Two lessons to learn from horrific shooting

Mental illness needs attention, and reasonable control over weapons benefits everyone.

There are two crucial lessons to be learned from Friday’s horrific murders of 27 people in Connecticut, 20 of whom were young children.

As Canadians, we need to be careful about preaching to our American neighbours about their gun culture. Yes, we find the idea of keeping loaded guns in homes strange and decry many aspects of the fascination that most Americans have with guns. But we don’t take it kindly when they tell us how to live. We should exercise the same restraint.

The two lessons I refer to are not limited to the U.S., but can be applied in any country. In Canada, we have much work to do on one of them in particular.

That is the area of mental health, and support and understanding for people who are consumed by mental issues.

Sometimes, these issues are easily dealt with by prescription. Some types of depression are caused by a chemical imbalance, and schizophrenia is often dealt with very successfully by prescription. But even in these cases, the people taking drugs need ongoing support from their families. If they are on their own, they need a good support network, such as Langley’s Stepping Stones.

There are many types of mental illness which are much more difficult to deal with. It is possible that shooter Adam Lanza had this kind of challenge.

He has been described as having a form of autism and lacking in social skills. He was apparently a loner. We know little about what type of support he was getting — but clearly, it was insufficient.

In B.C., there is generally a lot of indifference to mental health issues, and an ongoing trimming of the budget. Riverview Hospital, which at one time housed thousands of patients, has been all but shut down. While it is true that most people do not need to be institutionalized, many of those who were once there have no support system on the outside, and there is little effort to check on them and see what their needs are.

Just two weeks ago, a clearly mentally ill man attacked three women on the streets of downtown Vancouver on a weekday morning, seriously injuring two of them.

The other crucial lesson to be learned from Friday’s tragedy is the need for reasonable and common sense control of guns. There is no good reason to have assault-style weapons in the hand of ordinary individuals.

Semi-automatic rifles capable of holding 30 rounds at a time are not needed by hunters or target shooters.

Guns are not evil. In the hands of legitimate users like hunters and target shooters, they are perfectly safe. But they need to be stored in such a way that those without proper knowledge cannot use them. They should be kept away from people with mental health issues.

The regulations in Canada about ownership, storage and registration (applying to handguns) work well, and do not impose undue burdens on legitimate gun owners. Most comply with them quite willingly.

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