Where? When? How many?


Drifting within that blissful state of somnolence somewhere between wakefulness and deep sleep I heard the distinctive ping of a text message coming across my cell phone.  It was 7 a.m.

I was able to ignore the internal pressure to grab a glance at my phone for a short while.  But then my curiosity got the better of me and I reached for the phone stashed nearby my camper bed.

It was from a friend in Ohio and I eagerly punched the message with my thumb so I could see the entire text. Potential conversations like this were exciting as I’d been camping in the midst of wilderness in Canada for several days and a lack of Internet connection had isolated me.

Several days before – when I still had wifi – I had posted a blog about how difficult it was to escape mediated accounts of what’s become the weird world of the United States despite the fact that I had “run away” to Canada.  But since then, I’d had no connection with the media.

That post was prescient but I wasn’t prepared for this conversation.

“Another mass shooting yesterday.  I’m glad you’re running away.”

It was not the message I’d hoped to receive.  But in this era of too many guns and too much anger, it shouldn’t have been unexpected.

Lacking Internet or radio, I could only text back:  Where?  When?  How many?

I soon found out.

Where?  When?  How many?

How has the United States turned into the land of mass murder?

The fact that I’d even thought to ask how many people had been killed attests to the fact that we as U.S. citizens have become accustomed to the growing plague of mass killings in our midst.  I automatically knew it was more than one but was hoping it wasn’t another Las Vegas where 58 people were killed in 2017 or an Orlando where 49 people were killed in a nightclub the year before that.

My friend texted back:  “Virginia Beach municipal building.  Twelve killed by a city employee.”

Oh … I felt some relief.  Just 12?  Perhaps that’s not so bad in the grand scheme of American mass murder.

What have I become to think this is minor?

What have we as U.S. citizens become?

Where?  When?  How many?

To me the answer seems fairly simple.

We’ve become a nation that devotes too little money to mental health care and a nation that puts too much emphasis on guns and the money generated by them.  The statistics seem to back me up.

The World Health Organization issued a plea only two years ago to nations begging for a massive ramp-up in spending for mental healthcare.  The WHO’s report then noted that while countries had increased the amount of money allocated to mental health, it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Failure to invest in mental health as a matter of urgency will have health, social and economic costs on a scale that we have rarely seen before,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Although the United States certainly spends more per capita than poorer nations, it still isn’t enough.

A 2019 study published in the Lancet, a British medical journal, shows that only 22.4 percent of patients in high-income countries (like the U.S.) receive minimally adequate mental health care for depressive illnesses.

That’s not enough.  We must do better.

Where?  When?  How many?

It’s especially not enough when we make firearms so readily available to our citizens.

I’m not saying that all – or even the majority – of mentally ill people become violent.  Lord knows, I’ve been struggling with depression for years but haven’t “acted out” yet.

What I am saying is that firearms combined with things like depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses where people feel hopeless and helpless can be deadly.

All you need to do is consider that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for U.S. residents and that its rate has risen by 30 percent over the last two decades.  Most of these suicides are carried out with firearms.

As far as mass shootings, there have been some 163 (defined by the Washington Post as incidents in which at least four people have died) in the United States since 1966 when a mass shooter killed 17 at the University of Texas.  Other sources place the number much higher with Vox reporting that there have been 1,600 mass killings here since the horrendous shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And this country certainly holds the dubious record of being the setting for the most number of mass killings compared to the rest of the world.

Where?  When?  How many?

Why is this happening?  Of course the reasons are complex.  But in addition to a lack of mental health care, guns are simply too available.

Guns are so easily accessible and commonplace in the United States that there are more guns than people here.  That’s about 120 guns for every 100 U.S. residents.

Compare that prevalence with the remainder of the world.  U.S. civilians account for 46 percent of all the firearms owned by civilians in the world.

One of the reasons there are so many guns here is that the gun lobby, and in particular the National Rifle Association, has invested so heavily in protecting its interests.  The NRA alone spends over $55 million each year in lobbying government and donating to politicians, nearly 20 times the amount spent by gun-control groups.

That influx of money seems to be working well.

Despite all the mass murders, gun homicides, suicides and mayhem, the government seems absolutely unable to pass common-sense gun laws.  Other countries simply shake their heads when confronted with the United States’ unwillingness to protect its citizens.

It took New Zealand only 26 days to enact tougher gun-control laws after a gunman killed 51 people in two Christchurch mosques on March 15.  In contrast, after decades of such mass murders in the United States, politicians here seem unmoved.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (and much of the rest of the world) is bewildered.

“To be honest with you, I do not understand the United States,” she said.

However, the answer to her bewilderment is very simple.  Politicians here are in the pockets of gun lobbyists and those politicians refuse to take action that might go against the wishes of their big backers.

Where?  When?  How many?

So, I guess it’s up to us, the citizens, to make our views known on these two issues – mental health care and gun control.

The politicians seem stymied by the flash of easy money.

We can no longer stand by and expect government to do the right thing.

We shouldn’t rely only on brave high school students, such as those emboldened by the shooting at Parkland High School, to take up the cause of gun control.

All common-sense adults in this country need to become more knowledgeable about the facts of mental healthcare and gun control.  And, we need to act.

So, what are you going to do?

Make a pledge now.

We shouldn’t be asking ourselves these same questions time after time.

Where?  When?  How many?

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

1 comment

  1. Excellent statement of the problem and path to the solution, Paula. I always enjoy your writing.

    Like

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