Our Voice: Kennewick needs to back its gun control letter with action on mental health

March 24, 2013 

The Kennewick City Council opposes proposed state legislation requiring universal background checks for gun transfers.

We understand the decision. Council members raise valid concerns that the requirement would tie up police with background checks when they should be patrolling the streets and that it would be at the city's expense.

But the letter that resulted from the council's discussion over gun control touched on another issue that most piqued our interest.

Drafted by conservative Councilman Bob Parks and endorsed by the entire council, the letter to the National League of Cities points to mental health as the core of the issue with gun violence.

"We have come to the consensus that your support of mandatory registration of all handguns, ammunitions bans and creating more bureaucracy with federal oversight is not the answer to solving gun violence," the letter states.

The letter goes on to say that the league is overlooking "the real problem of mental health" in its efforts to put restrictions on gun purchases. To its credit, Kennewick officials said they would "welcome being part of the solution regarding mental health reforms relating to gun violence."

The perpetrators of many of the recent mass shootings showed signs of mental illness, even if they were not being treated or had not yet been diagnosed.

Quite frankly, who in their right mind goes on a killing spree?

Adding more laws aimed at preventing such folks from gaining access to guns isn't a promising approach, however. It's really hard to stop crazy people from their objective. They'll find a way to get a gun, whether it means stealing firearms or asking friends to buy guns for them.

And firearms aren't the only way a person intent on causing harm can carry out an attack. A young man who had been acquitted of assault by reason of insanity and held at Eastern State Hospital for the maximum five years returned to our community last year and brutally murdered his grandmother. And he didn't use a gun.

The Kennewick City Council has hit the nail on the head: The most significant issue is the lack of mental health care in this country. It's downright shameful.

And we're not just talking about a system to deal with the truly deranged who carry out unspeakable acts of violence and horror. We're also talking about the lack of care for everyday folks with mental health challenges of varying severity.

Our friends, our neighbors, our relatives, our veterans. The lack of access to mental health care -- and the stigma still attached to needing help with those issues -- are ample evidence of a pitifully inadequate system.

And where there is care, it's limited or hard to get to or closed on weekends.

Just last month, the Herald reported a spate of suicides, including a 14-year-old boy and a 27-year-old mother. Additional resources and education are clearly needed in our community.

Much discussion has been given to a consolidated crisis response center in the Tri-Cities, but it has yet to come to fruition. Bad things will happen and good people will go untreated or worse if we don't do more for our citizens.

Awareness is a good first step, but to make real progress, community leaders will need to do more than write a letter.

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