The Free Press, Mankato, MN


December 18, 2012

Our View: We must stop ignoring mental illness as a problem

In the wake of the horrific killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., politicians are now caught in a nation’s glare looking for a response.

President Obama said of yet one more mass killing “we cannot tolerate this anymore.” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a conservative Democrat and longtime NRA member, called for action on assault rifles. Conservative talk show host Joe Scarborough, who received the NRA’s highest ratings while he was in Congress, is calling for a discussion on gun control. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., called for greater background checks and curbing high-capacity clips.

Meanwhile, others — including Minnesota lawmaker Tony Cornish — have called for arming our teachers. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said the principal at Sandy Hook should have been armed. “I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office.” 

Clearly, the debate already is steamrolling along as lawmakers address the “how” in the killings — weapons. Frankly, that’s the easiest of the answers. We as a nation will zero in on what constitutes an assault weapon and how many clips are too many, pass more regulations and feel we have done our job. But that is woefully inadequate if we continue to overlook the much bigger question of “why”?

In a recent report by the investigative magazine Mother Jones, it was found that no less than 80 percent of the perpetrators in 61 mass murders obtained their weapons legally. However, there were many recorded instances of acute paranoia, delusions and depression among them, with at least 35 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene. (Seven others died in police shootouts regarded as “suicide by cop.”) At least 38 of them displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.

Could these killings have been prevented knowing mental illness was a contributing factor? The answer is hard to pinpoint with any reasonable accuracy partly because we as a society have spent more time and money on physical illness and not enough on mental illness, its causes and treatments.

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