In the aftermath of the horrific shooting at UC Santa Barbara last week, the victims' families have been calling for more gun control. It's an inevitable response, but those misguided policy prescriptions won't prevent more mass shootings - which haven't increased in frequency - or stop the next Elliot Rodger.
Nevertheless, a memorial was held at UCSB where the victims' families called for more gun control. "It's intolerable...not one more person should have to die because of this ridiculous situation," said Richard Martinez whose son was murdered by Rodgers. This led to the crowd of mostly students giving him a standing ovation to the chants of "not one more."
The family of Weihan "David" Wang, who was stabbed to death by Rodger, also called for stricter gun laws.
Sadly, none of the measures, like expanding background checks or limiting the size of magazines, have prevented the mentally ill, or the criminally-driven, from committing heinous acts against the law-abiding public. It's simply window dressing. Rodgers had three registered handguns with 10-round magazines - and all were bought from federal firearm licensed (FFL) dealers.
On May 24 an unnamed "law enforcement official" told CNN that Rodger passed his background checks and said "nothing has been found in the gun trace to indicate that he shouldn't have been qualified to buy a gun."
This is crucial as proponents of gun control claim that expanding background checks will make Americans safer. However, the expanded background checks proposed last year by Congress would be the same background checks that gun purchasers undergo right now, only they would be done on every purchase, including private ones.
On November 4 Breitbart News reported that the background checks would change over time as more mental health information was available during the checks, but the change would be dependent on information sharing between agencies - state and federal - and a mechanism for sharing/accessing such information is not in place.
Moreover, even after such a mechanism is in place, persons with no recorded mental health issues or prior criminal record will still pass a background check.
Again, the issue of treating and detecting mental illness should be at the forefront of the discussion in the aftermath of this tragedy. Yes, not all mentally ill people are violent, but we need to find ways to prevent those who are from inflicting such damage to the public.
Rodgers' family saw the warning signs; they alerted the authorities. But, like James Holmes and Aaron Alexis before him, they were tragically too late.
Recently, California received an "F" grade from the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a nonprofit "dedicated to eliminating barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness," on their mental commitment laws.
In their February 2014 survey, they list their two criteria:
Quality of involuntary treatment (civil commitment) laws: the adequacy of its statutory provisions to facilitate emergency hospitalization for evaluation in a psychiatric emergency; commitment to a psychiatric facility for treatment; and/or - in the 45 states where applicable - commitment to the less-restrictive option of a court order to remain in treatment as a condition of living in the community.
Use of involuntary treatment laws: the extent to which the state applies its laws to intervene and provide treatment for psychiatric crisis and/or chronic severe mental illness in the population that meets its civil commitment standard, according to mental health officials within the state.
The executive summary reads:
The tragic consequences of ignoring the needs of individuals with the most severe mental illness who are unable or unwilling to seek treatment are on vivid display nationwide: on our city streets, where an estimated quarter million people with untreated psychiatric illness roam homeless; in our jails and prisons, which now house 10 times as many people with severe mental illness than do our psychiatric hospitals; in our suicide and victimization statistics, where individuals with psychotic disorders are grossly overrepresented; and in our local news, which reports daily on violent acts committed by individuals whose families struggled vainly to get them into treatment.
In the U.S., primary responsibility for treatment of this vulnerable and at-risk population falls to state and local governments. The performance of this vital public health function is guided by an array of laws, regulations, policies and budgeting choices, all of which vary markedly from one jurisdiction to the next. As a result, any individual's likelihood of receiving timely and effective treatment for an acute psychiatric crisis or chronic psychiatric disease depends largely on the state and county where he or she happens to be located when such need arises.
Concerning California, TAC says the state faces a "uniquely high barrier" to those trying to seek treat mental illness:
In other states, AOT [Assisted outpatient treatment, or involuntary treatment] exists only as an option for local mental health officials (and, under some state laws, individual treatment providers and/or family members) who wish to tap its power; those who do not wish to use the option are free to ignore it. In California, the nation's most populous state, the option faces a uniquely high barrier: each county board of supervisors must vote to opt in, creating the need for an additional legislative authorization.
So, again, let's focus on fixing our mental health system.