Top Menu

Top Story — Insane Nation: Background Checks, the NRA, and Beyond

“Guns were her hobby,” said Dan Holmes, the landscaper of Nancy Lanza’s sprawling yard here on the edge of town. “She told me she liked the single-mindedness of shooting.” [Washington Post - Newtown school shooter’s mother collected guns, was loath to let people inside home]

WHEN I gave an interview back in 2008 to The New Republic, one of the first questions I was asked was whether I keep a gun to protect myself as I claimed in my writings. I showed Joe Matthews, who was interviewing me, what we kept close by. We, do not, however, belong to the N.R.A., an organization that is a scourge and has no soul except to sell weaponry, thinking they have no responsibility for our violent culture. But what ails us goes well beyond guns.

Senator Joe Manchin, who was a 100% rating with the N.R.A. says “it’s time to act.” But the proof is in the legislation, but also getting a new line from the N.R.A.

A precise count isn’t possible because most guns in the United States aren’t registered and the government has scant ability to track them, thanks to a legislative landscape shaped by powerful pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association. But through a combination of national surveys and manufacturing and sales data, we know that the increase in firearms has far outpaced population growth. [Mother Jones]

I was instrumental in my husband getting a concealed carry permit years ago, because he used to work in far reaches of the Nevada desert by himself late at night. Protection for his own safety was a real issue. But concealed carry permits should not be given out like candy at Christmas. People should be compelled to prove the need for one, which doesn’t need a high bar, and accompanying every single concealed carry permit should be the requisite registry in a new federal gun database.

However, contrary to what many believe because few opining about guns know anything about them, it’s not just the lack of background checks, gun show loopholes, and the continued obstinance to begin a national gun registry that is our problem in this country. I support all efforts to make background checks mandatory, including at gun shows, but also on anyone placing an ad online or in a local papers. It should be a felony for any gun seller found breaking these laws. I’ve also long advocated a federal national gun registry, which eventually will be state by state accessible, which certainly won’t be easy.

But not even this would stop the gun massacres in America.

From a 2000 study done by the New York Times.

”The high education level is one thing I hadn’t anticipated, and the link to unemployment is another thing I didn’t realize,” Professor Blumstein said. ”One of the things that education does is raise expectations, and raised ones are more readily frustrated.”

For people without the emotional resources to accommodate it, frustration ”can lead to rage, can lead to suicide,” Professor Blumstein said.

These crimes are not new. Public rampage killings first entered the national consciousness with Charles Whitman, who stood on the University of Texas’s tower in 1966, firing his rifle at students, killing 14 people.

Adam Lanza’s mother didn’t decide to go on a shooting rampage. Her mentally unbalanced son did. But Nancy Lanza’s extreme privacy and lack of attention to what was happening with her son is as much a problem as his mental state. We know so little about this type of seemingly obsessive compulsive behavior about guns, because politicians don’t have the courage to demand study of it, with the goal of understanding paranoid gun nuts.

Remember back during the 2010 election cycle, when Tea Party types were carrying guns openly at political rallies? In Michigan last Thursday, before the Connecticut massacre, a law passed allowing trained gun owners to carry weapons in places such as schools, bars, churches, day care centers and stadiums. All of these open and concealed carry rights have gone way too far.

Only the outcry from the American public can change this country and it won’t be easy to turn back how far we’ve walked over the line on gun ownership without a trail.

But again, if you look at the gun rampages, it’s not just about weaponry.

Unfortunately, like the American answer to 9/11, we’re not very amenable to doing what’s actually necessary. Instead of behavioral profiling at airports, we frisk down Al Gore and little old ladies.

When it comes to gun violence, behavioral profiling begins at home, but continues at schools and in the community itself. We can only guess of the interaction between Nancy Lanza and her sick son responsible for the massacre in Connecticut. It was a closed household that led to an acting out that cost Ms. Lanza her life and her son doing unspeakable crimes against humanity that can never be understood from the outside.

From Gawker, a harrowing real life story of mental illness, the subject no one in this country ever wants to address and which the American right will go out of its way to refuse to investigate, including funding a way to allow people to get help through health care.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings knew the safety plan–they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

[...] When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise–in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill–Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.

