I listened intently as the experts shared their knowledge on television about guns and mental illness in the aftermath of the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. But, when an expert on mass shootings declared that an individual was less likely to become a victim of a mass shooting than a victim of a lightening strike, I took no solace. The expert was wrong.
To be fair, I’m taking the expert’s remarks a bit out of context because I think we need to re-define what it means to be the “victim” of a mass shooting, or any type of gun violence. The victims extend well beyond the deceased or injured. They extend to the families, friends, neighbors, teammates, classmates, teachers, colleagues, and community of those lost.
The news from Sandy Hook Elementary terrified parents and grandparents, who rushed to hug their children and grandchildren on Friday night. It frightened teachers across the country to contemplate a shooter in their own classrooms. It re-awakened the horror in workplace shooting survivors. It shattered the security of children everywhere. There weren’t just 27 victims, but millions.
Like the collective shooting victims, mental illness also impacts more than those directly afflicted. It impacts the families, friends, teachers, medical professionals, social workers, law enforcement, prison officials, and others who care for them. It seems we don’t fully understand mental illness, and don’t adequately treat it. We can’t predict mental illness, and we can’t protect ourselves against it. Without answers, the “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” blogger (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html) and her son live with unimaginable uncertainty. They are two victims among millions.
If we count differently, then we are all a lot closer to becoming a victim of gun violence, mental illness, or both, than we otherwise might think. I’ll bet the odds are a heck of a lot closer to the occurrence of a rainy day in a San Jose summer than a lightening strike. We are all one raindrop away from another tragedy, unless we act.
We need tougher gun control legislation to reduce gun violence. We don’t need a citizens’ arms race in the name of constitutional rights. We also need a concerted effort to better understand and treat mental illness. The next great frontier of exploration is not the oceans or outer space, it’s right between our ears. Let’s go discover it.
Newtown has a current population of roughly 27,000, but the population of Newtown alumna is many times greater. The news of the shooting pierced the hearts of Newtowners everywhere, victims all. I am one of them, 3,000 miles away in San Jose, California.
It’s time something gets done to protect all of us from gun violence and the outcomes from untreated mental illness.