We Know What Happens Next

Via ABC News.

We know what happens next.

Or, rather, we know what doesn’t happen next: we won’t talk about guns, and we won’t talk about mental health care.

As I write this, a terrible shooting attack has just ended at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, near Milwaukee. A man, as yet unidentified, opened fire on the community, killing six and seriously wounding at least three others (including a policeman). In an exchange of gunfire with the police, the killer was “put down,” ending the rampage.

Terrible and devastating as it is by itself, this tragedy is intensified by the fact that just over two weeks ago, the well-armed James Holmes killed twelve people and wounded fifty-eight others at a packed midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO. This week also saw news of a possible plea deal in the case of Jared Lee Loughner, the young man who shot and killed six people and wounded fourteen others (including former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords) at a supermarket parking lot near Tucson, AZ—and with it came painful reminders of another violent day in the not too distant past.

There’s a lot we don’t know right now. The latest news reports indicate that authorities are treating this an incident of “domestic terrorism”. But we don’t know yet if this was politically motivated, a hate crime, or something beyond understanding. With the killer dead, and investigators only at the beginning of doing their work, we will have to wait for any answers we can get.

There is much that we could talk about right now, however. We could talk about this event in light of the rising reports of incredible violence directed specifically at the Sikh community within the last eleven years. In fact, earlier this year, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and over ninety members of Congress urged the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation to begin recording and tracking hate crimes suffered by Sikh Americans as part of its Hate Crime Incident Report Form (1-699). In the letter they sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on April 19th, they cited two murders, a severe beating, and the defacement of a gurdwara in the previous twelve months, as well as the fact that three out of every four Sikh American boys reports being severely bullied in school, as reasons for believing that “not including Sikhs within hate-crime data-collection may diminish the safety of the 500,000-strong Sikh-American community and weaken the quality of essential hate crimes data overall.” This was definitely not an isolated incident of violence in a comparatively small community in the United States, and that should bother us tremendously.

Religious literacy probably also deserves some attention as well. Many of the religion and media Twitterers that I follow have been commenting on the errors and general clumsiness of several prominent news organizations in reporting on Sikhs. Some of it is staggering: some claim that an anchor on a major news network said (quite incorrectly), “Sikhs are not Muslim—they’re Hindu.” In addition, some incidents of violence (though certainly not all) against the Sikh American community—possibly even this one—have had to do with not being able to tell the difference (on several levels) between Sikhs and Muslims (who should not be targeted for violence either). At best, our lack of knowledge about religion is embarrassing us on a global stage; at worst, it is putting us all in danger.

Despite what we don’t yet know, and the other issues that also deserve our attention, guns and mental health care will undoubtedly enter the conversation at some point. As well they should. These crimes are not perpetrated by the mentally healthy, and casualty counts are not this high without relatively easy access to incredibly dangerous and (often) frighteningly efficient weapons. As a nation, we must talk about guns and mental health care.

But… we know what happens next. The gun lobby will go into hyper-drive, and, with the help of those in Washington, successfully convince us to look the other way when it comes to our own best interests. And that’s not hyperbole either; Bill Moyers put it chillingly and accurately when he said after the Aurora attack, “Every year there are 30,000 gun deaths and 300,000 gun-related assaults in the U.S. Firearm violence may cost our country as much as $100 billion a year. Toys are regulated with greater care and safety concerns than guns.” And Nick Kristof looked even closer to home to make the same point: “Federal law requires large [cinemas] to have wheelchair seating, ramps as well as stairs, and bathrooms that are accessible to the disabled. Fire codes limit audience size. Emergency fire exits must be illuminated. We have a ratings system to protect children from nudity or offensive language. Indeed, on that horrific night in the theater last week, only one major element wasn’t regulated: the guns and ammunition used to massacre viewers.” The double standard here with regards to public health and safety is nothing short of astounding.

With mental health care, the problem is just as big, though our response is much more apathetic. As a nation, we have yet to decide to care as much about human beings and their wellbeing as we do about, say, gun ownership, and therein lies the problem. We know what happens next: continued apathy, and the further crumbling of the system. In a post about Aurora from earlier this week at the NAMI Blog, the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Executive Director Mike Fitzpatrick writes, “Frankly, the nation’s mental health care system is not geared to accurate diagnosis or treatment of early-onset mental illness—assuming that a person has access to treatment at all. It doesn’t matter whether a university counseling center or community mental health clinic is involved. The system is fragmented and grossly inadequate. The chasm between need and care is devastating for persons living with mental illness and their loved ones.” He goes on to note that the national average in NAMI’s 2009 Grading the States report on state mental health care systems was a “D,” and that not only have conditions deteriorated, but their 2011 report on State Mental Health Budget Cuts shows “a deepening crisis.”

We know what happens next: more tragedies like the one today. They’re inevitable with relatively unfettered access to deadly weapons and a rapidly deteriorating safety net for those who need treatment for mental illnesses.

Will we be able to stop terrible attacks like these all together? No. Could we stop the frequency of them with greater attention and resources given to mental health care? I should think so. Could we keep casualties from being so high if we decided to meaningfully regulate guns and ammunition? There’s no question.

Until we decide to do those things, though, days like today—with headlines about no less than three separate, terrible shooting rampages—will become commonplace. They will become part of our lives; the costs of our deadly habit and ignored social responsibility.

We have to decide to care enough about one another to create a safer world for all of us—including those struggling with mental illnesses. In the midst of today’s horror, we were given a beautiful example of what we all can be as the Sikhs at Oak Creek transformed the scene of dread and waiting into an impromptu langar (communal kitchen at a gurdwara where food is given freely to all without condition), offering food and water to journalists and others.

