The Washington Post

Gun control, yes, but that’s only the beginning

Grieving a school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. (AP)

TV seems to throw a big story like this Newtown school shooting in the blender, so that what comes out is indistinguishable from the last horror, or the one before that, and the result weirdly numbing. When we read the smaller details, though — about the kid who said he wasn’t going to have anybody to play with now that his sister had died, or the boy who said he knew karate and could save the others — we feel the enormity of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, and cry that we won’t stand for it.

Only, then what? Gun control, God yes, must be part of the answer; how could we be the finest country ever to exist — just ask us — and yet ignore the need for stronger regulation even after a kindergarten massacre?

President Obama struggling to maintain his composure as he speaks of the young victims.

Community mental health care has been all but non-existent for decades, so anything we could do on that front would be an improvement, too.

Yes, as momentous and overdue as any progress on guns and mental illness would be, even that by itself would not be enough. We must start there, in other words, but not only there, because we still don’t fully comprehend what we’re up against.

If guns alone — or even guns plus lousy mental health services — were the entire problem, why were no little red schoolhouses fired upon in the Wild West, where everyone was armed and mental illness completely untreated?

There are pieces of the whole of this problem strewn across the political spectrum, it seems to me: The left is correct that actually, guns do kill people, and that the fraidy cats in thrall to the National Rifle Association have blood on their hands.

But the right has a point, too, about the culture of death, in the language of Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Life. If we haven’t glorified even mass shootings and their perpetrators, then why does one shooter after another show up dressed all in black, like an anti-hero ready for his big finale?

Other cultural factors are beyond my understanding: Contrary to our focus on urban violence among young African American men, most of these mass shootings involve young white men on the hunt for humans in the suburbs; why? (Yes, a lot of them are at the age of onset for schizophrenia, but as mental illness knows no color, again I have to ask what this means.)

Even what we do know seems to slip away from us — so we perpetually wonder how such a thing could have happened in a community one and all regarded as safe, as if being “close-knit” or “low-crime” had anything to do with it.

We insist, too, on referring to the actions of desperately sick people as “evil” incarnate, though doing so not only gets us nowhere, but sets us back.  

“Evil visited this community today,” said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, who in the face of such a thing could be forgiven for just about anything he might have said, of course. I believe in evil, but from a Christian perspective, sin involves the exercise of free will — which someone in the middle of a psychotic break simply doesn’t have.

Saying so is popularly seen as “excusing” horrific acts, though it does not. And calling illness by its modern name is important because we have so much hard work to do, on multiple fronts, that we can’t afford to set off in the wrong century.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.





Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.



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