This is the second of four articles on how to address the the gun violence epidemic in the U.S. Part I can be found here
Mental Health Care & Gun Violence in U.S. – Too Little, Too Late
U.S. mental health problems need to be addressed. This one I think we can all agree on but believe it or not there are people on both sides of the gun issue opposed to blocking a persons 2nd amendment right to possess a firearm. Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, points out, the pro-gun lobby and many mental health advocates would oppose more expansive rules that limit gun sales to people who have or have had mental health issues.
In one study following the Newtown massacre the authors noted that “a multiple-casualty shooting by a disturbed individual is a statistically rare and virtually unpredictable event. [M]ental health stakeholders and advocates reasonably worry that viewing the public health epidemic of firearm violence through the lens of a massacre of schoolchildren – an act nobody can imagine a sane person committing— is to misplace emphasis on an atypical and presumed psychopathology while ignoring the larger, complex, and more salient causes of a broad societal scourge (Appelbaum and Swanson 2010)”
David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center says that from a public health stance “it is usually more effective to change the environment than to try to change people. The U.S. should use the same harm reduction approach to gun violence that it uses to treat other public health threats, like automobile crashes or air pollution—employing a wide variety of methods to reduce the problem.”
Clearly the issue of mentally unstable people being prevented from purchasing guns is more complicated than we are led to believe by some and is not by itself a larger concern that we should be focusing on to prevent more mass shootings. For nearly every gun violent act committed, people who have known the shooters claim to have never seen such acts from them in their previous behavior. Even the adults who took in Alex Cruz after his mother’s death know he was depressed and that he owned guns, but somehow failed to put this information together to inform authorities that he may be a potential threat to society.
In the above mentioned study, Preventing Gun Violence Involving People With Serious Mental Illness, the authors warn us that “whatever the evidence suggests about people with mental illness and violence—and for most there is no linkage—they are often portrayed as dangerous in the mass media and perceived as such by the general public (Pescosolido et al. 1999). Fear stokes avoidance and social rejection, which in turn beget discrimination.” Was Cruz’s mental state that led him to kill some of his fellow students possibly more a factor of the social rejection he was feeling than any clinical disease he may or may not have had?
We all have an obligation to protect those who would hurt themselves and others when the signs are so apparent, but do we do so at the risk of making one’s condition worse than it was before though crisis-driven policies? Do we do so while unduly restricting his or her personal freedoms?
Is there an opportunity for mental health experts who have clients that exhibit suicidal or homicidal behavior and become aware that they own or have access to guns to work with the courts and other legal authorities in an attempt to extract that weapon until their behavior warrants otherwise? But then there’s the issue of trust with our legal and law enforcement agencies, creating another element that can complicate any hopeful solution.
Obviously this is a subject that should not be broached hastily and without emotional rants from non-expert authoritative figures like the President or members of Congress. Nor should it serve as a deterrent for the gun industry and their lobbyists to avoid any responsibility entailed by making lethal weapons easily accessible to the general public.
Part III of this series will deal with de-sanctifying the 2nd amendment