On Dec. 14, I received three text messages from my mom. The first simply said, “I love you.” The second asked me, “Why did he have to kill 20 babies?” and the third read, “Please write about this.”
The first column I ever wrote for the Daily was an indictment of our country’s failure to have a meaningful debate about guns. In it, I said that if we do not have this conversation, then another mass shooting would happen within nine months. It only took three, and now 20 children lie dead for absolutely no good reason.
That’s the worst part about all of these deaths — they have no purpose. Someone simply snaps and decides to go on a killing spree. There has been massive speculation as to the mental state of Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, but I can answer that question without looking at his medical history or making any investigation. The guy went to an elementary school and gunned down more than two dozen people, most of whom were six- and seven-year-old children. Clearly, he was mentally unstable.
Three years ago, I had an emotional breakdown and spent four days in a psychiatric hospital. I had to be admitted because I was considered to be a major threat to my own safety. I needed proper treatment and constant observation. I was put on anti-depressants and have spent countless hours in therapy since, figuring out why I feel the way I do and how to keep my less rational side at bay. I can confidently say that I’ve gotten a lot better, but when it comes to mental illness, you really never know if stability will last.
Despite demonstrated, documented potential for self-harm, I face no additional barriers to purchasing a gun. If I wanted a handgun, I would have to register and obtain a permit, all without any investigation into my mental health history. It would be even easier to obtain a rifle or shotgun. If I was so inclined, I could drive to my local gun shop right now, pass a quick criminal-background check and walk out the same day with a rifle.
During my stay in the hospital, we spent a lot of time in group therapy discussing our problems. There were other young men much more depressed than I — guys who had attempted suicide and failed. Some of them had tried with guns. Worse yet were the kids who weren’t just a threat to themselves, but to those around them. They were angry and had a history of violence. I was afraid of them despite being in a hospital under near-constant surveillance. Imagining that some of these kids are out in the world today and legally old enough to buy guns makes me even more afraid.
Mentally stable people do not walk into schools and gun down children. Nor do they open fire on a crowded movie theater or walk around a college campus shooting students. Someone with a history of a potentially dangerous mental illness should not be allowed anywhere near a gun, this is just common sense.
So why am I even writing about this right now? Why is it that I live in a country where there is even a debate about mental stability playing a role in whether or not someone can purchase a gun? Better yet, as I asked in my first column, why am I living in a country where we have to debate whether or not to take any action when it comes to gun violence? Why does it take the deaths of children to get our president to publicly support a ban on military grade weaponry for citizens?
I’ll be blunt: It’s because our country is brainwashed. The gun lobby owns Congress, but they also own public perception. We see guns as forms of protection rather than tools of mass death. We take seriously the media’s glorification of shooting people. On top of that, our idea of freedom has been skewed to include owning high-powered weapons designed for the sole purpose of killing people. The rest of the world doesn’t have this problem. The rest of the world hasn’t been coerced by fear and lies. The rest of the world accepts the concept that guns lead to tragedy. We need to do the same.
James Brennan can be reached at email@example.com.