Guns aren’t going away.  But we can and should make them harder to get.  And while we’re at it?  We need to give parents more support.  The health of our entire society is at risk.  So I thought I’d comment on tragedy, guns and mental illness.

I have 2 boys.  They like to turn their fingers into guns, their toast into bayonets and the household firewood into rifles.  For a while I was worried that banning guns in the home made them more desirable, like our North American drinking restrictions.  But now I think it’s simply part of that Y chromosome.  So it’s up to me as a parent to teach responsibility and empathy.  It’s been a difficult road and I can’t say for sure that I’ve made good choices.  Recently, a student from the USA moved to the neighbourhood and even his mother is shocked at our disapproving attitude against guns.  I feel really awful for the little guy.  At age 6, he’s trying hard to fit in and other parents aren’t as welcoming as I would have hoped.  We can take issue with American gun culture – not with a 6 year old who is trying to assimilate the only way he knows how to impress.  Unfortunately, the boys in the class are transfixed by talk of uzis, BB Guns and rifles.  The fixation is unsettling.

Several years ago, I was the victim of a violent crime.  It didn’t involve guns, but from that point I made a decision – I couldn’t control the behaviour of others.  If people were going to do something it would be hard to stop them.  But I could be smart in safety, education, fitness and responsibility.  As a mother I can help mold my children and give them the emotional capacity to be good citizens.  Bad stuff is going to happen.  Guns or drugs or nasty thoughts will creep in.  But people can make good decisions when they have mental stability, community support and strong values.  It’s not just guns that are to blame.  They are a ‘thing’ and can make no decisions by themselves.  It’s like blaming the fast food chains for obesity.  People make choices and we rely on our government to implement perameters for these choices.  The accessibility and general American acceptance of gun possession is not positive, but of greater concern is the lack of support for mental health – not only for severe conditions but everyday financial and family stress that affects us all.

In Canada we have access to phenomenal mental health resources for those who choose treatment.  From help lines to psychiatric services, there is always someone to call.  I was hospitalized for depression in university and it was the care I received and tools for dealing with anguish that have made me into the person and parent I am today.  Certainly not perfect, but calm and generally happy.  When I was in the hospital, I remember that certain freedoms were limited.  Doors were not locked.  We couldn’t flit away for the weekend, and bedtime and counseling were enforced.  When mental illness is part of the equation, extra care and limits should be put in place for the safety of everyone.

So what can we do as a society?  Smokers are no longer allowed to light up at the beach or in public places, as the health of others can be affected.  When the e-coli bacteria is discovered in one piece of meat, all meat from a certain facility from that date is recalled.  Somebody kills another while driving under the influence of alcohol and blood alcohol laws are tightened.  A tragedy befalls a school and innocent children and teachers are killed.  Shouldn’t it follow that guns should be harder to acquire?  Especially in a country without adequate mental health support?

I can’t speak to my boys 5 and 6 about the tragedy.  The older is in grade one like many of the victims.  I can simply carry on trying to teach ethics and kindness.  Turn off the TV and not give attention to the perpetrator.  Teach my boys about doing unto others as they would like to have people treat them.  Hug them tight.  When I take them to school tomorrow I must force myself to leave.  I suspect I won’t be the only parent lurking around the school all day with eyes wide open trying to act normal.

I have no problem with guns for sport.  Clay pigeons are challenging and demanding to hit.  We even have (responsible) shooting in the Olympics.  But there needs to be some control over who can use and purchase a gun, particularly when mental health comes into the picture.  The statistics are horrific.  Gun deaths over 1 year – Japan: 2 Finland: 1 Australia: 35 England/Wales: 39 Spain: 60 Germany:194 Canada: 200 USA: 9,484.  In 1996, there was a shooting at a primary school in Scotland.  The following year, Scotland banned the private ownership of cartridge ammunition handguns.  There have been no school shootings since.  There have been 31 school shootings in the US since Columbine.  It’s time to react.