Then all the armed vigilantes start shooting, shooting at the closest muzzle flash they saw, at the shadowy movement of someone ducking for protection, at whomever, in an instant, that particular gun carrier decided was the “bad guy.” Multiply this guy, in the pandemonium that went on in that theater, and we have a gunfight where the innocents and the defenders all are potential victims.

      The problem is the widespread access to an arsenal by every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, who in a moment of rage, or pain, or simply standing up for there possibly hurt pride, quickly grabs a gun and takes out his revenge. Where in the past this might have ended in a fist fight, with everyone waking in the morning, now its ended with a gun blast and one or more bodies lying on the floor.

      Whats wrong with a thorough background check? A 21 day waiting period? A medical check? If you’re that paranoid that you see dark, lurking shadows and creeping government wishing to take over the country in these proposals, then perhaps you should not be in possession of a weapon of death.

      I find nothing wrong with responsible gun ownership of responsible guns, but there is no reason on earth for private citizens to own automatic or semi-automatic weapons, to own weapons like the Bushmaster, to own speed clips or clips with 100 rounds.

      We as a country have gone way beyond any reasonable gun ownership criteria in this country. Its time to rein in the wild west mentality.

      • If not now, when? I agree with much said here. Im not sure that arming myself is an effective deterrent for someone hell bent on mayhem and destruction. Because he is mentally defective and is going to shoot anyway. He doesn’t care. These are the people I would like to try and weed out with the additional safeguards I propose. I understand much of what Quabbinite said and see clearly that what I propose is not the cure all. It does address the problem of limiting the access of the crazies to firearms. I prefer to think that our government is not out to oppress us.
        Further, I also see the slippery slope and possible issues with medical checks and the AMA “signing off” on evals for firearms permits. Q raises some valid concerns. I am in no way saying that responsible adults should not own firearms.
        In this horrific case, it would appear that at least the letter of the law was followed, yet an obviously troubled individual somehow gained access to his mothers legally registered guns and killed her, along with 26 other innocents. There has got to be a sensible way to seal up the huge crack in the process that allowed this sick individual to do what he did. No, we cannot prevent every incident. But we can surely assure that the mentally ill have no access to firearms. And hold people at least civilly responsible if they fail to assure their sick family member cannot access these weapons. If that means a few more hoops to jump through, I am sure the innocent lives saved are worth it.

  5. Well, it’s great to hear your strong voice again. I completely agree with your position, and sadly know there’s not a single politician out there with the courage to support such legislation. Great piece.

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