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Friday, October 21, 2016

The anguish of Richard Martinez in the wake of the Santa Barbara, California, shootings that killed his 20-year-old son last year was almost unbearable. Now he is an old hand. “You are not alone,” Martinez told Andy Parker, father of slain Virginia journalist Alison Parker, in a recent USA Today column.

“Welcome to the heartbreaking club that no one wants to be a part of.”

If only we could fix this by keeping better tabs on disturbed young men and erratic co-workers. If only we could avoid more daunting political warfare over guns.

But let’s get real. There isn’t enough money in the world to train every cop, teacher, social worker, and family member in America to detect mental illness and predict its course. And cash is the least of the problem.

That’s because mental illness is the most mysterious, complicated, and uncontrollable element of the gun violence equation. There are many types of illnesses, not just one. Their symptoms, by definition, involve irrational behavior. Some people hide their difficulties. Some refuse help. Medication doesn’t always work. And even when it does, people often decide they don’t need their pills.

If you don’t treat mental illness or live with it, it is difficult to convey its force and magnitude, and how opaque it remains while in plain sight. Even the experts can’t foresee catastrophes in the making. A young man in Virginia, sent home by authorities who could not find him a hospital bed, killed himself after stabbing his father, state Sen. Creigh Deeds. Elliot Rodger’s mother, alerted to alarming videos he posted online, asked sheriff’s deputies to check on him — and they took his word that he was fine.

As for the politics of mental illness, there’s no tighter, more tangled Gordian knot in our age than the expanding right of the individual to bear arms; the right of society to be protected from troubled, armed individuals; and the rights of people who might or might not be troubled enough to warrant involuntary treatment. Sure, we should keep studying mental illness and train more people on the front lines, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves. Guns are much easier to manage than human behavior.

In writing this column, I stumbled on an eye-opening piece I did for the Associated Press in December 1993. President Bill Clinton was pushing an assault weapons ban, which he eventually won and which was later allowed to expire. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wanted a large tax hike on ammunition to pay for health care reform.

Rep. Patricia Schroeder had proposed a “firearm fatality reporting system” modeled on a federal database of traffic fatalities that had led to safer vehicles. Pediatricians were hoping that unsafe, easy-to-acquire guns would become as unacceptable as driving drunk or failing to fasten your child’s seatbelt.

The doctors never imagined politicians so intimidated that even after 20 children were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, they would refuse to plug holes in the background-check system for prospective buyers. They never envisioned a lobby so powerful it could prevent gun registration, research and even the collection of data invaluable to law enforcement and public health personnel.

If we treated cars that way, they wouldn’t be registered or insured. Turn signals would not have been introduced in 1937, and computerized warning systems would not be emerging today. We would not have saved 300,000 lives in 40 years, thanks to seat belts and air bags.

We study and regulate cars in the interest of keeping people alive. We do the same with cribs, food, airplanes, medication, practically everything except guns, even as they continue to kill and maim. More than 30,000 people in the United States died in suicides and homicides involving firearms in 2010, according to federal statistics. Hundreds more die and thousands are injured each year in gun accidents.

But the numbers don’t matter to Second Amendment disciples. I’m not sure they’d budge even if the Founding Fathers personally assured them that they were good with expanded background checks and bans on certain types of weapons and magazines.

There may never be consensus, but there is a growing community of bereaved families determined to spare others their agony. They are embodied by Parker, who says his mission and Alison’s legacy will be tighter gun laws, and Martinez, who went from public anger and pain to working with Everytown for Gun Safety and getting results, state by state by state.

The only appropriate response for all of us, not just for the relatives of the dead, is to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to get guns off the pedestal and treat them like the dangerous merchandise they are.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

This piece is an updated and revised version of a column from May 29, 2014.

Photo: Roo Reynolds via Flickr

  • Dominick Vila

    I have not heard any of our leaders propose unilateral disarmament. What has been proposed several times, and is usually drowned by a barrage of hyperbole designed to scare people, is the need for effective gun control laws, greater scrutiny of criminal and/or mental records, and questions regarding the need to own and carry semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines.
    The real issue is not whether or not the average American should be allowed to own a handgun or a hunting rifle, but whether or not steps should be taken to curb the incidence of gun violence. Suggesting that the solution is to arm everyone to feel protected is irresponsible. The solution is not the ability of having good old fashion shoot outs, the solution is to find a way to make it more difficult for people who should not have access to lethal weapons to get one, improve access to records needed to determine who should buy and carry a weapon, and educate our population on the dangers of taking the law in our own hands and respecting the rights and lives of others.

