The Right Blames Mental Health, Yet Has Little Interest In Funding It
Amid the mourning for targets of yet another multiple-death school shooting, we’ve found ourselves with the same, tired, repetitious mouthing of excuses for why we can’t keep our students safe from gunshots.
From the pro-life political right, we hear that anything – substantial or not – affecting keeping the flood of private guns, including semi-automatic weapons, from proliferating further is unacceptable as causal and unconstitutional. From the left, we hear that political divides keeps us even from trying to adopt popularly acceptable changes for even gun safety or training, and few creative solutions beyond banning of weapons.
From our increasingly conservative courts, we see that any government action to restrict gun sales, ownership, or display is now verboten. Yet police, polls, teachers, parents, and common sense say that having more guns than people in our society increasingly with open-carry laws with no background checks or required training has resulted in 130 multiple-death shootings since the start of the year.
It is a tie-up that is both frustrating and a downward spiral for safety. We argue over protecting children from what a minority see as harm from books while allowing actual harm from guns to continue, as captured in a video interview with Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) who shrugged off this week’s Nashville school shooting by saying Congress can’t do anything about it. “Criminals are gonna be criminals,” he said resignedly, as if gun safety is beyond us.
Gap Between Talk and Action
Indeed, the only agreeable point beyond guns themselves seems that mental health is a central concern. The only problem is that the don’t-touch-my-gun crowd says it’s willing to talk about mental health but does little about it.
In this case, the 28-year-old who killed three children and adults at this private, Christian school already was under care for an emotional disorder. Still, the shooter was legally able to buy seven firearms and kept them hidden in a home where parents who believed the shooter should not own weapons were living. When the parents asked about a large bag containing weapons, they were dismissed. Police said three of those weapons were used in the school attack, an event that the shooter had suggested in an email to a friend too late for her to do much about it.
While the motive remains unknown, one question is how a person under treatment was legally able to buy guns and ammunition – seven guns in five stores.
How is the word supposed to go from family members or even a mental health practitioner to the gun store owner in any efficient and reliable way?
Nineteen states now have so-called red flag laws to encourage and enforce a stop order for guns for those determined to present a danger. Tennessee is not among them.
Even in states like New York and Washington where the laws have resulted in a sizeable number of gun stoppages, journalists and officials are reporting that the processes are cumbersome, requiring petitions to police and courts based largely on actual specific threats.
Washington State’s red flag law has been on the books for five years, but most Washingtonians don’t know the law exists, let alone the details of the petitioning process, the official who argued for it told the Pew Trust.The Trust, which studied the effectiveness of these laws, found that police themselves have too little knowledge of laws, meaning they aren’t being used as often as it should be.
In New York State, where these laws were invoked 539 times in the last year, there was no intervention in the case of the Buffalo supermarket shooter whose behavior had been flagged, but whose comments about shooting people as part of a school survey about plans for the future were released after a mental health referral. Officials said there had been no specific threat about the particular target.
The Florida version of red flag laws were adopted after the 2017 high school shooting in Parkland, but no statewide funds went along with it to train police departments in how to use them. In Uvalde, Texas, the shooter, who did brag about what he might do, did not have a criminal history nor a diagnosis of mental illness to start such a process.
Where’s the Push for Mental Health
The pro-gun, largely Republican bloc in Congress also has constituted the group opposing more money for health concerns generally, including mental health services. Continuing opposition to Medicaid and federal spending on health and social service programs draws a direct line to restricting mental health access.
Indeed, Republicans actively seek to restrict medical attention for questions involving gender and identity issues, among others.
Apart from mental health aimed at identifying potential shooters or towards preventing some kind of suicide-by-police thinking, it is surviving children who have an enormous need for counseling services after these mass shooting events. Children can respond in a wide range of ways including being numb to the event, being more angry or irritable, suffering from high anxiety and being fearful of going back to school, according to mental health experts.
And what of the rest of us?
Affecting my mental well-being is the certainty that despite the avalanche of public shooting events we are witnessing, our Supreme Court continues to widen the prospects for more troubles rather than supporting efforts to address the problem.
As Linda Greenhouse details in a New York Times essay, the question now to ask is how much further will the Supreme Court go to assist in the arming of America? The vote last summer to overturn New York’s century-old gun licensing law has cleared the way for barring nearly any limit to open-carry practices unless authorities can identify venues that must have protections.
To me, that would include schools, but apparently not to the court.
Indeed, a case making its way to the court now involves a Court of Appeals decision that invalidates a federal law that for 30 years has prohibited gun ownership by people who are subject to restraining orders for domestic violence – based on the precedent set by the New York case.
It has been a steady march for unrestricted gun ownership for more than 15 years since a Supreme Court decision interpreting the Second Amendment as applying to an individual right to own a gun.
In the balance of freedoms, our courts are saying the freedom to own a gun is weightier than the “pursuit of life” clause of the Declaration of Independence, In the rightist political world, the right to life is more important than the right to school safety. In the practical world, we can talk about mental health, but do little to make sure people who obtain guns are sane.
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