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home : letters : letters May 2, 2016

1/25/2013 9:45:00 AM
Mental health versus gun control

To the Editor: 

Several years ago my wife and I along with another couple enrolled in a two-day gun safety and personal defense course. The instructor was a retired police officer. This was a very comprehensive course involving classroom instruction and actual weapons firing under strict supervision on a managed range.

In the first few minutes of the class, the instructor asked how many students were familiar with gun safety or had some fear of guns. My wife and the other lady, along with several others, raised their hands. 

Immediately, the instructor placed unloaded handguns on the table immediately in front of them, but with the muzzle pointed safely away from all present.  At the end of the first session, he asked if the guns had harmed them in any way. Their response was “no!” Of course, his point was the gun itself was harmless when handled properly. From then on, these two women were comfortable with the weapons’ presence.

Once again, the issue of gun control has become a topic of the news media, politicians, bureaucrats, anti-gun groups, pro-gun groups and various gatherings of concerned citizens. As usual, there is an element of hysteria displayed by those who fear guns, do not understand the purpose and use of guns … including the irrational gun ban advocates.

Their reasoning as it were is that guns are dangerous and encourage the commission of crimes. Neither of these hypotheses is true. Crimes may be committed by felons using guns as well as knives, lead pipes, baseball bats and an assortment of other lethal weapons.  Timothy McVeigh used a homemade truck bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995. However, the felons are responsible for injuries and deaths resulting from such assaults … not the weapons.

The real issue should be the tragic failure of our mental health laws as well as the lack of swift action by the criminal justice system. Individuals with mental health illnesses that interfere with their judgment, self-interest, self-preservation and safety represent profound challenges for families and clinicians, according to Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer, Medical Director of the New York State Office of Mental Health.  

Further, patient protections have become rigid rules excluding families from patient care and exceeding common sense, Dr. Sederer has said.

Under HIPAA, doctors are limited as to what they can say to a patient’s family concerning psychiatric conditions. In most states, there are strict controls regarding involuntary commitment and length of stay for treatment, absent court orders regarding such action. In other words, the danger signs might be present to families and others in contact with mentally ill persons, but oftentimes remedial action is not taken until it is too late. Apparently, that was the case with Jared Loughner, resulting in his shooting spree killing six people and injuring 13 others including Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords.

In virtually every mass shooting incident from Columbine to Newtown, the perpetrator had suffered serious mental problems, yet seemingly no action was taken to prevent them from acting out their psychotic rages. In Arizona, there are 12 legal reasons preventing gun purchases. Two and possibly three of these categories could have prevented Loughner from purchasing firearms. So, did the family, the medical profession, the law enforcement agencies and community college, all aware of Loughner’s psychiatric condition, fail to take proper action to prevent the Jan. 11, 2011, tragedy?  Did the so-called “can” concerning Loughner get kicked down the road?  

Where is the public outcry concerning this abysmal mental health issue? Shouldn’t HIPAA be revised so that family members, medical professionals and others in authoritative positions are allowed to take action to properly treat and, possibly, institutionalize these known mentally ill people who are teetering on the brink of disastrous actions?

When is common sense going to be injected into the debate about these tragic events? When is responsibility going to be assigned properly to those who are responsible for these tragedies, rather than blaming inanimate objects?

When are we going to stop the nonsensical suggestion of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Banning firearms that are in the hands of millions of law-abiding citizens, acting under their rights granted by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, is not the answer … nor is it fair and just.  Such an action would be tantamount to banning the use of automobiles because many people are killed each year in automobile accidents.

For those who are objective and willing to conduct some basic research, it is a fact that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens do oftentimes prevent crimes of violence.  

For more information on the subject of guns and mental health, refer to the following websites – http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp#general and “The Tragedy of Mental Health Laws” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 11, 2013, by Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer.

Don Severe
Green Valley, Ariz.

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