Tragedies spark discussion of gun laws, prevention
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Unfathomable acts of violence last week which began at the quick pull of a trigger and ended in the death of countless innocent people has stirred emotion among Portland residents.
The first shooting fell close to home Tuesday when 22-year-old Jacob Roberts of southeast Portland rushed into the food court at the Clackamas Town Center mall around 3:30 p.m. wearing a hockey-style facemask and opened fire on a crowd of holiday shoppers.
Armed with a stolen AR-15 rifle and several fully-loaded magazines, witnesses heard Roberts fire close to 60 shots. Two were dead and several injured, including a 15-year-old girl still in recovery, before the gunman shot and killed himself, authorities said.
The tragic rampage in Portland was followed by another senseless killing spree Thursday in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother before driving her car to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Wielding two semi-automatic handguns and an assault rifle, Lanza shot 20 first graders multiple times at close range inside their classroom along with six school staff members before committing suicide.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” said President Obama at a candlelight vigil for Newtown’s victims. “These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change.” Solving gun violence is complex, he admitted. No single law or set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
“But we can do better,” he said. The question is how? “To save another child, another parent, another town, we surely have an obligation to try,” said the President.
Northeast Portland resident Edith Smith was surprised and deeply saddened by both shootings. Her opinion has always been the same. “I don’t own a gun,” she said. “I think they should ban them. They are killing too many kids with them.”
Berkeley Moore, 23, has never been a supporter of guns and thinks there should be stronger guards on those who can obtain guns. “I’m surprised that people would assume that it is all safe in the first place,” said the Portland Community College student at north Portland’s Cascade campus.
“This isn’t the first shooting,” she said. “It seems we should have taken a closer look the first time it happened.”
“I’ve always thought there should be a lot more gun control,” said Marti Lituczy, another local resident.
Lituczy says she’s owned a gun before, but she threw it out when her husband and his children moved in. She believes people with guns should have them locked up better. “If you get one, you need to keep it safe.”
Laura, last name anonymous, 38, says there needs to be more enforcement on the distribution and availability of guns. “They should extensively check someone’s background and hold liability to that person for keeping it safe and secured,” she said.
As Obama said, the issue is complex. Congress reported more than 310 million privately-owned firearms in our country in 2012, the highest gun ownership rate in the world. While many people believe we need stricter gun control and regulations, others believe the root of the problem is a less material condition, the human psyche.
“I really think that every one of these individuals had some kind of psychotic break,” said Tom Martin, 43. “And that’s not abnormal.” Both shooters were young men emerging into adulthood, he said, and needed to have a support network that validates them. “Every single guy has been through that,” said Martin.
The issue of gun violence goes far beyond the sales and regulation of guns, says Martin in considering the reasons why neither young adult got help. He argues individuals need better access to social and mental health services.
“If we saw a person crawling around on bloody stumps, most of us would do anything to get that person a wheelchair,” said Martin. Why should helping a person heal their mental pain be any different? “Just because we don’t see it, we ignore it,” he said. “It’s sickening.”
Martin mentions a friend currently undergoing a mental health crisis who is attempting to get the help, but says she still must pay too much and wait too long to get the proper care. “She’s not going to shoot anybody, but what if she harms herself?” he said.
Martin says guns are a problem, but there is also a systemic and societal problem– people feeling isolated.
Laura also feels the availability of mental health care is more important than gun control. A society without free or easy access to mental health care is like having uncontrolled guns, she said. “Humans can find ways to hurt other humans no matter what.”
“It really saddens me that the allocation of our money and resources is being poured into the military and wars outside of our country, when we have some serious concerns here,” she said.
Similarly, Micky Starks, 59, said “I don’t think the issue is gun control,” said. “I think the issue is access to mental health services.”
We need to make changes to better the current mental health system, he said. “People are troubled, and most display that in advance.” Inexpensive access to services and removing the stigma of mental health issues would help individuals get help early on and help prevent acts like this in the future, he said.
Starks also believes the media should be less focused on demonizing the perpetrator and more fixed on telling the stories of the victims. He says media attention on the killer makes it possible for them to “go out in a blaze of glory” and “promotes violent activity”.
Starks does not own a gun, but believes the right to bear arms is an important rule of the Constitution.
Martin believes the American right to bear arms is archaic.
Danny Bell of Portland agrees, “We are good people, however, the misplaced idea of individualism is overriding the well being of our community and has manifested in episodes of violence where people are gunned down.”
“This is a tragic symptom of a culture in America,” said Bell, who is the publisher of a local quarterly called Beloved Community. “Take a deep breath,” said Bell quoting President Obama. “Look at the continuum of violence in America.”
Bell calls the right to bear arms an archaic application, a misplaced mentality, and a tragic interpretation of individualism. Two hundred years ago, when the constitution was formed in 1788, yes, people needed the right to defend themselves because there was no police apparatus, he said.
“This is the 21st century,” said Bell, “We don’t need automatic weapons. We are a country of the rule of law.”
But how does the law prevent a person armed with a powerful killing machine from walking into a school or shopping mall and ending the lives of innocent children or adults without uttering a word? That’s a tough question.
Bell didn’t have the answer. However, in the spirit of Obama’s words: what can we do but try? First things first, said Bell, “A change of attitude is required, an attitude of cooperation. No pointing fingers, “We have to agree to cooperate,” he said.
Bonny, last name anonymous, 41, says she doesn’t support taking away peoples’ gun rights, but we should be careful about who is able to buy a gun. “We need to make sure the mentally ill don’t get a bunch of guns in their hands,” she said. She also believes the private sales of guns needs to be looked at.
Brandon, last name anonymous, 31, believes owning guns for self-protection should be kept legal, but there should be limits as to how you can get a gun, he said. He says the Clackamas shooting threw him off guard. He was in disbelief, “I didn’t think people would go off like that,” he said.
As far as the future of gun violence in America, “It’s never going to end,” he said. “But there should be a little regulation. Guns shouldn’t be so easily accessible.”