The Morning Call, which is my local newspaper, recently published this op-ed that I wrote, following up on the Parkland massacre. I’m publishing it here because it does touch on mental health, but specifically from the perspective of violence and publish policy. First, remember, someone who is mentally ill is far more likely to be the victim of violence, rather than the perpetrator. Second, I’m tired of hearing about, in the aftermath of these shootings, how we must repair our mental health system and then the only things that are done is funding cuts.
Anyway, read on for more. I hope you find this useful
Seventeen dead students and teachers.
Fifty-eight dead concert goers.
Twenty-seven dead students and teachers.
These are some of the worst gun massacres in the history of the United States. And they have all occurred within the past five years.
We have reached the point in our society where kindergarteners are being trained how to cower in the event that an armed gunman barges in on their class. Teachers are now being lauded for laying down their lives for their students. There is serious conversation about whether or not school staff, including administrators, teachers and janitors, should walk around school with guns locked and loaded.
We have hit this low point in our society. But we aren’t powerless. We aren’t lambs being led to the slaughter. We are the United States of America. The country that beat the Nazis can surely be the country that stops senseless bloodshed in sacred public places.
We need real gun safety, and we need it now.
•First: Reinstate the assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994-2004. It is harder for a 19-year-old to purchase Sudafed than an assault weapon. More to the point, the 1994 ban worked. According to one analysis, gun massacres and deaths from assault weapons tripled since the expiration of the assault weapons ban. Military-style weapons are responsible for almost every one of these crimes, and we can do something about it.
•Second, close the loophole that allows for individuals to purchase firearms without being subjected to a background check. If you want to buy a gun, you should always be subjected to a background check, and right now, you can legally purchase certain types of guns at certain types of sales without doing so. This massive loophole allows for terrorists or convicted felons to have access to firearms.
•Third, enact state Senate Bill 501, which would bar individuals who have a protection from abuse order from owning firearms and make it easier to take weapons away from those convicted of domestic assault. Many of the perpetrators of our worst massacres have been convicted of this heinous crime, and no one who beats an intimate partner should have access to a firearm.
It’s also vitally important that we discuss mental health. We frequently hear in this country that there is a need to improve our mental health system to prevent these types of massacres, despite the fact that someone with mentally illness is significantly more likely to be a victim of a crime than a perpetrator of one.
Indeed, opponents of gun safety often shake their heads, offer their “thoughts and prayers” and pledge to deal with our mental health system. That is followed immediately by … absolutely nothing, except attempts to repeal Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, both of which would fundamentally devastate our mental health system by cutting off funding, preventive care and hospital beds.
If you are opposed to gun safety measures, and want to improve our mental health care system, it’s not enough to say words that sound good. You have to stand for something.
Here are some suggestions. First, address the rising shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists by increasing reimbursement rates and Medicaid/Medicare slots for mental health care. Second, increase funding to critical and crisis care treatments, allowing for the creation of additional hospital beds to treat those experiencing a mental health crisis. Third, increase the reach of programs like the nurse family partnership and pre-K education, which have been proven to dramatically decrease mental illness.
Each and every one of us — from the most ill homeless person to the president of the United States — is never more than one moment away from a mental health crisis and running headlong into a system that doesn’t care about us. One in 5 American adults suffer from mental illness; 1 in 20 suffer from an illness so debilitating that they can no longer work. If you don’t care about the mentally ill, fine, but remember, this could be you or someone you love in a heartbeat.
There is no single solution to stopping gun violence, and individual and familial responsibility has an enormous role to play in ending this bloodshed. Background checks and banning the sale of military-style weapons won’t stop every massacre; after all, all of our laws and police activity don’t stop every crime. But our law enforcement — and the laws they enforce — do save countless lives and stop innumerable crimes every day.
We aren’t powerless. There are solutions. American ingenuity and know-how can save thousands of lives, and the only way to guarantee that the problem only gets worse is to do nothing.
All of us have an obligation to each other to make the world a better place, and we should be tired of living in a society which allows for over 13,000 gun deaths every year, including 17 dead children and adults on the floor of the freshman building of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla..
Mike Schlossberg of Allentown is state representative from the 132nd District.
One thought on “OP-ED: Massacres, gun safety & mental health”
Thank you, Excellent and informative! You and Dan Miller have become our favorite PA legislators, this state is in desperate need of more thoughtful legislators like the both of you.
Patrick & Jackie Kimmel – AFSP volunteers firstname.lastname@example.org