The Aaron Alexis story is depressingly familiar. Someone with mental problems has a few run-ins with the law, reaches out for help, doesn’t get help, or not enough help. Twelve people (13, if you want to look at Alexis as a victim as well) pay with their lives. Next time, it could be you or me.
Americans used to be all about getting the impossible done. The transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal, landing on the moon, defeating fascism — they all appeared to be daunting, but our forefathers and foremothers did not take no for an answer and showed the world we were a people who achieved, dammit.
But we can’t seem to lick this mass shootings thing. Not because it is beyond our ability, but because we don’t seem to want to. Or more precisely, we as a collective society aren’t willing to take some radical steps to change our relationship to guns so as to more effectively keep them away from the mentally ill.
Clearly, the resistance to any sort of enhanced gun control is nothing short of fanatical. If 20 dead kids and six dead teachers shot up in an elementary school can’t even get a boost in background checks through Congress, I feel safe in saying that resistance is in fact fanatical. Fine, then. Handle the problem from the other end. (Caveat: If you are the kind of person who thinks government is too big as it is, just stop reading now. The plan presupposes some kind of belief that we as a people can positively influence life in our own country through our own republic.) I propose a massive program to conscript, train and deploy tens of thousands of mental health workers all over the country. They will be tasked with the mission of monitoring, detecting and intervening on any and all people exhibiting signs of gun-related violence, getting them the help they need before, not after, they melt down and open fire.
Conscript? Are you mad, Dan? No. This is a national emergency, this mass-shooting plague, and needs to be treated as such. Look at it this way: If every other month or so, some kind of terrorist attack killed anywhere from one to a dozen or more people, we’d be invading everywhere from Syria to Iran to Pakistan, and the kinds of things we imposed on Japanese Americans in World War II would be on the table for Muslim Americans, if not already happening. So, yeah, it’s an emergency.
Under this plan, all non-mentally ill adults will be administered aptitude tests and if they score high enough, they will be inducted into the National Mental Health Corps and given adequate training to do their job. (Five-year hitch oughtta be enough.) An appropriate infrastructure will have to be built, but perhaps money can be saved here by utilizing vacant office space for the National Therapy Centers, which will stretch from sea to shining sea.
But, how in the name of Sigmund Freud are we to pay for this? I propose a whole new range of taxes, starting with a new $1-a-round tax on all forms of lethal ammunition. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 10-12 billion rounds of ammo are manufactured each year in the U.S., with billions more imported. As we know, ammunition is flying off the shelves because of the constant fear that Obama is taking the guns away, so we can expect probably $15 billion a year from that tax alone. Then add in a $100 tax on all gun sales, new and used, and a 10 percent sales tax on first-person-shooter videogames — Grand Theft Auto 5 generated $800 million in sales in its first 24 hours of release, so you know there’s a lot of money there — and you start to have the kind of budget you need to really tackle this problem. So conservatives won’t feel especially vilified, there should be some taxes on things liberals like too. Maybe a $5 admission fee to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or having to pay a buck for each viewing of the Daily Show or Colbert Report, or perhaps a $500-per-car tax on new Subarus and hybrids of any make. We can refine this idea as we go.
Sound crazy, all of this? Tell me — is it more crazy or less crazy than throwing up our hands and accepting random, senseless massacres as a regrettable, but unstoppable, part of American life?