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OPINION: There shouldn't be a debate about guns and mental health

Moscow-Pullman Daily News - 11/10/2017

Nov. 10--After the recent mass shooting in a Texas church that left 26 people dead, a familiar argument broke out among people on both sides of the gun debate.

Some people say the horrific act of violence was not a result of guns, but of a failure to address mental health. Others say this only proves someone with serious mental health problems should not have easy access to firearms, so more gun restrictions are needed.

We as a society have a habit of thinking problems deserve black and white solutions. So, here's a novel idea: Why can't we work to fix both guns and mental health?

The mental health argument is too simple, though it does provide an easy way for pro gun rights enthusiasts to distract everyone from the fact that this country does, indeed, have a gun problem.

According to a Tuesday Associated Press story, there is a weaker link between mental health disorders and violence than people realize. The Department of Health and Human Services says only 3 percent to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to serious mental illness. A Duke professor said many violent crimes are the result of someone with impulsive anger who has a gun, not necessarily someone with a mental disorder.

So, we may not know exactly why the Texas shooter, Devin Kelley, did what he did or what was going through his mind. But if this tragedy sparks action to address mental health, which has long been woefully misunderstood and undertreated, then maybe there can be a silver lining.

Guns are still part of the problem, though. The fact is that whenever he decided to kill, Kelley had access to the tools that allowed him to do it swiftly and efficiently.

Kelley once threatened superior officers while on a military base, was once involuntarily committed to a mental institution following charges that he assaulted his then-wife and was once caught trying to bring guns onto Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

All of these incidents should have been cause to restrict his access to guns.

Tightening up and improving gun regulations won't stop all shootings, but it can still save lives.

Like mental health, doing nothing about it will only make it worse.


(c)2017 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)

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