The recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., while all the details are not yet known, has highlighted two issues nationwide. The first would be the need to limit access to high-power, large capacity automatic weapons. These weapons belong in the hands of trained military or law enforcement personnel, not the average citizen, no matter how patriotic.
The same rules that apply to weapons of mass destruction should apply to assault rifles and other such weapons. The NRA’s solution to place armed guards in every school is simplistic, impractical and self-serving. There have been shootings in theaters, shopping malls and beauty salons. Should we mandate armed guards at these and every other public building? Is that the vision of the world you wish to live in? I would hope not. This is a public health issue and should be treated as such.
The second issue is mental illness and how we deal with it in our society. The stigma around mental illness keeps two out of every three persons afflicted with this disorder from seeking treatment. Until we start thinking of mental illness as a biological disorder of the brain that it is, and until we get serious about prevention and early intervention, our society will not change for the better. While the great majority of the mentally ill are not dangerous (and much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators), the notorious few that are will garner all the headlines and attention.
After decades of reducing funding for community mental health services, closing mental health clinics and incarcerating the mentally ill instead of treating them, it is time to get serious about funding mental health services as we do other health issues like cancer, diabetes or obesity. The real solution to the issue should be limiting access to weapons that can kill dozens of innocent people in a short time, as well as treating mental illness as the physical disorder it is through prevention, early detection and intervention efforts.