Why Improving the Mental Health System Is the Only True Solution to Prevent Mass Shootings
I have many friends who are very vocal these days about the need for gun control and the necessity of banning "assault weapons" and large capacity clips. Some are even saying all guns need to be banned, though these folks are a pretty small minority. But many are calling for things like more intensive background checks to be sure that guns are not getting into the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, limits on the number of guns a person can own or how much ammunition they can buy, and stricter restrictions on where guns can be carried and how they must be stored in the home. This, they assure me, is the only way to protect ourselves and our children from lunatics and madmen.
On the other hand, I have many friends who are telling me that just the opposite is true. They say the only way to stop criminals and crazy people determined to do us harm is with armed guards to protect us and our families. Some say that we all should carry guns and arm every teacher, preacher, shop foreman, store manager, etc. to be sure that when the "bad guy" shows up, we can gun him down before he does any damage, But these people are also a very small minority. But many do say that we need to keep guns in the hands of honest upstanding citizens to protect ourselves from home invaders, armed robbers, psychopaths intent on murder and, of course, the possibility that someday we may have to defend ourselves against a government run amok.
What Effect Will a Gun Ban Have?
Some people believe banning certain types of guns -- usually those considered to be assault weapons -- is the solution that will stop mass killings, but there are several problems with this idea. To begin with, a ban on guns will not take away the guns that are already out there. And it will not stop criminals who will continue to find the guns they wish to obtain somewhere, usually illegally and not easily tracked. Furthermore, a ban on any type of gun will likely be circumvented by the gun industry who will simply find a way around the ban by designing a new weapon that slips through a loophole in the ban. Finally, history has taught us that banning "assault weapons" has little to no effect on gun violence.
When the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, there were about 1.5 million "assault weapons" already in the hands of American citizens. During the ten years that the ban was in effect, despite significant decreases in violent crime, the ban had no measurable effect on the number of gunshot victimizations according to an independent study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the United States Justice Department.
University of Pennsylvania professor Christopher Koper wrote in the 2004 report, “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence." The report went on to say that were the ban renewed, any benefit would be "small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement." Ultimately, the ban was not renewed causing gun control advocates to warn of a coming rise in gun violence. However, there has been no significant increase in gun violence with 2010 having the lowest murder rate involving guns since 1988.
What Effect Will Arming the Common Man Have?
In 1982, the city of Kennesaw, Georgia, passed a city ordinance stating "every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition therefore." The law made exceptions for the mentally ill, physically impaired, felons, conscientious objectors and those who cannot afford to maintain a firearm. After the law went into effect, Kennesaw's violent crime rate dropped dramatically and has remained low, averaging less than half the national average. This, some say is evidence that arming the populace works to reduce violence.
On the surface, this may be true. But there are some things that those calling for arming teachers and store employees are failing to consider. First, Kennesaw is not a major city or even in a metropolitan area. The city has a population of around 30,000 in a county of less than 700,000. Compare this to the more than 4 million people living in the Detroit metro area or the 750.000 living in the city of Charlotte alone and a reasonable person will see that Kennesaw may not be a reliable example for every city in the United States. Atlanta is less than an hour away from Kennesaw, but would anyone really consider putting guns into the hands of every citizen in Atlanta?
Also, while Kennesaw does indeed have a lower crime rate, they do not do as well when it comes to things like accidental shootings and suicides by firearm. Nor does Kennesaw require guns at schools or places of employment and even if they did, there is no reason to believe a determined attacker wearing body armor with an automatic weapon would not be able to circumvent any distribution of weapons to school personnel. Furthermore, the latest reports from the Sandy Hook shooting indicate the assailant chose the school based on it being the easiest target where a large number of people were gathered. Short of turning every public place into a fortress, how can we thwart this type of mentality?
So What Is the Solution?
So if the answer is not more guns and the answer is not fewer guns, what are we to do about the madmen that seem to be around every corner? Quite simply, the only way to get handguns out of the hands of the mentally unstable is to take care of the mental illness problem in America. It is time to look at all the cutbacks and reductions in mental health care from the past years and fix this problem we have created. Today, we take mentally unstable first time violent offenders and place them in a prison system that only teaches them how to be better criminals while doing very little to face the core problems that led them to prison in the first place.
It is time that we as a nation wake up and see what we are doing to our fellow citizens who suffer from varying degrees and types of mental issues. The vast majority of these individuals are not dangerous. They deal with issues ranging from depression and anxiety to personality disorders and phobias. Each and every one of them deserves compassion and understanding, and when we give those individuals the help and resources they need, we will find those who are truly disturbed to the point that they may harm themselves and others around them.
Will this completely stop mass murder through the use of firearms? Probably not. But it will certainly make much stronger strides in that direction than anything that we can do concerning gun legislation, whether it be legislation to take guns away from law abiding citizens or legislation to force guns into the hands of our fellow Americans. Without steps to address the mental illness issues, we will continue to see deranged individuals attacking our children and our loved ones whether it be with guns, bombs, fire or whatever other weapon they may find at hand.