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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mental Illness and Guns

It's entirely too simplistic to hear some people explain away the recent series of US school massacres by calling the perpetrators of the crimes "mentally ill". In fact, a the New York Times reports there's a misguided focus on guns and mental illness.

Of course, most people who commit heinous murder crimes are mentally ill, but their access to guns are the cause of the preventable casualties. 

Moreover, second amendment rights, allowing Americans to own guns, was never intended to provide easy access to weapons for people who intentionally want to harm children or innocent people. Mentally ill people are becoming innocent victims in these discussions, as though they're scapegoats for the problem of violence.  Mental illness has it's own set of issues, but gun violence is caused by too many guns! 

Meanwhile, trying to provide the mentally ill with treatment consistent with their acute and long term needs is more challenging than changing second amendment rights for the purpose of protecting innocent people from gun violence. Mentally ill individuals need support and monitoring for many years. Their care plans are expensive because there's no absolute "cure" for their illnesses. Often, the mentally ill learn to live with their symptoms by taking proper medication and living a healthy lifestyle. Nevertheless, in the absence of consistent follow up by community mental health workers, many fall off of their healing regimens.

In the recent Newtown Connecticut tragedies, the perpetrator of the crimes was called a "loner".

"The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, has been described as a loner who was intelligent and socially awkward. And while no official diagnosis has been made public, armchair diagnosticians have been quick to assert that keeping guns from getting into the hands of people with mental illness would help solve the problem of gun homicides." Indeed, "gun violence" is caused by access to guns!

Mentally ill people who want to be compliant with their recovery often find themselves without any care because insurance cuts them off as soon as they are perceived as being "stable".  Those who have a criminal history wind up back in jail when they're unable to find mental health care in the community.  People who need inpatient care because of exacerbation of mental illness are frequently unable to find a hospital with an open bed to admit them, because many acute care facilities have cut the size of their units.

It's clearly impossible to provide all the mental health care needed to support everyone with mental illness.  Yet, it is possible to create gun laws to protect innocent people from being killed by assault weapons because a mentally ill or otherwise unstable person gained easy access to deadly guns. Let's take assault weapons out of circulation- make it illegal to own them, along with the ammunition they use.  Anyone found owning an assault weapon will be fined $10,000 per weapon and be charged with a felony. 

Delusional gun zealots believe an assault weapons ban is an infringement on their second amendment rights, but they, themselves, may be victims of a mental illness called "paranoia".

Common sense should be the focus of gun control. Sadly, in the absence of common sense, far too many innocent people are murdered. A culture of fear has been crafted by the National Rifle Association, convincing right wing extremists to believe guns are the solution against a government that's out to get them.  Well, these delusional zealots now have something to really watch for, because, it's not the government that's out to get them. Rather, it's the innocent people who are in harms way, every day, because we simply don't know who is accessing guns or for what nefarious purpose.  It's government's role to protect innocent citizens from being shot to death in massacres.  Treating mental illness is important; but keeping assault weapons out of circulation is far more "sane" than making an assumption that gun violence is a direct link with people who are mentally ill. 

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