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The issue is gun control

August 30, 2015

Mental health should never be confused with other pressing social issues. Yet, this very important principle is violated frequently. A case in point is the confusion of mental health with the urgent need for national gun control legislation.

Last Thursday, Representative Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) asserted that we have a “failed mental health system.” He should have said we have a “failed Congress for not addressing gun control.” He was using last Wednesday’s Virginia shootings to promote passage of his own mental health bill, which has serious, if not fatal, deficiencies.

We need to question Murphy’s logic and motivation very closely. Persons with mental health conditions, just like all individuals, deserve dignity and respect; they should not become the whipping boys for the unwillingness or inability of the Congress to pass national gun control legislation. Neither should the mental health system.

As many of us have stated repeatedly in broadly diverse venues, the vast, vast majority of people who shoot others are not mentally ill. They may have malicious agendas, and they may be violent and angry, but they are not mentally ill. To assert otherwise simply is incorrect: Violence must not be confused with mental illness. This mislabeling inappropriately assaults the dignity and promotes the stigmatization of those who actually do have mental illness.

The man alleged to have done the shootings last Wednesday in Monteva, Virginia, Vester Lee Flanagan II, clearly was violent and angry, and he had a malicious agenda, but there is not any evidence that he actually was mentally ill. In fact, his various communications that day would suggest otherwise.

Further, America is an exceptionally violent place. Children now grow up playing video games where they “kill” thousands of people an hour. Then they graduate to movies and late night TV, where killing is a staple of virtually every plot. Almost inevitably, the instrument is an assault rifle or a high impact pistol, such as a Glock.

Thus, we should not be surprised that Flanagan actually employed a Glock, and that he carried out the shootings while cameras were recording the event. He was emulating a staple of American TV.

Finally, the very obvious antidote to gun violence is to control access to guns. Case in point: More than two decades ago, Australia had a problem of gun violence. The Australian government then took action to control access to guns. The problem of gun violence disappeared. We can and must take the same actions here.

Gun lobbyists

In 2013, the Congress failed to pass gun control legislation because the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun lobby derailed the process. The NRA contributes to both Democratic and Republican candidates and uses these contributions to influence legislative strategies. Murphy is rated “A” by the NRA, indicating a pro-gun rights voting record.

We need to contrast this with some very jolting statistics: Between 2001 and the present, more Americans were killed by gun violence than were killed during the entire Viet Nam War, a total of more than 58,000 persons. Also, on almost every single day thus far in 2015, multiple Americans have been killed by a solitary shooter.  

Over 3 million people own semi-automatic assault rifles and many thousands more own semi-automatic Glock pistols. Both weapons have military applications. Hence, we must ask why American civilians need military equipment. Clearly, one does not need either one of these military weapons to do recreational hunting of squirrels or ducks. Control of these guns must be put back onto our national agenda.

Alison and Andy Parker, parents of Alison Parker, the promising, young TV reporter killed last Wednesday, have stated unequivocally that they will devote the rest of their lives to securing needed national gun control legislation. Last Friday, Terry McAuliffe, the current Virginia Governor, asserted the same thing: National gun control and improved background checks are essential. We must demand the same.

As a field, we have traveled too far to allow ourselves to become scapegoats because the Congress lacks the leadership and courage to pass meaningful gun control legislation. After centuries, our field finally has reached the era in which the ill actually can recover and regain their lives in the community. These gains are essential; we do not want to see them ignored or erased.

Representative Murphy, we invite you to join all of us in seeking effective gun control in America.  

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