Make This Time Different

On Dec. 14, the United States was hit by another mass shooting. This time, a gunman forced himself into an elementary school and killed 20 children and six adults.

Dec 19, 2012 at 11:34 am

On Dec. 14, the United States was hit by another mass shooting. This time, a gunman forced himself into an elementary school and killed 20 children and six adults. As President Barack Obama pointed out during a vigil for the victims Dec. 16, his speech following the massacre in Newtown, Conn., is the fourth speech he’s made after a mass shooting in his first term as president.

At this point, it’s become clear the United States has a problem, but many refuse to acknowledge it. Immediately following the crisis, those who tried to point out the problems that cause gun violence in America were met with cries to stop politicizing the tragedy.

To be clear, those cries are also a form of politicizing. They are the cries that tell the United States to do nothing and keep the status quo. It is the most conservative of cries — a cry that says to mourn and do nothing more.

But mourning is not enough. Americans know there is a deeper problem. In a poll from The Washington Post and ABC News, more than half of Americans said they now see mass shootings as a societal problem, not just the isolated act of a troubled individual. 

So something needs to be done. Many have begun to drum up calls for gun control in the onset of the violence. It makes sense. States with strict gun control laws tend to have less gun violence, according to a study by economist Richard Florida. States with assault weapon bans, trigger-lock requirements and mandated safe storage requirements all had considerably less gun-related deaths than other states, while factors like drug use, mental illness and stress levels seemed to have no notable correlation with gun violence.

In another study, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found another correlation: More guns means more murders. Whether looking at different countries or different states, the center found murder rates go up as gun ownership goes up.

So it seems clear that there’s some correlation between state policy, gun ownership and gun violence. But that doesn’t seem to be translating to policy changes. In fact, on Dec. 13, the Ohio legislature finished approving a bill that loosens gun rules. It allows guns in the Ohio Statehouse parking garage, changes the definition of an unloaded gun so gun owners can carry loaded clips in their vehicles and makes concealed carry permits from other states easier to validate in Ohio. Gov. John Kasich says he will sign the bill.

That’s despite the fact that the poll from The Washington Post and ABC News found Americans are for more gun control. A clear majority of 59 percent support a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, which were used in the shooting at Newtown. About 52 percent also support banning semi-automatic handguns, which automatically reload when the trigger is pulled.

Still, gun control is not the entire problem. Following the shootings, there have been multiple reports that Adam Lanza, the shooter, had mental disorders and disabilities, from autism to Asperger’s to a personality disorder. The reports aren’t definitive, and it’s important to not profile all mentally ill people as dangerous. But mental illness can play a role in higher overall rates of violence and could have played a role in Lanza’s actions.

In the United States, guns are currently more accessible than mental health services. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found only 7.1 percent of Americans had received mental health care in 2010 and 2011, largely due to high costs. A majority of those — 62.6 percent — gained access through costly private insurance.

But low access hasn’t led to better policies. In the past few years, governments have responded to strained budgets by cutting mental health services. Here in Hamilton County, the Board of Commissioners refused to raise property taxes by $5 for every $100,000 of property value to match historical rates of funding. The move effectively cut mental health services by $17 million next year, from $187 million to $170 million, according to Board President Greg Hartmann.

These cuts are senseless. Mental health care is just as vital and serious as other forms of health care. The brain is an organ, and it needs care and attention just like any other organ. Unfortunately, too many Americans are still under the Don Draper mindset. They see mental health problems as weaknesses, not serious illnesses. That makes this kind of funding an easy budget cut, even if it means leaving some of society’s most vulnerable minds stranded without care.

Whether the public and officials will learn from this tragedy remains to be seen. In the past, these tragedies have only grabbed attention in the short term. Hopefully, with the death of 20 children and six adults, this time will be different.

CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] and @germanrlopez