The Newtown tragedy of Friday breaks my heart. We've become somewhat desensitized to such killing sprees, but the idea of a young man spraying bullets into a frightened huddle of six and seven years olds feels different. Every time I see a picture of one of the young victims I see my son or daughter.
Sharing the world's largest undefended border with the United States gives us Canadians a unique perspective. We see how much Americans love guns. In a strange coincidence, I held my first gun the day before the Sandy Hook shooting. I was at at Fairmont Kenauk shooting clay with a 12-gauge shotgun. I got off 12 shots and only hit the flying disc twice.
Even though it was clay shooting, I knew after 12 shots it wasn't my game. When others embarked on their 9-station shooting course, I opted to join a hike of the beautiful Canadian wilderness. I knew it was both my first and last experience with handling a gun. Not to mention, I was not using the correct ear and eye protection at the time.
Seeing the American obsession with guns, and knowing how readily available they are in the USA, it's easy to blame gun control for what happened to the 20 youngsters and six adults killed on Friday. After all, such incidents are clearly an American thing. The statistics prove mass shootings are far more likely to happen in the USA than any other country in the world. It must be the guns!
But this weekend, I started thinking about the shooter, and wondered if better gun control could really have prevented this. Then I asked myself a simple question: If I had a plethora of automatic weapons in my bedroom closet, would I be any more likely to commit such an act than I am now? Of course not. You could gift me a fully-loaded automatic weapon and I'd never pull the trigger.
The most effective way to combat this issue in America isn't to make it all about gun control, it's to focus on mental health. This is primarily a mental health issue. Take a moment to read "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" which includes this sobering fact:
But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise -- in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill -- Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.
I don't have all the answers, but I now believe my initial instinct to blame the proliferation of guns was misdirected. More readily available and better treatment of mental illnesses now feels like the best course of action.