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Let the Gun Control Debate Begin

Governor Malloy’s State of the State address, the appointment of the Sandy Hook commission and the opening of the new legislative session marked the official start to the debate that will inevitably result in new gun control legislation for Connecticut.

This past week, I sat on the floor of the House for Governor Dannel Malloy’s State of the State address at the invitation of State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143).  The room was energized with the knowing smiles of campaign veterans and giddy, apple-cheeked newbies ready to put long-promised campaign ideals into practice. 

Gov. Malloy spent several choked-up minutes speaking about Newtown, the newly appointed Sandy Hook commission and the need for gun control. And although his speech was pretty darned light on the details of how to move the Connecticut economy forward (he actually spent more time waving the flags of accomplishment), he did get the soundbite of the day when he observed that the answer to the gun violence problem is not more guns.

Last week, and how to best respond to it. Most reader comments—and I read every single one, even if I don’t always respond—were insightful and rational.

Because Patch In and Patch Back are meant to encourage local debate about the issues of the day, rather than reply to each thread I decided to incorporate readers' comments here:  

  1. Many asked, "Could someone please explain how mental health evaluations will stop crime?" The Sandy Hook assassin used guns taken from his mother, who acquired her weapons legally and presumably would have passed a mental health background check.
  2. Some said, "Maybe the answer to gun control IS more guns." No one talks about the number of people whose lives were saved after an armed citizen took out an unsuspecting attacker. Perhaps trained-and-packing staff could prevent future tragedies.
  3. Others observed, "Are you crazy? No one should have a gun except for members of law enforcement or the military, period." Do you really think your handgun or shotgun is going to keep you safe in the unlikely event the U.S. government storms your house?
  4. And finally: "A killer with conviction will still find a way to kill, gun or no gun." Remember Oklahoma City?

Many readers used statistics to solidify their points, the details of which I did not verify and will not report here. But lest this debate become a retread of I’ll see your safe and legal gun ownership statistic with an equally persuasive gun violence statistic and raise you with a heartbreaking anecdote, let us stop and reflect on some additional considerations.

First, as of this writing, there has been no credible information on the medicine the Newtown shooter may have been taking. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that he was, obviously, mentally ill. What, if any, treatments were made available to him? Did he engage in or refuse treatment, and why?

Second, law-abiding, gun-owning citizens are exposed to the same violent movies, video games and news every day that gun-owning criminals are. Nevertheless, most gun owners are able to resist these violent influences and make it through their lives without committing horrific crimes (or having their weapons stolen for the purpose of committing horrific crimes). Does this fact render the cultural influence argument moot?

Third, shouldn't the purpose of this legislation be to reduce violence in all its forms, not just reduce the number or type of guns sold in Connecticut? And if that is the case, don't we need to address the serious mental health treatment issue in this country?

The ugly truth is that any current or future Connecticut gun control legislation, no matter how strict, is impotent if a crazed person decides to commit a mass killing. Securing a weapon, is, apparently, a simple matter for a determined criminal.

The nature of these tragedies is such that civilized society is compelled to act. And yet, this compulsion to “do something” often results in feels-good, does-nothing, time-squandering legislation.   

The gun control debate, up until now, has always resulted in a stalemate because both sides are well armed (no pun intended) with equally persuasive statistics and advocates. Nevertheless, the Second Amendment is clear: the people have the right to keep and bear arms and the Supreme Court of the United States has twice ruled in recent few years to uphold #2.

As a result, our best approach is de-stigmatizing psychological illness to encourage family members to seek help for those who need it most and by making that help readily available. Perhaps we should make a thorough mental health evaluation part and parcel of the well visit (let’s put Obamacare to work!). We should also implement an “if you see something, say something” approach to potential public safety threats.

Just to be clear, I’m no mental health expert. But the approaches we’ve used thus far clearly aren’t working. Anyone who would attack a school, or a movie theater, or a military base, or a mall, or an office is clearly in need of treatment.

Finally, let us remember that more legislation is only better legislation if it provides real value and lasting positive change.

Bobbie January 20, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Lisa - Thank you for this insightful wake-up call. I have commented numerous times on Facebook and Monroe Patch regarding children with mental instabilities. You have secured my strong personal belief in the observance of signs of mental distress and bullying and abuse - see something, say something. The following is a comment previously posted to Facebook. Gun control and heightened security is only part of this horrific issue. We need to start with the human factor. I was encouraged by the fact that President Obama wants to legislate Mental Health as a focal point. We need worldwide facilities - not asylums - for the children determined to have mental and character abnormalities. Parents and caregivers deal with this on a daily basis. To whom or where can they turn? What is affordable? I know for a fact that health insurance does not offer coverage for everyone. How many lives could have been saved if a parent or educator or physician had acted on the possibility of a child's internal trauma. We demand physicals and vaccinations. How much time do we devote to childhood mental stability? Are there established procedures? A checklist? We have many facilities for the treatment and cure of cancer - thanks to be God. Where have we established areas for the care and cure of this "deadly" disease of the mind?

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