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Opinion

Not Guns OR Mental Health; It's Both

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The American tragedy continues with six collegians killed in the sleepy college town of Isla Vista, California.  The deranged murderer then took his own life after a shooting and stabbing rampage.  A victim’s distraught father lashed out at the NRA, politicians and all those who would impede gun restrictions.  In Florida, bullets sent people scurrying for cover in Clearwater Beach.  Myrtle Beach suffered three shot dead in shooting rampage recently.  The carnage continues.

Paid-for politicians continue to espouse Second Amendment rights.  The country continues to bury its dead and treat the wounded awaiting the next tragedy.  It will come – soon.  

Although sensible gun policy is urgently needed, gun rights advocates have it right when they say gun restrictions alone will not end the bloodshed.  There are an estimated 270 million guns in the U.S.  There are 317 million Americans.  Do the math.  There are almost as many guns as people.  There are too few mental health services.

Six percent of Americans suffer from serious mental disorders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.   The Surgeon General states that 10 percent of children and adolescents suffer from serious mental and emotional disorders that cause significant functional impairment.  Ninety percent of those affected will respond to treatment.  About one-third with mental disease remain untreated.  A small number of the mentally ill may pose a threat to society, but most people involved in mindless violence are dangerously mentally ill.

The lack of mental health services point to the nation’s dysfunctional health-care system.  Obamacare scratches the surface of the need for mental health services and a hostile congress blocks all efforts to make our health care system more efficient and better able to capture the 50 million uninsured.  Note, it is suggested that 57.7 million Americans experience mental health disorders in a given year.  Among that number are potential deranged killers walking the streets without services.

Yes, gun control will help.  I advocate for required safety courses before someone can buy a gun.  Every gun should be registered; maximum magazine capacities, seven rounds.  Only authorized gun dealers should sell firearms.  Of course, we need comprehensive background checks on buyers.  Military style semi-automatic weapons should be banned.   Those concerned that we need to protect ourselves from our government might consider moving to some other country.  

I doubt any weapon in the home could stand up to our government should it go rogue.  I served in the Army and would serve again if asked. I do not or ever will fear my government, Republican, Democrat or Independent.  I do not foresee Adolf Hitlers or Benito Mussolinis running our government.

Everyday people are dying due to the lack of adequate healthcare for Americans, untreated mental health issues and gun carnage.  Elected officials are expected to work for the nation’s greater good.  Lately, they seem to be working for the greater good of their pocketbooks.  

There is no question that the U.S. Supreme Court needs to reassess the Second Amendment. Better gun regulation is both constitutional and sensible. And it is about time we fixed our health-care system including comprehensive mental health services.  A one-payer system like Medicare for everyone would be a good start.

Marc J. Yacht, MD, MPH
Retired Director, Pasco County Health Department