Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Into the Breech....one more time.

Six Americans who died in Tucson last Saturday morning

Like most Americans, I was deeply saddened and even distraught when I heard the news of the shootings in Tucson.  It felt like a heavy weight had just dropped on my chest, and as I found out more about the victims that feeling only got heavier.  You have heard perhaps too much already as the media go into their usual feeding frenzy, digging up as many stories as possible.  I am praying that Gabby Giffords does not merely survive, but that she recovers in a fashion that will leave the medical types scratching their heads at the fullness of her recovery.

So, what are we going to do to address the fact that this kind of scenario seems to be happening with such regularity?  I don't have the stats--don't really want them--but it feels like this kind of darkness descends on our country at least two or three times a year.  This time it is higher profile, because of the prominence of one of the victims, and the number of them.  But, there are mass shootings with a handful of victims that pretty much circulate through the media with monotonous regularity...so much so that we almost don't notice them anymore.  A disgruntled former employee returns to his (it is almost always a male) workplace and shoots a few people and then kills himself.....not news now, too common.

But, here's the thing: we are getting so inured to people who are disturbed, disgruntled, angry, fist-shaking and just plain out to lunch, that we have learned how to ignore them, for the most part.  Yes, they make the people around them 'uncomfortable', and a few people are always interviewed who say, "I just knew this would happen someday."  But, nothing, seemingly EVER, happens to interdict the final violent onslaught that so many people saw coming.  Why?

Well, we had a fellow in our community who was one of these cases.  He was hostile, unstable, implied that violence would come to those who offended him....and he had a 9mm.  I spoke with our local sheriff, a long-time law enforcement professional, much liked and respected in the community, and he told me, with apologies, that there was nothing that could be done until this guy acted out his threats.  As long as the threats were generalized and not specifically directed at an individual, and as long as this fellow didn't wave his pistol at someone........he was free to just continue making a whole community feel under threat.

He was also free--without having any record of felonious misconduct, or mental health issues on the books--to buy all the guns and ammo that he might want.  Eventually, he moved away and a lot of folks breathed a big sigh of relief.  So, my point is this, we are helpless to turn to law enforcement even when we perceive a real threat developing in our own community.  This sicko in Tuscon gave lots and lots of signals that he was mentally disturbed in a way that was very threatening...and nobody could or would do a damn thing about it.  Where this really sticks in my craw is that he also went into that sporting goods store and bought a Glock without showing up on the background check. 

When somebody has put that many people on edge, and posted so much non-sensical blather on the web, been kicked out of a local college and told not to return without some mental health evaluation, it is my feeling that there needs to be some kind of a safety net.....for him, and for all of us.  A case-worker from the Department of Public Safety should have the ability and the responsibility to receive complaints, and to look into them.  If it is apparent that the individual in question is headed in a dire direction, there should be a follow-up that AT THE VERY LEAST, puts the person in a data-base where it would show up when they go to buy instruments of destruction.  We don't let drunk drivers go until they kill someone....at least we TRY not to.....and we should not let a person who is showing all the signs of becoming dangerous just twist in the wind until something happens like last Saturday morning in Tucson.

And, putting in place a safety-net of this kind would not have to be a systematic, bureaucratic, heartless mechanism.  It could actually be driven by compassion and intelligence...but, I do realize that these qualities are either fleeting or totally absent from most governmental agencies....so maybe I am asking for pie in the sky.

But, I DO NOT accept the idea that we all just wait around for the next massacre with our hands tied.  Not good enough, my friends....not good enough.

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