"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Shots in the Dark

I was unable to sleep Thursday night. In fact, even though I had a really important meeting scheduled for Friday, I ended up only sleeping two and a half hours total. I watched a few DVDs, and as usual, the glowing screen of my laptop was only a few feet away.

I happened to have Twitter open and on my screen, and I noticed a sudden burst of activity. Updates at 3:00am, even from the people I follow internationally, are never that frequent. A few random bits of information about a mass shooting in Colorado at a movie theater began to trickle in. Then major news outlets were breaking the news in more detail.

I ended up getting all of my information online, and literally watching the story unfold before me via 140 character updates, and online local news feeds from the Aurora area. I worried as I watched the death toll rise frighteningly fast from more and more sources. I read “first hand” accounts, and saw information passed along from people who were there, living this nightmare.

Honestly, after a few minutes of staring at the screen and toggling back and forth between websites, the thing that I kept thinking about was the book Columbine by Dave Cullen. When tragedies like the one in Aurora, Colorado happen, I make myself remember that so much inaccurate reporting happens in the moments right after something this horrible and chaotic. Case in point, at one time last night, several reputable sources were reporting that 39 people were dead, with 79 wounded.

Does it matter who got what number wrong? Yes. It does. It also matters when well-meaning witnesses, onlookers, and the media themselves get things terribly wrong. In the race to get the story, break the story, and LEAD with the story, so many things get quoted without double checking. In fact, without checking at all.

I am as guilty as anyone of getting sucked into the exciting and tragic moments, waiting for updates, and mostly, just wanting so badly to understand, quickly, why and how something like this happens. But the truth is, we never really forget the things we hear first, and they become part of accepted fact, no matter how wrong or damning the information may be. The corrections to numbers, people’s personal histories, and comments of “witnesses” are never front page news, so what we heard first is just accepted, and then never really erased from our memory.

I think of the book Columbine, because if you haven’t read it, you would be shocked to learn that everything we had all, as a nation, understood to be the truth-- facts about the killers, the case, the victims—most of it wasn’t true. Not even close. I was shocked reading this unbelievably well-written and researched book. I would say about 90% of the information I had taken to heart and believed was wrong. And why is that important, really? Because until we all understand why tragedies like this happen, until we all see and understand the many facets and factors of cases like this and all of the people involved, we cannot prevent these tragedies from happening again. Until we all take a hard look at our own communities, the flaws, the broken systems, and most importantly what REAL traits, characteristics, illnesses, and behavior to watch for in our own community members, we won’t learn how to help those people who need it before they resort to violence.

I asked myself last night and today why this case in Aurora had shaken me up so much. So many tragedies fill my inbox daily, headlines of suffering across the country and the globe. What I realized is that at some point in time, these shootings have stopped being these random, isolated tragedies. They are now more common crimes, popping up everywhere, leaving us with almost no safe havens where it hasn’t yet happened. These shootings are creeping into the fabric of who we are as a society and how people who are sick, angry, or forgotten are dealing with their problems. This is not an excuse for taking lives like this. It is horrible and senseless. But, instead of writing off these killers as psychopaths that “snapped”, we have to take a hard look at how these people came to these decisions and how we can help them make better ones, or get the help they need before it is too late.

Whenever I write about or address the need for better gun control laws in this country, I get a backlash on my blog or Facebook or Twitter, so much so, that I don’t write about it a lot. Even though I don’t choose to own a gun, I don’t want to deny anyone the right to own a gun and protect their family. Even though I can’t stand the thought of hunting animals as sport, I also don’t want to deny anyone the right to own guns and hunt if that is what they want to do. That is a right and a freedom, and I am from a small town that is full of many people, many of them friends of mine, who love hunting.

What I don’t want is someone who is mentally ill acquiring a gun to hurt themselves or someone else. Even though they may not have a documented history for gun store owners to access, (meaning many times, they just haven’t known where to seek treatment or get it without insurance or assistance) I don’t want that one moment in a very sick person’s life to be the beginning of the end for themselves and other innocent people. I don’t know exactly how we solve that. 

I also don’t think anyone needs a stockpile of AK-47s. Sorry, I just don’t. Yes, it is your right as an American. But, can we not just step back and look at this from the standpoint of sending our children out into a world where we pride ourselves so much on freedom that we forget to have a little skepticism and common sense? Can we not just try and do these things in the name of the twelve people who died Friday morning, all of those that died at Columbine and Virginia Tech, the and unfortunately, the dozens, hundreds, or thousands that will die in years to come if we DON’T?

Here’s a very personal admission that I have never made publicly anywhere else. I have been very open about my past battles with depression. I have tiptoed a bit around having been truly suicidal, because it is still a taboo subject. It’s one thing to say, “I battled (or am battling) depression”. It is another to say, “I wanted to commit (or have attempted) suicide.” I was very suicidal at times during my bouts of depression. At one point, close to ten years ago now, I was pretty certain that I couldn’t hang on. I thought seriously about buying a gun to take my life. The ONLY thing that kept me from doing it, was that I was certain they would check my doctor’s records and see that I was seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist and wouldn’t allow me to buy a gun. Thankfully, I didn’t know that I probably would have breezed through the buying process. (I looked into the state laws and procedures years later, once I was well). There is no doubt that at that one point in time, if I had known I could get a gun, I would have, and I wouldn’t be writing these words now. I wouldn’t be in my husband’s life. I wouldn’t be here. I am oh so thankful that I am. There are many moments in my life, especially in seriously happy moments, when I think back to that time, and give thanks that I made assumptions about the gun laws instead of making a permanent, deadly choice.

My point is, for people that know me, or someone like me—a family member or friend—someone you know and love—that may have struggled with depression or other mental illness before, would you want them to lose their life or hurt someone—anyone-- in one moment of weakness? You may think you know that no one close to you could do something as tragic as a shooting like the one in Aurora. But the truth is, we are all at times closer to crossing the lines than we want to believe. We all have breaking points. We all have things in our past that tug at our sanity at times. Left without resources to proper care, a strong support system, and honestly—just support and hope—anyone can slip into a place they can’t return from.

This is a HUGE part of the problem. Mental illness is still seen as a topic to be whispered about, not addressed. We have made strides, but until we quit comforting ourselves that these people who “snap” are nothing like the people WE know, nothing like us--nothing will change, nothing will get better.

I don’t know all of the answers. I don’t even know all the problems that are contributing to this horrifying trend. But I think the combination of lack of mental health resources and lax gun laws in the US are two really good places to start taking a hard look at what we can do better.

I am also quite sure that if you ask any of the victim’s families from any of the recent tragedies in our history, that they would agree. So would the families of the people who commit these crimes.

Last night, so many lives were forever changed. So many people who have lived through similar tragedies were taken back in time in ways they never want to be. There may never be any concrete answers for this tragedy. We certainly can’t solve it in a week, or a month.

What I want to know is... when are we going to start trying?


Eva Gallant July 21, 2012 at 12:09 PM  

Amen to that! Such a senseless tragedy.

Leximou July 22, 2012 at 8:54 AM  

The Swiss have an answer - all citizens are trained and then REQUIRED to own a gun. Each and every one knows how to handle and use it. If people were armed and knowledgeable in the use of firearms, that idiot that took on a theatre of innocence would not have gotten very far in what he did. Guns, knives, automobiles etc. do NOT kill people unto themselves - only people kill people, by a variety of methods.


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