Guest Editorial: Mental Health Awareness or Gun Control?

It’s a gut-wrenching feeling to hear about every new mass shooting. The 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida happened so quickly following back-to-back shootings in Texas and Kentucky in late January, not to mention the mass Las Vegas shooting last October. These occurrences raise hefty debates, one being this: are these shootings an issue of more awareness concerning mental health or the need for more gun control?

Some argue that the root of these issues comes from mental illness. There are claims that people with mental illness tend to be more erratic, unpredictable and dangerous, and are more likely to carry out violent acts than others.

However, media sources are quick to shut down the link between mental illness and violence. According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association, “People with serious mental illness are rarely violent. Only 3 to 5 percent of all violence, including but not limited to firearm violence, is attributable to serious mental illness. The large majority of gun violence toward others is not caused by mental illness.”

These statements coincide with those put forward by other news outlets.

On the other side of the argument is the issue of gun control. Ever since the Florida shooting, there’s been a nationwide call for rallies on the issue of gun control, several of which are being student-led. Even President [Donald] Trump is supportive of better gun background checks. However, between Trump and Congress, they’re catching most of the backlash for the fact that there hasn’t been any meaningful change to prevent these tragedies. So what needs to change?

First is the ease in which one can get a gun. Current background checks are found in the form of 16 questions, called the Form 4473. Felony convictions, open warrants, drug use, domestic violence, illegal immigration status, dishonorable discharge, criminal and mental health issues are checked. That seems to pretty much cover the bases, right? However, there is no training for someone who purchases a gun, nor is there any required waiting period. As it stands now, even people on the terrorist watch list can legally purchase a gun. Is this policy sane and safe?

How then does a person like Nikolas Cruz [shooter at the February 2018 school shooting in Florida], who had shown explicit signs of violence, legally obtain a weapon? According to azcentral.com, Cruz had been expelled, had “walked away from mental treatment,” had “sold knives out of a lunchbox, posted on Instagram about guns and killing animals,” and also had previously made threats to students. The FBI did not follow its own protocol to prevent this tragedy, but can more be done?

Do we then turn to what other countries have done to suppress mass shooting? In Australia, after a 1996 mass shooting, laws were passed to ban automatic and semi-auto weapons, in addition to having a 28-day waiting period, thorough background checks, and presentation of just reasoning for owning a gun. However, a law like this wouldn’t change the fact that people can still illegally obtain weapons in our country.

It seems that we’ve gone down a rabbit hole here, because Australia also doesn’t have an equivalent of our Second Amendment, and, some would argue, bans such as those in Australia are where those laws would start encroaching on our Second Amendment.

So, what’s the answer? Do we raise awareness on mental health or do we crack down on gun control?

There may also be the question of “why compromise?” Maintaining a steady mental health program in the United States and putting guns into hands of those more qualified seems like a hefty one-two punch, does it not?

An editorial like this may seem inconclusive, but it’s more about starting a conversation about “What should we do? How can we best prevent tragedies such as the one in Florida?” and ultimately taking action to make change for the best in our country.

A reasonable conversation must start somewhere — a conversation in which both sides don’t get “up in arms” about their opinions.

Seth Shumaker
Student at Wetmore High School

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