Our Readers on Newtown
I am grateful for the educated, intelligent comments of Katherine S. Newman in “Roots of a Rampage,” and the cautionary words of Melissa Harris-Perry in “Newtown and the Perils of Fear-Driven Lawmaking” [both Jan. 7/14]. They are the best writing on that tragedy I’ve seen.
I work in a small, rural crisis center, and we have a bystander intervention project that is almost a year old and has good support in the schools. I wonder if it would be more accurate to say that spectacular school shootings happen in small towns that are transitioning to being suburbs. In very small towns, parents of children exhibiting disturbing behavior will surely hear about it. And if your school is so small that a bout of the flu means your football team must forfeit games and your blue-haired, chain-from-the-nose goth girl can be a cheerleader, difference is not automatically insularity.
I can easily see this going wrong with a flood of new residents who would think of the small town as a “safe neighborhood,” not a community that requires years to fully join. How would they know the protocols of who must tell whom what kinds of news? Established folks might stop seeing difference as individuality and associate it with community disintegration, ossifying stereotypes. How quickly can they learn to increase reliance on specialized programs, instead of personal networks, to manage conflicts?
I want to thank Melissa Harris-Perry for acknowledging that we do not need a national registry of those with mental illness. This is a particular fear for the psychiatric survivor community. After the Newtown shootings, there is a rush to increase aggressive mental health screening and to ramp up the national registry of people labeled as mentally ill, which already exists for the purpose of denying gun permits.
Few voices in the media question the stereotype that violence is connected with “mental illness,” despite the absence of evidence for this premise and despite the fact that it is disability profiling and discrimination. Furthermore, it is a dirty little secret that the mental health system actually contributes to violence by prescribing drugs that stimulate urges to suicide and homicide in ordinarily nonviolent people.
N. Muskegon, Mich.
A few decades ago we had hospitals for the treatment of people with mental illnesses, as well as places for homeless people. All this changed when President Reagan closed public mental health facilities and homeless shelters. Isn’t it about time to reinstate these services?
DOMINIC P. SONDY
Katherine S. Newman focuses our attention on our society as the problem in tragedies such as Newtown. I suggest a discussion of what kind of society we have created that makes it possible for people to move toward these actions.
Where are the strong values we are presenting to our youth? They are not held by presidents who lie about weapons of mass destruction, or by bishops who cover for pedophile priests to save the name of an institution. They are not held by a bank that sells mortgages it knows will put people out on the street, or by a company like Walmart that hires only part-time workers so it doesn’t have to pay for health insurance. We have to find a way as a society to show our youth that we honor the values of honesty, altruism and community before it is too late.
JOHN R. WYSKIEL
Katherine Newman’s argument for gun control is timely and urgently needed. Her conclusion that society needs “a more diverse set of male images” as role models is spot-on. Most teenagers who go on a killing rampage have come from white upper-middle-class families. A root of the problem is a social system that expects affluent white male teenagers to conform to a set of high-status white male behaviors. Developing safe strategies for schools to discuss white male privilege could assist in defusing social expectations for conformity, and be part of a campaign to promote a diverse set of male images.
I was struck by the historical possibility this tragedy presents to elevate our understanding of the Constitution. I believe it is now possible to begin a dialogue on the true nature of the Second Amendment. It is high time we began to understand the historical period and the reasons it was crafted, and to distinguish those from our own time. Surely if there is any tyranny that exists, it is the fear of the National Rifle Association’s power, and a historical illiteracy that paralyzes our ability to view the Constitution as our framers intended—as a living document, to be amended as “We the People” see fit.
CHARLES TRAVIS IV
I was delighted with your issue on guns and the NRA. I have been against guns for years, though not as vocally as I could have been. But I am energized. In 2013 all my letters to the paper will be against guns. Idaho is not the best place to be anti-gun, and I have often been shouted into silence, but this is a new year—and a new me.
Death by Walmart
Re George Zornick’s “Walmart: America’s No. 1 Gun Source” [Jan. 7/14]: in 1991, Walmart decided to update its Kirksville, Missouri, store into a Walmart Supercenter. This brought super-size gun, ammunition and survivalist-gear merchandising to a very small town in rural northeast Missouri known since the Civil War as a hotbed of anti-government activism. By 2000, Kirksville was known as the meth capital of America and internationally as the home of a large-scale arms dealer supplying weapons to the Middle East and to emerging nations’ governments. The profitable business of weaponry has suffocated my roots to oblivion. I no longer have a hometown or the family to which I was born.
PATSY L. MULLENIX
“Suspicious Minds,” a wonderful piece by Peter C. Baker [Jan. 7/14], opens up questions about what has happened to fiction and art in our time. As we have evolved layers of arbitrary political, industrial and military control in a worldwide network, we have created a monster of dominant forces that can create their own truths and only remotely resemble our natural world. Modern writers, much like analysts, put their characters on the couch, examining life in this capricious world. It is our photojournalists, conceptual artists and poets who are the clinicians, working close to the bone, getting at the marrow of modern existence and instructing us about our precarious circumstances. We need to honor them and their brave work every day.
DAVID TINLING, MD