This blog is enough to break my heart. Every day, I see children who aren't receiving the help they need because help is not available. I needed counseling for my son, just a few sessions to help him through some very unsettled times, and it cost a lot. Only because I had insurance and an open checkbook did I get help quickly. And now he's okay.
But it doesn't work that way for far too many people. The availability of guns juxtaposed with the relative unavailability of mental health care is stunning to me...in this country of such profound wealth. And yes, I own guns.
So let me tell you how this issue of gun control, gun sales and the lack of mental health care has affected me:
Many years ago, a co-worker from my husband's place of work, whom I will call "M.," began a slow spiral into a psychotic break. M. targeted my family, for reasons I don't understand, as the source of all troubles. M. applied for a gun permit, bought a gun and took it home, despite having a record of at least two involuntary commitments in the state mental hospital. The only reason why we knew that M. had bought a gun was because someone called us at home and said,
"Did you know M. bought a gun the other day? I thought you should know."
All my caller ID showed was a public line from the court house in town.
That information, together with a long, rambling letter that M. had left at our door several days before detailing a fantastical world where we had become the tormentors M. most feared, next to M.'s father and an ex-spouse, filled me with terror. The letter clearly stated that M. was determined to do something about this...have to end the torment and get rid of you - the people who are making my life a living hell.
For four days, M. was nowhere to be found. The local police, sheriff, and state patrol looked for M. and took turns taking care of us. It was a small town, everyone knew us, and no one wanted to see us gunned down in our front yard or in the grocery store. My husband and I didn't sleep much that first night, nor for the rest of the week. We laid in bed and stared at the ceiling, listening to trains rumble through town every 35 minutes, and counting the toots of the train whistle as it neared each intersection. Just after the bars closed for the night, the engineer blew extra long blasts on the horn to warn all the drunks to get off the tracks. Our dogs barely slept with all the tension and anxiety screaming off of us like dog whistles. Every little sound sent them on a new patrol of the house and back yard. The thump-thump of the dog door flap announced the coming and going of the two dogs, that somehow knew that no other people should be coming into our house. The sound of studded snow tires on the sheriff's SUV ticked and crunched against the compact snow and ice as he drove by every so often, slowing down to shine a flashlight at the edges of the yard and no doubt seeing my dogs all bristly and angry at any stranger even daring too look in the yard from the street.
I had horrible dreams when I did sleep. I dreamed that M was crawling up the stairway to our second floor bedroom, teeth gripping a knife blade, and demented eyes peering up at me from my doorway. My husband couldn't sleep at all. Despite our rule that no guns in the house could be loaded, that ammunition was locked up separately from the guns, we spent these long nights perched on our bed with a loaded shotgun. Bird shot, he said, will do enough damage if M. gets in. Our kids had bedrooms in the basement, two floors below, with doors closed between them and anyone else in the house. I never thought I could shoot someone, until I was faced with someone who wanted to shoot me and my family. I would shoot anyone to save my kids.
On the fifth day, my husband went to work as usual. I drove our oldest son to school, dropped him off at the front door where he was escorted into the building by the principal, and went home with my younger boy to face one more day of self-imposed house arrest. Law enforcement followed us everywhere, so I felt pretty safe. Around noon, I turned on the radio and tuned in the local radio station. We lived so far away from any major city or town that the local low-watt, FM radio station was the only one we could reliably tune in. After a few songs, the DJ broke in with a news bulletin.
"I've just received news that M. is holding (my husband) hostage...just a moment...yes...it's been reported that M. is holding (my husband hostage) where they both work."
I grabbed my cell phone, hands shaking, and punched my husband's speed dial number. This can't be happening, I thought. Not with all the police around.
His phone rang and rang. Just that morning, a Federal Marshall had met him at the front door and told him quietly that they would be spending the day together going over the details of a completely unrelated criminal matter.
The DJ started talking again. "One of our reporters is downtown and telling me that people from all over town are flooding the area to see what's happening..."
My husband's phone picked up. "Hi honey. Anything going on?"
He sounded a little worried, but more distracted from being pulled away from his work. I heard other men talking in the background.
I giggled from relief. "The radio station says you're being held hostage."
"Hostage. M. is holding you hostage!"
"Oh shit. No way..." I heard him yell at someone to turn the radio on.
Just then, a police car whipped into my driveway and an officer jumped out of the car and trotted to the front door. I met him there and let him in.
"State patrol just picked M. up," he said as my dogs paced around behind me, following my silent hand signal to stay back. "M. was lying prone in the middle of the road about 30 miles north of here, waiting for someone to run..."
"Oh, really," I broke in as I heard my younger son scramble up the stairway from the basement to see who was at the door. "That's nice..."
The office took my hint as my little boy peeked around me to look up at him. "Yes. We have M. in custody and on the way to the hospital. I thought you'd want to know after that idiot at the radio station started, uh, talking about things."
I was beyond relieved. Life hitched and coughed and started moving forward again. And the hostage story was the fault of low-watt transmitters and over-eager, small-town radio reporters. Earlier that day, M. had turned up in a town 40 miles north of us. M., who had lost custody of three children during a divorce several years before, had gone to that town's elementary school to make an unannounced and illegal visit to the children. The elementary principal locked down the school and called police to report an intruder/possible attempted abduction per the legal papers provided by childrens' custodial parent. The local radio station in that town had picked up the thread of the story from the police scanner and repeated it on air. My local radio station had heard a garbled report, made worse by poor reception, and misinterpreted it as a hostage situation in our town. The radio reporter, who walked the couple of blocks from the radio station to my husband's office, had further misinterpreted all the law enforcement vehicles parked around my husband's place of work.
M. should have been hospitalized, but no one had the legal right to do that. M. had made a few attempts to see a doctor before things started going horribly wrong, but had told me that it would be at least a six-week wait. M. never made that appointment. It wasn't until M. was found lying prone in the road, a gun tucked in a coat pocket and waiting for someone to crush the misery and delusion, that M. got help. It was only poor planning and a series of missteps that led to M. being picked up on the road rather than at our house after attempting to kill us.
I wish M. the best of luck and the best of mental health care so this never happens to anyone else. But should M. ever be allowed to legally own a gun? No. Should there be longer, more in-depth investigations and background checks for people who apply to buy guns? Yes. I'd give up my guns tomorrow for this.