Columbine; Virginia Tech; Fort Hood; Lakewood, Wash.; Tucson, Ariz.; Oikos University in Oakland; Aurora, Colo; Oak Creek, Wisc.; Clackamas Town Center Mall near Portland, Ore.; and, now, Newtown, Conn. These are but a few of the places that have become synonymous with grotesque gun violence since 1999. There are many more.
Before these selected examples there were Austin, 101 California and Stockton, among many, many other nightmares.
After each tragedy the reaction has been predictably similar. Shock, horror, anguish, grief. Those emotions are quickly followed by a rhetorical screaming match. Anti-gun advocates call for many and varied changes in gun laws at both the state and national levels. Of course, the National Rifle Association and others point out that we already have many gun laws that are not enforced, that guns don't kill people -- people do, and that law-abiding citizens should not have their constitutional rights infringed because of violent episodes perpetrated by mentally unstable people. Such exchanges are followed by political wrangling. Legislation is proposed (some of it even gets passed), political muscle gets flexed and the screaming gets louder.
Obviously, this approach has not worked. It is time to stop shouting and start talking. We have passed gun laws and we still have mass shootings. We have protected constitutional rights of the law-abiding citizen and we still have mass shootings. We believe it is long past time for a different kind of discussion, one that recognizes that there is a much broader societal problem at play here. It is time to stop shouting and start talking.
We come to this conversation acknowledging that these pages have long favored strong gun control. We still do. We supported the Brady Bill, background checks and Sen. Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban, just to name a few. We also opposed Congress' allowing that assault weapons ban to expire several years ago and are glad to see Feinstein's promise to resurrect it.
At the same time, we do not feel that gun-control legislation by itself comes close to addressing all the needed actions.
For instance, an essential element that must be included in any serious dialogue is the nation's approach to mental health. A common thread in these killings is that each shooter apparently had serious mental issues. We would argue that anyone who randomly kills other human beings exhibits prima facie evidence of mental instability. Yet finding better ways to deliver proper mental health treatment is seldom forefront in this discussion. It should be.
Psychotic breaks and schizophrenia can often be manifested as violent acts. In some cases, such maladies can be spawned or enhanced by abuse of alcohol and other drugs -- both legal and illegal. That must also be a major part of the conversation.
We do not pretend to have all the answers. Quite the contrary, we aren't even sure of the right questions to ask. But we do know that what we have been doing isn't working and it simply must become a national priority to find better solutions.
We owe it to those 26 people in a sleepy little Connecticut town and all the other victims to try.