"When the violence causes silence, we must be mistaken." - Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries in her lyrics of "Zombie"
I am very grateful for the texts and emails I received asking about the safety of my sons and myself during the manhunt for the mass shooter who killed 18 and injured 13 innocent people at a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine. It seemed like I waited a very long time to hear my younger son–who travels throughout the state and lives a half hour from Lewiston–answer his phone and tell me he was safe.
The reviews this month are an inadequate attempt to honor the victims of the October 26th, 2023, mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. The Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber says what I cannot.
There are no words that can describe the loss and trauma.
I do have to feel the grief in order to move forward, but I cannot let it make me numb. This video shows performers and their audience joining together in the poetry and music of David Bowie in a song that, for me, perfectly captures the sadness and isolation of grief.
But if I let my grief move me into action, I can still feel the sorrow, and share in it with others in compassion and empathy, but I am not immobilized.
You may live in a place where you can join up with an organization that is working to solve this complex and tangled problem, but for those of you, like me, who do not have that opportunity, I will share with you what I'm doing.
I do not have much if any, discretionary income, but I can find ten dollars a month to give to one of the following nonprofits that I trust are doing good work to reform mental health treatment and advocate for sensible gun control.
Organizations Working to Prevent Mass Shootings and Reform Mental Health
Accountability is the Solution
You may want to stop reading now and listen to the music above and lift up your hearts for the victims and their families. The following notes are not necessary to take action. These are personal notes.
My wish is that we join together as a community and take actions that honor those who have needlessly perished and those who will suffer trauma for the rest of their lives because of a sick man with a high-caliber weapon designed for war.
Sandy Hook happened on December 12, 2014, and still, here we remain, seemingly unable to solve the problem of mass shootings in this country.
The man who murdered innocent people using a high-caliber assault weapon in a bowling center in Lewiston, Maine had been recently released from a locked psychiatric facility a few weeks before his rampage. Those are facts.
I support a ban on high-caliber weapons of war such as the rifle this ill individual used, and though I remain deeply pessimistic about the effectiveness of a federal ban and/or a state ban, I do support those who work toward that goal and especially support a comprehensive background check on all gun purchases.
But right now, sadly, the corporations, mental-health institutions, and law enforcement involved in these tragedies have no financial incentive to make any significant changes to protect the public.
The following quote illustrates what any federal or state ban is up against:
"Last night, law enforcement officials confirmed that the gunman in Lewiston, Maine, used a Ruger SFAR, an AR-10 that fires a .308 caliber cartridge, even more powerful than the AR-15. Surveillance photos suggest that the shooter equipped his Ruger SFAR rifle with tactical gear, including an optic or red-dot sight, a flashlight, and 20-round magazines that were taped together for faster reloading, a tactic often referred to as “jungle style.” By taping two magazines together, the shooter was able to bolster his capacity to that of 40 rounds.
Ruger introduced the SFAR AR-10 to market in September 2022, long after Ruger AR-15s were used in the deadly Sutherland Springs and Boulder shootings. Ruger’s launch of its AR-10 model also came after its CEO Chris Killoy testified before the House Oversight Committee regarding the use of AR-15s in the Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park shootings. During his testimony, Killoy refused to implement new safety features or condemn the marketing of firearms to 'identified extremist groups' and 'domestic terror threats.'
Ruger is a leading industry supporter of the NRA. The company is ranked second on the NRA’s list of “Top 10 Industry Allies,” meaning it sponsors NRA events, donates guns for Friends of NRA raffles, and helps recruit new members. In 2009, Ruger joined the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom” for donating over $1 million to the NRA.
According to a House Oversight Committee report, 'Ruger’s gross earnings from AR-15-style rifles also nearly tripled from 2019 to 2021, increasing from $39 million to over $103 million.'" --everytown.org/about-everytown/history
Let me add four paragraphs from an article about accountability from The Guardian:
Wave of lawsuits against US gun makers raises hope of end to mass shootings. Campaigners take legal route after success against big tobacco and other industries led to change.
As America’s gun crisis shows no sign of abating, there is some hope for reducing the number of mass shootings and killings. The emerging wave of lawsuits against gun makers echoes previous successes against the car industry, opioid companies, and big tobacco.
In New York, California, Delaware, and other states, new laws aim to provide ways around a near 20-year immunity provided to gun manufacturers and distributors. In Indiana, a lawsuit brought by victims of the 2021 mass shooting at a FedEx facility aims to hold a gun manufacturer accountable for the horror wrought by one of its weapons.
