There is no good explanation for the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. There are no simple answers to the question: How can we prevent this from happening again? Efforts to pin blame are ineffective and serve only to vent our anger. It will be awhile before emotions subside and we are free to examine the situation. However, already some indisputable facts are clear:
- Only one third of those diagnosed with mental health disorders in this country are treated.
- Violence is ubiquitous in our culture.
- Assault weapons are incredibly accessible.
Twenty “angels” and their “guardians” perished as these realities came together and brought evil upon a most unlikely place.
Mental illness continues to be an unspoken disorder that more often than not goes undiagnosed and when diagnosed untreated because of a lack of resources, the fear of stigma and denial. Very successful therapies are available to address mental illness. Like any illness, the sooner the issue is diagnosed and treatment initiated and sustained the greater likelihood of success. Only when we begin to treat mental illness as any other life altering or threatening disease can we begin to hope that it will cease to be a factor in such a horrific event as the massacre at Sandy Hook.
When mental illness is ignored in a society where violence is considered entertainment disaster is inevitable. Maybe I was especially sensitized to this because of the events of this past week, but as I sat in a movie theater Saturday, I was impressed by how ubiquitous violence has become in our culture and how entertaining it is. Although no studies indicate a relationship between violence on the screen with actual acts of violence, I don’t think I am risking my credibility by suggesting that there may be a correlation.
Why are we an armed society? This question is not an affront to the 2nd Amendment. The right to bear arms for either personal defense or sport does not require the kind of military like assault guns that have been used in these most heinous crimes. In the most recent cases where assault weapons destroyed innocent lives, they were obtained legally. Some gun shops indicated that sale of the same kind of assault rifle has multiplied significantly in the days since the Sandy Hook incident. How can that be? How can the instrument of such violence become the gift of choice for Christmas? Surely we must understand that the proliferation of assault weapons will only lead to more senseless violence.
As we mourn, testimonials have emerged to the innocence and vitality of these “angels” and their heroic “guardians.” May they be more than heartfelt expressions of grief but become a reason for our resolve to address the issues that contributed to this tragedy. To take no action is to be party to future atrocities.