GUEST EDITORIAL: “What Did We Learn in Arizona?” asks Tom Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence

By Tom Franklin  (Post # 684)

# 1. Persons with severe mental illness, living with their family and engaged with responsible organizations (community colleges and the U.S. mlilitary), reading the same media we do and taking in the same political rhetoric, can (and too often do) choose extreme violence as the means of expressing their alienation from our society.

# 2. The “right” to own a gun is so privileged in our culture that no state or federal law prohibits such persons from legally buying anywhere in the U.S. a semi-automatic weapon designed  expressly for killing large numbers of people at close range in a few seconds.  This is so even if the person has been determined by federal officials to be so potentially dangerous that they are prohibited from flying on any airplane anywhere subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

# 3. Nowhere in the U.S. can such a person buy cold medicine without submitting a form certifying that they are not a drug addict, nor can they drive a motor vehicle without demonstrating their competence to do so safely.  But they can buy a military weapon capable of discharging 30 bullets in 30 seconds and in some states, including Arizona, they can openly carry it anywhere.

# 4. In no state do mental health services meet the needs of those who are qualified (by the state’s own standards) to receive them, and resouces for such programs are certain to be further reduced in the near future in every state.

What We Should Learn From Arizona

We get what we pay for.  Unless we quickly discover a magic wand (or pill) that will eliminate all mental illness we are on a tragic course of collision between our refusal to care for our mentally ill and our privileging of gun ownership.  It is not just possible, or likely, but it is INEVITABLE that others will repeat the tragedy in Arizona.  Even, or perhaps even particularly, the mentally ill are subject to the “copycat” crime phenomenon.

It is not coincidence that Mr. Loughner’s legal counsel also defended the Unabomber; defending mentally ill mass murderers could become a hot specialty in an anemic market for legal services.  Nor will that specialty be of short duration as a magic pill for curing mental illness has not even been submitted for initial drug trials.

If we can’t cure mental illness perhaps we should just accept that the mentally ill will be a part of our society for quite some time, and then perhaps we might decide that in such a society it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to allow just anyone to buy guns as freely as they can today.

That would not be a novel decision; it is the decision made years ago by every other developed nation in the world.  But chances are we’ll decide we are smarter than the rest of the world and that we have nothing to learn from the Arizona tragedy.  And we’ll have to repeat the class, over and over.

Tom Franklin, a Hill resident, is president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.  A retired attorney in the computer industry in Boston, Tom is Director of Projects for Maine Island Trail Association.