Take a deep breath

Yesterday, two terrible things happened.

In Connecticut, a nutcase broke into an elementary school and killed over 20 people — most of them little kids — with guns.

In China, a nutcase walked into an elementary school and injured over 20 people — most of them little kids — with a knife.

Disclaimer: I do not own any firearms. I do own multiple knives and assorted other items that can be used as weapons.

So first off, let’s stop pretending that guns themselves are the problem. The shooter could just as easily have used other weapons. Ok fine, the knife was a little less lethal.

The guns were stolen from his mother — whom he killed first — and it wasn’t legal for him to buy these weapons, so let’s stop pretending that more strict gun control laws would have prevented the tragedy. Not even better enforcement would have helped. The sad truth is that gun control laws work on the premise that someone who is planning to break one law will inexplicably follow another. “Oh, a 3 day waiting period to buy a gun? I guess I won’t hold up the convenience store after all. Maybe I’ll get a job instead.”

What we need to get serious about is mental illness. We don’t yet know what this young man’s problem really was, and since he is dead we may never know. What I think we can say without fear of contradiction is that sane people don’t shoot up kindergarten classrooms. But getting serious about mental illness is hard.

It’s hard because of Rosemary Kennedy. It’s hard because of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s hard because asylums used to be terrible places where the mentally ill were warehoused. It’s hard because legislators closed those awful facilities and offloaded mental health to unprepared communities decades ago. It’s hard because rules and laws that would make it easier to put truly mentally ill people in hospitals would also make it easier to put many eccentric-but-normal people in hospitals, drugged against their wills. It’s hard because some school administrators think black trench coats are a sign of possible violent tendencies. It’s hard because mental hospitals were dumping grounds for “rebellious” and “troubled” teens (and adults) as recently as the 80s, and those same mental hospitals were more than happy to make up fraudulent details to keep insurance company money coming. And it’s hard because that in turn has made insurance companies wary of attempts to make them cover mental health — it took an act of Congress and even then it took 2 years to implement the rules.

My heart goes out to every family touched by these awful events.

However, the availability of weapons among the U.S. population is does not in itself suffice to explain the often exasperating massacres that occur there. Nations like Canada, Sweden and Finland also record high levels of per capita weapons ownership without leading to the type of mass murders that systematically shock and terrorize the United States. This suggests a kind of collective propensity toward barbarism in that country which has never been explained, and which should start to be discussed as quickly as possible.


In closing: Arnold loves to pay taxes; mastodon bones; and historically accurate penny.