Monday, December 17, 2012

Compassion and Policy Are Not Mutually Exclusive

I will try to be brief, not only because most of this has already been said, but also because I need to preserve my soul.

Across the blogosphere, Twittersphere and Facebooksphere, people are searching for explanations for the Newtown tragedy and offering opinions on what's to be done. Here is what they are saying. And what I say.

1. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families." 

With all due respect, the time for thoughts and prayers in the absence of action is over. I am heartened by Obama's recent speeches and speculation he may reintroduce legislation to limit access to guns.

2. "There is something wrong with our society, our generation, our environment that is making us act this way. We are not compassionate toward one another, and our society is rotting from the inside out."

Jack the Ripper, London, 1888. John Wayne Gacy, Midwest US, 1970s. Bath School bombings, Michigan, 1927. Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary, early 1600s.

Sociopathy exists. It always has and it always will. It's not particular to our generation or our country. What is particular to our generation and our country is that we allow any sociopath with half a brain cell access to assault weapons.

3. "We need to focus on mental health, not guns."

Believe me. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I am the very first person in line when it comes to improving our mental health care system. I count myself fortunate to have always had health insurance and disposable income to fill in the gaps. For a lot of people, that's just not true.

But even with the best mental health care system, we will not cure -- or catch -- everyone. And as explained in a riveting and well researched article in xoJane, the perpetrators of violence are not always mentally ill.

So, yes. Let's fix our entire health care system, including mental health. Another excellent article in xoJane from an anonymous psychiatrist gives us a few ideas where to start. (I'm looking at you, insurance companies.)

But it might not make the dent in gun violence that we hope it will.

***

I do believe we, as a society, suffer from a dearth of compassion: Compassion for those less fortunate, for victims of crimes and their families, for the lonely, for the mentally ill -- indeed, for the perfectly "normal" and healthy among us.

But compassion and sane policy are not mutually exclusive. Compassion for the victims of Hurricane Sandy should inform, not preclude, better climate change policy. And a discussion on compassion should not take the place of sane gun policy in the wake of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary.

We need sensible gun legislation in this country, and we need it now.




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