Honor the memory of the Newtown children by taking action

I don’t know how to move forward after the shootings of the children in Newtown.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that I have a first grader. Whenever I close my eyes, I have visions of a gunman storming into his school. My son’s classroom is just off the main lobby–it would be his class a gunman would get to first. When I see the list of names, I see my son’s name and the names of his friends instead. I feel the searing, splitting, blinding pain I would feel if he were killed. I don’t know how I would go on living if that happened.

These things happen and after the shock of them we are somehow supposed to move forward. We talk about terrible it is and about coping and then we get back to daily life. But I am stuck. I don’t want to move forward. I don’t want those children to have died in vain.

There are things we can do. We should have done them a long time ago. Let’s do them now.

We have to do something about the guns. When our founding fathers ensured our right to bear arms, I really don’t think they had semiautomatic rifles in mind. There is just no reason for any civilian to own a gun designed for maximum carnage. All guns should be hard to get–and we need to take real responsibility for knowing and controlling who has access to them.

Equally important is making mental health services widely and easily available. Right now, they aren’t. In many areas, there are long waiting lists just to get an evaluation, let alone to get ongoing treatment. We should think about mental health care the way we do about other health care, and put the same energy into making sure that each and every person has access to it–and can afford it. It’s easier to get a gun than to get mental health care in this country. We should be ashamed.

We also need to be more vigilant and proactive when it comes to the people around us. We don’t know many details yet about this shooter, but in other incidents it always seems like people say that the shooter was a loner, or seemed disturbed, or said worrisome things … and yet nobody reached out or did anything. It wasn’t their business, they weren’t sure, they thought somebody else would do something…now, the vast majority of loners and disturbed people and people who say worrisome things don’t go on a shooting rampage. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reach out or tell somebody when we hear, see or know something that worries us. Even if we don’t save a life, we could make a difference. We need to stop minding our own business and start being our brother’s keeper.

Please. In memory of those beautiful innocent children who were murdered, let’s take action. In their honor, let’s do something to stop this from happening again.

Let their deaths be not just another atrocity but the exact moment that we began to change things for the better.

Claire McCarthy is a primary care physician and the medical director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Martha Eliot Health Center.  She blogs at Thriving, the Boston Children’s Hospital blog, Vector, the Boston Children’s Hospital science and clinical innovation blog, and MD Mama at Boston.com.

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