The shooting in Parkland, Fla. was chilling. It’s hard to erase the images from your mind of children hiding in the corner of a classroom while bullets fly in the adjacent room. There are some in the Republican Party asking for more time before beginning the gun debate, to allow the emotions of this latest tragedy to subside before we engage in the same canned arguments about rights, restrictions and responsibilities that the country seems to do after every mass shooting. That request is politically suicidal – the GOP actually becomes the unfeeling, disconnected caricature of itself that its opponents hold it to be when it refuses to acknowledge the real anger and horror of a community that just experienced the unthinkable. But it seems to me that the voices of survivors ought to matter, even if I or other Republicans would disagree with their proposals. Having experienced a school shooting first hand doesn’t make a student an expert on gun policy or constitutional law, but so what? They, like every American, have a right to voice their opinions of how best to respond to the madness of school shootings.
It is surely a cheap tactic for CNN to practically pry the words “gun control” out of the mouths of the students they interviewed in the shooting’s immediate aftermath. It’s not great optics for the GOP to even appear to be criticizing students who have sat mere feet from a gun-wielding maniac. Conservative lawmakers should not run and hide after a tragedy like this – they ought to gather the facts of the case, soberly consider the deeply held positions of their opponents, and state plainly their own belief in the constitutional foundation of American gun rights. It would be naïve to assume that a tragedy like this one is not going to raise real questions about a mentally ill individual’s right (or anyone’s, to take it to its logical end) to own a high-capacity semi-automatic weapon.
Nikolas Cruz, the man arrested for the shooting in Florida that killed these 17 victims, should have been institutionalized. The community warned officials about the killer’s behavior, and it’s beyond question that he should have been involuntarily examined or committed to a mental hospital. Our national mental health infrastructure has been broken ever since the 1963 Community Mental Health Act that well more than halved the population size of our psychiatric hospitals, about which I’ve written and spoken extensively. The parameterized psychiatric standards for such inpatient commitment are astronomical. It makes hospitalization near impossible and the resultant maladaptive behavior almost inevitable.
As such, I do believe that the questions raised by the Florida massacre are mostly in the domain of a broken mental health infrastructure. I don’t believe, for instance, that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of law-abiding gun owners ought to be abridged for the sake of “doing something,” particularly when that “something” would not have stopped the crime itself. But gun questions are real and sincere, and it’s the role of a believer in gun rights to earnestly contemplate the opinions of those who feel differently, particularly when they have lived through tragedy