Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 12:40 pm | Fair 75º


Diane Dimond: Rhetoric of the Aurora Aftermath Should Turn to Mental Illness

We'll never get rid of guns, so let's focus on mental illnesses that push people to commit violent acts

Are you completely exhausted by all the after-the-fact gun control talk? Yeah, me, too.

Every time a mentally deranged Jared Loughner (Tucson) or a Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.) commits mass murder, we hear an endless stream of recriminations about how we need to pass more gun-control laws. Now it’s alleged shooter James Holmes (Aurora, Colo.).

Fact: Over the past 20 years, we’ve winnowed down the number of gun laws on the books, and guess what? The murder rate hasn’t gone up. Homicide rates are down.

Look, I believe we can always massage the gun laws we have to keep up with the changing times. For example, I think no one ever needs to have a single magazine with 30, 50 or 100 bullets in it. (Thank goodness, police say, when Holmes opened fire in that Colorado movie theater, his semi-automatic rifle jammed and he was unable to fire all 100 of his rounds.)

I don’t think the shops that sell the guns should be the conduit for buyer background checks. Better for a separate agency or a law enforcement office to run the check on a potential buyer’s possible criminal record. And I don’t think the Internet is the proper place to fill what could be falsified or untraceable orders for various weapons and ammunition.

According to police, Holmes legally purchased his three firearms and then bought 6,000 bullets via the Internet. When a buyer makes scattered purchases like that, it is next to impossible for authorities to determine what any one individual might have on hand.

Yes, we probably should reinstate the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, but an irrational, unhinged person overcome by madness can spread mayhem without such a gun. They will simply get their hands on another type of firearm. And for those who fruitlessly wish for every gun in America to be turned in and melted down, forget it. The right to keep and bear arms is spelled out right there in the U.S. Constitution, and the Second Amendment isn’t going away.

So let’s think of a better way to handle the problem at hand.

We should keep working on the problem of too many guns and too many murders, but frankly, I’m not too optimistic about either side giving even a fraction of an inch in compromise. The pro-gun and anti-gun factions in America simply talk until they’re blue in the face, too entrenched in their separate opinions to listen. They remind me of the obstinate Republican and Democratic politicians who might, if they really put their minds to it, be able to come up with some solutions. Sadly, they don’t even try.

But there is an elephant in the room we don’t talk enough about after one of these explosive and polarizing tragedies. It is the mental illness that grips people and causes them to hunt down and kill their fellow citizens. Why don’t we concentrate on trying to eradicate that?

Instead of those repetitive and conflicting conversations we routinely have about gun laws, how about we spend a bit of time trying to advance the idea of early detection and treatment for those suffering from schizophrenia and other mental problems? It is those illnesses that push these folks into violent and murderous acts — be it with a gun, a knife or a homemade bomb. After all, the vast majority of gun owners don’t go out and open fire on college campuses, supermarket parking lots or in movie theaters. Aren’t the mentally ill the people we should worry about the most? Shouldn’t identifying them and getting them some help be a top priority? Think of it as defusing a bomb before it blows.

If only we had been putting a sharper focus on helping the mentally sick, we might have avoided the massacre at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro in 1984, when 21 were killed and 19 others wounded; the deaths of 13 and the wounding of 21 more at a high school in Columbine, Colo., in 1999; even the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. (A full list of shootings by mentally ill people could fill an entire newspaper section.)

There is really so little known about psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, which affects about 2.5 million Americans. Symptoms usually appear between ages 15 and 35, men and women are afflicted equally, but males tend toward mass violence and suicide more often than females.

It’s a malady that can be successfully treated about 85 percent of the time — if only families in need have a responsive place to turn to when a loved one becomes stricken. How many times have we heard grieving parents say, “We knew there was something wrong, but we had no one to help us!” We’ve got to do better than that for the safety of all of us.

Please, no one should write me about my support for the old saw: “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people.” That’s not my mantra. I’m simply stating a common sense idea: Since we’ll never get rid of guns in our society, let’s concentrate on those who use them for evil.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Click here for more information. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond.

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