In the wake of yet another mass killing, I’ve seen countless calls for gun control but no one is mentioning the other item that goes hand in hand with these tragedies: mental illness.
To be clear, I’m not opposed to better gun control laws, especially with respect to handguns. However, as Prohibition and the war on drugs has proven, you can’t eliminate something for which there is a demand. So while there are things that can be done, it’s not a panacea.
On the other hand, we’re quite good at getting kids vaccinated, having their eyes checked, and requiring certain levels of PE, all of which contribute to physical health. Why can’t we put a little more effort into mental health resources? Depression, rage, and schizophrenia are common elements in those who lash out like this. If these symptoms show up in someone between 7-18, we could provide treatment. Similarly, the medical profession could promote mental health checkups, the way they encourage the annual physical exam.
Obviously, there’s no silver bullet, and there are all sorts of potential tangles. You don’t want someone banned from every buying a rifle because they were once depressed over the loss of a loved one. You don’t want a 12-year old pumped full of psych meds because they’re going through a rough patch. Not every schizophrenic is a mass murderer.
This is a multifaceted problem, and deserves a multifaceted approach. Possibilities …
Health care: Make sure insurance companies provide mental health coverage. Provide screening and support for school- and college- aged kids.
Gun laws: Distinguish between guns that serve a legitimate purpose (hunting*) and those designed to kill humans (semi-automatic handguns). Go after the sellers or providers of the guns rather than the owners.**
Society: Recognize the constant exposure to violence desensitizes us and provide visible rewards and disincentives for healthier models of behavior.*** De-stigmatize mental health care.
* I grew up in Montana and saw rifles on gun racks almost daily; everyone accepted they were for hunting. I have no problem with people putting food on their tables. However, the guy walking down a suburban street with a 100-round magazine is not looking for deer.
** Early reports (which my prove incorrect) suggest that the today’s shooter didn’t own the guns but got them from his uncle. He should be held to some account, as should gun dealers who don’t follow the law.
*** Maybe a tax on violent movies and video games? While there is no evidence that exposure to these media cause violence, there are many studies that clearly show a drop in empathy and increased aggression.
Update: The guns apparently belonged to the mother, and here’s a first person account of someone dealing with violent mental illness in her son.