December 18, 2012

Editorial: More help for mental illness


---- — As soon as the horror of what had happened in Newtown, Conn., registered, people began calling for stricter gun control and better school security. Sadly, neither can stop a deranged person with mayhem on his mind.

It is the innocence of the victims, the senselessness of the killings that has us grasping for some way to guarantee that this never happens again, that no other families have to suffer as they are in Connecticut.

We know the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was carried out with guns legally procured in a state with one of the toughest gun laws in the nation. And we know it happened at a school with strict security and practiced lockdown drills.

It leaves us feeling there is nothing that can be done to wrench a few drops of good from this nation-changing event. But there is plenty we can try.

First, this country needs to devote more money and attention to mental illness. While the vast majority of people with mental illness are non-violent, we still have so little understanding of what turns in a mind to make something this horrifying seem like some kind of a solution.

More money needs to be devoted to research and treatment of mental illness because for far too long it has not been treated like other ills of the body. Too many families struggle alone with it, with limited community resources available to help them.

As for gun control, ownership is a constitutionally guaranteed right in America, and we would never suggest preventing people from having guns for hunting or protection. But what need does the average citizen have for assault weapons? They are instruments of rapid death.

Guns can be found in many North Country homes. All gun owners have the responsibility to make sure the weapons are safely secured — from strangers and from younger family members.

All local schools should re-evaluate their security systems. Most have increased security immensely since the Columbine shootings of 1999. Before that, anyone could walk into any local school unimpeded. Even now, it is easy to be lax on the rules, to rely on a false sense of tranquility.

That can’t happen. All schools must be locked, all procedures adhered to by the book. Lockdown drills should be as standard as fire drills or the bomb practices the baby boomers remember from their childhood.

Every threat must be taken seriously because sometimes the killers have provided clues to their intentions, either directly in conversation or via social media. Anyone who sees signs of impending trouble should report it.

We can shield our children better from movies, music and video games that are violent, so they don’t become desensitized.

We can try to help the visibly shunned and out-of-place youths in our communities and continue to address bullying.

Some people think the media “glorify” these killers in reporting what they have done, but massacres must not be ignored. Only by understanding why they happen do we have any hope of preventing them.

In the meantime, we should all hold our families a little closer in honor of those in Connecticut who can never hold theirs again.