Santa Monica Shootings: It's Time to Talk About Mental Health

Authorities just announced that the Santa Monica shooting on Friday was premeditated. This conclusion, which was reached largely due to the shooter's possession of loaded magazines, an extra receiver, a handgun, and a semiautomatic rifle should be no news to anyone. However, this shooting should instead move citizens to once more reconsider how gun laws and mental health play a role in these mass shootings. 

Most would agree that the current gun laws in place make it much too easy for these weapons to get into the wrong hands. Though citizens who have the ability to possess and use guns responsibly by all means should own firearms, a person's right to the Second Amendment is one that should not be as accessible as going down to a convenience store and buying a Snicker's bar. However, we must be mindful that not only do criminals often resort to sources other than licensed stores to obtain weapons, but these violent actions are often, if not mostly, carried out by persons who are suffering in a critically poor mental state. Therefore, mental health, not gun laws, should be our first focus.

Rightfully, many argue that we should in some way limit access to guns and ban all high capacity magazines while conducting background checks for all potential gun owners. While this likely would not increase gun violence or infringe on anyone's Second Amendment right, making these changes would not decrease firearm related homicides in the way that we would hope for. 

As we know, criminals, as citizens that chose to not abide by the law, could obtain weapons by means other than purchasing them at a gun shop. Furthermore, if an individual wishes to be malicious, guns are not the only weapon they may seek to carry out their crimes. As for high-capacity magazines, it has been proven that banning them would not be particularly beneficial in keeping down the homicide rate as most victims are shot an average of two to three times. 

Contrary to the belief that increasing firearm possession rates would help lower crime rates, a recent study conducted by Boston Children's Hospital proves otherwise.   

By collecting data on all 50 states from the Center for Disease Control, researchers found that states with stricter gun laws collectively had a 42% less mortality rate than those with minimal gun laws. By the same token, however, since observing states and their respective mortality rates individually does not provide a consistent cause and effect pattern nor does it highlight the laws that work against gun violence, the study is overall inconclusive.

While our knowledge about the relationship between certain gun laws and the gun violence rate is somewhat limited, what we do know is that most of these cases have involved perpetrators who have either suffered from documented mental illnesses or were going through serious emotional distress. In the LA Times's timeline entitled "Deadliest U.S. mass shootings," the paper highlights the circumstances of incidents of mass gun-related violence that occurred from 1984 to 2013, many of which mentioned that the shooter had experienced or was experiencing some degree of mental anguish.

To start, these tragedies are deeply devastating, but what is an equal travesty is that a mass murderer can escape a jail sentence with an insanity plea, as James Holmes is currently attempting to pull off. In all actuality, though, anyone who commits such violent crimes must have been suffering some level of insanity whether it was fleeting or long-term. Since this is the case and it only bolsters the argument that guns do not kill people, rather people do, we must not automatically fall victim to the mindset that arms are the main issue we must tackle.

Although it is unfortunate that society has placed a stigma on mental health issues, this stigma is a product of the overall lack of awareness on such issues. We must combat this poor understanding of mental health by informing the public and offering a wider range of affordable healthcare access to help those who otherwise would not seek out medical attention. Mass shootings are not just topics of violence and gun legislation. Gun violence is a public health issue and we must work towards addressing the root of the incidents, the perpetrators' mental states, in order to help prevent these arms-related tragedies from occurring.

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