In the wake of the shootings – most recently of a police officer in Houston, Texas, of four firefighters and a wounded police officer in in West Webster, New York, and of the students in Sandy Hook/ Newtown, Connecticut, there have been talks regarding how best to implement and practice gun control.
Gun control? GUN CONTROL? We must begin a way many steps back than that, begin before the surface issues, begin before the copycat schemes and crimes that have riddled our nation with acts of violence in the past years and so many just in 2012.
The officials and legislators talk about mental health as of the utmost importance in working with the issues of gun control. Mental health is so complex an area of study that it, like the brain that works those faculties and processes, must be carefully considered. Everyday citizens have degrees of mental health, some towards mental illness and some towards what we might call sanity, but everyone experiences those degrees of mental health at one time or another ranging from experiences of euphoria and great dreams to depression and seasonal disorders (SAD).
There are others in our nation and around the world because of our policies, that also experience a wide range of mental health issues. Those folks are the personnel of our United States Military branches – the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the Coast Guard. Personnel in our first responder branches – firefighters, police officers and SWAT officers, and paramedics no doubt experience the widest range of mental health concerns possible.
The firefighters in West Webster and Rochester, New York, must now begin to pick up the pieces and, if someday possible, fill the holes left by the deaths of their volunteer colleagues. The police chief in those videos announcing the updates on that fire and shooting is visibly shaken when he talks of the friends he lost. We cannot even begin to imagine what the people are feeling in New York, who lost their homes and so much before Christmas, but have their lives to rebuild. Such tragedy… we must wonder what is happening within our nation.
But back to the concerns about our military personnel and the issues of mental health. There are tens of thousands of soldiers who have returned to the United States from violent and hectic tours of overseas duty, and some very young. They will have every range of mental health issues. They have seen people die, have killed people, have used high – powered weapons, grenades, machine guns, and fighter jets. They have seen horrible acts of rape, murder, burning, torture and desecration of bodies.
That would be enough to turn anyone’s gut, who has not had the training those folks have had. But though they are trained to be tough, to carry out those acts of sanctioned violence in the name of “freedom” and democracy, they are affected. They must see blood spilled, hear people screaming, see children scurrying for cover, see homes burning, hear the rocket -propelled grenades and the jets criscrossing the borders, the skies and the mountains and deserts. And they get involved in wrecks where the enemy plants improvised explosive devices that blow up vehicles and cause catastrophic injuries.
NATO personnel are tough, strong, brave, sure – just like military personnel are supposed to be, just like law enforcers are supposed to be. But only the hardest hearted person would not be moved to tears and turn green in the gut at the sight of innocent villagers huddling in bloodstained, burned -out buildings, wondering what the next day will bring. Will the coming hours bring freedom from their oppressors, will the troops harm them, or will they be killed by those who rule their nations, as in Syria?
What happens then when those American personnel come home? Certainly they might look like the same man or woman on the outside, the same Private or Captain who went across the waves on tour. But inside, in the brain and in the faculties, they are not at all the same. They might exhibit many of the habits you as family or friends recalled when they left – eating meals the same way, cooking some things, dressing a certain way, or driving a certain way (provided they have their limbs, their eyes, and their appetites). But their minds are not the same because of the very nature of what they have had to do during deployment.
These personnel must be watched carefully for signs of PTSD (Post -traumatic Stress Disorder), depression, suppressed anger, and other signs that their minds/brains are in real trouble. They must be encouraged to talk about what they have seen and done, reminding them that it is strength to seek help, not weakness to ask for assistance. It is necessary that they talk about what is bothering them, that they not hide their feelings, and that they shed their toughened boot camp mentality so they can heal.
Another issue to think about would be whether or not the personnel had an honorable or a dishonorable discharge. An honorable discharge might not be so much a concern but someone who is booted out for dishonorable actions needs to be followed in case there were issues that caused their instructors or officers to doubt their effectiveness to serve and thus made the dishonorable discharge necessary. When it comes to background checks, every factor must be considered before a weapon is sold.
Background checks need to be extremely comprehensive, detailed, drawn out to the point of dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”. The potential seller must ask every relevant question and take down the information and share it with law enforcers in the area and at every level of government. If there is even any doubt about selling a weapon the sale must not go through. Weapons also need to be carefully traced from the moment they are sold, or when they turn up missing or stolen. The idea of another “Fast and Furious” must never cross our headlines again.
Collectors also need to be very careful of their possessions. Wherever they keep their guns they need to have detailed records close by, copies kept in case of disaster as well. They must note every possible relevant detail of each firearm/ weapon in their collections, from serial numbers to where they were bought to who sold it to them, if they bought it at a gun show, at a small shop, no matter. If possible, collectors should also have records of people in their area who are felons or who might not be allowed to possess weapons. Lists of national troublemakers should also be kept up with in case someone escapes and might be in the area of the collector, especially if they know the person who might have the guns and thus make them targets of robbery.
Mental health, as said, is a complex concern that runs the gauntlet of everything we do and say. It is not as easy as “self control” or as difficult as diagnosing eating disorders or criminal instincts. It is easy and it is difficult – we can say someone seems depressed or upset or sick, but to what degree? How can we… how can anyone judge the mental health of someone else, considering we all have those degrees of brain health and physical health that make us different? Is there a rule which we can call “normal”? Is there a person that you or I could say is deranged, when we might just be so? For what reasons do we judge others when we do not like to be judged?
We must be very careful, extremely careful, when we discuss mental health. Everyone needs to be heard, to take part in discussions and if possible the studies offered by counselors or hospitals. We are a nation at war within and without ourselves; we are at war around the world and deep within our brains and spirits and souls. For there to be proper discussion there must be a sense of a stable environment from which to begin those discussions, a place of peace and quiet and harmony where we can sit down like civilized people and talk about the issues in an atmosphere of parliamentary procedure and/ or military courtesy.
The more civil and properly prepared the atmosphere of education and discussion is, the better facilitated we will be to hear and be heard, to write the necessary letters, to talk about what bothers us, to confess if we must to our leaders of worship, to talk with our families and kids, with teachers and students, with our beloved and brave first responders, with everyone, with all our fellow citizens.
We are supposed to be a UNITED nation. Let’s start to act that way, and we will all be better for doing so.
Condolences to the Houston Police Department, the people of the City of Houston and of Harris County, Texas; the people of West Webster and Rochester and the citizens of New York, and the people of Newtown and Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
Divi Logan, Nashville and Chicago, ©2012.
- Talking About Mental Health Issues (fox2now.com)
- Newtown (mentalhealthcop.wordpress.com)
- Is it Time for the Mental Health Conversation? (denver.cbslocal.com)
- If You Want to Regulate Guns, Talk About Guns. Period. (motherjones.com)
- After the Newtown shooting, is it time to talk about mental health and crime? | Philip Oltermann (guardian.co.uk)
- An Open Letter to America On School Safety From a Teacher (thetruthaboutguns.com)
- The Recent Shootings At Sandy Hook, And The Debate We Should Be Having (sthcw.com)
- Roundtable: Mental health must be part of gun discussion (cbsnews.com)