Joan Laird: Tighten gun laws while working on other issues

  • mactrunk

Monday, November 13, 2017
Tighten gun laws while working on other issues

We’ve always had murders, domestic violence, and people with “mental problems,” but until the late 1990s we did not have horrific massacres carried out by (usually) single shooters with semiautomatic, military-style weapons.

So what has changed? Why, suddenly, have hundreds of men, women, and children been gunned down in school, in church, in recreational settings, in restaurants — in ordinary community places where people expect to be safe. Donald, Paul, Mitch and others of their ilk would like to persuade us that the issue is “mental illness” and the solution is to arm more “good people” who can protect us from the crazies.

Not so long ago, we managed to lock up hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in places like Northampton State Hospital, people who were perhaps alcoholic, women who had been sexually abused as children, wives who had aggravated their husbands, people who loved others of the same sex, and some people who were diagnosed as schizophrenic, manic depressive, depressed, suicidal — the list is a long one. Many of these people were confused, gentle, kind — never did any one of them shoot dozens of people at a time.

There always have been many among us diagnosed with or viewed as having mental problems. In fact, our president himself seems to attract a range of mental diagnoses by both mental health professionals and lay people, but we don’t see a call for hospitalizing him.

So what is the difference between then and now? This sounds horrifying, but I believe the killing of multiple people has become a fad for the times, supported by our gun culture of greed and the easy availability of deadly weapons.

As a child and a young person, I never knew anyone who killed themselves, but in the next generations suicide and self-harm became common solutions to personal and social problems, to profound unhappiness, sadness, or rage. The solution these days, if you’ve been bullied, you don’t like your wife, or the color of your neighbor’s skin, for all too many is to acquire and use a personal arsenal of attack weapons useful for killing 17-month old infants, school-age children, the elderly, and anyone else caught in the crossfire.

How many of these murderers have ever come to the attention of a mental health professional? And, even if they had, who is to say their path to violence could have been recognized or stopped? It’s a long and bumpy road, treating certain kinds of mental health problems, and I don’t notice the Donalds, Pauls, or Mitches, in spite of their rhetoric, supporting adequate funding for mental health services in any area.

I don’t mean to oversimplify, to suggest stricter gun laws alone will solve the problem. Clearly we need to work on many fronts, but how much faster and easier to ban assault weapons, to support “extreme vetting” for gun purchase, while we work to better address mental health issues, the opioid epidemic, domestic violence and so on.

We need to hear from our legislators and they need to hear from us. With few exceptions, the silence has been deafening.

Joan Laird


The writer is a professor emerita at the Smith College School for Social Work.