Oh!pinion Rotating Header Image

Better gun control will make little difference
if actual mental health care needs aren’t met

AR-15 rifleWe can’t go on this way in America, with people meeting their congresswoman in a parking lot, attending a Sikh temple, seeing a movie in a theater, shopping at a mall, or young people in a college or elementary school classroom being gunned down by homicidal maniacs.

We Americans send our best, brightest and bravest to dangerous places around the world to keep us safe, spending hundreds of billions a year on national security — more than all other advanced industrial nations combined. We spend billions more on law enforcement at all levels of government.

What good is all that risk, sacrifice and expense if we — innocent men, women and even children — are so clearly vulnerable to individuals in our society who are so mentally ill or emotionally damaged they can become mass murderers at any time?

Now, in the aftermath of a horrific massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, there is serious talk among congressional Democrats of banning semiautomatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle Adam Lanza, 20, used to murder his mother at her home, then 20 children and six adults at the school. President Obama has spoken twice in three days of seeking tighter gun control and addressing mental health problems.

Both measures are long overdue and absolutely necessary — especially meeting mental health care needs. For the fact is, no amount of gun control will prevent these tragedies if people like Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza aren’t identified as needing help, and given the help they need, before they go completely haywire and start killing.

Sure, guns are these killers’ weapons of choice. But someone with Lanza’s reported intelligence can easily commit mass murder with a few bottles, rags, some gasoline and matches.

This inescapable conclusion about meeting mental health care needs isn’t something public officials want to deal with. That’s especially so now, given the state of our economy and current obsession with debt reduction. We’ve cheapskated mental health care needs for a long time. Short-term, lick-and-a-promise outpatient mental health care is hard to come by and afford for most Americans. Longterm, definitive outpatient care is beyond the reach of most. That goes double where full-time and perhaps longterm hospitalization is required.

Providing necessary mental health services to all in need of it is an expensive undertaking. But even if officials were suddenly prepared to fund adequate care and taxpayers were willing to pay the tab, it would take years to make this happen.

A study of national needs vs. resources, if done, will show we don’t begin to have enough mental health care professionals, clinics and hospitals.

As a result, America’s jails and prisons are obliged to take up the slack. A huge percentage of the incarcerated are where they are due to substance abuse and crimes committed under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. But behind that fact lies a rarely discussed reality: many of them become drug users and alcoholics because of serious unaddressed or inadequately treated mental and emotional problems.

America entered World War II with a woefully inadequate military. In four short years America had the strongest, best-trained and equipped military the world had ever seen. And our enemies, Germany and Japan, lay vanquished and in ruins. That happened because of total commitment to meeting a mortal threat.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for an all-out effort to put a man on the moon. Again, our full commitment made that happen, in 1969.

Now, we need an all-out commitment to make America safe from an enemy within. Yes, we need more and better control of guns. But most of all we need to identify those with serious mental and emotional illnesses and deficits, and see to it they get the care they need, whatever it takes. For some, that will mean expensive longterm care as outpatients or in hospitals.

If we refuse to make this commitment and pay its cost we will have ourselves to blame as the number and severity of mass killings grows. There is no quick, cheap, easy way out.



  1. T. Paine says:

    Mr. Anderson, I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment regarding the need for more and better mental health care. As for more gun control, as you implied, this monster and others could easily have killed scores of people without the use of a gun. Making AR-15’s illegal would NOT have stopped this despicable evil. We need to address the actual root problems and not jump to emotional reactions in banning weapons, sir.

  2. In an age of austerity? Bonne chance. Post-Newtown is going to be like post-9/11, lots of bipartisan hot air that will soon dissipate so each faction can protect its turf and get back to doing what they do best, pointing fingers and collecting checks and pats on the back from their respective paymasters.

  3. T. Paine says:

    Randal, as cynical as your comment was, I unfortunately find myself agreeing with you, sir.

  4. Tom Harper says:

    “But even if officials were suddenly prepared to fund adequate care and taxpayers were willing to pay the tab, it would take years to make this happen.”

    That’s the sad truth. This didn’t happen overnight and it’ll take a long time to fix it. President Reagan started closing mental hospitals in the early ’80s — talk about penny wise and pound foolish. This needs to be corrected but it’ll take awhile.

