'this is not an issue of guns, but an issue how we are treating our citizens with mental problems.'

As I was listening and watching to news on CNN of the attack on women and children at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, I saw a tweet from Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, “NRA staffers will have to come in on Sunday to issue statements about why guns had nothing to do with Sikh temple shootings.”

I had planned to write about a message I received from a local Democrat running for the NC Senate, Sig Hutchinson, anyway. Sig, not unlike many others, does not understand the focus of folks like me who think that future prevention of the many mass murders as of recent years is rooted in the purchase of automatic weapons and the clips with as many as 100 rounds.

The quote above is in a nutshell Hutchinson’s take on the shooting in Colorado, one of the worst on record:

…my brother [who] was 58 years old, of which I was his guardian and was schizophrenic since adolescence passed away two weeks ago. So on the outset, it is very important to me that you know how important this issue of mental health is to me and how irresponsible the state have been, particularly in the past few years, towards mental health in NC. I was particularly touched by a recent piece by David Brooks of the NY Times when he was talking about the Aurora Killings and how so many people are tying the killings to guns and the prevalence of guns, when in fact, this is not an issue of guns but an issue how we are treating our citizens with mental problems. That’s the real issue here


I have thought a while about this message from the candidate on Friday in response to a question about the disposition of the Dix Property in Raleigh. As I wrote back to Hutchinson, I respect his passion for the issue of adequate treatment of mental illness and access to health care for those with a mental illness. But, as I told him, I disagree with his assertion that “this is not an issue of guns…”

As a person who has a history of mental illness, I am myself prohibited from owning a firearm of any kind. It has been that way in Wake County and other counties in NC for decades. But how much has such a prohibition helped to preventing violent crime? Not much from what I can tell.

It is hard to compare and contrast gun regulations from state to state or country to country at the micro level, but it is obvious that the US does indeed have a gun control problem that has allowed innocent people to die many times in the past couple of decades.

Would providing mental health services more widely and in better methods avert some killings? Perhaps. But as history has made clear, even experienced professionals have serious difficulty predicting “dangerousness” among patients in time to prevent these murders.

At the very least what we are seeing is a convergence of at least two separate but simultaneous threats: lack of mental health treatment for dangerous persons and the unregulated access to rapid fire weapons and ammunition—even over the internet—it is time to unravel these intertwined issues and to begin to focus on how to better regulate gun sales in the USA.

(More on how to deal with the other piece of this puzzle, untreated mental illness, to follow in a separate piece.}


It's a complicated issue

As a society, we should exercise a certain amount of discretion when allowing people to purchase firearms, especially those designed for two-legged game (handguns, assault rifles). Those with criminal records, restraining orders for domestic violence, and yes, certain levels of mental illness, should not have easy access. We routinely remove drivers of cars from behind the wheel if they pose a risk to themselves or others.

But...a large percentage of people who are in the mental health system sought treatment voluntarily, at least in the beginning. They had to get past pride, fear of stigmatism, fear of surrendering control, etc., just to take that first step. And a lot of people who should be receiving help aren't, because of those same (maybe self-imposed) roadblocks.

If we add an additional loss (the right to purchase a firearm) to that list of roadblocks, it can only reduce the number of people seeking help. That might please the number crunchers, personal responsibility nuts and government austerity proponents, but it will only worsen our society's mental health problems.

Just to clarify,

if you have been (involuntarily) committed to a mental health facility to keep you from injuring yourself or others, you are likely already on a list maintained by the FBI, and will not pass (an earnest) background check to purchase a firearm.

Update on Wisconsin Sikh shootings

Update on Sikh #templeshooting: Police say the shooting is being treated as a case of domestic terrorism: http://usat.ly/RpLVJw

According to latest reports online and on TV, nothing new to be released by police until tomorrow's press conference at mid-morning. The FBI is investigating because it is classified as "domestic terrorism."

In another related event, prior to today's shootings:

A bipartisan coalition of 700 mayors continues to press both presidential candidates on their plan to reduce gun violence – the same day another mass shooting is shaking a community in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisc.

In a major Sunday morning ad buy, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a television commercial featuring survivors of the 2011 mass shooting in Tuscon, Ariz., that left six people dead and 13 others wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

According to the WNYC report, the ad will continue to air early next week on CNN, FOX and MSNBC.

Martha Brock

Sikh temple shooter had NC ties--served at Ft. Bragg

This was just officially announced on WRAL.com:

A man identified as the suspect in a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six people Sunday was an Army veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg in the 1990s, authorities said.

"First Assistant U.S. Greg Haanstad in the U.S. Attorney's office in Milwaukee identified the shooter, who was shot and killed by police outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, as Wade Michael Page...

"CBS News reported that Page was assigned to the psychological operations unit while at Fort Bragg...

The story from CBS also says he passed a background check to legally buy a firearm.

Martha Brock