by Matt Spence
I drop my son off at school every day. This morning, I had to talk to him about safety. I reminded him that his school has an "Officer Friendly" who keeps everyone safe - and who no sane person would mess with. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the danger does not come from sane people.
We need to have a both/and discussion in this country. Both mental illness and legal assault weapons led to the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. To say that it was mental illness and not an automatic weapon that killed 20 children and 6 teachers there is a cop-out. To avoid the tougher discussion of guns and violence in America by focusing in on the necessary and important discussion of mental illness and treatment is disingenuous. Sure, guns don't kill people, people kill people. But people kill a whole lot more people when they have access to guns. Mentally ill or not, guns are easy to come by in America. This horror could not have unfolded if either one of those ingredients were missing.
One thing was broken - a young man's brain - but one thing worked exactly as it was designed - a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle. We need to have a discussion about both. Yes, let's talk as a country about how to keep young men and women's brains from breaking in such a tragic way. And let's talk about what to do to help them and protect others when the damage is already present. But let's also talk about how that broken brain found a perfectly functional assault weapon, and used it exactly as it was intended. You do not hunt with an AR-15. You do not perform any function with an AR-15 other than shooting many humans quickly. I have yet to hear of a legitimate reason to own such a weapon that did not involve the ability to kill with speed and at high volume.
So, yes, a broken brain made a tragic, evil, deadly and horrific decision. And a perfectly functioning military-grade weapon made it possible to carry out. Both/and.
This morning at school, I reluctantly let go of my son's hand and kissed his head full of messy blonde hair while another father was on the other side of the hallway, gently, agonizingly trying to pull his daughter's arms from around his leg. This big, strong fireman was losing the fight to a beautiful little five-year old girl. Probably because he didn't want to let her go. He didn't want to let her out of his sight.
If we, as a nation, do not allow this horrific event to change us, we are all complicit the next time it happens. It is not enough for me to teach my boys to be good, law-abiding, loving people. It is not enough for me to pay lip service to the idea that people with mental illness should "get the help they need." My wife is a hero because she works with young men and women, boys and girls who have severe emotional disturbances. She needs help. A great special education teacher can make a world of difference. So can great parents, and great mental health counselors, and great neighbors and aunts and uncles and grandparents and coaches and clergy. I do not have all the answers on how to keep people with mental illness from hurting themselves and others. I am glad that our country seems willing to have that conversation.
I do know how to keep AR-15s out of the hands of people who mean to use them to do harm. That is a political solution - and a fairly easy one. No, we will never eliminate guns in this country. We shouldn't. We use guns for all sorts of legitimate and important purposes. We are a better nation because of what brave men and women have done with guns. But I have yet to hear how the public sale of AR-15s, Mac-10s and their counterparts are used for anything legitimate or important in the hands of anyone other than a soldier or a public safety official. It really isn't that hard.
My wife is teaching a class of high schoolers today. My son is in his Kindergarten classroom. I am a nervous wreck. I know it will fade. I know that my psyche will adjust to the news of the murders of 20 children and 6 teachers and I will find a new normal where I think less and less about those little victims and heroic martyrs who remind me so much of the most important people in my life. I have to in order to function normally.
Part of me wishes it were not so. Part of me wishes that every parent kept those 20 tiny little coffins at the forefront of their thoughts. Maybe then we could have a both/and conversation.
Yes, something was broken in Newtown. But something else did exactly what it was designed and manufactured to do.