With Florida being ranked 48th in the nation for Mental Healthcare resource funding we might want to be very greatly concerned about the mix of too many guns too easily obtained, the integrity of background checks, one million concealed weapons permit holders and the woefully inadequate mental healthcare system in our state.
As one who has a social work degree and functioned as a mental health professional working a number of years on a Florida Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) therapeutic team providing supportive services to 100 persons diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness, I believe myself to be knowledgeable to write about this subject.
Trust me, there are many competent and dedicated professionals working in our Mental Healthcare system. However, these professionals are often too over-burdened by the number of clients they are tasked to serve plus the rigors and difficulties that the system demands.
Please, don't even get me started on the reams of documents these professionals are mandated to produce for reporting purposes. Not to mention, caring for and working with individuals whose assessed behaviors are often self-destructive, bizarre and sometimes violent.
According to Mother Jones magazine though, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman.
Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear that their child or another family member will become the next: Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner James Holmes or Adam Lanza.
Here are the facts, currently 1.1 million individuals diagnosed with mental illness and deemed by the courts to be incompetent to handle their own affairs have been listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as being prohibited from legally purchasing firearms.
However, unless a person has been adjudicated by the court to be “mentally defective” (an offensive term in my opinion) or been involuntarily committed to a hospital or mental health organization for treatment, legally that person can purchase a firearm and is not prohibited from applying for or receiving a concealed weapons permit. To further compound the problem, many states are far too lax in their reporting requirements or have differing rules for reporting to the NICS.
To add to this problem, 40 percent of gun sales happen either at gun shows, which are not required to complete background checks, or through private sales. Have you looked in the newspaper and read the guns for-sale advertisements lately? While the majority of those who suffer from mental illness show no signs or propensity for violence against others, still, I can't count how many times I laid awake at night worrying about one of our FACT team clients either harming themselves or others.
Also of great concern, are those individuals who have mental health issues that have never voluntarily sought treatment or been properly diagnosed. These concerns certainly need to be addressed, not only in Florida, but also in every other state in the union. Is anyone else besides myself worried how many of the now one-million concealed weapons holders in Florida have diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues?
Unfortunately, with there now being enough guns in America to arm every man, woman and child, having the best mental healthcare system in the world won't stop those with treated or untreated mental health issues from getting access to a gun or guns and harming themselves or peaceful innocent law abiding citizens. Certainly, there are no easy answers to the ongoing issue of gun violence.
However, if we don't try to change the current paradigm, then we will be left with families grieving the loss of loved ones to gun violence for many years to come. We're better than this, aren’t we?