May 31, 2022

Every school shooting is tragic, including the recent massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Predictably, politicians and pundits are quick to politicize the issue to suit their personal agendas, while not offering any thoughtful analysis or potential solutions. It is impossible eliminate wanton murder that dates back to Cain and Abel and is unfortunately part of the human condition, but certain measures might prevent some these horrific incidents in the future.

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Start with the spin. President Joe Biden, in prepared remarks after the Uvalde shooting, asked, “But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency that they happen in America.” Actually, the opposite. The five worst mass shootings worldwide occurred outside the U.S. as did 32 of the top 50, contradicting Biden’s assertion.

Then there is the inevitable blame on ill defined “assault weapons,” which is a made-up and ambiguous term invented by the anti-gun lobby in the 1980s. Perhaps the confusion lies in the distinction between automatic and semi-automatic firearms, the latter being what most gun owners and law enforcement use and the former being machine guns, which are incredibly difficult for civilians to obtain legally.

President Biden claimed, “When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down.  When the law expired, mass shootings tripled.” Yet a Department of Justice-funded study reported: “The decline in assault weapon use was offset throughout at least the late 1990s by steady or rising use of other guns equipped with large capacity magazines in jurisdictions studied.”

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In other words, ban one type of gun and a different one will fill the void. After all, it’s not the gun itself that chooses to murder people but the person holding the gun, knife, bat, or other lethal weapon of choice.

What can be done? First and foremost, the American mental health system is broken. This is not a new problem. Nearly 60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy addressed this issue:

Mental illness and mental retardation are among our most critical health problems. They occur more frequently, affect more people, require more prolonged treatment, cause more suffering by the families of the afflicted, waste more of our human resources, and constitute more financial drain upon both the public treasury and the personal finances of the individual families than any other single condition.

Little has changed since 1963, and any subsequent president could have delivered the same remarks.

How many mass shooters are mentally ill, untreated, or inadequately treated, due to deficiencies in our mental health care system? A Stanford University team: “Studied 35 mass shooting cases that occurred in the United States between 1982 and 2019 and involved shooters who survived and were brought to trial.” They discovered that “28 had mental illness diagnoses. Eighteen had schizophrenia, and 10 had other diagnoses including bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, personality disorders and substance-related disorders.”

America’s mental health system is fragmented due to politics and money. For some administrations, mental health is a priority and for others a pot of money that can be spent on other initiatives. Inpatient hospitalization has given way to outpatient therapy, which may not be enough for some. Clearly, those that need help are not getting it.

There are also the medications used to treat some mental illnesses, specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, commonly prescribed for depression. For those with depression, increased serotonin levels can be life changing for the better. But there is also a potential dark side.