  5. S.W. Anderson says:

    Paine, please stop and think about what you’re saying. If a madman was shooting at a garage a child of yours was hiding in, would you rather he had nine rounds or 10? If you will think and be honest about this, I’ll bet you’d give your right arm if you could reduce the chance of your child being shot by even 10 percent. I know I would.

    The same logic applies. Combat arms, designed for killing people quickly and efficiently, don’t belong in America’s homes, on its streets or in its schools. If banning manufacture and sale of these weapons to the public will reduce the number of mass slayings by even 10 percent, I want that reduction. Any civilized person should want that reduction.

    Randal, alas, you could be right. I see encouraging signs you’re not right, but time will tell.

    Tom, we Americans do like and expect fast fixes and instant results. We need to better appreciate that they’re not always possible. We mustn’t let the fact something requires a lengthy, sustained effort discourage us from doing what we need to do.

  6. Demeur says:

    As former governor Ed Rendell pointed out had the shooter not had a couple of 30 round clips his gun might have jammed sooner. The other fact it that when an assault rifle ban was put in place gun deaths went down. Even NRA members are willing to get rid of this type of weapon. It’s the top brass of the NRA who are in the pockets of the gun manufacturers who are the biggest problem. It will be interesting to see what they have to say on Friday. Will they do their usual gloss over of the issue?
    When guns are easily available we’re more apt to use them. And in looking at our state’s budget with cuts to mental health just a few months ago things will not get better.

    Point fingers at anybody you like we’re all part of the problem if we sit silent.

  7. S.W. Anderson says:

    Well said, Demeur. But unfortunately only some pro-gun types are ready to see semiautomatic weapons production banned. As a story in my local paper today makes clear, others are flocking to gun dealers to buy them before the supply dries up. Some are convinced a complete gun ban is coming.

    For any paranoid gun enthusiasts who happen by: No one is even proposing to take your guns away. No black helicopters, no house-to-house searches. Please, relax and go back to claiming Obama is an Iranio-Kenyan, Marxist-Leninist Manchurian candidate whose primary mission as president (besides getting a third term and apologizing to the world for U.S. successes) is to make America an Islamic socialist republic. Or whatever. 😮

  8. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    Where does delusional content come from? What shapes delusions? What drives them? Are there patterns or archetypes? Are killing rampages always copycat crimes?

    Not necessarily. You will find delusional content across a range of psychological disorders – multiple personality disorder (dissociative), bipolar (hypermanic episodes), schizophrenic disorders (psychotic), and personality disorders (anti-social, paranoid, and schizoid and schizotypal). Delusions are often expressions of inner conflicts, drives, memories, and feelings – sometimes but not necessarily motivational in nature. For lack of a better expression, I call these “cultural artifacts” because these come from – well – the culture that surrounds us. Astral entities, demon personalities, personifications of painful emotions or traumatic memories, actual living persons, revenge personae, spirit guides, beings from another universe, or simply archetypes.

    What is the difference between cultural artifacts versus copycat crimes? From this perspective, the difference is in how we chose to interpret incomprehensible events, not necessarily the events themselves.

    If you accept my parsing of delusional content as “cultural artifacts,” then perhaps there is more to be said about the nature of our culture. What I mean by this statement: Perhaps our culture does violence to people in unsuspecting ways – and finds a path of least resistance in the delusional mind. Or perhaps I can describe it this way: The worst monsters of society mirror back a society grown monstrous.

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      Back in the ’70’s, a profoundly disturbed and dangerously deranged man went to see an especially violent movie in which the protagonist killed randomly. (BTW this incident occurred in Boston, IIRC). In less than a day, the madman who had seen that movie murdered someone in a way that mimicked the movie character’s killing. So yes indeed, input such as that can inspire, “liberate” and trigger someone who’s mentally ill.

      The question then becomes, can exposure to violent/evil-glorifying entertainment of various kinds warp normal people to the point where they become criminally insane actors instead of mentally healthy spectators? Studies done on young people indicate those in good mental health can be inclined toward negative attitudes and behavior after seeing especially strong violent stuff or after extended exposure. I don’t think absolute certainty of causality has been established.

      However, we know good mental health can be a thin veneer. People who are A-OK can become paranoid schizophrenic and wildly delusional simply from prolonged lack of sleep. Say, upwards of 72 hours. Drugs or a brain tumor can move individuals from the normal column to sick-puppy status very quickly as well.

