The “Next Big” Gun Control Debate

By Timmy Chu, Photo by Lance Page

Since the July 2012 shooting at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, the debate between gun rights and gun control has raged. Over the last year or so, there have been about 24 shootings on school campuses all around the nation including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Americans have been divided on this issue on stricter gun laws; Democrats have taken the stance to institute stricter gun laws, while Republicans have supported our 2nd Amendment rights.

From this debate, the issue of mental health has risen and may be the next big focus, overshadowing gun control.  Shooters in recent massacres such as Aaron Alexis of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, James Holmes of the Aurora movie theater shooting, and Adam Lanza of the Sandy Hook shooting have brought this issue to attention. In all three of those cases, the shooters had mental illnesses, often accompanied by a troubled past. The issue of mental health has been drowned out by overwhelming emotions that have surfaced in the debate about gun control. Mental health seems to be a large factor in the prevention of future shootings that end up in heartbreak and loss. Because of the gridlock in the gun control debate, Congress should leave gun laws as they are and pursue legislation that focuses on mental health.

When bills regarding mental health have been exposed to Congress, they have been attached to gun control laws that end up getting nowhere. Senators Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire – Republican) and Mark Begich (Alaska – Democrat) have attempted to re-introduce a mental health measure that calls for an increase in training for mental health services in schools, and communities in general. This piece of legislation seems to have bright future on its own as Republicans have heavily supported bills similar to it earlier this year.

The public seems to increasingly be in favor of an increase in mental health treatment as a method to prevent gun violence, and subsequently mass shootings. In a CBS poll from February 2013, 46% said that better mental health services would help a lot in the issue whereas 9% said stronger mental health services would not help much. The NRA also backs the increased focus on mental health stating that the shooters involved in recent shootings have all had severe mental illnesses.

Since Obama’s reign starting in the beginning of 2009, most issues have not seen strong bipartisanship support, but the increased focus on mental health seems to be one of those outliers that many members on both parties can come to agree upon.

Instead of spearheading the debate over gun control with strong sentiments, the public should gradually become more aware of the true issue at hand that has sparked numerous shootings that end in the deaths of innocent civilians. To protect America’s children, and citizens, legislation on better mental health services must be passed. Nothing has, or will, change in regards to gun control so we must shift our focus to more important topics, and those that will gain movement.