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December 19, 2012

KITCHELL: A problem that goes beyond guns

In various communities across the nation, the debate continues over how to prevent another school tragedy such as the mass killing of children in Newtown, Conn., last week.

While some have made this moment a time for a discussion on gun control — and this is an appropriate time to have that discussion — it also is a time to look beyond the gun issue as a way to solve the problem.

If every legal gun owner did what one did last Friday to more than 20 people who were innocent, unarmed victims, guns would be outlawed. Even if there were more stringent gun laws, what happened in Connecticut may not have been stopped by a law. Laws have a way of being broken every day.

What is clear is that  the shooter in this case — and in several others — had problems beyond carrying guns. While the nation has been proactive in passing legislation such as the Brady Bill to screen handgun sales, the nation has done little to screen adults and children for mental illnesses – or enough to treat them properly.

Granted, we don’t know whether mental health treatment could have prevented  this tragedy. What we do know is that this person was a recluse who had a history of social problems. What we do know is that a congresswoman named Gabby Giffords of Arizona nearly lost her life and some around her at a town meeting did lose theirs.

To that end, we no longer have those types of meetings in Logansport and many other communities because of the potential threat of violence. What we do know is that a gunman also killed innocent people in Colorado who were simply trying to enjoy a movie drama and didn’t want a real-life drama that left customers dead.

These problems occur when places such as Four County Counseling Center in Logansport, Peru, Rochester and Winamac are not adequately funded to serve the people who truly need services. Since there is a stigma attached to mental illness and the mental health industry has a limited political influence in Washington and state capitals, the need for funding to deal with chronically mentally ill people may not be met. There are few public service ads describing what mental illness is and where treatment can be found. There are few insurance companies that aggressively tout the benefit of mental health treatment as a necessary coverage because it adds cost to premiums.

But if we all could pull together and work just a bit harder at ensuring there is treatment available for those who need it and that those who need it know where to get that treatment, tragedies that can’t be prevented with more gun control or locks on school doors could potentially be prevented.

On Friday, this issue affected Newtown, Conn., worse than anything else in the community’s history. It could affect Logansport, Peru, Rochester, Delphi or Winamac tomorrow. Because of that, it potentially affects us all.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at ptnews@pharostribune.com.

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