Michaud: After Sandy Hook, we can no longer ignore lax gun laws and the mentally ill

A memorial for shooting victims near Sandy Hook

A memorial for shooting victims near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (Dec. 15, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Make it stop.

That's how I react to yet another horrible mass killing. Like the third-grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary School that huddled into a corner -- "squished," as one student described it -- and the gym students hidden in a closet, I just want to shrink into a defensive posture. Don't tell me any more.

Don't offer any explanations or reasons. We've heard too many. There is no good reason why, when I talk to my children about mass murder, they've heard it all before in their 14- and 15-year lifetimes. As a country, we should not be resigning ourselves to this reality.


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We need to face up to two facts we've been avoiding: that we have permitted an outrageous access to guns and level of gun violence. And we are pitifully inadequate at dealing with people in mental and emotional crisis.

It pains me to say this, but we have gone too far in protecting individual rights, and we must pull back and make this society safer. Get the guns out of madmen's hands, even if it means some hunters and self-defense advocates have to put up with more bureaucracy. The cost is worth it.

Strong and savvy voices -- those of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg among them -- are raised now on gun control. Let's hope they are not muffled by politics yet again.

And what about the mentally ill? We always seem to find out after the fact that someone suspected this person was about to snap. A college mental-health counselor, or a parent, or a friend.

Does it seem at all likely that no one around Adam Lanza -- whom officials have named as the shooter -- recognized his potential to break? If someone in your home were about to murder 27 people, wouldn't you have some hint? Wouldn't something feel wrong?

It's not that we need stronger laws on involuntary commitment. For the most part, we already have them. We just don't use them.

Such laws vary by state. In New York, a person can alert the authorities that someone is dangerously askew, and that person will be taken in for observation and evaluation by a psychiatrist within 48 to 72 hours. The person making the report can remain anonymous.

One ready place to research the commitment laws is on each state's department of mental health website. The New York State Office of Mental Health has hotline emergency numbers on its home page. Police and other first-responders also know where to direct people.

I don't know how often involuntary commitment is used. But it needs to be more widely known-about. The symptoms of someone in mental crisis are most times not subtle: mood swings, abusive behavior, isolation, inability to cope with daily tasks like bathing, loss of touch with reality.

Perhaps it's often just too hard to admit that someone you love is so far gone. I wonder what Nancy Lanza -- Adam's mother, who was also killed -- was going through.

Too often, we look for a history of mental illness and treatment before we act. We want a diagnosis, some proof -- someone who has "gone off his meds" or tried suicide.

But a person who is about to snap for the first time slips out of this net. These are the ones who design and execute elaborate schemes to go out in a blaze. It must satisfy something that's gone wrong inside them, but we should not have to be a party to this any longer.

It sickens me to think that I will have to read about the "reasons" for this horror, as though the torments of the shooter could account for the terrible cost for all of these innocent children, their families, their communities -- and our country.

I don't want to see the photos of those Connecticut parents burying their kids. And it makes me die inside to think we could have prevented this tragedy but we didn't get serious enough. About guns, about insanity. We need to make it stop.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.

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