Going Beyond Gun Control towards Mental Health

After every major shooting, gun control advocates seek to avoid letting a crisis go to waste (in the words of Rahm Emanuel) and seek to exploit the tragedy to seek greater restrictions on gun ownership. So it is this week with the terrible tragedy atSandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut that left 28 people dead. The cliché that guns don’t kill people, people kill people is an important underlying truth. The same week the Sandy Hook attack took place in Connecticut, a man in China attacked 22 primary school children with a knife.

A gun (or a knife) is a tool, nothing more. It has no will of its own. Police and armed citizens alike carry guns every day to protect themselves and others. In 2007, a woman named Jeanne Assam stopped a man intent on a massacre at a church in Colorado Springs by using her own gun to defend her fellow parishioners when this man opened fire.

There is a common thread between all three of these cases and many others that you won’t hear about from gun control advocates, because it concerns the person behind the gun instead of the gun itself. Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook, was mentally ill and his mother was in the process of getting him committed to a mental institution before the shooting. The man in China who attacked the children in his village’s primary school was mentally ill. Matthew Murray, the Colorado Springs shooter, also had a history of mental illness. Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter at Virginia Tech who killed 32 people, was detained as an “imminent danger to himself or others” because of his mental health problems years before his attack.

Photo by abc.net.au

Instead of leading a fight to prohibit more guns, we should be looking at the people behind the trigger of these mass shootings, and how we can help them. We should be seeking solutions and strategies that can help people with mental illnesses before they snap and hurt a lot of people. We should work to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment so more people will reach out for help. We should be talking about improving access to quality mental health care for everyone. We should be talking about why people like Cho who are judged an imminent danger to themselves and others are allowed to be released without inpatient treatment.

And on a more personal level, we should be talking about being kinder to people we know are struggling, and being more supportive of people getting mental health treatment before they do something violent instead of making fun of “that crazy guy.” Blaming the guns and calling for gun control is not going to save lives, but a serious look at our mental health practices and implementing appropriate reforms could greatly help reduce similar attacks in the future.

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