Betsy Hart: Institutionalize the mentally ill?

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We are humans; hear us roar.

When tragedy strikes, we humans want desperately to explain what happened, make sense of the randomness. More important, we want to tell ourselves how and why it will never happen to us. We will fix things. We will intervene and stop what we see as the chaos.

And so it goes when it comes to the horrific Newtown, Conn., tragedy. President Barack Obama rushed to announce last Wednesday, just days after the shooting, that he would back aggressive new gun-control measures. But the problem with the political theater of more gun control isn't that it would inevitably be useless in stopping such tragedies (half of American households already own guns). It's that it keeps us from looking more deeply at what afflicts us.

Shooters go to schools and other so-called "gun-free" zones precisely because they know no one there is armed. In fact, the killer in Aurora, Colo., chose a theater that, unlike others closer to him, did not allow people legally carrying concealed guns to enter, so there would be no one to immediately thwart him. Maybe we would be better off training and arming school principals. But that won't ultimately fix what ails us.

Re-institutionalizing the dangerously mentally ill? Now we may be on to something, I suppose. There is a reason guns like the one the Newtown and Aurora killers used were far easier to get decades ago than now, but mass shootings like those we've endured this year were much more rare. We once confined, against their will, many of the dangerously mentally ill who were then simply not free to rampage.

But even rightly approaching those who suffer from psychoses -- which presents its own complications -- is not going to fully prevent these tragedies.

I thought of all this as Obama said after the Newtown horror that he was going to do "everything in his power" to stop such killings. "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change," he declared.

Really? The last I checked he was not God. None of us is. And we just don't seem to get that any more this Christmas than we did at that first Christmas 2000 years ago.

I am human; hear me roar.

Because it's the Christmas season, I will take the liberty of being bold here. Yes, I want law enforcement backing up my community and me as we all work together to protect each other's children as much as we can. That's our job as parents and law-abiding citizens.

But there are limits to what we can do in a beautiful, but broken, world in which real sin is at work, even at work in our own hearts.

And so in the wake of Newtown and always, even as my children and I pray for those most profoundly crushed by what happened, I remind my kids that we live in a world that cannot be fully "fixed." In fact, it's not meant to be. To hope for that is to settle for too little because it will instead, one day, be gloriously redeemed. I believe with all my heart that God himself is at work even now, as he promises, in the midst of what seems like chaos -- yet really isn't. And if reflecting on such things makes us more humble, makes us more honest about what we as humans can and cannot accomplish and control, and makes us long more fully for that time of redemption, well, that is a kind of gift.

I don't pretend to be able to offer comfort to the families directly struck by the horror of what happened in Connecticut. It's too raw right now. But I do know as I grapple with the implications of all this, I consider at Christmas the amazing truth of the cross, that he can do what we cannot, and so the God of all comfort has promised his children that he will one day "wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelations 21:4.)

That I believe is our hope at Christmas, and always, the only real fix.

And so in that spirit I wish you and your loved ones, especially in the midst of this very difficult time, a very blessed Christmas.

(Betsy Hart's latest book is From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports).)

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