Mental health and gun control
Anti gun arguments aren’t healthy right now but common sense is. I favor tighter controls, especially on assault weapons. What troubles me is broadside finger-pointing that increases stigma against persons who are mentally ill. Those who have a mental disorder didn’t ask for the disease anymore than others ask to have poor eyesight and asthma.
It’s clear that the Sandy Hook killer had a mental disorder. The mass killers in Tucson and on the Virginia Tech campus did, too. It appears the Aurora, Colo., shooter has one. When 20 children lie dead in a school along with six adults, it’s hard to keep these mass murders in perspective. It’s hard to remember that only a small subset of severely disturbed persons commit them.
Asking how we can keep guns out of the hands of someone such as Adam Lanza is an important question. But it is not the only one that needs to be asked. It may not be the most important one. The best way to keep severely disturbed individuals from committing murders is by getting them into treatment facilities where they can get help and not harm others.
Connecticut has an estimated 140,000 residents with severe mental illnesses. About half are not getting any treatment. Why? Between 2005 and 2007, the state closed 17% of its public hospital beds for treating psychiatric disorders. What happened to the patients who used to get help in those situations? People with psychiatric problems who are dangerous are being released to the streets because there are no treatment beds available.
In America mental health treatment is easier to get when you become a criminal. We need to provide coverage for families who live everyday with children with personality disorders. We shouldn’t have to wait until crimes are committed to help the mentally ill. Since the 1970s we have dismantled our mental hospitals and filled our streets with the mentally ill. The time for common sense is now, we need to provide quality mental health coverage for everyone who needs it.
As a society we need to demand that mental health be discussed and dealt with as any other illness. In addition to debating gun control, we need to ask why our mental health system is failing us. This is not about dividing people into groups. It is not about “them” versus us. Its about doing the right thing for all of us.
The best thing that can come from the recent tragedy in Connecticut is to solve this dilemma. Perhaps years from now we can look back to Sandy Hook as the flashpoint for great reform in both mental health and common sense gun control.