Bearing Arms In Silence: The Time To Talk About Gun Control Is Now
On February 14, 2018, our country was witness to a horrific tragedy. Nineteen-year-old, Nikolas Cruz, shot and killed 14 pupils and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This appalling act has been reported as the 18th school shooting in the U.S. for this year alone. According to Everytown, a non-profit gun-safety organization, there have been approximately 291 school shootings in the US since 2013. That’s an average of one per week. Everytown defines school shootings as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds, as documented by the press and, when necessary, confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement or school officials. Incidents in which guns were brought into schools but not discharged, or where the firearm was discharged off school grounds, are not included.”
291, that’s a huge number. And we’re just speaking about school shootings here. Everytown also reports that, on average, 96 Americans are killed with guns a day, 13,000 lose their lives to due to gun-related homicides a year, and approximately 50 women are shot and killed by intimate partners a month. Perhaps the most staggering statistic Everytown reports is that America’s gun-related homicide rate is “more than 25 times the average of other well-developed countries.”
See data chart from Everytown here.
How is this possible? Growing up in the South, I was taught that America was the greatest country in the world. It isn’t though. Not when we’re faced with statistics like this. Not when, as a parent, I have to face the real possibility every morning when I drop my children off at school that it might be the last time that I see them. America can’t be the greatest country in the world when gun drills are a normal part of my kids’ school experience. It can’t be the greatest country when seven children are killed, on average, a day here from guns.
What is our response to this? What are we doing to fix this? We’re arguing. We’re party-lining. We’re listening to organizations which profit from gun sales and line the pockets of our legislators instead of listening to common sense. Organizations, like the NRA, which has spent approximately $203.2 million on political activities since 1998. This organization does not have gun owners’ best interests at heart. They are “a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry.” Though they may have started as a social sports club, they are now a political entity almost entirely funded by this industry and their primary concern is for the corporations which line their pockets, not their members.
Over the last few days, I have spoken with numerous people about the gun control issue and about the most recent shooting. There seems to be two prevailing arguments. On the conservative side, the issue has nothing to do with guns. Guns don’t kill people. People do, right? This is a mental health issue, a parenting issue, a community issue. On the more liberal side, it’s all about the gun. Why do people need assault rifles? Why aren’t there better screening processes in place here? People may kill people, but they’re more able to do it when we hand them a lethal weapon on a silver platter. Each side is so busy screaming at the other that theirs is the correct argument that no one has stopped to consider the obvious: they’re both right.
This IS a gun issue. It’s also a mental health issue, a parenting issue, a community issue. In order to stop mass shootings like this, we’re going to have to admit to ourselves that each side has a point before we’re ever going to be able to move forward. So where is the middle ground? Do we make assault rifles and certain modifications illegal? Harder to buy? Do we offer mental health screenings and preventive programs in our schools? Do we make the licensing procedures for guns more involved? How about not allowing anyone with a violent conviction to own a gun? Maybe the answer is more guns. What about arming our teachers? Offering our vets a chance to patrol our schools? Both sides won’t agree with all of these options, but they both might agree with some of them. That is where we need to start the conversation, and we need to understand that solving the problem will take a multi-tier approach.
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Yes. We need better legislation in place. One point that both sides can agree on is that this 19yr old should not have been allowed to purchase a gun. Regardless of your stance on the gun control issue, the fact of the matter is this: a troubled kid with mental health issues should not have had access to an AR-15. The only way to prevent this from happening again is through legislation. We need a better screening process. No. This will not solve the problem entirely, but it is a beginning. I understand that there will be vastly different opinions on what a better screening process looks like, and that’s fine. We can argue about the details later, but we need to write our congress and encourage them to be open with one another on this issue. Talk to your congressional representatives. Make background checks required across the board. Increase the number of safety and educational training required before licensing certain weapons. You have to take Driver’s Ed. and pass a state-mandated test before getting a driving license, right? Why not also ensure that this type of in-depth education and testing, which is practically uniform across all states, applies to gun ownership as well, in all states? You can write your Representative here and your Senator here.
Emotional Intelligence In Schools
Before we can talk about mental health screenings and support in our school systems, we need to create an environment that is conducive to effective communication surrounding these issues. It starts with emotional intelligence or EQ. EQ is how we identify and handle our emotions and the emotions of others. It’s responsible for our self-awareness, how effectively we communicate with others, the regulation of our emotional responses, our capacity for empathy, our ability to build meaningful, social connections, and how well we handle the stressors of our lives. What would happen if we taught our children from an early age how to cope with their emotions, socialize successfully, and support those in their classrooms which struggle with these issues? What if we included psychological health in our school curriculum? We teach our kids to take care of their physical bodies through required classes like P.E. Why are we not also teaching them how to take care of their minds?
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According to an article published in Science Daily, social-emotional learning programs have a lasting impact on children’s mental health, social skills, and overall learning abilities. The skills that kids learn during these programs stay with them during the course of their lives. Incorporating programs like Yale’s RULER systematically into our schools not only drastically reduces the risks of drug use and behavior problems, but one study found that the children who received this type of education had arrest rates that were 19 percent lower than that of their peers. I believe that the solution to more stable, well-rounded individuals in society starts with teaching our children how to behave in this way. Your state may already have an SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) Program in place. If so, find out what the schools in your area are doing to enforce this. How can you get involved to help? If your state does not have an SEL Program, contact them. Write to them, just as you would congress. Ask them why they haven’t adopted one. Tell them that these programs are vital, not only to our children’s success in life but to our society as a whole. You can find your state’s educational department information here. For more information on SEL programs and their impact, read about CASEL.
Mental Health Screening
According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “approximately 50% of chronic mental health conditions begin by the age of 14, and 75% begin by age 24.” However, the period between a child first showing symptoms of mental health issues and he/she actually receiving treatment can be as long as 10 years. This is insane to me. Just as with any other disease or condition, early intervention is the key to successful treatment. We screen our children for hearing, eyesight, and even dental issues. Why are we not screening them for mental illness, especially when the consequences of leaving these conditions untreated are so detrimental to our children and our society? 70 percent of all youth in state and local juvenile justice systems suffer from mental disorders. Imagine the impact we could have on our justice systems if we simply provided treatment for these kids at an early age.
Of course, more than simply screening for disorders needs to occur in order to enact change. We need to reposition our perspective in this country where mental health is concerned. It starts by realizing that mental illness is an underlying factor in behavioral issues, drug abuse, criminal proclivities, and more. It starts by being open about these disorders and understanding just how many of us suffer from them. In America alone, 1 in every 5 adults has or will experience mental illness in their life. Over 60 percent of those adults did not receive treatment last year and over 50 percent of youth with diagnosed conditions did not receive treatment. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. of children between the ages of 10-24 and over 90 percent of all suicides have an underlying cause due to mental illness. We need to address this issue. It’s time for us to take action. Learn what you can do in your community to raise awareness here.
It’s time for us to talk about gun violence. It’s time for us to talk about gun control. It’s time for us to address the issue of mental health in this country. Even if we don’t agree with each other on how to solve these problems, it’s time for us be honest enough with ourselves to admit that we need to find the answers. Don’t argue with one another about gun control and the 2nd Amendment Rights. Debate about solutions. Find the middle ground. Start there. We’re capable of more than this America. It’s time to change.