In a protest marking the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, gun control activists called for expanded background checks for firearms buyers and for banning sales to people on federal watch lists. U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly and survivors of recent mass shootings stood outside of the Fairfax, VA headquarters of the National Rifle Association. The group of around 100 shouted pro-gun control slogans while politicians and activists stood at a podium urging action.
On December, 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, carrying his mother’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S assault rifle, shot his way through a glass panel next to the locked entrance to the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 staff members. Shortly before 9:30 A.M., Lanza shot his mother four times in the head with a .22-caliber Savage MK II-F bolt action rifle. Later, Lanza would shoot himself in the head, committing suicide, as first responders arrived on the scene.
At the protest outside of NRA HQ, Rep. Connolly pronounced, “It was a scene that has been repeated too often in the United States, and just as often, the response to these senseless killings has been inaction on the issue of gun control.” Connolly does have an apt point, there hasn’t been a single, meaningful piece of legislation restricting gun sales since the 2012 mass shooting. Groups like the NRA assert that restrictions on gun sales would not improve public safety, reasoning that criminals do not obey laws. The proposal to ban the sale of firearms to those on watch lists has failed to gain traction in Congress, with critics pointing out that numerous law-abiding citizens have mistakenly been placed on them. Rep. Connolly is also pressing Congress to overturn a longstanding ban on providing federal funding for research on gun violence.
Yet, even unbiased spectators are getting impatient with a seemingly endless cycle of mass shootings, calls for restrictions, and nothing being done. There is one important factor surrounding the issue of mass shootings that doesn’t often get discussed in the media: the current lack of proper and affordable mental health care.
Adam Lanza was diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder at a very young age. This disorder is often a sign-post for autism, which Lanza was later diagnosed with (specifically, Asperger’s Syndrome). Symptoms of sensory-integration disorder are excessive fidgeting, seeking “extreme” situations, and appearing impulsive. Lanza was said to have no friends in high school and often appeared nervous and withdrawn. He frequently washed his hands, and changed his socks 20 times a day. Lanza was fascinated with mass shootings, especially the Columbine High School massacre. Also, he had cut off contact with his father and brother in the two years before the tragedy. At one point, he only communicated with his mother, who lived in the same house, by email. In a 2013 interview, Peter Lanza said he suspected his son might have also suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia.
Here are some recognizable names responsible for tragic mass shootings in the US. Every one of them had documented diagnoses of mental illness: Aaron Alexis, who went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 that killed 13 people, including himself; James Holmes, who killed 11 people in in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, CO. while dressed as The Joker; Seung Hui Cho, the man who claims the title for the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, had severe anxiety and had requested a psychiatric evaluation weeks before his rampage on the Virginia Tech Univ. campus in 2007; and Jared Loughner, the Tucson man that shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people. Loughner’s parents recognized red flags for years but failed to act on recommendations to get their son mentally evaluated.
Following the 2008 global recession, cash-strapped state and local agencies slashed mental health budgets. In present day 2015, those same mental health budgets remain unrestored, leading to a vast reduction in services and quality of care. Families of loved ones with mental illness often avoid treatment due to the lack of insurance coverage and social stigma. I assert that a number of mass shootings could have possibly been averted if U.S. citizens could rely on a competent and affordable mental health care system. It is one thing to take an erroneous position once or twice, but the White House has repeatedly been barking up the wrong tree while Americans are being shot in the streets. Until we address the root causes of mass shootings, I think we can expect to see more tragic headlines on network media stations.