No matter what side of the political fence you sit on, your age, race or religion, the issues of guns, gun violence and gun control affect all American citizens. Since the Sandy Hook school massacre, this already controversial topic has penetrated our everyday lives even more through actions from Congress, lobby organizations, media reports and talk with neighbors over morning coffee. Our Montana Congressional delegation has spoken in the past about protecting our Second Amendment rights. Eyes will be highly focused on our senators and Congressman Daines as they face this issue and cast their votes on legislation that will affect how we live with our guns in Montana.
We’ve all heard the cliché; “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” I, for one, happen to agree with this statement. I love my guns and enjoy the freedom I have as a law-abiding citizen to use them for target practice or putting venison in my freezer. I also agree with the many quotes from people who state that more restrictive gun control measures won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and it won’t matter if the restrictions begin with only assault weapons. The very word “criminal” speaks for itself to anyone with any common sense. Why would a criminal want to purchase any gun legally? The act of our government placing higher restrictions on the legal purchase of firearms is like adding restrictions on how many times a politician can bash their opponent during a political campaign.
There seems to be an increase in gun violence in recent years, especially in regards to mass killings. Unfortunately, the tool used for each killing has become the focus rather than the person pulling the trigger. A direct relation to mental illness can be linked to the fingers of the killers who pulled the triggers in just three examples of mass shootings; the Sandy Hook school shooting, the Colorado movie theater shooting and the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabriella Giffords in Arizona. So why is it that the media and Congress over-simplify mental illness as a serious issue in America?
Mental illness, and the way it is viewed in our society, is another controversial topic. It is not like a broken leg that can be seen, touched and treated rather easily. Yet, it is obviously just as threatening to the health of the people who suffer from it. Various things can be blamed on mental illness; abusive childhoods, chemical imbalance in the brain often caused by genetics, and even increased violence in television programs and video games.
I have long believed that the increase of all violence in America is a direct link to the breakdown of the family. While writing this article, I used the Internet to find a relation between violence in general and what kind of family life the perpetrators involved in the violence had as children. It didn’t take long for me to find that from the level of school bullying all the way to becoming a culprit in violent crimes, the breakdown of the family was the key ingredient causing such aggressive behavior. Additionally, children who were raised in homes where there were high dysfunctions such as abuse, neglect and divorce had an increased chance of developing a mental illness. This is not to say that every person suffering from mental illness will be involved in violence. However, in the cases of the mass shootings seen in the news, there is certainly a direct link to this problem.
I ask again why the issue of mental illness is being treated lightly by Congress and the media in regards to the topic of gun control. Perhaps it’s because it can’t be regulated. How can our government regulate the morals and values used to raise our children? How can our government stop domestic violence, divorce and — ultimately — mental illness? To answer these questions simply; it can’t. Only we, as responsible citizens, can do this. With this responsibility, I ask that Congress and the media stop placing Band-aids on the problem in the guise of more restrictive gun control measures and address the issue of mental illness.
(Mary Heller lives in Havre.)