I wanted to pick up some Halloween stuff, but my mother said she had plans and told me to come get my kids. So I never made it to the Springfield Mall that day.
On the way home, I heard sirens, lots of them. But it wasn't until I got to my mother's house that I found out that a woman had entered the mall and started shooting people. Three of them were dead. As I watched the news, horrified, I realized the person who'd killed those people was Sylvia Seegrist, Ruth Seegrist's daughter.
Ruth was a public relations lady I knew through the county press club. She had problems with her daughter, it was no secret. Ruth spent much time and effort writing about her attempts to get her daughter institutionalized, hoping to spur local politicians to some kind of action. It didn't happen.
That was 1985.
I remember the then-state Senate Majority Leader Joe Loeper, known as a strong advocate for the mentally ill, giving a righteous speech about how something must, would be done. It wasn't. There have since been some minor changes to the mental health system (if someone threatens violence, you can get them committed for 72 hours but then they can leave) but to this day, it is almost impossible to institutionalize a mentally ill person against his or her will.
As always, there are political factors behind these stories. The most obvious one, of course, is the NRA - which spends a massive amount of money to make sure politicians won't be tempted to limit anyone's ability to buy any kind of gun. But there's also the fact that since the Reagan era, raising taxes became like Kryptonite to politicians and that meant no one was willing to put the kind of money into state mental hospitals that was so badly needed. The problem was, they couldn't ignore them, either - not after a high-profile expose of how patients were abused.
So that was when the state of Pennsylvania (and most states) began to move to "community-based" mental health services, citing new studies that "proved" they worked just as well. What that meant was instead of actually budgeting enough money for needed services, counties got block grants. And that meant they could only afford to offer outpatient services.
I had a good friend who managed one of the largest centers, and she told me the new system was an improvement for some people, but not all of them. Not the people like Sylvia, who'd been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. She knew Sylvia, it seemed like everybody in the county who worked in mental health did. But no one could offer a solution - at least, no solution for which politicians wanted to raise taxes
And as soon as Sylvia's trial was over, and the publicity died down, so did the fervor to find real solutions. After all, that would mean raising taxes.
I am, as always, wishful that maybe this time will be the time our leaders actually do something, before the next massacre. But I'm not optimistic. Because since 1985, I've seen the same scenario play out over and over and over again.
When it comes to guns, very few in public office have the courage to speak out. So we can expect that our loved ones will put themselves in danger by such high-risk activities as going to school, buying lunch at McDonald's, attending a family Christmas dinner, or going to the movies.
Amoral creatures like Wayne LaPierre will continue to insist that the only gun problem in Colorado is that more people in that darkened movie theater didn't have their own guns to shoot back.
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