Unlike background checks or weapons bans, properly treating mental illness can prevent problems before a potential killer tries to buy a gun.
The US Senate is set to begin debates on the new bipartisan gun control legislation next week. While the spotlight has been on what the bill won’t contain — an assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban — there has been little focus on what may actually come from the new legislation other than expanded background checks. According to a report in the New York Times, lawmakers have been “quietly working across party lines” on legislation which will change the face of mental health care across the nation. The Times says,
Proponents say the plans … would lead to some of the most significant advancements in years in treating mental illness and address a problem that people on both sides of the issue agree is a root cause of gun rampages. Unlike the bitter disagreements that have characterized efforts to limit access to guns, the idea of improving mental health unites Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural, blue state and red state.
The emerging legislation would, among other things, finance the construction of more community mental health centers, provide grants to train teachers to spot early signs of mental illness and make more Medicaid dollars available for mental health care.
There would be suicide prevention initiatives and support for children who have faced trauma. The sponsors of one of the bills estimated that an additional 1.5 million people with mental illness would be treated each year.
Mental health care advocates admit that, initially, many were “uneasy” about using tragedies such as the Aurora and Connecticut massacres to “win improvements in care.” And may point out that relatively few violent crimes are committed by the mentally ill. But advocates also came understand that this is the best chance they have to engineer real change in a broken and underfunded system that has not choice but to allow so many who need help to slip through the cracks. Linda Rosenberg, the president of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare said, “This is our moment. I hate the connection between gun violence and the need for better mental health care, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.”
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