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Mental health reform is needed after Connecticut shooting

December 15, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
My oldest nephew is 6 1/2 and in the first grade, the same age as the 20 little kids who lost their lives at the hand of a madman yesterday. I look at the smiling pictures of the little boys who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and think of him – his innocence, his sensitivity, his love for his family, his future.

What must my nephew and all of the little kids in America be thinking this week, at a time when they should be thinking of nothing but school holidays and Christmas presents and fun with family and friends? And what can we do to ensure that something like this never happens again?

Talk has turned inevitably to gun control. I don't know if that would have saved those poor children or the teachers who gave their lives trying to save them. In a country where guns have been freely bought and sold since its founding, it would be impossible to take guns out of circulation. The only people who would obey gun control laws are those least likely to use them irresponsibly.

According to various news reports, the evil shooter went target shooting with his mother when he was a child. The Daily Mail Online is reporting that the mother, Nancy Lanza, stockpiled guns because she believed in being prepared in case the world comes to an end. She was divorced from her husband, a wealthy executive, and lived in an affluent section of town with her son. The shooter, Adam Lanza, used Nancy Lanza's legally purchased weapons to shoot up the school on Friday, after he had already killed his mother.

If the various reports that Adam Lanza had mental health issues are true, I would question why his mother thought it was a good idea to teach him how to shoot or to give him access to her weapons, no matter how scared she was of Doomsday. But I hesitate to speak ill of the dead. Who knows what she or the boy's father tried to do to help their son or what prompted this madness? Who knows what they would have been allowed to do, since Adam Lanza was a legal adult without a criminal record?

I can't help but wonder if our mental health system bears some of the blame. It's too hard for people to get long term treatment, too hard to get insurance companies to pay for the weeks-long hospitalization that is often needed to stabilize someone with serious mental health problems and too difficult for families to force an adult relative with mental illness to remain on medication. I don't know that this was the case with Lanza, but family and friends have referred to him as "troubled" and having a "personality disorder" or "behavioral issues." He may have also had some type of autism. The killer in Aurora, Colo., also reportedly had serious mental health issues. The Arizona shooter who killed and wounded so many, including Gabby Giffords, has schizophrenia. What if the families of those men had had the ability to commit them involuntarily before they hurt others? What if the insurance system had been forced to pay for longterm treatment on a psych ward?

While they are discussing gun control legislation, state and federal legislators would do well to also consider changing the laws so some of these people can be forced into treatment before they hurt themselves or others.


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