The Corner

Can We Talk About Mental Health Now?

The one thing that unites most of the horrific mass shooting events of late — Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Virginia Tech and now the Washington Naval Yards – is that they were all perpetrated by people with serious histories of mental illness (and not rightwingers incited by Sarah Palin’s Facebook map or Michelle Bachmann’s rhetoric).

If you believe no one should have a gun, then I guess they all had that in common, too. But that argument is largely settled in this country. Law abiding people get to own guns. They may need to jump through more hoops or less depending on the jurisdiction they live in. But we’re not going to get rid of guns in this country — because the people don’t want to get rid of them and they’ve got the Constitution in their corner. But there is — or at least very plausibly could be — a pretty serious and deep bipartisan consensus that more can and should be done to prevent the seriously mentally ill from owning guns. 

It’s in everyone’s interest. As a moral imperative, gun rights activists, including the NRA, don’t want crazy people killing innocent people. On a more cynical level, nothing undermines support for gun rights more than these killing-sprees. As a moral issue, gun control supporters agree. But, on a cynical level, they want to use the issue to prop-up less popular and more contentious regulations. They want their best issue to be part of a “comprehensive” approach.

Maybe it’s time to look at this issue by itself? I have no doubt you could write gun control laws for the mentally ill too broadly. Just as I am confident you can write them too narrowly (we know this is the case because too many deranged men hearing voices have gotten their hands on guns lately). Nothing will ever stop every crazy person from killing people, with or without firearms. But surely there’s a better way to do things than accept these horrors as a new normal?



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