The focus on what to do about military style automatic weapons and on making them harder to get hold of is a proper focus and it is great that Diane Feinstein is introducing a bill. I hope it passes easily.
But there is an area that most people are not very conversant with and which needs to be addressed and isn't so easy.
It is just human DNA. There are a certain number of us, whether through nature or nurture, who find it difficult to perceive reality correctly, respond emotionally without going to extremes, or filtering out irrelevant detail. A smaller number become entirely dysfunctional in a society that requires a productive focus and then they fall into worse and worse trouble. In the 60s we were in the process of an enlightened reform. But that stalled.
During the Great Society, the vision that arose was that an enlightened view of mental health treatment was to shut down Bedlam, to not just consign people with mental illness to insane asylums where they were just warehoused. The best treatment was really in a community setting. The best chance of really healing was in a system of halfway houses and subsidized, supervised living situations attended by well trained professionals.
But, after the Great Society, came a great contraction in which funding for the social safety net dried up. During the Reagan years, homeless people began wandering the streets. Bedlam became Bedlam Boulevard. Well trained mental health treatment professionals have become discouraged functionaries in large impossible bureaucracies, helplessly trapped in a situation that worsens year by year as budgets are cut again and again and again.
Mental illness is not a mystery. There has been a great amount of science that can be read, understood and studied. More needs to be done to advance research, but it has become an established field.
Why do we not take advantage of this resource?
We could help adolescents as they begin to struggle with issues that crop up in the teenage years.
We don't have to be thinking that Warning Signs are what we are looking for, the potential mass killing shooter in every nervous and shy kid who can't seem to fit in.
We need to be thinking about helping kids through adolescence and putting systems in place so that kids who are severely affected get the care they need in order to overcome the mental illness they have or to more successfully adapt to living with it.
The answer to why we do not take advantage of what we know is that we, collectively, are more concerned with our own daily struggles. There is a very ancient fear that we have, which we don't generally recognize, that we ourselves are vulnerable.
We realize at some level, that whatever clarity of mind or intellectual ability we can claim, is a miracle. What we call sanity is not a given. It is an exception in a world full of entropy. We gain our best abilities, and then we worry about losing them as we age.
When we are confronted with someone in a psychotic state, it threatens our own sense of stability and sanity. It shouldn't. It isn't catching. But we want to get out of there as fast as possible.
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit a locked ward where people under psychotic crisis care are being treated, it can indeed be a frightening experience. It isn't that there might be a physical threat or because those places tend to be sort of ugly. It is a sense that you might be caught there and not able to get out. Once we leave, we really don't want to look back.
As a result, there are few areas of modern life for which there are fewer advocates, fewer people to lobby legislatures or Congress. Thus, there is less funding and the capacity of schools and other institutions to offer help to those who need it is crippled, particularly young people who are in a critical stage of development.
What we have to do, as people who believe in progressive reform, is look for ways to increase attention being paid to mental health in general and to increase funding for ways in which intervention can help young people at risk.
We ought to look at these mass shooting incidents as a loud cry for help.
We can be outraged at the criminality, or we can do something about what is really going on.