    • 13hotdee13

      Nancy Palosi: “Mr. and Mrs. America Turn them all In” (If she had the power to make it a reality) You were not listening. If the gun is the guilty party in these crimes then why is not the gun put on trial for murder? Why blame an individual when it is the gun whom is guilty? Let’s try and convict these guns since that is common sense. The weapon of choice can vary and if a firearm is less accesable criminals, drug dealers, and lunatics can surely find other lethal devices to ply their trade with prior to rehabilitating and assuming new legal careers at 7/11 or Wal-Mart. Control and elimination from society for the serious mentally Ill and repeat offender might actually result in a degree of safety as desired by many since convicting guns in court may look stupid in that enviorment since it does not in the press. The only way to make the mentally ill and habitual criminal elements of the population disapear from our midst for good would be a similar program as that initiated by the late German Leader “Adolph Hitler” whom instigated a permanent solution for the safety concerns of the German Citizens after his prior efforts to insure safe streets through first gun registration then confiscation failed to achieve the desired result; But initiating phase two of the citizen safety was much easier to achieve following civilian disarmament. Freedom comes with a price and total safety is a unrealistic goal no how much freedom we are willing to surender. We need to repair the involuntary mental health system and punish those whom break the laws or charge the guns or ?? with the crime and let the lunatics and criminals go about their business and continue to hold inanimate objects and law abiding citizens accountable.

      • Dominick Vila

        Inanimate objects such as guns, knives, machetes, or baseball bats, for example, are instruments used by those determined to harm others to carry out their crimes.
        Legislation alone is not going to prevent criminals from obtaining a lethal weapon, and making harder for the mentally ill to have easy access to a lethal weapon will not prevent them from committing a crime. However, that does not mean we should throw up our arms and ignore the carnage that is taking place in every city and town in the USA. If eliminating loopholes in the current laws, making relevant information available to law enforcement officers, and putting more emphasis on civics reduces the incidence of violent crime in the USA by a mere 10%, it is a step well taken.
        What is your solution to this problem?

        • David

          The solution is twofold. First, a critical examination of the flood of psychotropic drugs being prescribed and used by so many these days. Second, the “carnage” is rampant in East St. Louis, IL; Camden, NJ; Gary, IN; Chester, PA; Saginaw, MI; Flint, MI; Detroit, MI; Trenton NJ; Newark, NJ; and, New Orleans, LA. Do you see a trend here? Hmm….could these be states where gun ownership is frowned upon and the “benevolent government” is taking care of the people? Finally, the 2nd Amendment ain’t about duck hunting. Lets get our people armed to deal with criminals.

          • Dominick Vila

            The massacres committed in schools, churches, a Sikh Temple, movie theaters, and during a politician’s speech in an ultra conservative state had nothing to do with liberalism.

          • David

            The cities listed are the top ten in 2015 for homicides. It has everything to do with liberalism. “Gun Free Zone”? How about, “Free Fire Zone”?

          • Looner

            What top ten cities? And population wise or percentage wise?

          • David

            Check again DA…that list of yours includes suicides. Tell me that it is safer in Chicago or Detroit than in Juneau!

          • Looner

            Nope, that is for GUN VIOLENCE. And concidering Chicago is the 3 rd largest city in the US, they probably have a higher rate than Juneau. But Juneau is not all of Alaska. Why don’t you just face it, you are trying to fit your prejudices and the stupid things you hear on right wing sources in with the actual truth, and it just isn’t happening. Those states listed above have the highest rate of gun violence. That is it. Those are the FACTS.

          • David

            Wake up!!! Read your source!!! It includes ALL uses of guns — including suicide. Also they probably include legal uses of guns as well such as defense and law enforcement. Facts? You wouldn’t know “facts” if they bit you in your a-s!

          • missythemissmiss

            Citing USA Today and the Wall St. Journal is not research. You must look up stats on your own, unless you’re foolish enough to think that the media is trustworthy. I’m a liberal, but I did my own research, which led me to believe that gun control is not about saving lives of US citizens, but about protecting the super rich, who will always be granted access to weapons. You are being naive.

