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In my previous post I told my readers that we have had close to one school shooting for every day school has been in session since the beginning of the year. There was great public outcry for gun control including screening purchasers, waiting periods and banning all or certain types of weapons altogether. Relatively quickly the momentum seemed to have been lost and the divided popularity of suggested programs by gun owners, NRA members, congressional representatives and anti gun groups resulted in no significant national action.

More appears to have been accomplished by the Affordable Care Act by including mental health care availability for everyone. Many Americans, myself included, think of gun violence as a mental health issue. Even gun owner proponents say it isn’t the weapon but the individual who is in possession of it that is the cause of violence. That would seem to indicate that if mental health care is available and effective many of our violent shootings would be eliminated. I don’t know about your part of the country but here in New Mexico there is a great need to protect children from violence. Since the beginning of 2014 we have had several tragic, preventable deaths of young children due to violence inflicted on them by adults. These didn’t involve weapons but if these children had lived they would have significantly a traumatized view of the human community.

In my community and in towns all over the country some of the greatest perpetrators of gun violence are our police. We have had numerous questionable police shooting in my home town and the department is now under Federal investigation but we aren’t worse than many other places in this country. A recent article reported by the AP stated that  a 70 year old man who was stopped in South Carolina for an expired license plate tag reached into his vehicle to get his cane and the officer who stopped him fired his gun at the man three times hitting him once and sending him to the hospital. Earlier in the month a teen age boy was shot and killed by a police office who was visiting the home of a parole violator and thought the object the boy  held in his hand when he answered the door was a gun, it was  Wii controller. The article went on to state that the training by departments in the use of deadly force and a shoot to kill agenda is a result of a gun proliferation in society and officer’s fear of deadly force by anyone they encounter on the job. Better training is needed in assessing situations and recognizing object. Sure it’s possible that a police officer might encounter deadly force in these situations but I could encounter the same in traffic if I’m honked at in traffic and make an ugly gesture toward the perpetrator. Does that give that person the right to shoot me because he/she thought I had a gun under the seat of my car? Police have rarely been held accountable in these kinds of shootings if they had a reasonable belief that they were in danger.

One evening last week the UNM Department of Psychiatry presented a program open to the public in conjunction with the IDEAS in Psychiatry program (http://IDEASinPsychiatry.unm.edu) The presentation was given by Jeffrey Swanson, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Duke University School of Medicine.Dr. Swanson’s topic was The Truth about Gun Violence and Mental Illness.(available on youtube) He began by identifying the various examples of gun violence prevalent in our communities today. He stated that 60% of the American public believe that Schizophrenics are potentially violent. He pointed out that five times as many people died of gun violence in the last 10 years as died in the ten years of the Vietnam war. He then revealed the data that shows fewer than 5% of shooters are identified as mentally ill. Duke University’s study in Connecticut showed that 90% of gun violence were committed by people without an identified qualifying mental illness.

Since the Constitution provides for right of gun ownership to the public it seems the most we can do is to limit ownership or what kinds of guns will be available to citizens. However, that doesn’t leave us with as bleak a picture as it would seem. Some of the things that have been suggested are creating healthier communities that reduce the terrible trauma kids are exposed to, thus reducing those who may grow up to be perpetrators of violence, treatment in a timely and effective manner of those people with mental health and substance abuse problems with programs that are palliative and not punitive can greatly reduce violent crime and violence in families. Providing families with programs that create hopefulness for a future with a living wage and opportunities for education can create a healthier community. If these things are put into place the result would be that we could be living in a much less violent society. These programs combined with responsibility for gun ownership, screening of the purchaser and an overhaul of police practices could greatly reduce violence and the atmosphere of fear that permeates our culture today.

Intelligent people must take action to change the direction we are going or we will live with the dire consequences of the lawless wild west mentality that seems to be the direction some lawmakers are headed with laws like “stand your ground” that allow individuals to prey on children and others who “look criminal” or “play hoodlum music”.

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