The solution to a bad guy with a gun, it is often said, is a good guy with a gun. Yet according to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, D, there were 20 to 30 good guys openly carrying guns among the protesters whom Dallas police were supervising last Thursday night, when Micah Xavier Johnson began picking off officers. “In the middle of a firefight,” the mayor said Sunday, “it’s hard to pick out the good guys and the bad guys.”
In fact, the presence of so many guns could have made Thursday’s massacre worse. Officers did not know where the shooting was coming from, how many people were involved or what kinds of weapons they were facing. Innocent protesters publicly toting guns became immediate suspects. Their presence fed the confusion and amped up the danger.
Yes, guns can be properly and effectively used in self-defense. But saturating the nation with firearms also primes the country for deadly violence, making many situations more likely to end in death. Police officers see or fear guns in the cars they pull over, and their adrenaline starts pumping.
Debate about gun laws spikes after mass shootings because their carnage reminds us that guns are uniquely and efficiently deadly, and pitifully under-regulated relative to the risks they pose. Yet gun violence in the United States is also unacceptably mundane, taking one or two lives at a time, all the time, with little fanfare and few headlines. Some of these deaths would happen even if the nation had sensible gun laws. Many would not.
Research increasingly shows there are effective measures that reduce gun deaths without materially infringing on law-abiding people’s liberty: deny firearms to domestic abusers, for example; perform serious background checks on would-be gun buyers; require that gun owners obtain a license. Such measures would not stop every person bent on doing harm. But by making guns less easily available and less ubiquitous, they would make society safer.
Congress steps toward helping mentally ill
In an era when bipartisanship is rare, the U.S. House of Representatives has taken a step toward providing more care and treatment of severely mentally ill people.
The U.S. Senate should take a cue from the House and approve the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.
The bill, introduced after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, passed the House by a vote of 422-2 – not a typo.
Hardly an end-all, the bill doesn’t help mentally ill people find housing, and it definitely is no substitute for far-reaching gun safety legislation. But by approving the bill, the House showed a commitment to an issue that too often is ignored.
The bill seeks to make clear to mental health care providers that they would not be violating federal privacy law if they share information with family members about mentally ill adult children, siblings or spouses. That one provision makes the bill worthwhile.
The bill could provide more money to states to hospitalize the most severely mentally ill people, require Medicare to pay for anti-psychotic medication, and provide greater parity in care for people with physical and mental illnesses.
The legislation provides some money — though not enough — for suicide prevention, to train police to handle severely mentally ill people, and to encourage states to undertake more intensive outreach programs to help mentally ill people who resist treatment.
This bill creates the position of assistant secretary for mental health and substance use disorders, offering an important bully pulpit to advocate for the mentally ill.
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy deserves praise for raising the issue, sticking with it and winning over Democrats.
In this election year, Democrats and Republicans will seek every advantage as they try to win or maintain control of Congress. But they also must understand that mental illness knows no party, and that they all will come away with victory if they provide some measure of care for people who cannot care for themselves.
The Sacramento Bee