Thursday December 20, 2012

Charles R. Putney

Why are we shocked by the slaughter of innocent people by mentally ill people using semi-automatic weapons? It happens with appalling regularity.

We know there are sick people in our society. We also know that semi-automatic weapons with ammunition clips that provide ample firepower are also available.

Over and over again we see the results of this: persons with personality disorders who, in general, are functioning within society, who decide to kill themselves and take innocent people with them. We're not talking about gangsters or drug lords here. We're talking about our neighbors. Sandy Hook School could have been Bennington Elementary or North Bennington or Shaftsbury or Pownal or Hoosick Falls Central or some other place.

Those could have been our children, our friends and our co-workers who were slaughtered on a bright Friday morning 10 days before Christmas in a small, seemingly safe town in Connecticut.

So, after all the talk and regrets and news coverage, what are we going to do about it? Once the children and adults are buried, who will care? The surviving children and adults will suffer with insecurity, loss and anger for the rest of their lives. The rest of us will just wait for another slaughter of innocents.

There are two solutions: 1) put an end to our insane policies about semi-automatic weapons, or lock up the mentally ill. It's that simple. Some gun advocates will suggest a third solution: give every schoolteacher and administrator a gun so they can shoot intruders before they are shot themselves. Seriously.

Taking the second option first, the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides data that says: "One in four adults -- approximately 57.7 million Americans -- experience a mental health disorder in any given year. One in 17 [that's 13 million adults] lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder."

Are we prepared to build hospitals capable of holding nearly 60 million innocent, and for the most part, harmless individuals. The slaughter of innocents is being carried out by only a few people, maybe 1 in 100,000,000. If we take the seriously mentally ill we're still talking about locking up 13 million people.

Guns of all sorts, including semi-automatic weapons, are so easily accessible in our nation that just about any of these folks can put their hands of a deadly instrument capable of slaughtering groups of people within a few minutes.

These people with mental illness are our siblings, our parents, our children. Many work or live out their lives on a daily basis in our communities. It's neither feasible nor humane to lock them up. It would be a huge drain on our economy. Vermont doesn't even seem to be able to manage or establish a facility of fewer than 50 beds.

So, the other option is for Congress and President to do what it takes to limit access to semi-automatic weapons to law enforcement and military personnel. Why would anyone else really need a semi-automatic weapon? Hobbyists could have access through sports clubs where their weapons and ammunition are stored, under lock and key.

Not solving the problem says we really don't care.

Charles R. Putney is a consultant to nonprofit organizations. He lives in Bennington.