Gun control focus needs to include mental illness issues
Much of the focus nationally so far on gun violence has been on firearms control rather than the promised broader perspective that would include addressing the mentally ill.
But Arizona lawmakers are looking at that issue in the current session.
A measure is currently moving through the Legislature that would allow police to more easily detain individuals who are seen as potentially violent and have them held at a hospital for up to 48 hours for observation.
Police in our state can already detain individuals who are displaying behavior that could be potentially violent and put them on a hospital hold for 24 hours, so the changes are not major. One difference is that currently, police must actually observe the behavior, but the new law would allow them to accept the observations of others.
Foes of the change rightly note that many people may seem “strange” to the casual observer but their right to remain free needs to be respected and protected. The problem is determining who is just odd and who is truly dangerous.
Most mentally ill people are not dangerous, although they may need help with daily living. The norm decades ago was to put away the mentally ill “for their own good.” Now the goal is to help them live on their own, and it is possible with proper medications and a good support system. That should be the goal, not just locking up people.
But helping the mentally ill is expensive and funding is seldom forthcoming. Private insurers limit their coverage and government agencies also want to avoid the expense. Is it any wonder we have a problem dealing with the mentally ill, violent or not?
We need to find a solution. But during the current gun debate, few are paying attention to this issue. Both Yuma Police Chief John Lekan and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot agree the focus needs to be on detecting and helping the mentally ill and in that way averting the tragedies that are occurring rather than so much on the issue of guns.
That will require profound and extensive effort from our leaders, unlike another “quick fix” gun law or a minor change in state law on the mentally ill that will likely prevent very little.