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The Root of Mass Shootings: Mental Illness

Gun Control!

SIG Pro by Augustas DidzgalvisOur government leaders, any many others, would have us believe that putting the kibosh to the 2nd Amendment is the answer to rampant violence in the United States, particularly in the wake of recent shootings where innocent children and adult citizens have been killed. It would seem that way. 

But it's really not the answer. If stronger gun control measures were in place, it would have had no effect on the twenty children and seven adults who were killed in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th of this year. The mother's guns were legal and the shooter purchased no weapons himself. Perhaps the guns should have been better secured, but that's hindsight. We'll learn more down the road. 

If we lived in a strict fascist government and the 2nd Amendment was repealed whereby no citizens were allowed to purchase and own firearms, it might make a difference, but then we would be living in a state-controlled society reminiscent of WWII Germany and Communist China. That also opens the floodgates to other freedoms we hold so dear.

The 2nd Amendment is here to stay. Just like the freedoms of speech, assembly and religion, there are guidelines, rules and regulations for protecting people and maintaining order. Perhaps we could do better with firearms without infringing on the right to bear arms. That's up for debate.

As I see it, the problem with these mass public shootings is threefold:

The easy accessibility to firearms by disturbed individuals

Glamorizing extreme violence via motion pictures and video games

A poor system for dealing with mental illness inAmerica.

In my opinion, number 3 – mental health treatment/system deficiencies, is the major problem.

I could relate numerous examples of people I've known who were seriously mentally unbalanced whereby little help was available to family members other than medication and strict supervision. It has also struck my life on a personal level.

I know of a vaudeville comic in the late 1930's who became a serious schizophrenic, imagining enemies everywhere. His wife finally called the men with the white coats and had him safely institutionalized. He died two years later. That was then. It can't happen today.

The school massacre in Newtown,Connecticut is sure to raise political and public safety issues in which gun control will be top the list. But when we learned of the psychotic condition of mass killers like Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech), James Holmes (Aurora, Colorado) and Jared Loughner (Tucson, Arizona) it's obvious they were greatly disturbed and should have been treated and/or institutionalized long before they acquired guns. People closest to them certainly knew they were mad, but were powerless to do anything.

Most of the multiple shootings that have occurred in America since Columbine were committed by young adults with severe mental illness. That includes the Newtown school murders. Such tragedies have the stamp of schizophrenia or symptoms of mental depravity. People closest to the killers were witness to out-of-touch behavior, but nothing could be done until crimes were committed. Then it was too late. In some cases, psychiatrists prescribe medication but that's only workable if a patient voluntarily complies.

In the last fifty years, jails and prisons have morphed into the sole processing and holding institution for the severe mentally ill. According to most recent statistics, 10 to 24 percent of prison inmates suffer from mental illness. In days of yore, mental health laws allowed for close family members and/or three citizens to sign someone into a mental health facility for evaluation or commitment. Such facilities were plentiful in the 1950's and 60's, until medication was developed as a substitute for in-house treatment. Mental health institutions were phased out leaving care and treatment to the jails, after crimes were committed.

Florida's Baker Act is only a temporary measure which allows a spouse or family member to be placed into evaluation for 72 hours and then released.

One of my first jobs in plain clothes was to investigate applicants for gun permits. That entailed working the streets and personally interviewing employers, neighbors, family and friends. If applicants had ever displayed bizarre behavior or habitually abused alcohol or drugs, permits were denied. That was effective, but non-existent any more. Budget cuts and other crime priorities removed this function from police departments and have relegated background investigations to a simple FBI computer check. Applicants without a documented criminal record are awarded permits.

Signs of schizophrenia usually emerge in the late teens and early twenties. Victims are generally detached and avoid social circles, often suffering from delusions and hallucinations.

According to current mental health statistics, about two million Americans suffer from schizophrenia. That doesn't appear on any gun check when making a purchase, unless they've been arrested. Plenty of crazy people are at liberty to purchase guns at will, because there is no record of their mental health. That is a problem that can be changed.

Before knee-jerking into the gun control arena, states should reevaluate their laws and systems for identifying and treating people with severe mental illness before violent crimes are committed.

That schizophrenic vaudeville comic never hurt anyone, including himself, or me, thanks to an effective mental health system which was available to my mother in 1939.

Marshall Frank webMarshall Frank.com
Thirty years of law enforcement in Miami, Florida, including sixteen years working homicide, gives Marshall Frank a huge reservoir from which to draw insights into the problems facing America today. After retiring from the Miami-Dade P.D. in 1990, Frank went on to become a writer, now with eight published books, five fiction and three non-fiction. His book "Militant Islam In America" was published after an exhaustive research study about the inroads that radicals are making within the borders of the U.S. He is currently working on a non-fiction book about the abominable criminal justice system. Book listings, prices and availability can be accessed at his web site:www.marshallfrank.com.

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