First and foremost, our thoughts are with all of the citizens of Newtown, Connecticut who have experienced such unimaginable tragedy.
In light of these tragic events, is it time to discuss the state of our mental health system and the epidemic of violence that plagues ordinary citizens now at malls, hair salons, temples and now an elementary school? While the President did touch on the political aspects of gun control at the interfaith vigil yesterday, many say it is not the appropriate time to talk the politics of the mental health system as it relates to gun control. But when is the right time? Is there an exact right time? It may be a matter of urgency rather than decorum when it seems that each incident is a conscious or unconscious attempt to best the last notorious mass killing.
While gun control is obviously the larger political issue, the mental health issue, also needs addressing. But when opponents of gun control assert their second amendment rights and proponents of gun control fight back, the real need for solution gets clouded among a political quagmire. There are possibly policy and legal fixes that exist. These could include increasing waiting times (more than a few days or in some cases 20 minutes) to purchase weapons. But more importantly and perhaps an underlying problem—one no one at least not in the mainstream media has brought up—is the possible effects of psychotropic medication on these young men who are suddenly acting out violently. And this is neither to endorse some gun lobbyists who are using the medication argument to bolster their cause nor to oppose it. But, the medication argument needs looking at. Several of these men have been on psychiatric medication including the Columbine teens and now the Newtown shooter.
Let’s address waiting periods first. Waiting periods are a part of life, rights of passage. Everyone has to do it. We wait sixteen years to get our driver’s license, to vote, to get married. Why is it so taboo to discuss increasing waiting periods to purchase a gun—longer waiting periods? If you are simply purchasing a gun to hunt or to use it responsibly to protect your home, then it’s likely you will not be upset if there is a thorough 3 or 6 month waiting period that involves psychological evaluation, more detailed background checks and simply put—more time. Police officers have to go through psychological training, but the average Joe can just purchase a gun at a gun show.
But the second issue of mental health and its part in these shootings seems more urgent, It seems that more research needs to be done on the effects of these powerful psychiatric medications being prescribed daily. It has been reported that the recent shooter while he had Asperger’s, was also being treated psychiatrically and was on medication. If you watch any TV commercial today, the warnings all say that these drugs can cause thoughts of suicide and if that happens, one should stop taking immediately and contact a doctor. But one wonders, if these medications are that strong to make someone who is not initially having suicidal ideations to suddenly go in that direction, then could they cause other violent thoughts? If these drugs can cause suicidal ideation, then are they not powerful enough to alter the brain in other ways? And if they are that powerful, could one be altered in such a way, that they would not be in their right mind at all even enough to stop taking the meds and call a doctor? Again this is all just speculation, but it’s necessary and important speculation. Everyone is looking at mental health and gun control but are we looking at the source if the sudden increase in mass murders? It is sudden –at least if you look at the last twenty years as sudden–so mustn’t we as a society look at what has changed? The answer is definitive yet to any of us certainly. However, certain factors remain factual. We have always had guns. There has always been mental illness. So should we not be looking at what is different?
If we don’t start investigating the source of the problem, mass shootings by young men with no criminal history in most cases– just as we would investigate deadly diseases or flu epidemics, then we as a nation will likely get sicker and sicker.
Many people would prefer we be quiet at this time of tragedy and reflect. But if now is not the right time to ask these questions, then when?