Mental health is a silent killer that Americans talk about after gun rampages, but never follow up to do anything about.

What happened in Connecticut is not just about guns.

If the N.R.A. had a soul they’d be out front demanding action from politicians and health care providers to make mental health easier to get and cheaper to afford.

Politicians should also link up with mental health professionals to come up with questions on a background check that trigger warnings when someone is applying for a gun, but especially a concealed carry permit.

Every American citizen has a responsibility to deny politicians with cozy links to the gun lobby and the N.R.A. to get a seat in power. But every person should also demand easier access to mental health help, which is at the root of the majority of gun massacres in America.

This column has been updated.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

32 Responses to Top Story — Insane Nation: Background Checks, the NRA, and Beyond

  1. Jane Austen December 17, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    Taylor – I understand why someone like your husband might need to carry a gun. There are instances where that is necessary. But as a grandmother I don’t want someone to tell me I have to have a gun to keep safe. First, guns terrify me and second and I am not being facetious, I couldn’t handle a gun even if I was trained. It’s not in my nature. I should be allowed to feel safe in my home without the need to have a gun for protection.

    • Taylor Marsh December 17, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      I could not agree more and have used that argument many times in debates.

      No American should be compelled to buy a firearm to feel safe.

      I was a single woman for a very long time and came to the conclusion long ago that to be safe alone I wanted a gun. That’s never going to change. I also was trained by my husband to use one and I’m very glad I am. That certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers in having a firearm. I know that to the deepest level of my soul.

  2. angels81 December 17, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Insane nation: I couldn’t agree more with that statement. I’m afraid that the only lesson that will come out of this is that it will be very profitable for gun makers and sellers. Now that the president has opened the door for some kind of action, gun sales will go threw the roof. The NRA and the right will frame this as Obama coming after your guns, which will go along with their belief that Obama is out to take all the guns. This nation is really insane, and I weep for the nation my granddaughters will end up living in, if they live threw it.

    I hate to be so negative but I really don’t see much hope for this country anymore.

    • Taylor Marsh December 17, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      I don’t know how anyone couldn’t feel negative at this point!

    • secularhumanizinevoluter December 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

      Gun sales have already gone through the roof with the election and then re-election of President Obama and the rights racist drum beat of lies and fear mongering about how he’s going to give the country away to THOSE people and the NRA’s screeching about OBAMA”S GONNA TAKE YER GUNS!!!!
      This sick person’s mother was one of those who have listened to the likes of Beck and limpwithnoballs and stockpiled guns and ammo for the coming collapse of society when she would need her M4 and Glock to fight off hordes of hungry URBAN dwellers. Unfortunately the only crazed individual she had to deal; with was her own son. So her and society had to pay for HER paranoia and a repugnantklan/teabagger led effort to destroy the social safety net that should have provided the mental health services this guy clearly desperately needed. The fact that these same repugnantklan/teabaggers STILL control the House and over HALF of the Governorships across the nation do indeed give truth to “insane Nation”!

      • jjamele December 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

        This woman spent her whole life flicking lit matches, and we are supposed to be surprised that one day she caught on fire and burned to death. I wonder how different it would have been if there had been a mental health facility ready to help her care for her son. It seems pretty obvious that she was on her own in dealing with him, and was by no means up to the challenge.

        John Gibson today tells his audience that we need to build “more looney bins.” That’s cruel, heartless language, but if it convinces Republicans to demand more money for mental health services, I can deal with it. Knowing them, however, the “mental health” facilities they want built will be run For Profit by campaign contributors and will include a lot more straight jackets and barbed wire than counselors and medication.

  3. fangio December 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. About a year ago the legislature tried to pass a ban on 30 round magazines but the NRA was successful in getting it voted down. The ban might have cut down on the carnage and there have been studies that have shown that tough gun laws in individual states have had some effect. Laws can only go so far though, it’s a societal issue and we are a society in decline. Several generations have been brought up on a steady diet of endless violence in the media. We now face declining incomes, underfunded schools and universities, a huge underclass of long term unemployed and the unmitigated stupiity of state governments allowing their citizens to carry guns around as if they are in Dodge City. You would think the parents would be out front on this, but in many cases, the parents are the problem, not the solution. A case in point would be Mr. Obama, all teary eyed over the poor dead children, but the same man who allowed people to carry guns in national parks and the same man who did nothing to save the assualt weapons ban in D.C.

