Putting An End To U.S.'s Mass Shootings
I would be remiss if I didn't write an article concerning the danger to our children in today's society, in lieu of this recent Valentine's Day Florida school massacre. And given that I have two school aged sons, like many of us, this is not just a national/political issue for me. It's very personal.
As a mother, it not only leaves me scared out of my mind, but it also sickens me that this keeps happening. There have been 18 school shootings in the U.S. in 2018, and we are only halfway through the second month!
I have been reading one article after another this week and there seems to be two main stopgaps that are failing us here. First, our current gun laws and second, our mental health support services.
When the Las Vegas shooting happened at the end of 2017, I got into a discussion with someone close to me at the time about gun laws. He was Pro-NRA, stating the common adage, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." He made the point that criminals will get guns no matter what. He felt that stricter gun control will only lead to law abiding citizens being unable to acquire weapons that they could use to defend themselves against armed criminals.
But that's not really what we are talking about here. We aren't discussing gang members shooting each other, or armed thieves breaking into your home to rob you. We are talking about the fact that a young man like Nikolas Cruz can premeditate a school massacre, legally acquire a semi-automatic weapon and use it to destroy 17 innocent lives.
Given the massive number of school shootings that have plagued our country since Columbine in 1999, we must look to other countries to see what's working in preventing this tragedy from happening. Because obviously we are just not figuring it out.
In Australia in 1996, a mentally disturbed 28-year-old fatally shot 12 people and gunned down 22 more. Within 12 days, Australia dramatically changed its legislation, enacting a nationwide ban on the purchase of semi-automatic and rapid-fire weapons, as well as creating a buy-back program for guns already in its communities. The buyback program ultimately took over 700,000 weapons off the streets.
The entire buyback program and new legislation cost Australia $230 million. Just to put that in perspective, Trump's proposed military parade is being estimated to cost $50 million. And Trump's wall designed to protect us from illegal Mexican immigrants? $33 BILLION.
Since Australia created this new legislation and buy-back program, mass shootings like the one that prompted it, have been reduced to zero. They have not had another mass shooting since.
Perhaps if the majority of mass shootings in this country were being done by illegal Mexican immigrants who would be scared straight by seeing a military parade, or who's numbers would be greatly reduced by a big wall, Trump's game plan would actually make sense.
Mental Health Care
It is obvious to Americans that we have a serious failure in our ability to address mental health in this country. This is not news. We have a tendency to take any person having suicidal or homicidal thoughts and throw a bunch of anti-depressants at them and send them on their way.
The problem with this approach is two-fold. First, because of our failed public health system, a large number of mentally ill and potentially dangerous people never even make as far as getting to a health professional. Second, when they do, without a complete approach to their failing mental health, that includes counseling in combination with medication woven into a long-term, monitored care plan, the approach fails.
And when it comes to teenagers, the age-group mostly carrying out these school shootings, anti-depressants can actually increase homicidal and suicidal tendencies.
In the case of this recent tragedy the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was identified as a risk from as early as middle school. His middle school and high school teachers referred him to individual and family counseling. They held parent conferences and called social workers. They suspended him and sent him off campus. They sent him to a school for emotionally disturbed youth. A year before he returned with a gun, they asked for an assessment of the threat he posed to the school. (1)
"Teachers worked 'very, very hard' to get Cruz to a school center that would help him address his issues, said [one of his] sixth grade teacher[s], who noted that Cruz's now-deceased mother also understood his problems and wanted to get him help. But that process took years, the teacher said, and required loads of paperwork to back up Cruz's needs." (1)
Despite all of this effort, he still managed to walk on campus and gun down 17 lives.
How? As a society, are we that inept at dealing with our mental health crises that we can't even get a hold of an obviously at-risk, potentially dangerous, young adult and somehow get him the help he needs before he guns down a host of innocent children?
When National Healthcare Becomes Critically Important
According to a report by the World Health Organization and World Bank officials, most governments are inadequately investing in mental health care, "spending an average of less than $2 per person a year – an amount officials say is not only devastating to mental health, but has adverse effects on the global economy." (2)
According to a study published Tuesday in The Lancet Psychiatry, for every $1 spent on mental health for treatment such as counseling and medication, governments could receive a $4 return on their investment. (2)
What this tells us is that mental health is globally underfunded by developed nations, when investing in mental health is actually financially beneficial. A 400% return on investment by way of less loss of productivity in itself makes investing in our mental health a sound financial decision.
But finances aren't even close to being the real issue here.
Because spending the extra dollars to avoid another school shooting?
While we all feel empathy and compassion for the people and loved ones gunned down in these mass shootings, it is too easy for us to say, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you" and be done with it. As a mom, I can't help but personalize this tragedy, thinking first about what it would feel like to send my sons to school one day and have to bury them the next.
Second, and possibly even worse, is the thought of what it must feel like to be the parent of one of these shooters, to know that my child was responsible for so much unnecessary pain and anguish. The thought chills and sickens me to the bone.
It CAN Be Done
It's easy to feel helpless in the aftermath of such a tragedy as this recent shooting, especially in the wake of one after the other. But we cannot give up on our country and our species as a whole. There has got to be a viable approach to this horrifying trend.
Our youth around the nation are calling for a nationwide student walk-out on the anniversary of our country's very first school massacre at Columbine on April 20, 1999, which left 13 dead. More than 22,000 students have signed a petition, pledging to walk out of their classrooms that day at 10 a.m. for the rest of the day.
This is a good start, but more must be done. We must follow Australia's lead and immediately enact an end to the availability of semi-automatic and rapid-fire assault weapons. No hunter needs an assault rifle to kill a deer. No homeowner needs one to ward off an intruder. It's ridiculous.
We will only be able to accomplish this by putting a stop to the massive amount of money funneled into the campaigns of our political leaders by the NRA. This is not a bipartisan issue.
Let's take the veil of secrecy off this and quit electing officials who take money from the NRA.
For a complete, long list of who funds their political campaigns with gun money, see this clip from Chelsea Handler's recent show wrap up: https://video.genfk.com/1729317143827999
As for mental health care, how could we not invest in something that could quite possibly put an end to such tragedies, and also be an excellent return on investment by greatly improving our productivity within our work force?
A problem of this magnitude often seems insurmountable. But this country was built on courageous souls willing to fight for justice and peace.
Put your political beliefs aside and only vote for our leaders who refuse to be bought by organizations that put our children at risk.
Demand better health care for all of us, not just the well-off.
Be vigilant in your pursuits. And the next time you drop your kids off at school, thank a teacher.
They are the true, unsung heroes in our world and deserve much more recognition and higher pay for all that they do to keep our children safe, when they should only have to worry about educating them.
(1) Teachers say Florida suspect’s problems started in middle school, and the system tried to help him. (2018). Washington Post. Retrieved 19 February 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/teachers-say-florida-shooters-problems-started-in-middle-school-and-the-system-tried-to-help-him/2018/02/18/cdff7aa6-1413-11e8-9065-e55346f6de81_story.html?utm_term=.41cdb2e7091b
(2) WHO: Ignoring Mental Health Causes Countries to Lose MoneyGlobal leaders say every $1 invested in mental health yields a $4 return. (2016). US News. Retrieved 19 February 2018 from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2016-04-12/who-makes-economic-argument-for-mental-health-treatment