Today, Sunday, April 14, marks the four month anniversary of the horrendous Newtown Tragedy. Essential changes regarding guns and behavioral health services are now at stake before the Congress. Tomorrow morning, we can help to effect these changes. We must not fail.
Shortly after December 14, our mental health and substance use care and prevention community united urgently in response to the Newtown Tragedy, where 20 Innocents and their 6 sainted teachers were murdered horrifically and senselessly. Our effort produced a Call to National Action with very pointed recommendations to improve prevention, early intervention, and recognition of mental and substance use conditions in our schools. Our National Call also recommended doubling the capacity of our mental health and substance use care and prevention system.
Two weeks later, our community again came together urgently to provide recommendations on screening for gun purchases and duty to protect. Both were designed to focus attention on the need to assess violence and the propensity to violence, and the need to protect innocent persons from being labeled inappropriately.
Our proposals received a very fair reading from the Vice President, Secretary Sebelius, and Attorney General Holder. Some were included in President Obama’s Executive Orders issued on January 16; others were included in the legislative recommendations the President submitted to the Congress.
The emotional debate that ensued in our national media, in our offices, and even in our communities has linked gun control and mental illness in a most destructive way: The National Rifle Association (NRA) relentlessly has promoted the view that persons with mental illness are violent. Hence, in the NRA view, no need exists for gun control, just for control of those with mental illness. This frame has become a dominant motif. Clearly, it embodies the very worst features of stigma. Probably at no time in our national history has stigma against persons with mental illness been as prevalent or as destructive.
Further, the NRA has successfully clouded and obfuscated several key issues that we now must unravel and address head on.
First, we must be crystal clear: assault rifles and large magazine clips must be banned—period. These weapons do not belong in our homes, and they are not appropriate for sport hunting. They were never envisioned by the crafters of the Second Amendment. If we fail to be clear about this, we diminish ourselves, and we diminish our country.
Second, we must sever the linkage that has been fostered by the NRA between gun control and mental illness. Screening for gun purchases must include an assessment of current violence and propensity for future violence. Screening must not become a litmus test for mental illness. We all know that the vast majority of persons with mental illness are not violent. In fact, they are much more likely to become the targets of violent activity.
Third, we must advocate with all of our energy for the changes to our care system that we proposed in our Call to National Action. These changes are absolutely essential to prevent a recurrence of the Newtown Tragedy. It is both our personal task and our moral obligation to convince Congressional leaders of this stark fact.