          • 2ThinkN_Do2

            Pssst . . . #1 WASHINGTON DC

          • 2ThinkN_Do2

            Psst, Pssst . . . 2010’s top cities: Overall number of gun murders:

            1. Los Angeles…………………..1,141

            2. Chicago…………………………1,139

            3. New York………………………..1,101

            4. Philadelphia………………………729

            5. Houston…………………………….701

            6. Detroit……………………………….686

            7. Miami…………………………………594

            8. Dallas………………………………..469

            9. Washington………………………..440

            10. San Francisco………………….439

            Just like you said . . . ALL RED STATES, Red with Blood is about it . . . : (

      • Looner

        It was Senator Diane Feinstein that said “Mr and Mrs America turn them all in” and that was in a 60 Minutes interview back in 1995, referring to what she would have done if there was a Federally imposed ban.
        It is hardly a good start to misquote and mislead, trying to have an intelligent conversation about guns, or actually other lethal weapons. Their are very few people that think that all guns should be outlawed on either side of the political spectrum. I think existing mental health laws are not being enforced, and gun show laws are ridiculously lacking.
        If a patient is determined to not to be allowed access to a gun, there is no one to actually check up on this. They take the word of the patient! That needs to be changed immediately.
        Too many guns are sold under the table, and high capacity magazines aren’t even regulated in some states.
        We need to start having a meaningful discussion, not antagonistic “Guns don’t kill, people do” tired clichés …. Because we know that guns can’t point themselves and pull the trigger.

        • DEFENDER88

          1st – Gun Crime – About 80-90% of gun crime is done in the “hood” with stolen guns.
          This is actually the bigger problem but the mass shootings get all the headlines.
          And this problem is primarily a bigger city poverty/drug gang related problem.
          The answer to “stolen guns” is for gun owners to get trained in how to keep them safe.
          Also make drugs legal and the gang killings problem will diminish and maybe disappear.

          2nd – Gun Shows – This is actually a very minor issue.
          Have you ever been to a gun show?
          99.9% or more of guns sold at gun shows are by legal dealers(Federally Licensed) who DO run a NICS(FBI) background check.
          This is a very minor problem that has been blown way out of proportion by the Anti-gun cabal.
          The “hole”/the problem in the NICS system is you cannot check on mental health status due to privacy rights – this should change for these checks.

          3rd – Mental Health – And Psychotropic Drugs – This is actually a lesser problem than the everyday killing in the “Hood’ but gets all the headlines. A “start” would be to allow Mental Health checks in the NICS system. And better school security.

          4th – Gun Free Zones – “Gun Free Zones” actually ARE a problem – they are now sought out by the mental cases and viewed as Gun Free Kill Zones. No way will I go into a movie theater now without my gun. If they search me and find it I will just leave.
          But I refuse to be shot like a fish in a barrel with no defense.
          Most mass killers are highly intelligent. Crazy as a Bat but intelligent – starting with Columbine, etal.
          They know where to go for the most effect and least resistance.

          4th – Assault Weapons and High Cap Mag bans – This was done for a time. The data shows it had no effect what-so-ever on the crime or gun murder rates. Even now with the ban lifted – Assault rifles account for less then 1/2 of 1% of gun crime.
          ie This “Aint” the problem. It makes good/bad Headlines but the numbers do not support it.

          5th – Suicides by gun – This is a personal choice that should be removed from US gun death rates data.
          Including Suicides the US rate is 30,000 /yr. (Widely quoted by anti-gun groups).
          Take Suicides out and it is about 3,000 /yr. (Actually a little below average World Wide.)

          6th – Training – If you are going to buy a gun you should have a background check then get trained in its use and safe storage.

          7th – Levels of “Violence” – Studies show that the “Level of Violence in a society” is what determines the crime rate not the number of guns. In Africa, where guns were not available, they just used macheties for mass murder and every-day killing.

          • Looner

            Right then with your first “statement” you lost me because it is so far from the truth and so flavored with bias and racism that I couldn’t go on. Really? About 80 to 90% of gun crime is done in the “hood” with stolen guns? Really? The hood? You watch too much TV, and oh please tell me where you got that information from?

          • DEFENDER88

            Don’t start Race baiting me. You wish it was that simple.
            There are White “Hoods”, Black “Hoods”, Latino “Hoods”, Asian, White Red Necks, you name it.
            The deeper underlying issues are poverty, lack of good jobs, etc. leading to drug gangs and gun violence.
            If you don’t understand that I need to stop wasting my time on you.

            I get that from observing this issue and the root causes for a while now. Including crime statistics.

