Try a different tact on gun violence

September 18, 2013

September 18, 2013

Last week’s mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., was another tragic chapter in our history of gun violence ... one that again left us looking for answers.

Unfortunately, the public may never find a reason as to why Aaron Alexis, 34, a military contractor, went on a rampage that left 12 people dead before he was shot and killed by police. Whatever the motivation, Americans are faced with another moment to act to prevent such terrible events in the future.

One place to begin the discussion would seemingly be with sensible gun control measures. But we know that this particular conversation is more divisive than one that can produce some kind of meaningful measure. After all, if the mass shootings of 26 school children and staff in Newton, Conn., wasn’t enough of a tragedy to galvanize the nation — so that even the National Rifle Association was motivated to come up with constructive and meaningful suggestions — then this latest deadly incident won’t likely bring about change.

Perhaps, though, it can be used to do something when it comes to mental illness.

A former Navy reservist, Alexis had received treatment for psychological issues from two Veterans Administration hospitals. From various press reports, Alexis was troubled by mental illness, including hearing voices, an inability to sleep and paranoia. In one published report, his father said that his son had anger management issues, ones that led to brushes with the law.

It looks like the clear signs were there that Alexis was suffering from mental illness and that he wasn’t getting the kind of help that he needed, something that might have helped prevent the fatal day from taking place. And he isn’t alone in this respect. Adam Lanza, the gunman in Newton, James Eagan, the shooter in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater killings, Jared Lee Loughner, who targeted then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, Ariz., supermarket parking lot, and many others all suffered from some kind of mental illness.

Dealing with these issues and the need for more comprehensive detection and treatment should be a key component of keeping these killing sprees from happening in the first place. As a society, we need to find a way to temporarily confine the sickest individuals long enough to treat their symptoms, without infringing on their constitutional rights.

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