Satirist Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central) had it right last week when he dissed all the talk about the failed security that allowed Aaron Alexis to get into the Navy Yard and kill 13 people. If only security had been tighter, he mused, that shooter would have gone somewhere else to unload his weapon on different innocent people. So let’s beef up security, lock our kids in schools with cops guarding the door, and hope that tragedy finds someone else.
Clearly our focus was in the wrong place. This shooting occurred because America loves her guns more than the lives of the innocent citizens they injure and kill – in military installations and movie theaters, at malls and universities, in high schools and elementary schools. Combine our access to guns with a horribly broken mental health care system and we have the perfect formula for tragedy.
Aaron Alexis’s story is so sadly familiar—a man with mental illness, untreated and ignored when all the warning signs were there. Why didn’t the police take him to a crisis center or hospital after he called for help when he heard voices and threats emanating from a microwave. Could it have been any more obvious that he needed treatment? And what about at the VA hospital where he went asking for help? Again, the severity of his condition went either unrecognized, minimized, or ignored by professionals who should have known better.
We’ve heard Alexis’s story before – James Holmes in Aurora, Adam Lanza in Newtown, Jared Loughner in Tucson and so many others. When are we going to do something about it? When will we have the courage to pass strict gun control legislation in spite of powerful lobbies and misguided ideas about the Second Amendment—too often an excuse rather than a reason to own a gun? When will we have the wisdom to fund mental health care instead of continuing to cut it and when will we have the compassion to treat those with mental illness instead of leaving them to flounder? When will we find the courage and wisdom to do what’s not only right, but smart? How many more tragedies will it take?