Don Eddins

Often I wonder if our public officials are missing the point on the gun control issue.

Considering the magnitude of the violence sweeping the nation, it’s obvious something needs to be done. From Connecticut to Oregon and many stops in between — including our own Geneva County, Alabama — innocent people are being gunned down at school, while shopping and even at church.

Moreover, while we hear about the mass murders, many times more people are killed in singular incidents every day. A major publication which devoted an issue to gun violence recently noted that no fewer than 10,000 Americans have died this year as a result of being on the wrong end of a speeding bullet.

Debate has centered on out-right gun control to keeping guns out of the hands of the “wrong” people, notably criminals and persons with histories of mental illness.

Both approaches seem flawed or incomplete to me.

As a practical matter, the National Rifle Association is too powerful, having contributed mega-bucks to political candidates, for significant gun control to pass Congress. Here in Alabama, gun legislation has gone in the opposite direction — to allow “packing” almost everywhere. After Charleston, some of the most conservative politicians proposed that church-goers carry pistols.

And who would want to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding persons? Shouldn’t hunters be allowed to have rifles, and shouldn’t men and women be able to carry pistols to protect themselves?

I suspect that the fact that so many households have guns does serve somewhat as a deterrent to unlawful home invasions.

And what about the second argument, that we need stricter laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and persons who suffer from mental illness?

Personally, I think it is impractical to believe that we can keep guns from criminals and the mentally ill. Consider the so-called “straw” purchases, for instance. If a person is an accomplished criminal, it stands to reason that he will be able to find someone to buy a gun for him — probably a weapon with the serial number filed off.

But there is a solution that often seems overlooked in this discussion, that being to devote greater resources to develop more and better medications and treatment options to fight and even cure mental illness.

Those people doing the mass killing and many of those doing the singular murders suffer from mental illness. Just look at photos of persons who have been involved in the mass murders — the young man at Sandy Hook, for instance — and it becomes obvious that mental illness was an issue. Instead of trying to take away the guns or keep them out of the hands of the wrong people, why don’t we work toward solving the mental health riddle.

We have come so far with medications these past few decades, surely a renewed effort to combat mental illness could pay dividends.

Not long ago I watched an excellent CNN special about Glenn Campbell, who suffers from dementia. It spotlighted his deterioration from a truly outstanding performer to a person unable to remember the names of family members. He kept saying on the show, which followed him of tour for two years until he was unable to continue, that he was “all right,” but, “I just can’t remember a thing.”

During one segment of the program, Campbell and his wife were in a congressman’s office. The member of the U.S. House of Representatives pointed out that our country spends more for a single fully equipped jet fighter than it does on Alzheimer’s research for a year.

Think maybe we ought to reexamine our priorities?

I believe a renewed emphasis on combating mental illness could pay huge benefits, enabling good people struck by the debilitating illness to lead normal productive lives. Older persons could lead normal lives longer. Better mental health care could reduce tension on our criminal justice system. A huge percentage of the persons in jails and prisons are there because of mental illness and the fact that left unmedicated they became violent.

Many are in jails and prisons because they turned to substance abuse to deal with their problems. Depressed, bi-polar and/or schizophrenic, they turn to alcohol and substance to escape. They get hooked on meth or heroine and when they have not possessions left of their own to purchase drugs, they steal. We need to stop that horrible cycle before it begins.

My hope for the 2016 presidential election cycle is that our nation will focus on a real solution to the crime and violence issue, that being an emphasis on mental health.

Auburn attorney Don Eddins is publisher of The Auburn Villager and auburnvillager.com, the online publication. Email him at eddins@auburnvillager.com.

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