My View: Mental health legislation may curb mass violence
September 5, 2013
Nearly every couple of weeks, it seems, we hear of another school or mass shooting, or a bomb being planted in this-or-that public place. Even among my European friends, Colorado is famous, not for its skiing or tourist destination, but for Columbine and Aurora.
'What is wrong with Colorado?' they ask. I remind them that it has become a phenomena in other parts of the world, but world perception is that is it more of a problem in America than elsewhere. The most recent incident at McNair Academy outside Atlanta fortunately ended without casualties thanks to a brave bookkeeper, Antoinette Tuff. Newtown, Conn. has entered national consciousness with the same intensity as does the word "Columbine".
While every incident is a little different, what appears to be common to most — whether AK-47s with 500 rounds of ammo or homemade bombs are the weapons — is mental health issues.
Whatever your stance on the interpretation of the Second Amendment, mental health issues have usually been overshadowed by the debate over constitutional rights. One exception is Colorado. Both tougher gun laws and mental health legislation were enacted this spring.
Where the Second Amendment and mental health issues intersect is in tightening the rules on background checks. If we all agree those with a history of mental illness should not be able to buy weapons, can anyone tell me how they can be policed without comprehensive background checks? I get the argument that these laws would not have deterred Newtown, Columbine, or those using explosive devices, but there are other instances where it could have had some impact, such as Aurora.
One of the deterrents to intercepting those with mental health problems is that seeking professional help has not been affordable. One of the little-noticed provisions of Obamacare is mental health parity. Access to medications and time spent with a professional receive similar coverage as chronic diseases.
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In response to Aurora, legislation was passed in May providing $20 million for expansion of mental health services. Early next year, the state plans to establish walk-in crisis centers around Colorado, a 24-hour mental health hotline, mobile units for rural areas and greater access to 24-hour holds. The hotline will be particularly helpful to parents and friends at wits end about what to do if they fear a child or a friend is out of control or for those realizing they themselves fear they may be tempted to act out and commit violence against others.
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