12/19/2012 02:56 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2013

It's Elementary: Ample Guns + Paltry Mental Health Services = Tragedy

Let's make a couple of things about the Newtown massacre clear from the beginning:

First, gun control background checks would not have stopped Adam Lanza from getting the weapons used in his elementary school rampage -- he took his mother's legally purchased guns. (In fact, there are 310 million legally purchased guns in this country.)

Second, the 26 children and faculty killed in the massacre are part of the 12,000 people murdered by guns in this country in one year. A number greater than that commit suicide by guns every year. If these people had died of a disease, there would be well-funded organizations fighting to eradicate it.

Instead, what we have in America is a near-absence of gun controls, 310 million guns, and a woefully inadequate mental health system. It's a recipe for never-ending tragedy. And I'm not just talking about tragedies like Newtown. What about all the times that people have killed others by gunfire in an act of road rage, family bickering, or a squabble with someone down the block? What about all the suicide victims for whom a gun was more available than the help they needed?

Americans are trained by their culture not to seek behavioral health therapy. So if they have issues, the most common reaction is to quietly get an anti-depressant prescription from the doctor.

Even in the 21st century, it's easier to tell people you've seen a plastic surgeon than to tell them you're getting mental health treatment. Just admitting the need for help can still damage careers, reputations and relationships. Insurance companies that give generous coverage for physical ailments are absolute Scrooges in their behavioral health coverage. Families with mentally-challenged kids receive stigma from their neighbors and only the paltriest of government help. Soldiers coming home from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder face all kinds of bureaucratic obstacles getting the mental therapy they need.

Even if some manner of gun controls were instituted tomorrow, they would leave untreated the unhealthy attitude we as a nation have towards treating any kind of mental illness. Until behavioral health therapy gets the same public acceptance as any kind of physical therapy, we will all continue to live, in fear, in a social pressure cooker without a safety valve. And the Newtowns, Columbines and all the tens of thousands of unpublicized murders and suicides by guns every year will continue unabated.

It's time for America to have a major attitude change if we want to stop this.