I attended Sunday's Falcons game at the Georgia Dome. In addition to the usual presentation of our nation's flag and the singing of the National Anthem, there was a moment of silence. In days gone by, it would have been a public prayer. Instead, we were instructed to be quiet for a moment of reflection on the lives lost last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. It was brief, but lasted long enough to make me wonder if we didn't need a longer one, not just at football games, but across the whole country.
I became consciously aware of the shooting just after 1 p.m. Friday, not from the breathless news reports, but while reading Twitter and Facebook. I made the decision not to turn on the television right away. Unfortunately, this has become too familiar that I knew what to expect by doing that. There would be pictures and stories of unimaginable tragedy, told with incomplete and often incorrect information for the first few hours. I decided I could actually postpone reality for a bit, though I pieced together enough thoughts to post a request for "prayers for Connecticut" on my blog at Peach Pundit.
Then I checked out for a couple of hours. It was time for a moment of silence.
Facebook and Twitter are now the rapid response sites for citizen-based commentary during all events. When observing initial reactions there is one general rule of thumb: You will lose faith in humanity reading knee-jerk responses and political solutions from instant experts while first responders are still trying to treat the wounded and remove bodies.
Whether those who were assessing blame for an Arizona shooting before Congresswoman Gabby Giffords could be loaded into an ambulance, or those linking a disturbed Colorado grad student to a political group he didn't belong to while bodies were still inside a movie theater, or those demanding we begin confiscating guns while the media were incorrectly reporting which Lanza brother was Friday's killer, opinions race ahead of facts. Even without the basic facts known in each of the above cases, there were plenty of people willing to both assess blame and demand remedies before the bodies were even counted, much less identified.
It's clear we're now going to have a national debate about guns, and that's fine. When raw emotion subsides the cold facts of the situation generally reveal that most of the solutions suggested would have done little or nothing to stop the tragedies of yesterday nor prevent the ones of tomorrow.
Those yelling the loudest - on both sides of the gun debate - are blocking the discussion that needs to happen, and that must happen, based on the history of the cases above and so many others. The problem at hand is not about weapons and their accessibility, but rather the horrible state of mental health care in our nation and its lack of accessibility.
Jared Loughner, James Holmes and Adam Lanza have much more in common than guns. They each struggled with some form of mental health issue as a precursor to their horrific acts.
Much of the political class seems content to yell past each other about guns in the aftermath of these all-too-often occurrences. We're quite used to the arguments, so it gives each side an opportunity to roll out their talking points, demonize others while creating a smug sense of self-righteousness, and generally assure no intellectual effort or deep introspection will occur to figure out if we're even addressing the right root cause.
We're good at making noise at times like this. We're horrible at reaching consensus as to what would actually change public behavior. That isn't an easy answer as it is complex and multifaceted, and may ultimately make us remember that there are sometimes events in life for which no system can be designed that will give us peace, security, or control.
Understanding won't come from us shouting past each other in demands for quick fixes. "Doing something" because it appears easy doesn't mean the problems go away or that threats diminish. Taking a real moment of silent reflection will help us come to grips with these items as fact.
And if, perhaps, we were silent long enough, we could actually spend some time summoning the inner courage to address the much more complicated, much less sound bite-oriented problem of mental health in this country.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.