Reduced Focus

For the past four years my eye prescription remained relatively unchanged. Unfortunately, my glasses haven’t remained unscarred through an infant’s grabbing hands, a puppy’s curiosity, and life in general.

I took advantage of a coupon to buy an emergency pair of bifocals for $250. During a recent week of travel I wore that pair. My eyes never adjusted to the left lens, the one the optical tech said was stronger than my old prescription. Each afternoon I found it difficult to zip through messages on my phone, enjoy a book, or read small print on a menu. Headaches started early in the day. I panicked about fulfilling writing obligations and tried to not think that maybe my eyes were in trouble.

This is the kind of bad decision I made because of a high deductible health insurance policy. The $175 eye exam would be out of pocket so spending $400 for the security of back up glasses felt prohibitive. I shopped around and spent less. Fortunately, my discomfort ended when I returned home and put on the old glasses. Scratches and all, my vision cleared, and the headaches stopped.

Others are making more difficult decisions—taking the gamble of not purchasing an asthma inhaler for themselves to make it possible to pay for a partner’s insulin, cancelling necessary lab work or tests to pay for their child’s asthma inhaler, not following a physician’s directions in using an expensive medication to stretch its use, staying in a hated job to hold on to health insurance, not replacing bald tires on the family car because of a health emergency.

Most of my adult experience was in a health maintenance organization. We groused about wait times for appointments, lack of choice in the optical area, going to a hospital across town, but we never faced decisions like today. If we hesitated about taking a child to clinic for a possible ear infection, it was about traffic or workload and not about the $125 bill.

These decisions are made in all zip codes throughout our wide metropolitan area. Only the very wealthy or very fortunate are exempt. We don’t comment on a good friend’s darkened tooth, push a neighbor to join in a night out, or question why a kid’s wheezy cough doesn’t improve. We’re all too polite to talk about the healthcare monkey choking America’s sense of comfort and scared about what’s coming next.

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We Have To Do Better

Although I don’t want to carry a handgun for protection, I understand that other people might need or want one.

Similarly, I am not a hunter, but I recognize rifles or shotguns are part of the sport.

But what I cannot understand is why anyone except a military person on active duty in a war zone needs to own an assault rifle. By design, it’s meant to kill a lot of people very fast. Why would that ever be appropriate in civilian life?

Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Red Lake, Milwaukee, Seattle, and now, Newtown. No one thinks these mass shootings are acceptable. Yet, we are destined to see more tragedies like these, unless we as a country change our approach to gun control and to mentally ill people.

The problem is complicated and a solution won’t be easy, but we cannot continue to sit idly by while more innocent people get murdered. We have to do better.

Banning assault rifles is a good place to start.

I have heard the statistics saying that when assault rifles were banned during the Clinton era, gun violence did not go down significantly. I recognize that handguns and rifles are often semi-automatic, and therefore they too are capable of quickly killing a number of people.

But we still can still do a better job of regulating their sale and use.

Charli James, a Huffington Post blogger, points out eight things that require more time, information, or effort than owning a gun. Being licensed to drive a car (a potentially lethal weapon) and being allowed to drink alcohol (a potentially lethal activity) are two examples of activities that are more difficult than purchasing a gun.

Nonetheless, the prospect of changes in gun control laws prompted a surge in demand for permits among Twin Cities gun buyers, according to Paul Levy of the Star Tribune. The photo accompanying his article shows a gun store owner holding a huge assault rifle. What can a person even do with such a gun (besides the sickening obvious)? It won’t fit in a purse or pocket for protection. An animal killed with it would be in shreds.

What compounds the problem of gun violence is that, as a country, we do not care for mentally ill people effectively. There is a chronic shortage of mental health providers and facilities. Often families are well aware that their loved one is dangerously disturbed, but until the deranged person acts, there is no appropriate way to intervene. And then it’s too late.

I believe that even the staunchest NRA member would agree that mentally disturbed people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns; but obviously, insane people do own and use guns. Surely, we can do a better job of screening potential gun owners.

Considering all the assault weapons that are already in the hands of Americans – both law-abiding and criminals—a ban on assault weapons now won’t do much in the short term, but we have to start somewhere for a long-term effect.

Assault weapons turn the whole idea of “personal protection” on its head. Lots of innocent people are put at risk so one individual gun owner can feel “protected.” Instead, we need to protect our children and families from assault weapons.

As a country, we can do better—we have to.