We have just passed the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown Connecticut. As a result, more and more state legislatures are beginning to examine the real cause of such tragedies – and it's about time!
On December 20, 2012, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook elementary school and opened fire. By the time his rampage was over, six staff members and 20 children were dead. Only later would we learn that before going to the school, he had fatally shot his mother as well. The incident ended when Adam turned the gun on himself. In all, 28 people died that day.
As usual, politicians and pundits were quick to rush to judgment and declare a lack of sufficient gun laws in this country. But, as usual, they missed the true issue. Thousands of gun laws on the books don't seem to deter these tragedies, so what is the real cause?
The shootings at Sandy Hook were the second deadliest mass killing by a single shooter since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. In that case, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks. There are glaring similarities here that go way beyond the obvious of school shootings. In both cases, the assailants had a very serious mental illness – and both had sent loud clues that they desperately needed help.
The 2013 report from NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) offers a glimmer of hope for those who are crying out for help – and for the first time, in a long time, America may be truly hearing those cries.
Since Sandy Hook, dozens of states have stepped up and restored or increased funding for mental health care. Fox News noted that, "States struggling to make ends meet during the recent recession cut more than $4 billion from their mental-health budgets from 2009 through 2012." NAMI points out now 37 states have increased spending on mental health care, with Texas leading the charge with a $259 million increase in their new two-year budget.
The problem of not compassionately and aggressively caring for those with mental illness dates back to the 1960's when patients were deinstitutionalized, under the argument of violation of civil liberties. Unfortunately, that leads to thousands of people getting caught in an ugly cycle of living on the street until some behavior choice lands them in jail. Once in jail, rather than being hospitalized, these patients are released again in a process known as "streeting."
This makes our jailhouses de facto mental institutions. NAMI estimates our county jails now spend close to $9 billion on warehousing the mentally ill, without getting them the proper treatment they need and deserve.
Last week, Vice President Joe Biden announced a $100 million dollar boost to mental-health funding, which will be a part of President Bush's Mental Health Parity Act. That's a good beginning but we still have a long way to go.
When a madman is in the midst of a full-blown psychotic rage, it's far more effective to care less about the gun he is wielding and more about the state of his broken mind. Healing his mind may prevent him from picking up the gun in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure.