A letter II…

Dear President Obama,

On Friday we cried in horror. Yesterday we cried for the families and their loss, a loss that will be felt every single day. Today we cry because it once again seems unlikely that anything will change, that anything will be done to truly help prevent the tragedies of mass shootings and the thousands of gun-related deaths wrought by ordinary people for entirely petty reasons.

Fixing the complex matrix of problems that led to the shootings in Connecticut will not be easy, and nothing will ever prevent every tragedy, but we need to begin to take serious steps to mitigate the risks and dangers. We need to have a lot of conversations: discussions of a rational gun policy and of how we address mental health care and the stigmas attached to psychiatric disorders. But it is important that we recognize that we need to have all of these conversations.

Improving mental health care and attempting to de-stigmatize psychological problems are important steps, but those steps only address one piece of the problem. And prohibiting individuals with mental health issues from owning guns ignores that people develop mental health issues at all stages of their lives, both before and after they may have purchased a gun.

Furthermore, it is far too easy to simply make the problem other, to assign blame to “unbalanced individuals” when in reality far more people are shot by people who are simply angry, or desperate, or uncaring, or mistaken, or rash, or careless. This reality in no way minimizes the horrors of what took place on Friday, or ignores the need for a real discussion of mental health. It simply points to the realization that guns are hazardous and should at last be carefully regulated like any other hazardous material.

We regulate toys and automobiles, emissions and food, drugs and clothing. We have an enormous apparatus dedicated to the public safety and it is long past the time when guns ought to be carefully and seriously managed by our public safety protocols. Just as we ought to do everything we can to keep individuals from reaching the point where they commit these heinous acts, we should also do all that we can to mitigate unsafe practices with deadly weapons.

No policy can prevent everything, no policy ever has, but that does not mean regulation cannot perform a significant public good. A national gun policy does not mean a ban, but limits on the number of firearms a person can own, the use of available safety technologies, restrictions on where guns may be present, limits on ammunition, recurrent background checks, and recertification could all profoundly mitigate the public risk. Paired with significant penalties for violations, a rational gun policy could safeguard the rights of legitimate, careful gun owners while mitigating the public risks.

Once again I ask of you to stand up and begin these serious conversations, side by side, along with many others. Do not allow the conversations surrounding mental health to replace the necessary discussion of gun policy. This is not an either/or situation, and action needs to be taken. Each day dozens more die in gun fatalities, and another mass shooting will occur. The politics will be difficult, but the truths are relatively easy. We need help and that help cannot come soon enough.

Every day families are shattered, as they were on Friday. Each new day will bring more death. And each day I grow sadder that nothing is likely to change, that this is the world we have accepted. I hold my daughter close, but even as I do so I feel guilty over her safety, that there are families in Connecticut that cannot do what I do today. I hold my daughter and imagine their grief and confront the unfairness of their loss and my joy.

Now is the time to do all that we can to make things better, to make things safer.

Thomas Knauer

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