Dec. 20, 2012
“A National Children’s Christmas Present”
Like a lot of people I have all sorts of memories of my parents, especially of my mom’s dinner time stories about the people she worked with. And my mom’s stories were probably a lot different from the stories most of my listeners heard about over dinner because my mom worked at a state mental hospital. Indeed she spent years at Agnew State Mental hospital in San Jose, California doing the same job — in the same years – that Ken Kesey the author of the famous One Flew over the Cookie’s Nest did at another mental hospital a few miles away.
And what I learned each evening is just how truly disturbed, mentally unbalanced many people can be. Indeed my mom’s favorite patient was a woman, Florence, who had once killed a young hospital employee who tried give Florence a shower Florence did not care to take. But despite that, my mom really liked Florence. Indeed one evening mom even brought Florence home to dinner. But my mom was not an idiot. She made sure she brought Florence with a male friend large enough to deal with Florence if a “problem” developed. No, my mom may have loved her mentally ill patients but she was realistic about them.
She knew they were capable of things those of us in the more “sane” world would never consider. Yes, my mom loved her patients at the hospital but she knew mental illness was very real indeed and at times capable of producing horrendous violence, a lesson I learned very early at the family dinner table.
And of course I have memories of my dad as well, memories of how much he loved guns and how lovingly he showed me how to use them, vivid memories of the power they exhibited every time I pointed one of them at something and fired feeling throughout my body the thrill of the weapon’s discharge. And I remember well my enthusiasm for the subscription to the American Rifleman that came with my dad’s early gift of a membership in the National Rifleman’s Association.
But it’s been sometime since I have thought like a child — felt like Barbara or Leo’s son. No, these days I think more like one of those teachers at Virginia Tech or in Connecticut last week, an even more vivid horror because of all those children who died. And the fact that the principal was one of our own graduate students here at the Sage Colleges.
No, I identify more these days as one of those academics. One of those people responsible for my students’ academic future and of course as a parent responsible for an even bigger chunk of my children’s future. And remembering my parents, and yet identifying today more as a teacher and a parent. It seems to me that we can neither pretend to ourselves that better mental health facilities can avoid future problems of the sort that keep plaguing us. Nor will a simple frontal assault on the American love of guns be fruitful.
I understand both realities but Americans are a reasonable people— a people who like a level playing field. And we should certainly all be able to agree that it should be a hell of a lot harder to kill large numbers of people quickly by doing the most obvious thing we can making it a great deal harder to obtain assault weapons.
Because however dangerous knives are, even knives of the sort a deranged Chinese just used to attack children at Chinese School. And however dangerous hunting rifles and pistols are. They are not nearly as likely to cause the sort of mass horrors we have seen of late. And right now in this Christmas season is the very best time for America as a nation to give our children the best possible gift we can offer; the gift of life. Yes, a ban on assault weapons to make the likelihood that their future, unlike those beautiful children in Connecticut, will be less likely to be cut off before their time. There could be no better national Christmas gift