In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Connecticut — which left 27 people dead — Americans have been trying to find some sense or understanding of how such a terrible act could have taken place.
As the facts and evidence continues to get sorted out, we must ourselves sift through the speculation and consider that there were likely many factors that influenced 20-year-old Adam Lanza to commit such horrific acts. What we must not do is allow this devastating event to incite more hate and anger and contribute to our already overheated political culture.
While there will certainly continue to be disagreements on matters of policy and politics, we must come together to show support for those lost during the tragedy and engage in a sincere dialogue about how we can prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Fundamentally, this was the action of one man. At this point, there is no indication that mental illness was a factor in the tragedy, and it is important to not make assumptions or speculate in such cases. After all, the overall contribution of mental health disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small. It is important to understand — not further stigmatize — mental illnesses and individuals living with these conditions. What we must take from this is not a fear of those with mental health disorders, but instead a willingness to help those living with these treatable conditions. With treatment, people living with mental illness can and do get better.
As a nation, we need to seriously examine our attitudes toward mental illness. And more importantly, we need to recognize that our nation’s current system of firearm regulation is a real, constant factor in our repeated encounters with these tragedies. While we have long debated the politics of gun control, it is time for us to move past the political rhetoric and have a very serious conversation about implementing reasonable gun regulations.
Over and over again, we have seen the consequences, however unintended, of permitting ourselves nearly unfettered access to own and buy lethal weapons. In just the last few months, there have been two tragic shootings in Wisconsin alone. While these tragedies are themselves too frequent, we also live with the almost constant devastation that gun violence causes in our own communities and across the country.
We need to put the safety of our communities first, and I am hopeful that in the coming session we will be able to sit down together, put politics aside, and make a sincere and bold effort to prevent future tragedies. This will involve serious conversations surrounding our attitudes about guns and our attitudes about mental illness. Our children should never fear for their lives or safety in a classroom, just as people living with mental illness should never fear seeking the life-changing help they need.
State Representative Sandy Pasch (D - Shorewood) represents Wisconsin’s 22nd Assembly District, is the Representative-Elect for Wisconsin’s 10th Assembly District, and serves as the Assistant Assembly Democratic Leader. She holds masters’ degrees in mental health nursing and bioethics.