Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What could be done to stop the carnage of mass shootings

Was Sandy Hook the last straw? Will the public finally demand action be taken to stop the epidemic of mass shootings?

I can see members of my family who are NRA members and sympathizers rolling their eyes: “Here it comes. More gun control legislation. And there go Second amendment rights.” But I have also seen much public soul-searching about why our society has become so afflicted and some wondering if we cannot lock up those whom we think will commit violence.

The horror of the massacre of children and teachers in Newtown, Conn., had so many of us in tears last Friday. It hit too close to home. A daughter is an elementary school teacher in Jefferson County and the children she teaches will eventually attend Columbine High School, the Colorado icon for the mass shooting violence copy-catted around the world.

Our grandson attends elementary school less than an hour from Newtown and his school was locked down as the tragedy unfolded. Both our grandson's father and my daughter had the same reaction. They pointed fingers at the NRA because the powerful lobby group has opposed even limited measures fearing they would lead to the slippery slope to greater restriction of constitutional rights.

Per the U.S. Supreme Court, we do not need to abandon Second Amendment rights to take reasonable measures. However, the public's repulsion over the murders of young children committed with a semi-automatic weapon will indeed spark federal focus on controlling the type of ammunition, high capacity magazines, and/or access to assault weapons, including closing the gun show loophole. At least the carnage could be reduced by such measures since semi-automatics allow so many to be killed without skill in so short a time.

Can more be done by mental health professionals, society, and concerned family members to stop a troubled person from becoming a mass killer? The answer is a qualified yes. The number of potential incidents can be reduced, but not completely eliminated

During the weekend, I spoke with psychologist Dr. Judith Holland , specializing in trauma and disaster intervention, with Centus Counseling in Denver, a low-cost faith based mental health service . She said that even professionals have only 50-50 chance of predicting who would become violent. However, mental health professionals, police, and families can take action, put a patient in 72 hour hold for evaluation if the person appears to be a danger to himself or specifies a target of planned violence.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper interviewed on CNN Sunday, said he had already proposed more gun control, expanding the “hold,” more background checks, affordable access to mental health professionals, and setting up a 24 hour hotline.

Dr. Holland pointed to the high cost of mental health care and limited insurance coverage as one of the culprits. (Obamacare requires comprehensive mental health insurance coverage). Another barrier to seeking help is the lingering stigma of mental illness which leads to denial and keeping secrets. She believes in more education to change attitudes. Mental illness should be no more a stigma than say, diabetes.

Gov. Hickenlooper also cited the culture of violence fostered by video games and entertainment media featuring the use of semi automatic weapons. I agree. Violent superheroes are part of todays' culture. The entertainment industry must do more than just rate games and movies; it needs to take responsibility for their products. Dr. Holland believes it would be helpful if news reports do not refer to the shooter by his/her name in order to reduce copy cats seeking a legacy of their names in headlines.

Higher security measures and armed guards at theater and school entrances may sadly become more common, but those are only Band-Aids covering greater problems.

This also appeared as a column in today
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