By Kelly Carbello
Special to Independent Newsmedia
I think we all grieve as we would after any significant loss, with slight variation. The five stages of grief are: shock, denial, blame, bargaining, and acceptance. With mass tragedies, media obsession can be added and bargaining can be omitted. I am afraid that we are in some state of acceptance, where mass attacks are now a part of life and that’s just the way it is. I hope not.
I am sad. My heart hurts. I think about all of the people who lost someone. As a parent, I cannot think of anything worse than losing a child. I find it difficult to even let the thought of losing one of my children pass through my mind. It is unthinkable. I think about sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends, anyone just going about their day, expecting to see that person soon or get a call or a text. Instead, they get the news. I try to imagine what that would like. It is unimaginable. I think about all the people who survived, how agonizing it must be to try and make sense of it, how many people have died by suicide after surviving a mass attack. I am sad because I can’t make sense of it. I am sad because once the news cycle has completed, we can move on as if nothing ever happened. I think most people do, especially now that it seems so common. The victims are forgotten. The survivors are forgotten. This makes me sad.
“As far as Tragedy is Concerned,” an article written about six years ago, stated: “Following each tragedy is an agenda. Be it a political agenda, an extremist agenda or a well-intended agenda, there are opportunists at every level of our society. We don’t appear to be a nation that has learned to triumph over tragedy; rather we have learned to capitalize on it..”
I would like to think we have moved past this, but I am not convinced. The rhetoric has been exhausted. We have been inundated with the same talking points for the last 20 years. Of course we are going to tune out.
The problem is too many guns or not enough guns.
The problem is violence in video games.
It’s the internet.
As a mental and behavioral heath consultant, my personal favorite – mental health. It seems the conversation stops there. Once we get to mental health talking points, we know we are near the end of the saga.
No matter where a mass shooting happens, my mind always goes to school shootings. I have kids in school. I don’t know many parents who are not thinking about it. Logically, I know the chances of a school shooting are 1 in 6.4 million and there is no need to be alarmed. Emotionally, the statistics mean nothing. Some days I am terrified to send my kids to school. I drop them off and I feel my stomach drop. My nervousness grows throughout the day. I try to ignore it and act as if I am not afraid. I remind myself that my kids are safe and I trust that my school and school district are doing everything they can to make sure my kids are safe. If I get a call from the school, sometimes I freeze. I have to remind myself to breathe and answer the phone, instead of letting my thoughts run rampant. This is not healthy. It certainly didn’t make my kids any safer.
Each time a shooting happens, I think about every shooting that has happened, at least as far back as Columbine. I think about what has changed and what we have done to prevent another mass attack or school shooting. The school security industry has grown and made mass profits. School safety task forces have grown exponentially in government and the community at-large, more resources are being allocated to schools and there is greater disagreement on the solution.
It seems we may have reached an agreement. There appears to be bipartisan support for Red Flag laws or Severe Threat Orders of Protection. Red Flag laws or Stop Orders are recommended in the December 2018 Federal School Safety Task Force: final report. There are several problems with this recommendation.
The first is that this policy was geared toward adults, not 97% of K-12 students. The second problem is that the laws are focused on a specific group or groups of people, people who are perceived to be homicidal or suicidal or people who have a documented history of domestic violence or assaults. Even combined, these groups are only representative of a small fraction of the perpetrators of mass attacks.
The second is that most states, if not all, already have policies and procedures for involuntary commitment of people in a mental health crisis. Arizona is one of them. The current policies and procedures do not violate any civil rights. A court order is required, weapons are voluntarily surrendered and the individual may be placed in a locked psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours prior to placement or release.
The proposed laws violate due process rights and the person will be held in jail rather than a secure care facility. The person will be in the justice system rather than the behavioral health care system. The person loses their rights to due process as well as their second amendment rights. Anyone can report anyone or request a red flag or stop order. The request goes to a judge, not a psychiatrist or psychologist, who determines next steps.
In essence, this law will criminalize mental illness. Mental illness is not a crime. Folks living with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators of crime. I am sure to some, this sounds very reassuring. Many think mass shooters are mentally ill, they must be, who in their right mind would do something like this? The belief is that locking them up is a small price to pay for keeping the rest of us safe, until it happens to you, or your son or daughter or someone close to you with a history or a mental health disorder.
The final reason I will mention is that the STOP/red Flag laws are an easy out for politicians.
They can say they supported “gun control” measures by supporting the bill. Conversely, they can claim they are pro-Second Amendment because it only temporarily restricts the “bad guys” from having guns. They can all claim their dedication to combating mass attacks and pat each other on the back for the swift action they took after centuries of gun violence. This policy is the bare minimum, it is unconstitutional and it targets vulnerable people.
Other recommendations fall into two camps – physical safeguards or school climate. There are few government bodies that do not appear to favor, support or implement one set of interventions over the other. This is unfortunate because both are important and if we want to keep our kids as safe as possible, we need to be mindful of both. Physical safeguards are designed to prevent casualties. School climate is designed to prevent the attack.
Editor’s note: Ms. Carbello is a mental and behavioral health consultant based in Glendale. Her children attend Peoria Unified School District.