Focus on Gun Control and Mental Health Issues

Blue hillsThere has been a lot of discussion about guns lately in the media.   Many questions arise from reports of people opening fire in movie theaters, the workplace, schools/universities, and other public places.  What prompts people to do such things and what can we do about it?  This debate seems to spark two distinct camps of opinion – one consists of the individuals who feel they need to rush out to purchase a gun in case they find themselves in a similar situation and need protection.  The second group argues strongly for stricter gun control to keep guns out of the hands of people who could potentially become dangerous.  This group is in favor of  developing criteria to prevent unstable and dangerous people from obtaining guns, and this isn’t always easy to determine.

I’ve become acutely aware of  how the majority of popular movies, television shows, video games, and books (many directed towards the younger audiences) send the message that guns can solve problems.  These are packaged in such a manner that the reasons for using a gun are clear-cut.  Bad people deserve to be shot.  It is okay to kill someone if he/she is bad, or threatens other people’s safety.  It is okay to protect oneself.  The problem is that not everyone shares the same criteria for what might warrant shooting and/or killing someone.  Some people feel the need to buy guns because of their mistrust of the current government.  The teen that goes into a high school and shoots the classmates and teachers that made him feel alienated may believe he is as justified to do so as the person in the convenient store that is being robbed.  As more of these types of incidents create a new reality, we are forced to take a closer look at how to address these problem.  The immediate solution is to protect ourselves, and it has now become routine practice in some grade schools to have periodic drills to prepare for the possibility of a shooting rampage.

In my line of work, I have the opportunity to get to know people from a variety of backgrounds, some of whom I may not otherwise encounter.  Many of them have experienced the death of a close loved one, shot down on the street because of turf wars or simple disagreements.  One woman lamented that in “her day” fights were solved on the street by physical fighting.  That step is now skipped for a more immediate and permanent solution, and many consider having a gun as their only real hope for protection.

Guns can be found in many middle class homes as well, for use as a means of defense against potential intruders, as collector’s items, or as a form of recreation via hunting or target practice.   When these guns are not locked and stored properly, they may fall into the hands of the innocent child, a despondent lover, or someone who carelessly mishandles or uses them as a means of intimidation, often leading to grave consequences.

Many people want the right to carry a gun, but how many would you trust to handle them appropriately.  There are far too many accidents and senseless deaths caused by carelessness and lapses in judgment, and this warrants a serious look at how to deal effectively with the new issues we face.  We live in a time when, with a click of a button via social networking, people can organize large group events of a violent nature, stockpile weapons for an extremist cause, and derive a false sense of security about their personal protection without taking proper responsibility.

As with many other social issues, those with mental health issues are often singled out as the biggest threat to their community.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) posted a thought-provoking article (click on NAMI article below) which raises concerns about the over-simplification of who should be able to possess guns.  In reality, those with mental illness  are no more likely to commit a violent crime than the general population, as this recent NAMI article clearly illustrates.   Ultimately the issues of gun safety are much more complex and require a closer look to determine the best way to ensure that the responsibility is shared by everyone.

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