THE BLOG
06/16/2014 04:17 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2014

Forget Gun Control: Legislate for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Instead

The NRA has one on gun control advocates: Guns aren't a cause of violence. When used for non-sporting purposes, they're a symptom of emotional disorders.

Of fear amplified to irrational levels.

Of sadness and clinical depression so deep that there seems no way out.

Of anger and rage and hatred unchecked by the "filters" most of us have.

Shootings happen when mental self-control breaks down. Filters either organically not there because of some level of mental illness, from bipolarism to clinical depression to rage control issues, or because alcohol strips them away temporarily, impairing judgment.

They come out because we've institutionalized and legitimized fear as a means of allowing everyone from peace officers to the stand-your-ground crowd to take human life with little consequence or consideration.

There is a broad systemic mental health concern. America has a cultish obsession with guns and gun violence that accepts all of this killing as "normal."

We blanche at letting our children see a sex act on a television or movie screen, but the majority of adults, many parents, see little or no problem with them watching hundreds of people slaughtered brutally in a movie or television show, or slaughtering hundreds of people first-person in a "shooter" video game.

Guns touch on the third rail of our most primal fears, which is why the NRA remains so powerful.

They are the magical shield against otherism, Wheaties for those with irrational fears of black helicopters and "big brother" government, minorities, and others with guns in a neighborhood, or a family.

They are phallic power to the powerless: Status symbols of personal power and tribal strength in groups ranging from minority youth gangs to AK-47 toting white gun groups strutting into Starbucks.

Guns generate fear. Gun fear begets more guns.

"The number of privately owned guns in the U.S. is at an all-time high, upwards of 300 million, and now rises by about 10 million per year," said the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action in a firearms safety fact sheet released Jan. 17, 2013. - GUNFAQ

That's an average of about 90 firearms per every 100 residents in this country, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

If 43.8% of gun applications are for rifles, 56.2% of gun permit applications tracked by the FBI are for handguns.

Fewer scared people are holding on to more and more firepower though, as gun ownership per capita has been declining.

While we focus on the deaths, more than 30,000 each year in the United States, if you count those wounded, the numbers skyrocket to epidemic levels.

The CDC reported that there were 73,505 non-fatal firearm injuries in 2010. There were an additional 13,851 non-fatal injuries from BB or pellet guns use.

In its third year, the American Gun Victims Wall, a project to chronicle every news report of a shooting in the United States, connects the dots. Those underlying mental illness issues are expressed in injury and death by firearms that stems from:

  • Mental Illness - (Across a whole range of disorders like bipolar, depression and rage control);
  • Crippling Stress - People in bankruptcies, divorces, relationship breakups, family disputes, or property issues with neighbors where stressers push reasonable people past their breaking point into temporary fits of rage or depression that clouds judgment;
  • Accidental Shootings - Poor weapons handling, poor storage, and bad judgment about leaving weapons in places where children can access them;
  • Substance Abuse - Alcohol and/or drug use that impairs judgment;
  • Low intelligence - People who are not high functioning enough to legally obtain a driver's license can still get a gun;
  • Failure to Comply - Police shoot people stopped for failure to comply 100% with their instructions even when there is no gun visible. The perception of a possible gun is enough to justify a shooting. A wrong motion by a suspect can end in death or injury.

All of which goes back to the root causes, and is why the NRA has been opposing Dr. Vivek Murthy as the Obama Administration's nominee for Surgeon General.

As Bill Moyers points out:

"Murthy's views represent a consensus among medical professionals that gun violence is a major public health issue. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year, about the same number as car accidents. Cars are highly regulated for health and safety; guns, barely. Accordingly, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among many others, have called for stronger gun safety laws. It would be surprising if, as a doctor, Murthy did not have concerns about gun violence and the strength of current regulations."

The gun control lobby has locked in on assault weapons as their target for reducing gun violence because they're BIG violence, scary looking, and they think, rather wrongly, are enough to drive Americans to the polls and to their Congressmen demanding action every time a shooter pops up at a school or a movie theater intent on their own private Rambo moment of glory as their mental disease escalates to acting out on their impulses.

What to Do

There are new attempts at restricting gun ownership by the mentally ill floating around Congress in the wake of the latest spate of mad people on shooting sprees: Santa Barbara. Oregon. Las Vegas.

They all miss the mark, kowtowing to the powerful NRA lobby and chipping away at the edges of the problem rather than tackling it head on.

What do we need to end the epidemic of gun violence? Better mental health and social health policy:

  • Laws regarding mental health need overhaul to allow parents, family members, and caregivers of people with crippling emotional disorders more responsibility, with family court/judicial oversight, of the care decisions of those with mental illness.
  • Stabilizing medications and therapies, in some cases, should not be optional.
  • Appointment of social workers or NGO volunteers to serve as caregivers to advocate with mental health professionals and the mental health system for those whose families have abandoned them;
  • Police called out for domestic disturbances from suicides to family abuse to neighborhood disputes should be trained to make judgment calls, and temporarily cache weapons of a household at a secure location run by the police, write a citation, and allow a judge to review the continued permitting of the weapon in the household, its possible restriction to a firing range or secure hunting facility, or revocation of the permit;
  • Tougher penalties for failure to secure weapons in households to prevent children and teens from gaining access without parental supervision.
  • A federal convocation of state legislators whose committees regulate gun laws to establish uniform and consistent rules for dealing with gun law infractions. A woman in New Orleans does four years for child shooting that resulted from hiding a gun under her bed for "safety." A couple in West Virginia leave a loaded child rifle in an umbrella stand that results in a child shooting and receive a citation;
  • More federal dollars targeted to social welfare programs to improve family mental health to help those with rage and other spectral emotional disorders cope and de-escalate;
  • Get tough laws on carry under-the-influence of alcohol or drugs of any kind;
  • The ban of weapons within a wide radius of venues which serve alcohol. Many mass shooters keep guns in their cars in parking lots and on nearby streets, and return to bars with them to settle scores or perceived sleights.
  • Revocation of so-called Stand Your Ground/Castle laws;
  • Increased police training in less deadly use of force, with annual Justice Department reviews of shooting statistics by all law enforcement agencies to determine if possible intervention or criminal filings against those misusing their badge are warranted;
The Second Amendment stands. Americans have a right to own guns responsibly.

When they find themselves in situations of temporary or permanent mental distress, though, that makes that ownership a danger to themselves or others, the solution to the problem is better mental health, and more police/court intervention, not more people arming themselves to the teeth in the most gun-saturated country on planet Earth.

My shiny two.