The Second Amendment is, predictably, under fire again. In the wake of the Texas and Ohio tragedies, Democratic presidential candidates want to call Congress back off recess to conduct a “special session,” passing immediate, restrictive anti-gun legislation on the heels of weekend shootings by two mentally deranged assailants. Deeper thinking may be required.
The two tragedies are sobering, senseless and have brought America back to a time of grief. They involved guns, but they cast a long shadow over the state of mental health and our national unity. Needed right now is less emotion, more rational thinking, not another swipe at longstanding, constitutionally grounded Second Amendment rights. The issue is more arresting, more serious.
Common sense flees the mind in times of high emotion. Facts often help restore it. Nationally, we are experiencing a society-wide mental health crisis. It parallels other converging social crises – including the national drug crisis, intergenerational fractures, reduced religious affiliations, higher levels of professional and family stress, escalating combat veteran needs, and social, political and cultural conflicts. None of these are made better by national leaders who misunderstand, misdiagnose, or seek to politically redirect public attention for other purposes.
First, the national numbers associated with mental health ailments are staggering – and reveal a need for great human compassion, proven individual and public policy strategies, and a re-elevating of these issues in the public dialogue. Twisting public discussion to serve other aims, political agendas, or to further stir public ire at a time of public grief is not just poor judgment and bad leadership, it is patently unhelpful.
A 2018 study by the National Council for Behavioral Health offered prescient insights: “There is a mental health crisis in America … and more needs to be done to give Americans much needed access to mental health services.” Specifically, “the demand for mental health services is stronger than ever, with six in ten Americans (56%) seeking … mental health services for either themselves or for a loved one.”
Moreover, “these individuals are skewing younger and are more likely to be lower income and have a military background,” and today “the large majority of Americans (76%) also believe mental health is just as important as physical health.” So, the problem is enormous, and we know it.
The biggest thing? We are in a solvable crisis, whether for lack of family cohesion, faith as foundation, social alienation, speed and nature of cultural disruption, acceleration of social change, reduced human interaction and amputated personal skills, displacement in the roll of history, or just economic, political or personal insecurity. This is the radiating center of other problems; we have to address it.
Second, the violent, unnerving deaths this past weekend – tied to two individuals who, by all appearances operated with severe mental and/or emotional impairments – should be answered by thoughtful, non-partisan public policy solutions, a review of private and public records. These events should be the springboard for a national discussion about how to restore individual, community and national mental health, emotional stability, and national unity – not to further incite public disunion.
Third, comparative numbers may seem inapt at a time of grief, but these numbers help place the two leading issues – mental health and a renewed discussion of gun rights – in perspective. While the events are tragic, they must be understood in context to better prevent recurrence. And deeper causes need to be understood.
The tragedies affect us deeply because Americans value innocent human life, because we want to protect our country, our communities, and the future. These deaths – and events like these – seem frightening and unforeseeable but are preventable. Occurring in a public place, they appear random, which adds to fear, unease, and public discomfort. That is why a more robust discussion of mental health is timely.
But rational minds must take also stock of other facts – the reasons we have an individual, constitutionally guaranteed right to “keep and bear arms.” The Second Amendment, placed in the Constitution to allow individuals to protect themselves, their homes, families, communities and our nation’s future against government and individual attacks, cannot be materially restricted without undermining other liberties.
In fact, the Second Amendment protects liberties found in the First, Fourth, Sixth and virtually all other Amendments. A mortal threat to public safety is presented by restricting the chief means for protecting public safety, one viewed as sacrosanct by our Founders. The right to keep and bear arms remains sacred, constitutional and material to our country’s free future.
Put differently, the right to “keep and bear arms” without excess restriction, intrusion or confiscation has long been understood as seminal to a nation’s freedom. Even last century’s seminal “man of peace,” the advocate of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi, warned the Indian people never to allow a government to take their guns. Referring to the Arms Act of 1878, he said: “Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.”
More simply, unforeseen loss of life is common, and seldom produces a cry to eliminate the physical cause of lost life, but rather increased caution in human behavior. Draconian restrictions on firearms will not solve the underlying mental health crisis, any more than banning cars is the right answer to end car crashes. Nationally, mental health problems lead to needless loss of life – more than any one object.
So, while the process of national, local and family grief rests heavy on all of us, there is also a genuine need for deeper and longer-term thinking. We can tackle the mental health crisis and reduce these tragedies, while respecting constitutional prerogatives and honoring individual rights, including the right to self-protection, protection of others, and protection of other individual liberties. We can help make our society healthier and safer, while keep faith with the Second Amendment.
So, predictably, the Second Amendment is under fire in the wake of a shooting-related tragedy. The bigger question is what mental state did the shooters bring to these scenes, how did they get to that mental state, and how can we work to prevent others from getting there?
The problem is not with our rights, but with America’s fraying mental health and emotional well-being – especially in a time of growing disunion, disinterest in reestablishing social cohesion and reaffirming national union. Perhaps it is time again to think again about being “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” For enduring peace, hard work, an honest assessment of history, and a conversation about where we are, is a good place to start.