The door was effectively opened for gun litigation last year, when the families of five adults and four children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting settled with Remington, which manufactured the AR-15 style rifle used in the massacre, for $73m." --theguardian.com/us-news/2023/may/27/gun-lawsuits-manufacturer-sellers-crimes
What if we held gun manufacturers liable for the carnage their products are responsible for?
What if every purchaser of an assault rifle had to take out insurance to cover the possible costs associated with the death of innocent people?
When gun manufacturers are liable, they will look to pass that liability on to others. When insurance corporations get involved, there will be effective background checks and more.
We must support the attorneys and the clients who are willing to put themselves forward in these legal battles.
We must also remove the treatment of the mentally ill from managed health care and adequately fund the units that treat the severely mentally ill.
Involuntary commitment to mental health treatment is a psychiatric team determination and must not be in the hands of hospital administrators counting beans.
All hospitals should be financially accountable for any dangerous patients they release and local law enforcement must be financially accountable for removing lethal weapons from the homes and hands of the dangerously mentally ill.
The financial incentives are not there right now to do this. We have to make it too expensive NOT to regulate guns, to NOT hold someone against their will until they are safe in the community, and NOT get guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
According to Harvard Health, “The current U.S. health care system has a cruel tendency to delay or deny high-quality care to those who are most in need of it but can least afford its high cost. This contributes to avoidable health care disparities for people of color and other disadvantaged groups.”
The cost of 24/7 care in a locked mental health unit is expensive and the uninsured are rushed out the door as soon as possible. As some of you know, I worked in a locked psychiatric unit. I once treated a homicidal patient who bragged that he would kill someone with a knife as soon as he was released.
Despite the notes of the extremely competent and compassionate psychiatrist I worked with who made it clear in his diagnosis this patient should not be released until stabilized and despite my additional notes stating that I believed this patient was wildly psychotic and not for release, the patient was released.
It was standard practice at that hospital to rotate psychiatrists through the unit on the weekend who were inexperienced, or who had other unrelated areas of expertise such as child psychiatry. These psychiatrists were pressured to release patients and they wanted to be called back to work another weekend so they were incentivized to please the administration. The weekend nurses would joke and say, let's see how many patients we have left after the weekend.
When I came in to work on Monday, to my horror and to the distress of the psychiatrist I worked with, the uninsured homicidal patient I described above was released into the community. He soon assaulted a man nearly killing him. The hospital ignored this. It was like it never happened.
What does this have to do with Lewiston, Maine? Here is a Maine Public article from August 31, 2013.
Psychiatric Patients Turned Away From Lewiston Hospitals
"Two Lewiston hospitals have undertaken corrective action after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid found they were turning away mentally ill patients in crisis from their emergency departments without adequate medical screenings or stabilizing treatment. Both hospitals were found to be in violation of a federal law that is intended to protect patients experiencing medical emergencies.
Disability Rights Maine (DRM) is the nonprofit that has been assigned by the federal government to protect and advocate for people with disabilities, including people with mental illness, in Maine hospitals. Last Spring, DRM became aware that patients were being denied emergency mental health care at Central Maine Medical Center and at St. Mary's Hospital, both in Lewiston.
Central Maine Medical Center went so far as to notify local law enforcement officials that they should not bring anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, suicidality, or both to its emergency department unless the person was also experiencing some type of physical trauma. [Kevin] Voyvodich says that on at least two occasions patients were sent to jail, and they continued to experience the same or worsening symptoms for which they sought help in the first place." --mainepublic.org/health/2018-08-31/psychiatric-patients-turned-away-from-lewiston-hospitals."
Again, this was August 31, 2013. I have no doubt that conditions for the mentally ill needing treatment in Lewiston have not improved and, if anything, worsened as this mass violence would attest.
The system is failing because there is little financial incentive to improve it. The leaders of the nation's medical institutions draw large salaries and squeeze staff, nurses, doctors, and patients for every cent in order to maintain the profits they need to pay the debt they take on as they acquire more hospitals and clinics.
Law enforcement is not incentivized to do safety checks on mentally ill people and to remove guns and other deadly weapons from their homes.
Mentally ill people can and do purchase weapons of war because gun stores and gun manufacturers are incentivized to sell to them. If there are background checks, they are haphazard and incomplete.
In the end, we can all only do what we can, but every voice and every vote counts, and every dollar given in support helps.
In summary, my message to myself and to friends is this: do not give up hope.
Feel the grief, but don't get stuck. Focus and take action.
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