I've been following the news from Aurora all day, repeatedly swallowing on the lump of horror that seems determined to climb out of my gut. Both President Obama and Mr. Romney have offered messages of prayer and support to the victims and their families. Writers far better than I have appealed for kindness and offered poems of prayer. I join all Americans--people all over the world--in mourning the victims and praying for their families and loved ones.
But it's not enough.
After Columbine, we mourned and prayed and made appeals for civility. Yet the Amish School shooting happened. And Virginia Tech. And Westroads Mall. And Tucson. And now, Aurora.
We need prayers and support and kindness, yes. Desperately need all three. But we must also take action. To understand why these shootings take place and to prevent or reduce them in the future. We didn't act after past shootings--at least not on a national scale, and so none of us should be surprised the problem persists.
What should we do? Let me offer two suggestions that I hope all but the most extreme among us--whether Democrat or Republican, whether gun owner or not--can support.
1) Fully fund studies of these types of incidents and violent crime in general conducted by the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention and eliminate political restrictions on that agency's research. Gun rights advocates argue that more gun ownership and easier concealed carry could help prevent tragedies like Aurora. Let's find out. Gun control advocates argue that restrictions on assault weapons and large-capacity clips would help. Let's study that, too. Why isn't this being done already? That's beyond the scope of my blog post, but this article in the New York Times sums the issues up nicely.
2) We should work to make mental health care more widely available. The Affordable Care Act takes important steps in that direction, and I call on Mr. Romney to pledge to protect the mental health provisions of that law from his promised repeal. Getting treatment to sick and potentially dangerous individuals benefits us all.
Will either of these steps prevent another Aurora? On their own, no. But freeing the scientific community to find the answers is an important first step. Treating the mentally ill won't end violence, but it's another step in the long staircase we must climb if we wish to leave the horror of that darkened theater in Aurora behind us forever.