Posts Tagged 'politics'

Newtown, Connecticut, guns, and mental health.

In thinking about what happened on Friday (13 December 2012) I posted this status on Facebook: “Could gun control have prevented what happened today? No. Could it have made its chances drastically reduced? Yes. Even if you love guns or whatever, this should be enough reason to support gun control. End political status update.” Peoples’ criticisms chastised how one could talk about guns at a horrific and tragic time as this, and how objects, like guns, don’t cause crime. My point was not to point to gun control as the solution to the problem of mass murders in the United States, but quite the opposite. My point was that gun control is not the answer, but that gun control could contribute positively to preventative measures against situations like this form occurring. But the issue is not gun control. These types of horrible events occur as complex mixtures of social and political histories. What happened in Connecticut, or anywhere else, was due to a complicated history of political ideologies surrounding freedom and property ownership (yes, this includes guns), health care and our treatment and conceptions of mental health in the U.S.. It also arguably involves race and gender relations, pointing to the fact that most mass murders of this variety are committed by middle class, white men in suburban areas.

            First, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not arguing for gun control as the sole and most integral aspect to solutions to preventing events like this from ever occurring. But it needs to be talked about. Most of the guns used in mass murder situations like this have been legally obtained, which for me points to the need to enhance laws around gun purchase and ownership. To argue that inanimate objects don’t cause crime is perfectly true. But that is to look at an object as separated and unconnected to human behavior. A family member of mine made an important point: “the human mind is confused, and doesn’t need a gun to prove this.” If a person, with poor mental health or not, has the intent to kill, they will find a way to do it. So, if a gun is available to them, that makes their job that much easier. If they didn’t have access to a gun, they obviously still could have gone into an elementary school with a bat, a knife, whatever, and killed children and teachers. But to the degree that they were able to kill with a gun? I highly doubt it. Not many people can go Uma Thurman-in-Kill-Bill style on a group of people. At some point they would have probably been apprehended in some form, making the murder of 27 people much less likely.

            A gun is an inanimate object. Someone commented on my status reminding me of the definition of “inanimate,” meaning, “1.Not alive, esp. not in the manner of animals and humans. 2.Showing no sign of life; lifeless.” The gun is just as lifeless as the person who was hit by the bullet that came from the gun whose trigger was pulled by another person. The gun is an inherently violent object. It possesses the power to kill. Even in the hands of a responsible person, or a hunter, its purpose is to end life. Of course there are other uses for guns; you can use it to simply injure or to announce your presence. But a gun is imbued with the power to kill. Humans created it in that context. An object is never simply an object, and is never totally disconnected from human behaviors, society, and culture. It doesn’t stand on its own or exist in a vacuum—it has a meaning and symbolism that surrounds it and that place it into use and discourse. It changes the way murder is defined and talked about. A murderer-with-a-gun is a much different person than a murderer-with-a-knife. The object has the power to redefine the human that uses it.

            Going back to my family member’s comment above, “the human mind doesn’t need a gun to prove this.” Truthfully, one of the biggest issues that revolves around mass murder is that of health care and the ways that Americans look at mental health and illness. I don’t need to say much on this subject, since the “Anarchist Soccer Mom” blog post touches on this particularly well, other than we stigmatize mental health to a degree in which total exclusion and confinement and inundating mental health patients in pharmaceutical drugs is a viable response. And when things go wrong and someone with poor mental health walks into a school and murders 27 children, the only appropriate this situation is to put them in prison (assuming they haven’t already committed suicide). With a health care system that focuses on preventative medicine and approaches mental health with more compassion and uses pharmaceutical drugs with care and discretion, we can begin to find a possible solution to mass murders.

But that’s not the only factor in this tragic, complicated equation. Guns, too, need to be approached with greater care and discussion in the political sphere. As do class, race, and gender privilege. The truth is that every one of these factors are intertwined and inseparable from one another. We can’t come to many conclusions or solutions to events like this from unfolding by hyperfocusing on one specific issue over another. To criticize discussions around gun control is to totally ignore an important factor in a mass murder, since guns were the weapons used to kill people. It is also to ignore the fact that the 2nd Amendment is seen as a sacred preservation of individual property rights and defense. And to look at only guns is to ignore an incredibly broken health care system. And to look only to the health care system is to ignore the role of the media in these situations. And to look only at the media is to ignore race, class, and gender relations in the country. We need to look at everything involved in a situation and situations like these in order to come to more poignant and effective preventative measures for disastrous and horrific mass murders like this to never happen again. 

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