A new year in America starts with another mass shooting. Are we going to repeat the same questions, then wait till the next time people die for no good reason except our inability to confront the consequences of conflicting policies?
Each time a male shooter kills innocent individuals with a firearm, Second Amendment activists utter the “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” platitude. Ann Coultertook it a step further: “Guns don’t kill people — the mentally ill do.”
Coulter is factually incorrect, as Sen. Chris Murphy rightly points out: “The reality is the people who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. There is absolutely no inherent connection between mental illness and violence, and to draw one is to further the stigma surrounding people with mental illness. But clearly early intervention and making sure people who are dangerously mentally ill do not get access to guns, but instead treatment and help, is important. Expanding background checks would be an important first step to keeping guns out of the wrong hands.”
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend Coulter is correct, although numerous peer review studies studies prove she isn’t.
Patients on mood medication are required to see a psychiatrist every three months in order to get a refill of their medications, even if they aren’t taking any controlled substances like Xanax or Klonopin.
If one were to follow the argument that mentally ill people kill people rather than actual guns, then why is the number one priority of GOP Congressional leaders to revoke the legislation that ensures mentally ill people can have access to health insurance and thus treatment? Remember, prior to the ACA, mental illness (seeing a therapist or taking mood medications) was a pre-existing condition that was grounds for denial of insurance.
So one has to wonder about the logic, if there is any, behind the GOP’s unseemly haste to repeal the ACA, particularly given that they have no concrete proposal to replace it and can’t even agree amongst themselves what the new solution should look like.
But this is today’s anti-intellectual GOP — they aren’t about to let any logical fallacy stop them. In the early hours of Thursday morning, Senate Republicans voted for special budget rules that will allow the repeal vote to take place with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes usually required to move legislation forward. A picture of legislative courage, which may well come back to bite these cloak-of-night derringdoers in their electoral behinds.
This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation produced an instructional series of interactive maps that provide estimates of the number of people in each congressional district who enrolled in a 2016 ACA marketplace health plan, and the political party of each district’s representative as of January 2017.
The analysis, Interactive Maps: Estimates of Enrollment in ACA Marketplaces and Medicaid Expansion, shows that of the 11.5 million ACA marketplace enrollees nationally as of March 31, 2016, some 6.3 million live in districts with a Republican representative and 5.2 million live in districts represented by a Democrat. It’s not even like the Republicans are sticking it to the blue states. They’re hurting their own base.
There are other ways Republican legislative actions conflict with the “Guns don’t kill people — the mentally ill do,” narrative.
Take, for example, Privacy of Firearms Protection Act, which Florida passed in 2011. Last June, the American Medical Association issued the following statement: “Practical discussion will be illegal if Florida is able to enforce the notion that gun safety is an issue that should not concern doctors. Yet, physicians treat victims of gun violence everyday: their wounds, paralysis, colostomies, brain injuries, depression, chronic infections, and post-traumatic stress. When treatment is no longer an option, we also perform the autopsies. For doctors to do all they can to prevent the public health crisis of gun violence from continuing in Florida, the state should drop its defense of a law that stifles relevant medical discussions that are proven to save lives.”
Not only is Florida still defending the law, but other states have tried to enact similar legislation.
This has a chilling effect on patient care — and it costs lives. A study of OIF/OEF veterans with positive contemplated suicide risk assessments administered in the primary care settings at three Veterans Affairs medical centers found that clinicians documented awareness of the suicide risk for 79 percent of these patients. But they further only documented discussions of firearms access for 15 percent of these patients, even though veterans are more likely to use firearms as a means for suicide compared to non-veterans.
Which brings us back to the Fort Lauderdale shooter, National Guard veteran Esteban Santiago, clearly a troubled individual. From the joint press conference by the Anchorage FBI field office and Anchorage Police Department, we learn that Santiago had several instances of criminal mischief and domestic violence. He left his newborn baby unattended in a vehicle and said he was hearing voices and being forced to watch ISIS videos by the CIA, and yet he was given back his firearm because under current federal law and Alaska state statutes, law enforcement officials had no other option.
As Karen Loeffler, U.S. Attorney for Alaska, explained at a press conference shortly after the shooting: “Law enforcement operates within the statues that are given to them. There is a federal law with regard to having a gun by someone that is mentally ill, but the law requires that someone be adjudicated mentally ill … This is not someone who would have been prohibited based on the information that they had … they work under laws and operate within them.”
So because Federal law requires that someone be involuntarily committed, and Alaska law says nothing, Santiago got his gun back.
It’s long past time to confront the logical fallacies and start making coherent policy. It’s impossible and irrational to keep trying to argue it both ways.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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