NIU answers are not found in gun debate

For nearly a week now, the debate has raged. The Northern Illinois University tragedy has spawned countless reports, opinions and feelings about how to come to terms with the situation. More specifically, the argument has centered around guns. Are they good? Are they bad? Did their availability contribute to the NIU shooting? Or did their lacking presence make it easier for it to happen?

Despite the emotional rhetoric from both sides, the “answers” we’re looking for don’t exist. In our efforts to find an explanation for what happened last Thursday, we gravitate to the issue’s extremes.

Loosening gun laws and making it easier to own and carry firearms in more places would invariably lead to a net gain in the number of guns.

Would introducing more guns into a college community like this one, legal or otherwise, decrease the likelihood of gun violence? In a campus full of alcohol and college students – likely to result in poor decisions when combined – any responsible person would have to question the wisdom of bringing guns into the mix.

However, most gun owners are law-abiding citizens and must go through background checks and safety training. Steven Kazmierczak broke no laws and raised no red flags when he purchased the guns he used in the NIU shooting. It’s fair to assume that a person who was as disturbed as Kazmierczak would have pursued means to carry out such plans regardless of the law. Tightening laws wouldn’t necessarily have stopped Kazmierczak or prevent this kind of massacre in the future.

Logic would dictate that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but even that assumes it’s possible to prevent these kind of acts. The longer the gun debate goes on, it appears that the path to improving our safety lies with re-examining our mental health system.

News reports indicated that the gunman exhibited warning signs like self-mutilation and depression. His normal outward behavior masked his inner problems to most who knew him as a good-natured, intelligent individual.

We could do more to help individuals like Kazmierczak and improve our campus’ safety by making sure that those who need help to deal with their problems can find it here. The other vital part of that effort is to make sure that people are educated about the warning signs that could indicate a problem.

Perhaps it’s cliche, but the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure couldn’t be more appropriate. The key is to not forget this as the memories of NIU and Virginia Tech begin to dull.