Massacres and Mental Health: The Suppression of Gun Control Legislation


Julianna Boyson, Editor-in-Chief

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In the many recent debates over gun control, one issue seems to suddenly be snaking its way into these conversations: mental health. After years of being ignored, mental health care is subtly creeping into senator’s speeches and being presented as a solution to ending gun violence. It’s not entirely surprising that this topic has risen, given the move to de-stigmatize mental health issues like depression and anxiety in recent years. However, the only time this issue seems to pop up into conversations among our congressmen is when gun control is being debated. In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas shootings Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said, “The root cause is not that we have the Second Amendment, it is that we’re not adequately addressing mental illness across the United States. We need to focus on that.” Outside of the United States Congress, this argument is being spread far and wide. Matthew Miller, a senior at North Allegheny Senior High School, wrote an opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which he stated, “No matter how much the government will attempt to limit the purchase of guns, there will always be other ways for these individuals to get access to other methods to carry out their goals, and the only way to truly fix this is to attack the root of the cause and work on fixing mental health care.”

Although many Congressmen have continually said that the way to end the gun violence epidemic plaguing America is through treating mental health issues, a study at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston begs to differ. Researchers found that mental health symptoms were unrelated to gun violence and instead access to guns were at the root of the number of shootings in America. Their study claims that individuals with access to guns are 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun and that “limiting access to guns, regardless of any other mental health status, demographics or prior mental health treatments, is the key to reducing gun violence.”

Additionally, while many Senators and Representatives continue to say that there needs to be an extension of mental health care access across the country, there seems to be no push to accomplish any of that. The Mayo Clinic lists medication, antipsychotics, psychotherapy and hospitalization as the top treatments for schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and depression. To put it simply, treatments for these diseases require access to health care. You would think that everyone who has repeatedly cited mental health as the root of a deadly issue would also vote to expand access to health care, but sadly that has not been the case. Take for instance, the previously mentioned Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. She voted no on the 2017 Expanded and Improved Medical Care for All Act, a bill that explicitly mentions access to mental health services, as well as prescription drugs, a necessary treatment in many cases of mental health issues. Additionally, the Trump administration, another advocate of mental health awareness in response to gun violence, has proposed legislation that allows health care providers to not cover a long list of pre-existing conditions. And guess what conditions are on that list? Mental health issues including schizophrenia, BPD and many others.

At the end of the day, the argument that mental health is at the root of the issue of gun violence is used purely as a way to distract from the argument of gun control. Time and time again we’ve seen Congressmen attempt to dodge the issue of gun control but enough is enough. The time of inaction against mass shootings needs to be over. People are dying every day as a result of gun violence and our government isn’t doing enough to stop it. Now that the issue has reached Congress, our representatives and senators are forced to talk about it, and they can’t keep ignoring the issue by promising mental health care access that we know will never come and is irrelevant to the issue at hand. As Representative Jim McGovern said at the discussion a few weeks ago, “other countries around the world have people with mental illnesses, but only the U.S has numbers this high regarding gun violence.” The gun violence epidemic is related to one thing: guns, and the ease at which people can access them. Limiting access by passing common sense gun laws is a must at this point and should be a bipartisan issue. There are ways to limit access to guns in a way that wouldn’t threaten law-abiding gun owners, a sentiment that many gun owners acknowledge. In Jim McGovern’s speech on the Congress floor he cited the statistic saying that 97% of gun owning households agree with universal background checks.

As of writing this article a bill in the House just passed that would require universal background checks and close the Charleston Loophole. The Charleston Loophole refers to the rule that allows individuals to purchase a firearm, regardless of their background, if the FBI doesn’t complete a background check in 3 days. Although this bill passed in the House, the Senate still has to vote on it, a significantly harder feat seeing as the Senate has a Republican majority. Additionally, the Trump administration has said that they will veto the law citing “burdensome requirements” for gun owners and considering the current numbers in Congress, it is very unlikely that they could overturn a veto. Regardless of what our Congressmen are doing, it is clear that Americans – especially the younger generation quickly approaching the voting age – want stricter gun laws. Time after time the public has shown that they want better gun control, and it’s time that our representatives start listening.

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