An ounce of prevention

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The United States sees a lot of gun violence.

Hold on now, don’t stop reading, this isn’t about gun control. Bear with me.

According to FBI data, of the 12,996 homicides in 2010, 8,775 were committed with firearms. But any attempt to talk about gun control is met with a violent knee-jerk reaction from many political groups. So, as I said, I won’t talk about gun control.

To give you an idea of how huge this statistic is, let’s look at Switzerland. They deal with gun control very differently than a lot of Europe; the Swiss people recently rejected a ban on soldiers storing their weapons at home. As such, gun ownership is very high.

In 2009, there were 236 homicide attempts in Switzerland, of which 55 were committed with firearms. Only 24 of those resulted in the death of the victim.

So while the odds of being shot dead are about three in a million in Switzerland, it’s more like 28 in a million in the U.S. – you are more than nine times more likely to be shot in the U.S. than in Switzerland.

Despite both countries aspiring to high gun ownership, one has far more gun crime than the other. As my computer-savvy friends sometimes say: If it’s not the hardware, it must be the software. A healthy human being will not attempt to kill another human being without a damned good reason.

Instead of gun control, let’s talk mental health care. In a personal crisis, it’s always nice to have someone to talk to. The failing neuroscience student who fired on a crowd in an Aurora, Colo., theater received help from his campus psychiatrist Lynne Fenton only once — on the day he failed out of school. Who knows what would have happened if Fenton had time to intervene?

Reports say that the young man who shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords underwent a major personality shift a few years before the shooting. The man who shot his former co-worker in New York City earlier last month lost his job over a dispute with that co-worker — he was almost 60, not terribly far from retirement.

What if these people had someone to help them through their problems? Would a few people still be alive and uninjured? Isn’t it worth the chance they might?

Counseling takes time, though, and it isn’t free for most people. Getting help for a mental health problem requires a person acknowledge that there is a problem in the first place — something many people are too proud to consider — before something catastrophic happens.

Feelings of hopelessness, anger, despair and anxiety happen to everyone now and again. But if they persist, there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Problems like this tend to grow. Early intervention is important — the best time to get advice is now.

Maybe if the Aurora shooter had spoken with his counselor earlier, he’d still be studying neuroscience. Maybe if the New York shooter had gotten arbitration with his coworker, they’d both be alive and working.

Someone somewhere in this country is talking to a counselor right now and feeling just a little better about facing tomorrow. That feeling, that little drop of optimism, is worth its weight in gold.