In the light of the massacre at Newtown, Conn., and the murder of two firemen in Webster, N.Y., national attention has again turned to how we can reduce gun violence in America. The responses have been predictable.
Once again, advocates for increased gun controls have raised their voices and argued that bans on semi-automatic weapons and large ammunition clips are the only way to reduce the number of tragic killings in this country. Those who oppose gun controls, particularly the NRA, have argued, as they have in the past, that we need more guns, not fewer, and that the best way to reduce school shootings is to have armed guards in every school and even consider arming teachers.
Both sides seem to agree on one thing: Those who carry out these horrific attacks on innocent school children and first responders are obviously mentally ill. Both sides agree that we must, as a nation, do more to identify, treat and, if necessary, isolate those individuals who wish to carry out such horrors.
While virtually everyone agrees that the identification and treatment of individuals whose mental illness may drive them to violence such as occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School is essential, politics and budgetary constraints have made this goal extremely difficult to achieve. Since the Reagan administration threw its support behind the process of “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill, there has been a shift from keeping individuals institutionalized to having them cared for by community mental health agencies. Unfortunately, the very agencies that now bear the burden of treating the mentally ill have been decimated by budgetary cuts. Many individuals now slip through the safety nets these agencies should provide because they no longer have the funds they need.
Early identification of troubled individuals also has become far more difficult. Fifty years ago, such individuals often would have been identified by their schools and sent for treatment. Today, teachers and school administrators are less likely to do this both from fear of lawsuits and because their own budgets have been slashed so severely that the trained personnel needed to evaluate these students are no longer on staff. Family members and friends also are less likely to identify these troubled individuals both from fear of scandal and legal liability.
While there can be no doubt that our schools and social services agencies need more funding if they are to identify and treat potentially dangerous individuals, I doubt that this will be enough, given our current legal system and the current policy of deinstitutionalization. How then can we identify and help these men and women who may pose significant danger to the public? My answer is simple: Reinstitute the draft and require that all young people, both men and women, serve two years.
I realize that this proposal will upset many people. The draft has been a controversial institution since it began during the Civil War. But, to my mind, there would be multiple benefits gained from its reinstitution. A universal draft would help us to reinforce in our young people all of the values that we as a nation prize: honor, valor, patriotism and a sense of each individual’s obligation to serve the nation and the public good.
More to the point of this article, the draft would provide a screening opportunity by which troubled young men and women could be identified and, if necessary, sent for treatment. For those who were fit to serve, it would also teach draftees about weapons and, hopefully, educate them about how to use guns properly and to understand the dangers of random gun violence. In an era when schools and families can no longer adequately socialize our youth to be good citizens, the military could serve that purpose. Indeed, the military is expert in training young people and teaching them discipline and self-control.
While reinstituting the draft will not be a complete solution to our current problems with gun violence, it would, in my opinion, be a major step on the road to a solution.