Note: This column first ran following the grievous wounding of Gabrielle Giffords, among many other innocents, in Tucson AZ—perpetrated by a mentally ill young man with no business carrying “weapons of mass destruction.” If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result, then our society, which still permits the deranged and demented to obtain and use automatic weapons . . . is as clinically insane as Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza.
Ruminant With A View
By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
TEANECK, NJ—(Weekly Hubris)—12/24/12—. . .because the person I would be most likely to shoot would be myself.
I admit, openly, that were I to find myself on a deserted plain, faced with an equally well-armed Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, or Donald Rumsfeld, with no innocent bystanders (even jack rabbits or rattle snakes) in the vicinity, I’d be honor-bound to handle the situation à la Gary Cooper in “High Noon.” I will always, always, always blame Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld, among others somewhat less culpable, for the tens of thousands of senseless human murders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, unless you’re a drug-addicted burglar breaking violently into my house (and it happened last year), or a lunatic coming at me frothing at the mouth, you’d be safe in my presence, whether or not I were packing heat.
I still get angry on occasion, a fact to which frequent readers of this column may attest, and I’m a crack shot with 20/20 vision (or better), but violence terrifies me.
I am a person who usually (except in blizzards) relocates spiders and bees and shield bugs to the great outdoors rather than squash them.
However . . .
. . . all my life, from the time I was a tiny child, I have been seriously, clinically, depressed, and all the kings’ SSRI’s and all the queens’ St. John’s Wort and all the full-spectrum light, the consolations of philosophy and, finally, the love of a good man and the care of a brilliant psychopharmacologist have simply lightened, but not lifted, my load.
Give me a gun—and I could get one in a heartbeat (like every other ambulating-depress-ee I know of)—and, at some point, I’d blow my brains out.
Take a breath, why don’t you? I’ll do the same.
I’m composing this column the day after “The Shootings in Tucson.” At this writing, I still do not know whether the shooter will, finally, claim more victims, or whether those still in the hospital will recover. My prayers are with everyone who was there at the Tucson supermarket. Everyone. Everyone who touched a gun, or who was ripped apart by a bullet. Every soul exposed to the selfsame violence.
It is the only way I can approach these things. I gather all the souls—the deranged and the noble; the pacific and the violent; the dead and the living—up in my virtual arms, and I hold them out to The Universe for healing, for absolution, for justice, for sanctifying.
As Bob Herbert wrote on today’s New York Times editorial page: “Excluding the people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. This endlessly proliferating parade of death, which does not spare women or children, ought to make our knees go weak. But we never even notice most of the killings. [And, pay attention: Here is Herbert’s main point, italics mine.] Homicide is the white noise in this society.”
Take another breath, please.
To my mind, homicide and serious mental illness (schizophrenia, uncontrolled bi-polar disorder, psychopathy and sociopathy, and recalcitrant depression) comprise the white noise in this society.
Some of us just walk around like bombs waiting to explode. Grenades with pins long-pulled.
And, guess what? We’re about to receive back, into our already disturbed fold, an enormous number of veterans so psychologically damaged by what they have seen and done “over there,” that the mayhem is about to go postal, not to put too fine a point on it. Bush’s and Cheney’s, and now Obama’s wounded chicks, armed and dangerous, are about to come home to roost.
Guns are as readily available as string cheese, licorice and light lattés in America. When I was living seven miles from another living soul on five acres of prime, Lake Hartwell real estate in South Carolina, I slept with a shotgun under my bed.
I was terrified of it, but the house had been broken into so many times by desperate souls feeding their drug habits that I really had no choice: die; or kill.
In South Carolina, too, at a major university, I taught Journalism for several years in the 1990’s. I always scheduled long, individual conferences with my students, one and all, keeping a bead on them in multiple ways; trying to hold them to the academic straight and narrow. I always wanted to know my students as persons, not names and GPA’s, and that compulsion of mine, one day, saved a great many lives.
A male student, a freshman, came in for his first Journalism 101 conference and, after the preliminary small talk, said he was dissatisfied with the university he’d chosen, just as he’d been dissatisfied with the Marines, which he’d just left.
I asked why and was surprised to hear him say that the Marines had been too soft for him, and college was just another sort of “joke.” He went on. “I have a bunch of weapons and, sometimes, I just want to go up on the water tower here and pick people off. One by one.”
After our meeting—blessedly, the last of the day—we were both due in my class. I walked the strapping young man over to the classroom, got him seated, and then went out into the hall and called the Campus Police, the Town Police and a friend (who is a paramedic captain and martial artist), and filled them in.
The police sent two men to my classroom and, along with my paramedic friend, they sat in the back, introduced to the freshmen as “visitors evaluating the journalism offerings at our university.” They had clipboards; they took notes.
Meanwhile, the Town Police were tossing the student’s dorm room. In it, they found an arsenal of guns.
At the end of a tense hour and a half—God knows what I found to say—the Campus Police detained my student and lead him away. I went back to my office and collapsed.
No one ever updated me on the outcome of this little three-act drama, either. I can simply surmise that, somehow, this youth, who disappeared like a shadow from our campus, was adequately “treated” somewhere, somehow, for his violent delusions.
But, you and I know better. Our health care system—especially our mental health care system—is as broken as our gun regulations. (Or our regulation of offshore drilling. Etc., etc.)
Tragically, I know I shouldn’t be given weaponry of any sort. Even my kitchen knives give me the heebie-jeebies on occasion. But I’m one of the “walking wounded,” one of those who knows she’s a danger to herself (if not, thank God, others) some days.
It’s the Tim McVeigh’s, the John Hinckley, Jr.’s, the Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s, the Jared Loughner’s who walk among us that we must find a way to locate, isolate, and remove from our midst.
In a society as violence-prone, as gun-studded, as verbally-vitriolic as our own, we cannot afford any longer to let the “sound of lunacy” pass for “white noise.”
Note: The frightening-to-me image accompanying this column comes from Flicker: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dagnygromer/3624746993/
PS: Please read Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, Mark Giffords’, impassioned plea for change-in-the-face-of-these-seemingly-endless-atrocities: http://www.policymic.com/articles/20840/newtown-shooting-gabby-giffords-husband-calls-for-more-gun-control; also, an excellent piece from the UK’s The Telegraph on shooter Adam Lanza: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9747682/Connecticut-school-shooting-troubled-life-of-Adam-Lanza-a-fiercely-intelligent-killer.html