            I said nothing about race. Although there are problems within the Black community. Some due to past years of racism, some self inflicted. The Root Causes(in the Black Community) are – Poverty, poor schools, lack of good jobs, lack of fathers in the homes, lingering racism etc drives young Black men to making money in the drug trade in gangs and thus largely Black on Black gun crime. If you don’t know that, you have been living under a rock, maybe in Arizona.

            If you don’t know 80-90 % of gun crime is done by Black on Black drug gangs you have your head buried.

            Of course the farther south you go it goes to Mexicans/the Cartels etc. or White Red Necks.

            I also get it by just observing the daily reports of shootings in my mid range city and it is not as bad as in the bigger cities like Detroit, Chicago, etc. but it is nation wide.

            This could be fixed by legalizing most all drugs, but then still the root problems remain of poverty, no jobs, etc.
            There are no easy solutions to this part of the problem with gun crime.

  • nancyminter
    • David

      Hmm…get your opinion and knowledge from a comedian. Not surprised.

    • DEFENDER88

      Funny but simplistically ignorant.

  • Jerpell

    Here in Connecticut we have the toughest gun laws, all 72 firearms that I own are legal here in this state. Some collectibles, some hunting firearms, a few conceal carry, an array of target shooters and some plinkers….Its the illegal one’s I worry about!

  • Phil Linehan

    The Second Amendment does not give INDIVIDUALS the right to bear arms. Those who claim it does have not read it or, if they have, they do not understand English

    • David

      The 2nd Amendment does not give individuals the right to bear arms? Really? I suppose that you will say that right is for the “militia”? Well, despite the fact that all of the Bill of Rights are about ‘indidual’ rights, can you be clever enough to see what the term “militia” meant in the late 1700’s? And after you do, will you have the moral backbone to come back to this site and tell everyone that you were wrong and that the 2nd Amendment is all about the individual being armed — and not for duck hunting!

    • DEFENDER88

      Maybe YOU don’t understand it.
      You need to update yourself here.

      A few years ago, the Supreme Court(ie the LAW determiners of THIS land) took up this very issue and decided it DOES apply to individuals.

      • phylin

        Obviously the Supreme Court geniuses did not know the difference between
        “the people” (the community or collectivity) and “people” (individuals). Maybe they should have taken some English language lessons.

        • DEFENDER88

          I am pretty sure that was well argued at the highest levels.

          And you are free to disagree.

          But you are also bound to abide by the law as they interpret it.
          And “currently” it is interpreted to mean for personal/individual uses/needs.

          And I have to believe they(the Founders) meant it to be for Individual home and self defense. Since so many soldiers were from wilderness areas.

          In addition to coming together again for defense of the state if needed – ie the Militia.

          And the wilderness is still pretty wild – I have been shot at 3 times in the mountains by Red Necks.

          It is almost as wild out there as our inner cities now.:)

          Also they did not specify “Muskets”.
          Knowing technology would advance.

          They were like that (Forward Thinking) in many areas of the Constitution and Founding concepts.

  • Charles Evans

    “The doctors never imagined politicians so intimidated that even after 20
    children were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut,
    they would refuse to plug holes in the background-check system for
    prospective buyers. They never envisioned a lobby so powerful it could
    prevent gun registration, research and even the collection of data
    invaluable to law enforcement and public health personnel. ”

    We live in a country full of narcissist who only care about their own rights and not the rights of innocent unarmed children and adults. They are afraid of the GUV-MENT, ALQEADA, IMMIGRANTS, WOMEN WHO CHOOSE NOT TO HAVE A BABY, MUSLIMS, THE POPE, OBAMA, LIBERALS, DEMOCRATS,GAYS, AND BLACK PEOPLE. The only thing they don’t seem to fear is the New Testament and God………

  • 2ThinkN_Do2

    Just an FYI, I’ve read quite a few different articles on Air Bags, by a variety of resources; they are not the savior they are talked up to be, in fact, they have inadvertently killed many due to malfunctions. All they really are, is a money making device for some corporation and they have increased the cost of an automobile by thousands and thousands of $$’s. As for gun registration, licensing and taxing ammo; you know what the problem is. Mental illness and lost hope in our ever increasing impossible to afford to live within society and have free time to enjoy life. There is no reason to give criminals the run of the country. Address the issue(s) and quit attempting to regulate the tool. There are already plenty of regulations in place and they are not being utilized in their full capacity. Laws that are not enforced or utilized are a worthless waste of time and money.