WILL THIS BE ENOUGH?

by Steve Clem on December 15, 2012

At what point will we wake up and realize we need to do something differently?

After the tragic and indescribable horror that took place today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I don’t know how anyone can say that our system works and doesn’t need fixing.

As you’re likely aware, 27 people, including 20 school children — just kindergarten students at that — were gunned down today before the gunman likely took his own life. In a close-knit, well-to-do suburb near New York City, did we finally reach the point where the extremists on both sides of the gun control debate, as well as the mental health community, can come together and find some solutions to the problem?

That problem would be guns getting into the hands of people who are not mentally stable. People who would slaughter five-year-old children in their classroom, their safe haven, where they should be taking naps on cots and learning to read, not meeting their maker while staring at the barrel of a gun.

I don’t know the details of the shootings, other than the general story. I’ve been working all day, and have barely had any access to news reports. But as any of you who are parents know, it’s hard for this not to cut you to the bone with pain. We’ve all dropped our children off at school or the bus stop, and not once does it cross our minds that it could be the last time we ever see them. But in modern American society, sadly, it possibly could be.

I don’t have strong opinions on gun control. I fully respect the right to bear arms in principle. But I also know from living in the UK in the early ’90s, in a city of six million people, that the lack of guns there made violent crime a less frequent reality than in most cities in the US. I also am aware that the weapons used today were purchased legally by the shooter’s mother.

I do have strong opinions on mental health care in this country — namely, how difficult it is for those who need help to obtain it. And how we’re still a society who treats mental health care as if it is something only weak people need. Mental health care is a vital component of health care, and we need to provide resources to every single person in this country who needs it. And we need to remove the stigma upon people who seek help with their mental health.

I don’t purport to have any solutions, any answers. I’m not an expert on either gun control or mental health issues. But I do know this much: our society has allowed something to go wrong for too long when it takes an event like today to wake us up. We’ve become inured to mass shootings at high schools, at malls, at crowded movie theaters. It took a classroom full of children who didn’t even know how to spell “assault weapon” to get our attention again.

But let’s at least take advantage of this opportunity to do something this time. Be proactive, not reactive. Find a way to prevent this tragedy from ever being repeated, politics be damned, to paraphrase President Obama from this afternoon. Again, I don’t know what the solution looks like. That’s not my job. But it is clear that the systems we have in place today do NOT work. So let’s do something about it. Not in the next congressional cycle. Not next year. Now.

Will this be enough? I pray to God it is. Please, let it be enough.

* * * *

Steve Clem is a divorced dad, a recovering Republican, and a Prisoner in the Tundra. He is in The Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest Hokey Pokey of all time. He was the founding editor of the Iowa City weekly The ICON.

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