Reading David Brooks' post-massacre column in the NYT put me in mind of a memorable patient from back in the day. Details are available; in brief, she was a young woman with prior mental health problems, living in a trailer with an older man whom she stabbed to death one day, after which she took the knife to herself, presenting with multiple stab wounds, the final one of which featuring a twelve-inch butcher knife sticking out of her chest. She recovered from life-saving surgery (fixed her heart, lung, stomach, spleen) rapidly, and as the end of her hospitalization approached, I requested a psych consult. The shrink said the woman didn't need inpatient psych care. I was surprised.
The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships — when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control. But there also has to be a more aggressive system of treatment options, especially for men in their 20s. The truly disturbed have always been with us, but their outbursts are now taking more malevolent forms.
Now I'm not stupid enough to think changing gun laws is either possible in the current climate, nor would do enough to solve the problem; nor do I kid myself into thinking that no matter what laws might be passed, the people who've armed themselves already will ever give up their guns. But for the life of me I can't see why the mere mention of attempting to keep guns out of the hands of known felons or the mentally ill leads to the kind of eye-bulging conspiracy mongering we hear from the likes of NRA president Wayne LaPierre and most of his followers.
A friend recently wrote a newspaper column on the subject. A conservative in the formerly-respectable sense of the word, a life-long NRA member, a staunch defender of gun rights for the law-abiding, a hunter, he had the temerity to suggest maybe not everyone needs assault rifles with clips that hold a hundred rounds. Needless to say, his column was met with what you might call resistance. Reading the comments to it online, I learned that the Aurora killer was, in fact, acting on orders from no less than Barack Obama and the FBI, in order to justify their impending rounding up of all guns. (Compared to what I've heard from a guy I used to know, that's hardly a non-standard deviation.) And there were the expected calls for everyone to take up arms at all times, in all places.
So as long as we're talking about things that'll never happen, let's do a thought experiment: imagine a nation where no one had guns, and another where everyone did: in which is it more likely that people would die from gun violence, accidental or intentional? What's the murder rate in countries that have laws controlling access to guns, like England and Canada, compared to that of the US? At minimum, it ought to be possible to discuss, in the most murder-prone country in the western world (excluding Mexico, maybe; but we know where it gets its guns), ways to reduce access to guns for those most prone to using them to harm innocents. And to do so without engendering the kind of fear-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing that consumes the debate at this point.