There is a frightening cry in this country to address the crisis in gun violence in this country by protecting us from the dangers of “the seriously mentally ill” despite widespread knowledge that there is no such danger. Recent tragedies have brought that cry to a roar. The consensus is that nothing can be done about guns and we have to do something because… well we have to do something. Politicians understand clearly who you make mad about trying to solve a problem is often more important than the problem you solve and few are willing to tangle with the NRA. It is much easier, less politically dangerous, and much more likely for something to actually happen if we can make the problem of gun violence and the problem of mental health reform the same thing.
It is a little like the old story of the man searching under the street light for a lost wallet. Someone comes up and asks him if lost his wallet under the lamp and he responds “No…. I lost it over there… The light is just better over here…” The light is much brighter with the “mentally ill.” It is not nearly so dangerous to your political health.
The path ahead is dangerous for us , but it is not simple for them. There is a lot of time to make a difference. Your voice counts. If I have counted correctly there are four different mental health reform bills in the Senate and three in the House. Sens Murphy and Cassidy, Alexander, Cornyn, and Franken all have introduced bills. Rep.McSalley and Rep. Collins has joined Rep. Murphy Bill . Sen. Murphy and Cassidy have the companion bill to Rep Murphy. Rep McSalley has the companion bill to Sen. Cornyn. Rep. Collins has the companion bill to Sen Franken’s bill. There is no companion bill to Sen Alexander’s bill that I am aware of. Sen. Cornyn had said he expects his bill to be “the engine that pulls the train.” For a bill to become a law the House and Senate must pass exactly the same bill. The Senate had said it wants to reconcile all these bills into one. Some of the provisions so important to Rep Murphy are not real popular in the Senate. The task of coming up with one bill to give the President is formidable and anything but a sure thing.
But make no mistake the push is real and with the pairing of gun violence with mental health reform the push is that much more intense. It seems to me it will become more dangerous both legally and socially to have a mental health diagnosis and I wonder how many people will eventually just choose to avoid the system. I wonder if we will not open a door to a path destructive to so many people in so many ways.
Can we simply build a system that treats people as people and regards people with problems or issues in their life as no less people? Can we build a system that defines helping others as an exercise in honesty rather than one in protecting and accumulating status and turf and power? I don’t know the answer, but that is the question before us. Will we be defined as a danger and source of injury to public welfare or will we be welcomed as equal partners in a country that promises “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all?
Please speak out against the hysteria facing us. Gun violence is a serious problem but this is the time to refuse to be a convenient diversion or sacrifice for people trying to manipulate the fear and horror so many of us have experienced in recent months for political gain.