    • angels81 December 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

      A case in point would be, we the American people who have allowed our country to become the violent country we are. The blame is with us, not some politician who goes along with what we the people have been more then happy with until some tragedy like this comes along. Until the people decide that we want a different kind of nation, we can continue to blame politicians and try to wash our hands of the blood to no avail.

      • fangio December 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

        It is the job of politicians to lead. They no longer do.

        • angels81 December 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

          You say politicians don’t lead, and don’t follow up on what the people want, yet when was the last time you heard voters and the public crying for politicians to do anything about gun violence in this country? We sometimes get exactly what we voted for, and when it comes to this issue, the silence of the people on gun violence we’ve got in spades. Blaming politicians is a cop out, its putting the cart before the horse, the people of this country have not pressured or for that matter expressed a opinion on this subject until this tragedy.

          • fangio December 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

            Most voters care only about themselves; politicians are supposed to care about the country. Voters , for the most part, are arrow minded , and it is the job of a good politician to make them see what is good for the country, not just for themselves. Now they just look at polls and decide what the voters want without even bothering to offer an alternative. As for getting the politicians that we want; I guess go along to get along Obama is just what you want.

          • angels81 December 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

            fangio, so now you speak for most voters? Don’t think you know how most voters vote, maybe you only care about yourself, but don’t speak for what other peoples motives are. I also think that we the people should care about this country, and not depend on politicians to be the only ones that care. Also don’t assume that you think you know what I want, because you don’t. Also if your going to wait around for some politician to tell you whats good for the country you’ll have a long wait. Its the other way around, its time we tell the politicians what we the people think is good for this country, and until that happens gun violence will continue to be a everyday occurrence. Quit trying to pass the buck, this tragic event is the fault of all of us, not just Obama.

      • Taylor Marsh December 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

        Angels81 is correct. We the people get the government & politicians we deserve.

        It begins with each of us.

        • fangio December 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

          As is the case with Obama, it is obvious that we don’t always get the politicians that we want or think we have voted for.

    • jjamele December 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

      1. State laws are pointless. Anyone can go to a state like Texas or Virginia and buy a trunkload of guns and carry them to states like Connecticut with “strong” gun laws.

      2. I turned the President off about two minutes into his teary-eyed speech. If he started reading the names of the children he’s murdered with predator drones in Afghanistan in the past four years, he’d probably still be talking. But they are non-Christian and non-American, so they don’t count.

  4. AliceP December 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    People need to understand that today’s situation regarding guns is RECENT. In the 1960,s no one bought automatic firing hand guns and rifles legally. We need to stop the “rights” argument and follow the money and find out exactly who is becoming wealthy from guns and ammo sales and who is sponsoring the NRA marketing machine that has helped bring our society to this state.

    • secularhumanizinevoluter December 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      It would appear you sufer from the same ignorance fostered by the moronic media. In the 1960s one could indeed buy automatic hand guns and rifles. By automatic I mean selective fire between SEMI-automatic and FULL-automatic….or machine guns to make it easier.
      All that was required then as now is a clean record a class A firearms dealers license and paying for a tax stamp every year for each automatic weapon owned.

      What this individual and every other mass killer in fact used were SEMI-automatic weapons. You pull the trigger and the gasses from the exploding propellant force back the bolt and then AUTOMATICALLY chambers another round….and STOPS untill you pull the trigger again.
      An Automatic weapon does everything up to chambering the new round but then FIRES the next round and the next and the next untill either the magazine is emptied or the trigger is released.

  5. Taylor Marsh December 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Secularh – There is no need to call AliceP “ignorant.”

    Stay on the issue, not personal attacks on fellow commenters, please.

