When it comes to evaluating gun violence and death in the United States, opinions begin to unify around the belief we have more than a civilized society should. While America may be more divided now by race and politics more than at any other time since World War II we remain unified in our rejection of violence within our society.
Our common refrain is peace on earth, goodwill to man, our approach to obtain such a vision is as diverse as it is elusive. Our desire as noble and honorable it may be can be misdirected and detrimental to our goal.
Recently President Obama addressed the nation to offer his view on gun violence and his thoughts as to how to address the issue. His personal frustration with Congress and the voice from the “people’s house” he vocalized his thinking and actions. Much of what he said, related to the issue of gun control in some form.
Too often solutions to problems are a smoke screen to further an agenda more than to solve the problem. Sometimes the solutions bring more difficulty than the original problem. Sometimes our desire to address a problem is so strong it overrides our judgement and fogs our thinking. This could be just one of those times.
The President wants the Department of Health and Human Services “to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.” On the surface this sounds like a reasonable wish, but be careful what you wish for. The object is to limit access to guns for people challenged by mental illness, not to discourage those same folks that need help from seeking treatment.
Many times minor problems be they mental or physical start with small issues that if treated early can prevent more serious issues at a later time. When we discourage early treatment for mental illness it is easy to draw the conclusion that we exacerbate the problem and increase the odds of a more serious consequence at a later date.
For example if we consider the treatment of depression as a reason to prohibit the possession of a firearm we greatly reduce the number of people allowed to have a firearm but we also provide an reverse incentive to seeking treatment for even a minor issue. The mere treatment for mental illness does not make a person a maniacal psychopath on the edge of violent eruption to harm themselves or others. It is precisely that type of thinking that has created a bias and reluctance for people to seek the help they may so rightly need.
Before you jump on the bandwagon to address gun violence by stigmatizing the treatment of mental illness, let us not throw out the baby with the bath water. Let us be careful what we wish for, let us not move forward with thinking fogged by politics or hidden agendas.