      The bottom line, IMO, is that we would all be better off if the creators and purveyors of entertainment would tone the violence way, way down. I expect that will happen right after the GOP purges its ranks of tea partyers and the NRA endorses a ban on semiautomatic weapons.

      1. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

        About schizophrenia, it is not an acquired disorder but a disorder of brain chemistry with onset in the early to mid 20s. Transient delusional episodes merit other differential diagnoses.

        A person with a reasonably healthy and stable emotional life is NOT likely to turn violent when exposed to violent video games; however a marginal case would be more impressionable under conditions of stress, social rejection, or feelings of abandonment. For those on the cusp, it is not the video game that brings out those tendencies, but inner conflicts. The video game merely provides a script to follow once the subject passes the point of no return.

  9. Jack Jodell says:

    Ours is a violence-prone, and in some ways, desensitized country. We are constantly fed images of glorified violence. We are obsessed with it. Our military, necessary though it is, nonetheless creates butchers out of its soldiers. They come home with mental trauma, are with conservative cutbacks, often don’t receive as much mental health help as they really need.

    We have always had the mentally ill and always will. In past times, however, they have not had access to the huge amount of semi-automatic, large magazine weaponry that is available today. Until we once again eliminate the weaponry, we will, unfortunately, continue to have these horribly senseless murders.

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      No, Jack, in past times the mentally ill didn’t have ready access to AR-15’s and such. But that didn’t stop the determined. Read about the horrific 1927 school bombing in Bath, Mich. It dwarfs what happened in Newtown, Conn.

      1. Jack Jodell says:

        How utterly horrible! This streak of violence runs all throughout our history, and is shameful. I am at a loss for words.

  10. T. Paine says:

    Mr. Anderson, I do understand your argument, sir. I really do. But if a homicidal gunman is shooting at my child hiding in a garage, God forbid, I suspect nine, or six, or less rounds would probably be sufficient to accomplish such evil.

    By that same token, if I come out of my house with my firearm after hearing gun shots in my garage only to confront a monster with ten rounds, I sure as hell don’t want only a five shot revolver with which to defend my kid.

    I bet those Korean store owners in Los Angeles were sure glad to have AR-15’s with thirty-round magazines when the riots occured there after the Rodney King officers’ trial. The cops sure as hell weren’t going to respond to their 911 calls.

    The bottom line is this: if you limit what type, caliber, size of magazine, etc. that the law-abiding citizen can have, then you are putting him at a disadvantage to protect himself and his loved ones when a nut-job comes along with something better.

    That said, I fully agree that we need to fund mental health services for those that need it and cannot pay for it themselves. Nobody wants to have tragedies like this EVER occur. Further disarming the good guys is not the way to go about improving the situation, my friend.

  11. S.W. Anderson says:

    Paine, one problem with your contention is that some of the good guys are good only up to the moment they turn bad. And then it can be hell to pay. Another problem is that a skilled shooter doesn’t need a Gatling gun to take down a bad guy. There was a mass-murder incident at an Air Force hospital just outside my city back in the ’90’s. The bad guy had a semiautomatic rifle. The first security policeman to respond had only his Beretta pistol. That SP killed the gunman, who had just run out the front door of the hospital, with one (head) shot from 80 feet away. One shot.

  12. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    T. Paine,
    What if it were raining outside, and someone let in the family dog that slipped across the kitchen floor and scared the family cat that jumped on the counter and tipped over a pot of boiling water that fell behind the stove and caused an electric short … or perhaps you heard the one about an old lady who swallowed a spider that wriggled and wriggled and ticked insider her …

    Damn! Hypothetical reasoning so specious it takes your breath away! How long does it take you to put on shoes in the morning?

  13. T. Paine says:

    Mr. Anderson, again, I concede the truth of your argument. That said, it can also situationally be irrelevant. While I was an expert rifle shot in the Navy and qualified as a sharpshooter with a sidearm, I don’t practice my shooting skills as often now as I did some twenty years ago.

    Further, what about my 21 year old daughter or my wife that want to carrier a concealed carry Glock with a 15-round magazine for protection? They may not have the marksmanship skills that I or other vets might have. Further, even if they can shoot well at a paper target, in the stress of a life-threatening situation they might not, and thus need those extra rounds in order to defend their lives.

    The bottom line is that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.
    I will trust the goodness of most law-abiding citizens to protect themselves with whatever firearm they deem is the best one to do so. Again, limiting what the good guys can do to defend themselves only serves to give the advantage to the bad guys.

    Octopus, as for your comment, I was merely elaborating on the hypothetical situation that Mr. Anderson initially presented to me. I don’t see how my expansion of the situation was any more unreasonable or absurd than the initial scenario presented by our friend, Mr. Anderson. Why the double standard there?

  14. Dave Dubya says:

    I’m with TP. I want a rocket propelled grenade launcher, .50 cal. machine gun, and a case of hand grenades so I can feel safe.

    No matter how many fantasies and “what ifs” we hear, if those large magazine military weapons were not sold to the public there would be fewer dead kids.

    Anything else is rationalization for human sacrifice to a gun culture.

  15. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    Why the double standard there?” I was merely pointing out a lapse in your logic, which I believe resembles what is commonly known as a “straw man.” Why do you consider it under-handed when I disagree, or even handed if I agree? Heck, with eight arms in my arsenal, I wouldn’t know which hand is which.

    Go ahead. Arm thy wife! Take her shopping and help her find a Gucci to match her Glock. Or a nice big Louis Vuitton for her Bushman.

  16. T. Paine says:

    Dubya, nice straw man argument with your “wish list”. I would humbly argue that your desire to disarm the good guys or at least give the bad guys the advantage is more likely to end with human sacrifice than if we were to outlaw firearms etc. for only the law abiding. Your logic is – well – not very logical, sir. I suppose I could agree with you, but then we would both be wrong.

    Octopus, it doesn’t really matter much whether you agree or disagree with me. That was not my contention. I was wondering why you took issue with my extension of the hypothetical situation presented to me. If you didn’t find Mr. Anderson’s scenario absurd, then why did you find my logical continuation of the situation to be so? It was certainly no less logical or plausible than his was. And I thank you for your permission to take my wife shopping in order to facilitate her exercising her 2nd amendment rights (and God-given right of self defense.)

  17. T. Paine says:

    Mr. Anderson, the title of your post is accurate. Gun control will indeed make little difference in preventing such horrific events. Mental health services is what is needed.

  18. Dave Dubya says:

    This was my point: “if those large magazine military weapons were not sold to the public there would be fewer dead kids.”

    your desire to disarm the good guys or at least give the bad guys the advantage

    THAT is a straw man.

  19. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    I was wondering why you took issue with my extension of the hypothetical situation presented to me.” You must be seriously tone deaf:

    The NRA after Columbine: “First, we must mourn the dead. Now is not the time to talk about gun control.

    The NRA after Tucson: “First, we must mourn the dead. Now is not the time to talk about gun control.

    The NRA after Virginia Tech: “First, we must mourn the dead. Now is not the time to talk about gun control.

    The NRA after Aurora: “First, we must mourn the dead. Now is not the time to talk about gun control.

    The NRA after the Sikh Temple massacre: “First, we must mourn the dead. Now is not the time to talk about gun control.

    The NRA after Sandy Hook: “First, we must mourn the dead. Then we must place an armed police officer inside every classroom.

    In other words, so now you want to privatize your precious Constitutional and Odd-Given rights while placing the burden of police protection on the public and the taxpayer. No thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We tried it your way, and it didn’t work. Now we will try it OUR WAY!

  20. S.W. Anderson says:

    Paine, my headline clearly and correctly indicates we need a balanced approach: better mental health care and better gun control.

    Dave, take it from one who’s been around the mulberry bush with our friend Paine a few times about the ways and means of arguing: you’ll do best to make your point and move on. 😉

    Octopus, give the NRA devils their due. They’re nothing if not consistent. Re: private gun rights and public responsibility for protection, crime prevention and cleaning up the messes left by honest, law-abiding gun owners who suddenly become crazed killers. We’re over a barrel on that one because we must provide police protection in any case. However, since we have that responsibility, the great majority of us who love our kids more than we love our cold, blued steel should get to call the shots (pun intended) about what guns are and are not acceptable, along with other reasonable rules.

    1. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

      Notwithstanding the reductio ad absurdum arguments of T. Paine, it seems to me the center of our culture no longer holds.

      What do we write about in our respective forums? We write about corporate corruption, greed and abuse, inequality and social injustice, dirty tricks in the conduct of our elections, lies and deceptions by persons who aspire to positions of power and authority over us, and more! Birthers, character assassins, town hall hooligans, authoritarian demagogues, and a public held hostage – how often have we felt outrage! How often have we felt violated buy partisan thugs and assassins?

