Public safety must be the main concern when discussing gun laws

By Logan Short

The story of Jared Loughner reminded me of Steven Kazmierczak.

After reports came out that the man charged with the Tucson shooting had been kicked out of Pima Community College until he could provide documents from a mental health specialist indicating that he was not a threat to himself or others, it reminded me of how the shooter in the Feb. 14 shootings also had a record of mental illness and psychiatric care.

This wasn’t just a pure coincidence though.

“In school shootings, the person usually has some form of mental illness,” said Alex, a health line information specialist for the National Alliance on Mental Health, who refused to give a last name due to NAMI policy.

I initially wondered if there is any way to keep certain people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns, if maybe when a person purchases a gun, their medical history can indicate whether or not they are suitable or stable enough for gun ownership.

It is no different from protecting people who have conditions that make them unfit for driving from hurting themselves or others. It is simply a safety precaution.

However, prohibiting the sale of guns to the mentally ill would face many challenges. For starters, as my counterpart points out, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ensures the privacy of individual health records, meaning a gun store is prohibited from accessing the medical history of a buyer.

Secondly, if you did not know, guns are very accessible in this country. Whether it be a gun show with under-the-table practices or an illegal transaction from a registered owner to some thug, it’s not hard to “get your gun.”

Research has shown that gun control only works for those who already obey the law, thus people trying to commit a crime while armed do not have much respect for the protocol of buying guns.

Finally, are all mentally ill patients actually violent?

“There is a link [between mental illness and violent behavior]. Most people with mental illness are not violent though,” Alex said.

So just because a person may have some sort of disorder or illness, it does not mean that you should be completely scared off and cautious around them, because that probably would not help their mental stability anyway.

What needs to be fixed, though, is the quality and amount of care these people receive.

“We give states a certain grade for their quality of care. The highest grade we have given is a B and that’s only in about five states,” Alex said.

He went on to say that research on mental illness tends to have less funding, but that, again, it is the quality of treatment. There is also a difficult balance between an individual’s personal freedom to refuse treatment and making sure that those who need it get treated.

President Obama said in the State of the Union address that there needs to be a cut in spending while at the same time better health care for Americans.

Instead of waiting for a delayed response by the disagreements in Washington, individuals can be more aware of their peers who suffer from mental illnesses or perhaps even help.

Do your part to support these people and not let them become isolated, voice your concern for their health to your local governments, and educate yourself on ways to help them out every day.