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Our View: Not just one answer to stop school shootings

Gun control laws and the treatment of the mentally ill must be addressed to decrease mass shootings.

Emilio Aldea

Emilio Aldea

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When you Google “number of…” today, the top three search options are “number of school shootings in 2015,” “number of guns in the U.S.” and “number of allowances.”

Nearly everyday this year there has been a mass shooting, according to shootingtracker.com. Mass shootings, or massacres, are defined as the “savage killing of a considerable number of people,” according to Webster’s Dictionary.

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012, there have been 45 mass school shootings. On Thursday another shooter took aim and opened fire, this time on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

In the aftermath of this most recent school shooting, we have seen pictures of students crying, learned what is on the shooter’s Facebook page and watched a growing gun control debate on Twitter and T.V., all of which is to be expected after seeing so many of these recently.

But what is sadly most predictable with these shootings is the wall that gets erected between both sides of the issue.

Mantras like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” get tossed out as a way to reduce the issue to its simplest form. And then everyone has to line up behind Team Gun Control or Team Mental Health.

Instead we talk about it until we run out of steam, then let the outrage fade and reset the conversation for the next shooting that will occur. And in the end, there is no movement on either issue.

But here is the thing, why can’t both be right?

Why can’t we put more effort into treating mental health issues in this country? And why can’t gun enthusiasts acknowledge that some limitations could help prevent these shootings?

According to a study done in February by Vanderbilt University researchers Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeith, drug and alcohol abuse, history of violence, access to firearms and personal relationship stress are signs that can predict gun violence.

What MacLeith and Metzl dismiss about gun violence is the “myth” that mental illness causes gun violence.

“Evidence strongly suggests that mass shooters are often mentally ill and socially marginalized. Enhanced psychiatric attention may well prevent particular crimes,” the study explains. “And, to be sure, mass shootings often shed light on the need for more investment in mental health support networks or improved state laws and procedures regarding gun access.”

Mental health and substance abuse expenditures have risen from $42 billion in 1986 to $239 billion in 2014, but don’t be misled. As a share of all health-related spending, it has dropped from 9.7 percent to 6.9 percent over that span, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Even the money that is spent on mental health has shifted from inpatient care to more on prescription drugs. In 1986, 42 percent of spending was on inpatient care, compared to just 7 percent on drugs. By 2005, prescription drug spending accounted for 27 percent, while inpatient care fell to 19 percent.

But more investment in mental health only tackles part of the issue. Guns may not actually kill people, but a person with a gun has been able to kill people at a rate in this country that dwarfs every other developed nation.

According to a 2012 Small Arms Survey by the Human Development Index, the U.S. had 29.7 homicides by firearm per 1 million people; Canada had 5.1, Switzerland had 7.7, Germany has 1.9 and Australia has 1.4.

It cannot be ignored that a contributing factor is the number of guns owned in this country. The 2007 Small Arms Survey estimated that there are roughly 88 guns owned per 100 people in the United States, which is nearly 20 more than the next highest country on the list.

The truth is that there is no one-stop solution to curbing school shootings or gun violence in this country. But that does not mean that we are also allowed to just throw up our hands and wait for the next shooting to occur.

To see any change in the trend of school and mass shootings in the U.S., we must realize the affect that our failure to do anything has had, or lack there of.

President Obama and Stephen Colbert both made passionate speeches last week alluding to the same point. It is a fantasy to believe that one of these shootings will not happen again as long as we continue to do nothing to change how we support the mentally ill or the regulations of gun use and gun distribution in the United States.

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