American Crisis: Gun Laws, Mental Illness or a Combination?

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gunThere is an American crisis plaguing citizens who live in fear wondering who the next victim of a senseless killing spree will be. Some blame the current state of affairs on gun laws while others are bent that it is strictly a mental health issue. Is it really that black and white or could it be a gray area which is actually a combination of both? As long as each side of the argument continues to live on the “absolute” side of their belief, a resolution will not be established.

After the recent hate crime on a college campus in Oregon, the issues surrounding gun laws and mental illness have again begun to scream through the media and many social networking platforms. While some propose to do nothing in the wake of what seems to be a uniquely American epidemic of mass shootings, President Obama has maintained his stance and refused to accept another episode merely as the status quo. In a press conference he said:

Each time this happens, I’m going to bring this up and say that we can actually do something about it.

When comparing the number of deaths, between 2004 and 2013, committed by terrorism versus the number of people killed by firearms on the soil of the free world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guns win by a landslide. During the aforementioned time frame, a total of 316,545 people died from a bullet while only 36 by terrorism. As the country heads toward 2016, the number of mass killings from firearms continues to rise.

Is this American crisis a result of loose gun laws or mental illness… or could it be a combination of both? There are valid arguments on both sides. Some of the deaths by firearms can be described as accidental and not all of the killings were of mass quantity; there is also the question of what is and is not considered an act of terrorism. Regardless of the stories that people tell themselves, the reality is things are out of control and something needs to be done about the current reality surrounding the security of the citizens of this great nation. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said in a statement following the recent killings:

We have got to get the political will to do everything we can to keep people safe. I know there is a way to have sensible gun control measures that help prevent violence, prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands and save lives.

There are no absolutes in this saga. There is a problem with loose gun laws and equally with mental health. Washington is missing the bigger picture by attempting to address gun laws as a standalone issue without addressing mental health, according to Carolyn Reinach Wolf. She is a New York lawyer who runs the only mental health legal practice in the nation that works with schools to identify “red flag behavior” among students. Wolf explained unless the conversation changes America is sentenced to an encore.  She stated:

We need to have a discussion about people with mental health issues and how we get them into treatment to lead more normal lives. In turn, I believe, there will be less acting out, less violence by definition. Think about it: someone who is mentally stable does not walk into an elementary school and shoot little children between the eyes. It just doesn’t happen.

The problem for many is the government does not appear to be making mental health issues, never mind the epidemic of suicide, much of a priority outside of the gun debate. While it is true that the law requires background checks for guns sold by federally licensed firearm dealers (FFLs), Americans can buy firearms through “private sales” in more than 40 states without undergoing any type of screening at all.

gunOne study estimated that private transactions in the United States account for at least 40 percent of all gun sales. There are also studies which suggest that every year, about 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States (42.5 million) suffer from some mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

As opposed to abandoning strong opinions for a more balanced conversation it seems society has collectively decided that an occasional massacre is okay. It is simply the price many are willing to pay for the freedom of their precious Second Amendment. Society is content to forfeit the lives of a few dozen students a year as long as they can keep their guns. The people have spoken, in a cheering civics-class example of democracy in action!

The truth is, however, it is not that cut and dry. It is a gray area which needs more dialogue on both sides. Yes, America’s federal firearms laws are weak and filled with loopholes, but mental illness is a definite issue which needs to be addressed so victims can receive the necessary treatment which will afford them the opportunity of a normal life. The American crisis at hand is a combination of mental illness and gun laws; unless the conversation finds balance a resolution will not be established leaving citizens, sane and insane, to suffer through more of the same.

Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)


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