      Our culture has turned itself into a free-for-all; our people have become fractious and fragmented; and there is nothing – not even the ideals and promise of a secular democracy – to bind us together.

      Now the “fight fire with fire” crowd is arguing for even more guns. I reject this idea that we must live in a society turning itself into an armed camp … with every citizen armed to the teeth and a self-appointed vigilante in every school and a self-appointed militia on every street corner. We are creating not an imaginary dystopia but a real one – like a bad Mad Max movie – taking over our lives. UNACCEPTABLE!

      Let Messrs. LaPierre, Pain and others take note:

      Octopus ink is mightier than the sword!

  21. S.W. Anderson says:

    Octopus, people have low spells, off days and rough patches. So do countries. The U.S. has spent large parts of the past 30-some years having low periods and rough patches. Sometimes things look worst just before a corner is turned and they get better. I remember how divided we were and how messy things got in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. This, too, shall pass.

  22. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    Some countries also turn into fascist dictatorships.

    Meanwhile – here in the good ole US of A – fear has become the greatest ally of tyranny; ignoble lies and impious deceptions obfuscate the marketplace of ideas; we have a determined right-wing profoundly contemptuous of secular democracy; and elitists such as the Koch brothers invest in propaganda for the purpose of subverting democracy and turning the masses against their own liberty. With each passing day, this country looks more and more like a late stage Weimar Republic.

    Let’s not stick our heads in beach sand.

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      All you say is true. There is plenty of reason for concern and to resist. I guess I’m not at the point of despair or departure.

  23. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    I guess I’m not at the point of despair or departure.

    There is not much time left. Human beings are little more than language-enabled macaque monkeys out of balance with Nature. In 100,000 years from now, cephalopods will be farm-raising humanoids for fun and profit. Harvesting them is the only way to save them – from themselves!

  24. T. Paine says:

    Wow! Look at the hyperbole. Dubya uses straw man arguments wanting grenades and .50 caliber machine guns — things that have never been legal or available to civilians.

    Octopus has wonderful and grandiose soaring rhetoric but fails to realize that most of the liberties he is speaking of are being curtailed and restricted not just from the right, but more so from the left as of late. All of the elaborate circumlocutions aside cannot change that fact.

    Nor can it change the fact that not Anderson, Octopus, or all the kings horses and all the Dear Leader’s men cannot legally restrict anything granted to We The People in the Bill of Rights. So for all of the bluster about us not being able to try it our way any longer, I say, WANNA BET?!? 🙂

    Now if you will pardon me, I am off to have some calamari!

    In all sincerety, cheers and Merry Christmas to all of you folks. Unfortunately/fortunately I will be incommunicato for the next two weeks, so you can curse me all you want without any retort from me whatsoever until then.

  25. “The problems that produced the Newtown massacre are not complex, nor are the solutions. We do not lack for answers.

    What we lack in America today is courage.”


  26. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    I have a bad feeling this thread is devolving into a contest between the mega amygdala megalomaniacs versus the angular cingulates who merely want to graze in peace among the ungulates. What we need: A pair of antelope with night-vision goggles.

  27. S.W. Anderson says:

    Paine, have a wonderful Christmas and new year’s holiday. I hope your hiatus is enjoyable as well.

    Leslie, Zakaria makes a good case in a very well-written piece. He provides reason for a bit more optimism than I have been able to muster about the beneficial effects of tighter gun control. Part of my reticence on that score arises from an appreciation of how hard it would be to get and keep gun laws anywhere near as tough as those of the U.K. and Australia.

    Another part of my reticence has to do with the many alternative methods easily available to those with mass murder in mind. You might have noticed Zakaria’s piece is directed at curbing all gun violence. My post is particularly concerned with preventing mass murders. I want all gun violence reduced, too. For now, I think it would be a major miracle if we could get a real ban on semiautomatic weapons, limit clip capacity, require psychological testing for gun buyers and end the gun show loophole.

    Octopus, LOL, your cephalopodish take on things at times entertains as it mystifies. You’ll have to excuse me while I go look up “ungulates” and “cingulates,” on the off chance I’ll ever encounter those terms again. 🙂

  28. (O)CT(O)PUS says:

    About those mega amygdalas and angular cingulates, story here: