Politics & Policy

Obama Doesn’t Care about Dead Children

Reforming commitment laws for the mentally ill could prevent mass killings.

Obama doesn’t care about dead children. He’s indifferent to the suffering of their parents. There isn’t a single coherent argument on his side of the case. He lies about the issue. It’s pure politics.

That’s the way the dispute would be presented if Obama’s opponents deployed the kind of demagogic language he slips on like comfortable loafers. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it — possibly even racist? Funny how touchy everyone is about the way Obama is criticized but how indifferent most are to his low accusations. His opponents are always guilty of bad faith, whereas he is concerned about preventing children from being mowed down by crazed gunmen.

#ad#Except he isn’t. The gun-control measures the president worked so hard to pass and that the Senate has voted down would have done nothing to prevent Newtown and would do nothing to prevent the next Newtown. Adam Lanza did not obtain his guns through the gun-show loophole. More rigorous background checks would not have prevented most of the mass shootings we’ve suffered in the past 15 years.

Nor does the president’s outrage at the Senate’s failure to pass his trivial reform really hold up as a genuine expression of policy disappointment. As Allahpundit has observed, the president responded very differently to the Aurora, Colo., shootings than to Newtown. Could it be because Newtown was more heinous? It’s possible. It could also be because Aurora happened before the election, and Obama chose not to embrace a potentially unpopular issue like gun control while his name was on the ballot. Yet, when four Democrats from pro-gun states declined to place their own reelections in jeopardy, Obama in effect called them “shameful.”

That the president is sincerely angry that he lost a political battle after making lots of speeches (he and his staff may be the only ones left who believe he possesses a golden tongue) and parading Newtown parents before the cameras is beyond dispute. What must sting most acutely, though, is not that he lost; it’s that Democrats participated in his defeat, undercutting the preferred narrative about Republican obstruction that he might have flogged until November 2014.

If the president were sincere in his concern for the children of Newtown and other victims of mass violence, he might have responded with more than a knee-jerk resort to de minimus gun control (which, for what it’s worth, I don’t per se oppose). Guns have always been widely available in America, yet mass shootings in public places are a relatively new phenomenon. A sincere reformer would have given more than lip service to the problem of the mentally ill.

The mentally ill commit an estimated 10 percent of the homicides in America, but they commit a much larger share of mass killings.

Unlike gun policy, America’s handling of the severely mentally ill has changed profoundly over the course of the past 50 years. The deinstitutionalization movement emptied the mental hospitals. Even for the few psychiatric beds that remain, laws severely limiting involuntary commitment make it nearly impossible to get treatment for those who refuse (and often their illness itself inclines them to believe that doctors are part of a conspiracy against them). HIPAA and other federal privacy regulations make it impossible for family members of the mentally ill above age 18 to exchange information with treating physicians. And Medicaid and SSDI have enabled the mentally ill to subsist without contact with families or communities who might get them the help they need.

As Dr. E. Fuller Torrey of the Treatment Advocacy Center has noted, Assisted Outpatient Treatment, which ties government benefits to compliance with treatment, has shown success in reducing hospital admissions, criminal behavior, and homelessness among the mentally ill.

Family members of the mentally ill report the frustration of being unable to get treatment for their relatives even when they have threatened violence. Reform of civil-commitment laws to permit 72-hour emergency interventions, even over the objections of the patient, would correct this. Our excessive libertarianism when it comes to mental-health treatment serves neither the mentally ill themselves nor the larger society.

If Obama were sincere about Newtown, he would consider these overdue reforms. But, apparently, he doesn’t care about dead children.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

 

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