gun free schoolAs a mother, a psychologist, an educator, and a gun-owner, I have spent the past two days asking myself what we can do to prevent such senseless tragedies as the one that happened on Friday in Connecticut.  Certainly, there are no simple answers.  I believe that our first step is to stop denying the daunting realities we face in attempting to find real solutions.

The reality is that there are millions of guns in the hands of American citizens, many of them responsible gun owners. However, we cannot ignore the fact that many of those guns fall into the hands of disturbed individuals who would do harm to themselves and others.

The reality is that there are millions of Americans who suffer from mental and emotional disorders, many of whom do not receive adequate care.  While those individuals are not to blame for their conditions and should not be routinely excluded from society because of their illness, some of them do pose a threat to the safety of themselves and others.

The reality is that our education and public health systems have failed to find a way to address the issues of gun violence and adequate mental health care.  With so many guns in our midst, why is there no routine education about gun safety in our schools or our media?  With so many people teetering on the edge, why is it so difficult to receive mental health care?  Such things cost money and resources, which are admittedly in short supply.  But is that a reason to throw up our hands and say that we must continue to suffer through these heartbreaking tragedies?

I will admit that I believe our society is deeply flawed, and the cynic in me is tempted to turn away, to immerse myself back into the escapism so rampant in our culture, and say that “this is just the way things are.”  Just a couple of years ago, I would have done that.  But something changed.   What changed for me is the birth of my daughter.  As an older mother at age 42, I waited a long time to have a child because I was wrestling with the question of whether it is right to bring a child into such a violent and unpredictable world.  My husband and I finally decided that while having a child is a deeply selfish act, we wanted to have this experience of loving and doing our utmost to provide a happy and prosperous life for a child.  We decided that with all its pain and sorrow, life is also filled with beauty.  I now have a responsibility to that child.  I have a responsibility to do my very best, whatever that means, to make this world better for her.

As an educator, I believe that one place to start is educating the public about gun safety and about mental illness.  As a licensed psychologist who has treated hundreds of patients, I believe that people with certain categories of mental illness should not be allowed access to guns — we can take steps toward achieving that with both education and legislation.  Most importantly, I also believe that people with mental illness should have access to treatment that goes beyond a pill and a pat on the back.  Finally, as a person who has guns in my home for personal protection, I see no reason why any private citizen should own a semi-automatic assault-type weapon.  (I am familiar with some of the arguments for owning them — such as protection against the tyranny of government — but does anyone really think that citizens with assault weapons would have a chance against a government armed with tanks, bombers, fighter jets, and aerial drones, not to mention surveillance technologies?)

We must all put our minds to work on this problem.  I encourage you to do as I have done, and write to your congresspersons to express your ideas and your opinions.   All I know is that we cannot go on as we have.  We all have to do better.

School sign photo available from Shutterstock