Yes, we know what happens next.

But I, for one, would welcome being proved wrong.

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  • http://buddhatrieste.blogspot.com/ Matthew O’Connell

    Well said. The problem seems to be one of excessive freedom towards guns and the knee-jerk response by the NRA and their supporters to any discussion of regulation. The degree of paranoia and conspiracy theory material floating around in the gun clubs is impressive. Gun regulation does not equal, ‘no access to guns’, and yet there is so much paranoia stirred up by the NRA and the Right-Wing press that a reasonable public discourse of the type of regulation that should be implemented is made untenable.
    To any outsider, i.e. not a US citizen, it is madness to conceive of a country where almost anyone can buy semi-automatic rifles capable of killing so many in such a short time frame at a supermarket. Recreational use including target shooting and hunting have no need for such weapons. Why are they in circulation?
    The following article from a UK newspaper revealed the story a real hero at the temple who saved the lives of many women and children.


    The culture of blame, irresponsibility and the demonizing of foreigners also has a huge part to play in creating a climate of easy hate, which is likely being fueled by the increasing destabilization of the US’s role in the world in a changing century. Guantanamo Bay served/serves as a symbol that inflicting pain and torture indiscriminately towards bearded, dark skin foreigners is acceptable, ‘the government does it, so it’s legitimate.’
    Finally, I can’t help but think that the chickens are coming home to roost. The lack of care and attention made to running the country for the benefit of the many is causing these and many other cracks to appear as signs of a political elite who have no care and no concern for the many. In Italy we have the same problem with a profound failure of leadership: there is an increasing desperation due to instability at the economic, social and political levels and people are acting out. There is a major increase in suicide and violence towards women and Casapound, the extreme right-wing party is gaining support even whilst it carries out out violent attacks on foreigners.
    Some would call it karma. I consider it a profound failure of our leaders in an unethical age where the dark side of modern-day capitalism has been allowed to run rampant. We need profound societal change and the introduction of a renewed debate on ethics at all levels, including gun ownership and control.

  • http://www.StevenAbell.com Steven T Abell

    It would be nice if laws alone could fix the gun problem. But we have laws about drugs, and they have not fixed the drug problem. These laws have only put way too many people in jail, while funneling way too much money to the wrong people. Gunmaking is not rocket science, and a black market in guns *will* manufacture things that will make you long for the days of merely semi-automatic weapons. It would be nice if regulations, whether alone or in concert with laws, could fix the gun problem. And when deciding where to carry out his attack, it is interesting to note that the Aurora killer chose yet another “gun-free” zone. It is likely that the Gurdwara killer thought the same would be true about his target.

    What laws or regulations would you like to see changed or implemented, and is it rational to think those laws or regulations will actually improve things? Or will they simply be yet more pointless restrictions and legal hazards on those who are already law abiding? Yes, we could stand to have a national dialog on guns, preferably one in which the inconvenient truths of physics, engineering, and human behavior are on full display. This, as opposed to the blatant fantasy factory usually promoted by the media. Yes, let’s do what we can to prevent these awful events. No, let’s not do things that only create or enable other horrible problems, or that make this problem worse: something that is unfortunately all too easy to do.

  • Donna Gleason

    I couldn’t agree more about the necessity of getting the “mentally I’ll” -and I use that term broadly here- the highest level of professional care there is. There ARE “bad psychiatrists”. As a sufferer of bipolar disorder, of which one component is obsessive compulsion, another a “cavalier attitude” – all things with the potential for danger if I simply stopped taking my meds. We need to bring people like me out in the open so others can see how “normal” I appear. Maybe that would help rid the stigma of needing help and getting it. How many stories have we heard about these perpetrators slipping through the cracks? How many had said of them..”he seemed like such a nice guy…”?

  • http://urbizspace.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=92219 Jacques Matley

    This abuse has been planning on for decades. My teenage ages were spent on a NTM base in the South Pacific. The main abuse was psycological, signed confessions, racial discrimination, having to abdicate any free thought or impression.
    And to complicate matters, I’m not an American, so a very good double dose of abuse. Apparently this abdicates one’s proper to a fair go, oh hang on that sounds like American foreign policy, “the planet was created for White Americans to exploit and trample on … ”
    But it was 30 decades ago, another planet away. Time has a way of healing, my sanity is still intact and I have uncovered a great degree of happiness with which I am happy.
    But the terrifying side of all this, its probably still taking place . . .

  • http://noelleimparato.wordpress.com Noelle Imparato

    Nice article, but as all articles of that sort the solutions/suggestions offered are made within a lack of context. Asking for better gun regulation and healthcare laws is as pointless as asking for people to be more frugal while their own president is ordering them to go out in the malls and buy more “to save their country”; or asking Monsanto to go and save Ethiopia from hunger. For our society to become healthier and more peaceful we need to address the power structure that is leading us in the direction of ever higher and higher violence, at home as well as abroad. Much of this violence is being deliberately caused and/or manufactured by our own governing forces via forced-fed propaganda, mass control, and lies. Violence and war have become commodities, as have sickness and crime, or homeland security. When CIA infiltrates OWS to manufacture so-called ‘domestic terrorism,’ or when money controls whom we elect, can we still pretend we live in a democracy? Good causes have little to do with the law-making process in a society where political power serves ‘profit at all cost.’ Democracy has been highjacked by Big Money. Until we acknowledge that fact, nothing will change. Denial by the intellectual left is only reinforcing this situation. We need to start asking the right questions, such as: How can we, the people, take back our own government?