    • secularhumanizinevoluter December 17, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

      Lack of knowledge on a subject or proclaiming incorrect and easily shown to be incorrect information is by definition ignorance. Give me a break….pointing out someones ignorance on a subject is NOT name calling. The issue I was addressing was a complete misstatement of reality to make a point…ergo a BOGUS point.
      Jeebus Crispies Ms. Marsh there are enough PC pit falls and obstacles trying to discuss gun control…. if you consider THAT “personal attacks” things here have veered off into just as counter reality a universe as faux not news exists only on the other end of the spectrum!

      • Taylor Marsh December 17, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

        It’s a personal attack, secularh, and worse than that, you don’t need it to make your point. It has to do with manners, not political correctness.

        • secularhumanizinevoluter December 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

          ” It has to do with manners,not political correctness.”
          ?! We ARE discussing politics right?!

  6. Cujo359 December 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    We’re a country who would rather lock up our mentally ill than treat them, and would rather allow mentally ill people access to firearms than to lose any notional “freedoms” that allow us unrestricted access to firearms.

    We’re a country where people weep about stuff like this, and yet will tell me I’m not an adult, because I refuse to vote for a President who’s shown he’s perfectly willing to kill other peoples’ kids when they’re around someone who sorta, kinda, maybe had something to do with terrorism, but we can’t tell you what that is.

    • jjamele December 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      Ditto, Cujo.

  7. spincitysd December 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Rise, Lather, Repeat; Thoughts On Newton Connecticut.

    I’m thinking about the recent tragedy in Connecticut. I’m feeling rather down about the whole affair. Once again, a disturbed man with a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle killed and killed again. This time it was a class of six and seven year olds.

    We are talking little children, first graders, just a few years out of diapers and one year out of Kindergarten. I am appalled and I am resigned. Even this will not change a thing. The death of 20, middle class, white children will not move the discussion one bit forward nor backwards.

    • spincitysd December 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      Please take out of moderation as soon as you can, thank you.

  8. ladywalker68 December 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Another winning analysis, Taylor! The decline of options for mental health care over the last 30 or so years is right up there with easy access to dangerous, semi-automatic weapons. In fact, I have read more than one article that points out how much easier it is for a person with psychological issues to obtain guns than it is to obtain mental health help.

    Right now, I am pretty discouraged. Someone I care for dearly, who is a very smart and caring individual owns guns and doesn’t believe in gun control at all. So on Facebook he posted a link to this Rand Paul status update about a 14-year-old boy who was babysitting his siblings and shot an intruder:

    Rand’s status update does not include a link so I searched the internet to make sure Rand wasn’t just pulling this story out of his a$$. It turns out it is true, but…it happened last June.

    Of course, when I was searching, I found several other articles including one about a 14-year-old boy who pleaded guilty to shooting his own mother to death as she slept:

    I need help in articulating this madness.

    I was listening to Thom Hartmann today and we have as many firearms in this country as we do citizens. Now, I don’t own one and know many people who don’t. So what this means is that there are a whole lot of people who are out there that have more than one gun. Those against gun control have been stock-piling just in case laws get passed that will make it illegal for them to have certain types of weapons.

    No, that’s not right. I am to take off the gloves and be blunt. They are more than just guns. They are of instruments of death and in many cases, can be instruments for mass murders. And the more time that passes with inaction, the more difficult it is getting to tell the bad guys from the good guys, if there are any good guys left. At least 6 of them, unarmed, were gunned down and murdered at at elementary school last week, allegedly by the son of a woman who was stockpiling weapons of murder and destruction. Looks as if that survivalist thing didn’t work out so well for her. But I digress….

    For the most part, I don’t live my life in fear. That however is beginning to change. Regardless, you won’t find me buying a gun. I have handled guns because I know someone in law enforcement and attended a course for family members. We spent a day at the shooting range. I am very good at target practice and unloaded 30 rounds, most right into the chest and heart of the target and one right between the eyes. But it was just a piece of paper, and I cannot fathom pulling the trigger if there was a real person on the other side of the barrel.

    Not only that, but I have a dickens of a time loading, and unloading, etc. My hands just aren’t strong enough for the mechanics, at least for the guns they had at the police shooting range.. As I said before, the likelihood of me shooting myself or an unintended innocent
    victim is far more likely than me ever using one successfully for protection.

