People reacted to the Newton, Connecticut shooting last Friday by blaming the gun, not the man (or rather by blaming the government that failed to control the gun), framing the story as a “gun-control issue” rather than a mental-health issue. Gail Collins noted that while all countries have sociopaths, not all countries distribute guns to civilians. Nick Kristof, noting that one person in the U.S. dies every 20 minutes from gunshot, remarked that we have more safety standards for ladders than for guns.
I do not support gun rights; in fact I have the extreme and idealistic opinion that firearms should all be banned, period. But I wish Nock Kristof would count for us the victims of murder and abuse by other means. If Adam Lanza had instead kidnapped and molested one child with his bare hands, it would have been equally devastating.
When tragedy strikes, we search for someone or something to blame. In this case, we grabbed the first thing we could hold on to—the muzzle of a semi-automatic rifle—because we do not yet know Adam Lanza’s motivations to murder his own mother and innocent children, or Nancy Lanza’s motivations to purchase large-cartridge semi-automatics and train her children to shoot them. (I would venture to argue that the sport of riflery itself is a pathology.)
Once these details come to light, will American parents reframe the story and cry out for more widespread access to mental and behavioral health care, and training of parents and teachers in identifying and helping young adults who show signs of mental illness? Or will they continue to cry out for more gun control…for a while…and then go back to work or to their favorite TV shows?