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Mental health issues enter gun control debate, rhetoric

Published: Friday, February 1, 2013

Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 11:02

According to Jampel, there is a lack of research on the relationship between mental health and gun violence, which causes un-based assumptions when it comes to school shootings like Newtown. The media has criticized a speculated connection between Lanza’s possible Asperger’s and his personality as an isolated, violent shooter. In a Dec. 16 article in the Christian Science Monitor, psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, assistant clinical professor at the University of California Los Angeles said, “There really is no clear connection between Asperger’s and violent behavior.” 

Jampel suggested that mental health is usually seen in terms of criminality.

“In general, a lot of people feel that guns need to be out of the hands of people who would be criminals, who are so mentally unstable that they cannot control their impulses or cannot see right from wrong,” she said. “There’s a lot of really good treatment for mental health conditions, but when you introduce a thing like violence into the mix, the treatment is imperfect.”

Many pinpoint the way the media portray gun violence and the mentally ill as an important factor in perpetuating shootings.

“I think people would not kill other people if, in these mass shootings, they didn’t get the attention. These are people who, for some reason, either need attention, want attention, or ... want the gratification,” Arnow said. “They want to be remembered -- they want to leave their mark on society. [I think the] attention to which we glorify these mentally ill people is the reason that they do it.”

Despite the attempt to prevent gun violence through the lens of mental health, many argue that guns and gun control remain the primary problems.

However, some continue to assert the unconditional importance of gun control in preventing incidents of gun violence.

“At the end of the day, the debate about gun control is not about who feels alone or how we have a culture of violence in our society. At the end of the day, the debate about gun control comes down to guns,” Anderson said. “If people don’t have these weapons available, even if they do feel lonely, even if they do feel sad or angry, or upset ... it doesn’t matter. Of course it is a problem that people are feeling depressed or lonely, but if they don’t have the tools to kill people, then killing won’t be a problem.”

Daniel Fisher, executive director of the National Empowerment Center, testified before Vice President Joe Biden’s committee on forming executive gun control proposals with the message that mentally ill people are not inherently violent and that mental health should be separated from gun control.

“We need to be more preventive and pro-active instead of reactive. To do that, we need to separate the issues. 

Gun control is a separate discussion unrelated to ‘mental illness,’” Fisher said in a public statement. “We need to create trauma-sensitive communities ... People like the various shooters will be identified by caring others (like neighborhood watch) and rather than withdrawing and brooding into a place of despair, they’ll find people who care to balance out the negative and trauma of their lives. We do not need a formal system of force and coercion to increase the trauma by bullying people into ‘treatment,’” he said. 


-- Lily Sieradzki contributed reporting to this article.

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