Never enough teddy bears

December 20, 2012

teddy-bears-in-a-rowSince the senseless massacre of 26 people at an elementary school in the upscale, small town of Newtown, CT, on Friday, December 14, 2012, newspapers, newscasts, and coffee-break conversations have been dominated by the subject of the easy accessibility in the United States of firearms – especially those weapons designed for use in warfare and for the sole purpose of destroying human life.

Nationwide and worldwide, people are asking: “How does something like this happen?” They want to know: “What can we do so that it doesn’t happen again?”

In the last four months of 2012 alone, there have been five occurrences of mass violence in the U. S. that have claimed scores of lives at the end of a gun. Fifty-nine people have been killed or wounded needlessly – including six at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, and eight at a spa in Brookfield. Did it take the murder of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six of their teachers in a school – supposedly a safe haven for learning – to force us as a society to wake up and take a critical look at ourselves in the mirror? We’ll see.

Let’s face it. The U.S. – paragon of civilization, the envy of the world, a legend in its own mind – is in a state of denial. Our society and culture are nurtured by a lethal daily cocktail comprised of:

• Ultra-lax gun laws

• Glamorized violence in popular culture

• Marginalized and stigmatized mental health issues

• Twisted national priorities that value things over the well-being of people

Our country is the only industrialized nation that guarantees its citizens access to firearms as a fundamental right. Practically anyone can own a gun or gain access to one, legally or illegally. Because of this so-called right, we as a nation lump all guns and their users in one bunch. However, a hunting rifle or shotgun has a much different purpose than an AK-47 or a Bushmaster assault rifle.

Our culture is one of the few on the planet that glamorizes violence. Movies, TV, books, periodicals and music are drenched in violent acts. With or without parental intervention, it’s hard for the growing mind not to get the impression that all this killing is a normal response when things don’t go your way. Those among us with no sense of empathy, right or wrong have often used these violent media as inspirational primers in planning and executing their outrageous and unconscionable actions.

In most schools, children are screened at an early age for hearing and vision abnormalities. Adults are encouraged to have annual physical check-ups and screenings for various diseases. However, routine assessments for mental disorders are rarely performed, unless someone exhibits inordinately bizarre behavior. And then, someone has to have the courage to report it and seek help. Intervention rarely happens.

In addition, community-based mental health agencies are not readily available; and if they are, services are often limited, costly, or not covered by insurance. Perhaps we should care as much about what’s going inside our heads as much as we value what we put on them.

We pride ourselves on being a nation governed by laws and rational thinking. But we have an irrational need to protect a political agenda that is killing us as a nation, one person at a time. We regulate other things, such as cars, drugs and alcohol, that can have lethal consequences in the wrong hands. Yet, it’s hands-off when it comes to regulating guns in an effective way. Given our macho national self-image, it may be too much to ask to ban guns altogether. But we must reorder our national priorities and grow a backbone when it comes to protecting our citizens from needless harm– especially our children. We must acquire the political will to do the right thing, and not just the politically correct stop-gap thing, where guns are concerned.

These days in Newtown and across the country, makeshift shrines featuring candles, teddy bears, balloons, and words of tribute have sprung up to help us cope with the loss and the sorrow that we all feel in sympathy. But until we make a fundamental change and deal with root causes and consequences, there will never be enough teddy bears to ease our national pain.