Gun Control and Mental Health

Posted: October 5, 2013 in Commentaries, Gun Control and Mental Health

Gun control and mental health: DU panel takes aim

By Nick Petrak Thu., Oct. 3 2013 at 12:50 PM
More photos below.

What role should mental health play in a discussion of gun-control legislation? Is it possible to limit access to firearms without trampling on the rights of those who battle mental illness? Is a future consensus on gun control within the realm of possibility, or are debates over the Second Amendment forever doomed to inspire little more than growing discord?

All of that, and more, was on the table last night at the University of Denver, where a panel of local lawmakers and other experts tackled these issues and more.

Moderator Fran Coleman made it clear from the beginning of the event that none of these questions would be answered — but that wasn’t the point of the discussion. Instead, it was designed to illuminate multiple perspectives on gun control and mental health.

Hosted by the University of Denver’s Enrichment Program, “Gun Control and Mental Health” featured an impressive panel: state senator Lois Tochtrop, state representative Brian DelGrosso; former lawmaker Moe Keller, who currently serves as vice president of Public Policy and Strategic Initiative at Mental Health America of Colorado; MHAC’s Michael Lott Manier; Colorado Ceasefire’s Tom Mauser; George DelGrosso, CEO of theColorado Behavioral Healthcare Council; and Denise Maes of Colorado’s American Civil Liberties Union.

Nick Petrak
Michael Manier and Fran Coleman.

The discussion opened with the panelists offering brief reviews of their experience, in some cases going beyond the standard bullet points to include statements of personal belief and/or political conviction. “I believe a gun is a tool,” said Brian DelGrosso, who favors the separation of gun control and mental-health issues. “The threat of losing their firearms prevents many people from seeking out the mental help they need.”

Keller told the audience that mental-health issues are more common to American culture than most citizens realize. “One in four Americans are dealing with mental-health issues at any point in time,” she said. “And it’s easier to get a gun in the U.S. than it is to get mental health treatment.”

Tochtrop also called for more attention to mental-health issues. “We need to educate without a stigma,” she said before relating how hospitals frequently reject patients who suffer chronic mental illness. “Many hospitals claim to have only ‘X’ number of beds dedicated to mental-health patients and refuse to admit more once all those beds have been taken.”

Manier echoed calls for higher quality mental-health care, but pointed out that only 4 percent of gun-related crimes are committed by people with a diagnosed mental-health issue. He also noted that 76 percent of the people who misuse guns in Colorado employ them for suicide, adding that “because two-thirds of national gun deaths are suicides, the most important aspect of any mental health and firearm legislation is how it relates to suicide.”

Brian DelGrosso didn’t buy it. “I don’t believe that any of the current legislation will actually increase safety,” he said. “I live my life in public just like anyone else. I have several kids who all go to public schools, too. If I thought any of the recent state legislation would do more to keep them safe, I would have signed it. But I didn’t.”

Tom Mauser and his son Daniel, who was killed at Columbine in 1999.

One of the last questions posed by Coleman dealt with the responsibility of families and the roles they play in seeking help for their own mental-health issues. No one was entirely sure how to answer, but the question inspired some insightful remarks from Mauser, who lost his son Daniel at Columbine in 1999. “We’re not a nation known for being good at intervening,” he said. “Americans place such a high value on privacy that other important issues are ignored and people suffer because of it.” At the end of the evening, panelists fielded questions from the audience. The first came from an older gentleman who appeared utterly disenchanted. “We hold manufacturers for cars and baby carriers responsible for certain regulations, but the gun lobby is so strong that no one even considers it,” he said, thrusting an index finger toward several panel members. “You spent all this time talking and never even got around to the bigger issue.”

Granted, gun control is a big issue with which to come to grips — and the mental-health aspect of last night’s event only added to the complexity. Each panelist came off as well-read, intelligent and experienced — but their divergent perspectives mirrored the disagreement so familiar to any serious conversation about the Second Amendment.

Source: Denver Westword Blog

  1. jColes says:

    1. The fella in the audience who asked the question and made the accusation missed the whole point: the gun is not the issue … degrees of sanity are.

    2. For myself, I prefer that there not be any limitations on who gets to have a gun or guns … good guys, bad guys, nutcases … For myself, I prefer that there be no limitations on when and where one may carry his or her weapon. If everyone is armed or may be armed or both bad guys and crazies think anyone and everyone could be armed, there will be much less violence because bad guys are almost universally cowards who seek out the weak or soft targets … and crazies are usually so indecisive prior to reaching their meltdown point that they’re timid, though seething.

    3. I understand why community involuntary institutionalization was taken out of the mental health tool box — because the old system was badly abused and many people suffered hideous treatments for no good reason — but the old system also generally worked and some very sick people were taken off the streets and given therapies that helped up to the limit of mental medical technology of the era. But throwing the whole involuntary commitment system out because it had a measurable failure rate is itself crazy.

    Today, people who really need help and could be helped despite themselves get little or no help.

    4. What we need to build is a system that allows involuntary commitment and treatment of the mentally ill under strict and pervasive court supervision in conjunction with well-qualified local psychological/psychiatric professionals who must report treatment milestones and outcomes to the court on a regular basis — and the courts must have on-staff persons trained to understand the reports and advise the court on best courses of action.

    So in my universe, a well armed society will be a more polite society and those who need help can get it without their rights being trampled.

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