    From the comments I have been reading on the blogs, there are a whole lot of people who don’t want to give up ANYTHING at all when it comes to owning guns. Frankly, My Dears, this is terrifying to me….

  9. ladywalker68 December 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    IMPORTANT UPDATE: The first link I posted was not Paul Rand’s FB page, but rather a page put up by a Rand supporter.

    That said, it is still disturbing to read through all of the comments supporting leaving a 14 year old home alone, babysitting, and by gosh by golly gee, what a terrific job he did shooting the intruder!

  10. TPAZ December 17, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    The comment below was written Friday before it was cool and safe to criticize and indict society and admit it is not just guns that are at issue but the warped and bloodthirsty culture that insists that they remain available.

    I did forget one additional important ingredient no one will openly talk about at this point in our armed madhouse – big pharmaceutical. In 2011, the number of drug prescriptions written in the U.S. was 4.02 billion or 13 drug prescriptions for each man, woman, and child in America. For this reason alone, the availability of guns should be greatly restricted in our society.

    TPAZ December 14, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    “What will it take for this country to take on the N.R.A. and gun lobby, whose sole goal has nothing to the with the Second Amendment and everything to do with commercialism of firearms?”

    It will never happen. America loves guns, violence, gun violence, killing, war, corporal and capital punishment, and rationalizing torture, inflicting pain, and intimidation upon others. Our most popular computer games are first-person shooter games. The evening news producer guideline is — if it bleeds it leads. Scripted television is overpopulated with crime shows. The actual criminal justice in America has been converted into reality TV programming.

    I live in Arizona. The home of the attempted assassination of Gabby Gilfords. With my Arizona concealed weapon permit I can walk into a bar, order several drinks (although lighting up a smoke is against the law) and there is nothing to stop me from reaching into my pocket, pulling out an automatic handgun with a high capacity clip and began shooting, is my temperament, judgement, and sanity or state of mind.

    We live in an armed madhouse.


    Are we really willing to make substantial changes in the firearm, entertainment, mental health, and pharmaceutical industries and our local, state, and federal government? Are we willing to consider that maybe the murder of 20 innocent 5-7 year old babies can be as devastating to the parents and community of Newtown, Ct. as to parents in an Afghanistan village? Are we willing to change ourselves?

  11. Lake Lady December 17, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    Even though I grew up in a hunting family I am with Jane on having a gun myself. I had one of my Dad’s shotguns for a while but it made me too nervous. I have been taught how to handle a long gun safely but that did not help my anxiety.

    Taylor what a a good and true piece you have written. I think people are generally unaware of the fact that a parent of a mentally ill adult cannot get them into residental care unless the adult child wants it. Nor can they get them medicated.

    A good friend of mine lived in fear that her violent ,alcoholic, schizophrenic brother would murder her mother in whose basement he lived until she died ( of natural causes thankfully).She and her sisters tried many times to intervene but could do nothing.

    They let him stay in his mothers home after she passed away and paid his expenses because he had nowhere else to go. But they could not go near the house or he would become violent. He eventually froze to death in his car one night even though he had a home.

    We need mental institutions back and we need a review of the laws governing how much choice a truely sick person gets in his menal healthcare.

    Like angles I find it very hard to believe that our country will deal with this serious need which is of equal importance to better gun laws.

  12. TPAZ December 18, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    This article from Der Spiegel is important.

    Dreams in Infrared -
    The Woes of an American Drone Operator

  13. jdwincu December 18, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    A very well thought out piece. Thanks for starting a reasonable conversation here and anytime we start talking about guns, there will be a great deal of interest on all sides. We’re all always looking for the simple solution and in this case at least there just isn’t one. We need rational gun control and folks have the right to gun ownership. There are certain types of weapons which should be banned, but most will continue to be available with registration and background checks. The mental health is huge. The funding for mental health has gradually decreased to the point that prison is our mental health treatment. Problem is, prison only increases mental health issues. We need to take an honest look at the amount of violence we absorb through entertainment. And as always, we need to continue to help increase employment opportunities even if the government has to fund some of them. Yep, it’s complicated but we can gradually make changes to help our society as a whole.

    • Taylor Marsh December 18, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      Appreciated, thank you.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong