Lessons from Sandy Hook

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“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” ~Robert Kennedy

The shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut was a tragedy. No one would argue this fact. The acts of the mentally disturbed gunman who perpetrated this act were inexcusable. The loss of 26 people, most of them children no older than 10 is something that warrants the outrage and despair the public has responded with. Sadly, this is not the first time a senseless act of violence has been carried out by a troubled individual. So while it is important to mourn this loss, it is also necessary we learn some important lessons from it.

Gun control is something that needs to be discussed in an open and honest manner. Within hours of this tragedy my Facebook feed was already lighting up with statements on both side of gun debate arguing their cases for why our current gun laws are the reason for this mess. One side claimed if teachers and other citizens were allowed to carry guns this tragedy would have been far less catastrophic. The reasons for why this is a terrible idea are worthy of a post all of its own, but I’ll just say putting guns in the hands of our educators is not the solution. The other side, (which, SPOILER ALERT, I tend to agree with) claimed this is evidence that military grade weapons are too available to the public. Regardless of your stance on this issue, it is obvious there are problems with the current gun laws in this country and something needs to be done about it.

More funding and attention needs to be placed on mental health. What often gets lost in the debate over accessible, affordable healthcare is ensuring everyone has access to quality mental care and assessment. There are so many factors leading to poor mental health, that we must be working on ways to deal with the variety of conditions and maladies existing out there. How many of these deaths could have been prevented had these individuals been identified early on and provided the therapy they so obviously need? While everyone is quick to write of the perpetrators of these acts as evil and monstrous, it is important we also try to understand what drives someone to commit such heinous acts in the first place.

The media is making a bad situation worse. I am a strong proponent of the necessity of a mass media that keeps the populace well-informed. However, every time they choose to allow a story like Sandy Hook to dominate the news cycle they reinforce the delusions many of these gunmen no doubt have. Going down in a blaze of glory is far less appealing if you know it is unlikely anyone will hear about it. Furthermore, focusing on this type of coverage feeds the dark narrative the world is falling apart. This can lead to a hopelessness among the public that causes further mental duress on an already distressed society. Rather than focus on these terrible stories, the media should spend time highlighting stories of perseverance and heroism. Something, that if they look, isn’t too hard to find.

Tragedies happen every day. While perhaps in steep contrast to my previous point, its important to remember tragedies happen all the time. There are children dying in places like China and Africa from lack of basic necessities like food and clean water. In Syria, over 37,000 people have died in their current civil war, many of whom are most likely children, according to some sources. According to Child Hunger in America, there are 16.1 million children in the United States living in poverty. Something I would call an ongoing tragedy. So while it is important to mourn the losses of Sandy Hook, it’s also important we recognize there are a great deal of tragic events going unheard. As we take the time to mourn this loss and pray for the victims be sure to remember the millions of people suffering around the world.

As the after effects of the Sandy Hook shooting begin to fade into the past and are replaced with the next big news story, it is important we hang on to the lessons we’ve learned. The debate on gun control and mental health must not be put on the back burner. In addition, we must not allow the media to dominate the airwaves and web with tales of sensationalized violence. Tragedies happen every day. We don’t need to hear about them 24/7 on the news to remember this. Instead we should use this as an opportunity to appreciate the life we have been given and dedicate our attention and resources to activities that seek to make the world a better place for everyone. Then maybe we can replace all this distressing news with something worth reading about.

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