My heart is heavy with grief as I write this afternoon. It has been just a few days since the latest school shooting, this time at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas where nineteen students and two teachers were murdered. Think about it, nineteen children went off to school excited that the end of the school year was a mere few days away. Their heads filled with summer plans of vacations, bicycles, video games and time spent with friends, when a shooter burst into their classroom and executed them. I cannot help but think of the parents, who sent those children off to school with a hug, perhaps walking them to the bus stop, or dropping them off at school never realizing they would never see them alive again. As a parent myself I cannot bring myself to imagine the unbearable pain, grief, and anguish they must be experiencing.
I was still reeling from the news barely a week before of the racially motivated murder of ten shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket, ordinary citizens going about their daily routines, gunned down by a young man filled with racial hatred and easy access to a weapon most suited for the battlefield. And while most people in this country support commonsense gun reform, politicians beholden to the National Rifle Association (NRA) bury their head in the sand, attempting to deflect blame away from the real problem, their failure to act in the best interest of the citizenry.
Predictably, politicians, such as Texas Governor Abbott, who believe that the 2nd Amendment trumps commonsense when it comes to gun ownership, shift the blame onto those with mental illness. This further stigmatizes those with mental health challenges, rather than dealing with the real problem which is easy access to weapons of mass destruction. The hypocrisy of blaming the mentally ill lies in the fact that Gov. Abbot recently cut over two hundred million dollars in funding from his state’s budget that was earmarked for mental health.
The mentally ill have been scapegoated time, and time again when it comes to acts of violence and yet most are nonviolent. According to MentalHealth.gov only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to a person living with mental illness. The reality is that a person who has a serious mental illness is ten times more likely to be a victim, rather than a perpetrator, of violence. And yet, the myth continues because it is easier to shift blame, rather than deal with the real problem; there is simply no reason that weapons of mass destruction should be in the hands of ordinary citizens.
Honestly, if there is a conversation that we should be having about mental health and violence it is the impact that these horrendous acts are having on our children. Let us lift up in conversation the fear, anxiety, and depression that so many of our school aged children have experienced due to these incidents. I am not just referring to the children who were schoolmates of those killed, but any child who has had to engage in an active shooter drill at school or has been exposed to the media frenzy of news showing endless video streams of children fleeting their school in terror. My prayer is that the adults can come together to do what is right for our children so that they can go back to dreaming of their summer vacation, of days to be spent on the beach, at camp, or hanging out with friends and family. May it be so, oh God, may it be so!
Rev. Lisa LeSueur
Rev. Lisa LeSueur is the Pastor of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She serves as the UCC Florida Conference WISE Mental Health Coordinator and the Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator for Nami Miami. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her wife and their two children.