Their View | It’s not just about guns

September 23, 2013 

Each shocking mass murder in this country, including last week’s massacre at the Washington Navy Yard, predictably increases calls for more gun control. Just as predictable are attempts by some gun rights activists to shift attention to the shooter’s mental health, spouting their slogan that guns don’t kill people, other people do.

For sure, the 12 people killed by a single gunman at the Navy Yard might be alive had the mental-health needs of the shooter been addressed adequately prior to the tragedy that also ended in his death. That doesn’t dilute the need for better gun control, however. It means that’s just one step.

In addition to tighter restrictions on the too-easy access to guns that no hunter or recreational enthusiast must have, better ways must be found to provide mental health assistance to those who need it. One vehicle to help do that is the very same Affordable Care Act that many pro-gun conservatives deride as Obamacare.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the Navy Yard shooting is that Aaron Alexis, while in the Navy and later as a contracted civilian worker, had access to mental health services. But neither the visits he made, nor related violent incidents reported to the police, kept him from getting the security clearances that provided the opportunity to kill so many.

Unlike Alexis, many who need help from mental-health professionals lack the means or insurance to do so. Obamacare will extend coverage to millions of Americans without insurance, including a number who are mentally ill. Instead of ending up on the street or in jail, they will have the ability to be diagnosed and treated.

Efforts to dismantle the ACA are misguided. Obamacare will help more people get the mental health care they need. That said, it’s important to remember there isn’t one remedy to prevent mass murders. Also remember that the mentally ill often are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. And that among the mentally ill who do become violent, many have a substance abuse problem that needs treatment as well.

The following editorial appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday.

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