In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Gun advocates just change the subject

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.comDecember 17, 2012 

They need to change the subject. Turn the conversation away from questions about assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and 26 first-graders and teachers mutilated by high-velocity bullets on a cold Connecticut morning.

Gun advocates — a polite term after the seventh mass murder of 2012 — would rather not fumble around on TV just now, trying to invent a sane-sounding rationale that pretends to find civic good in the easy commercial availability of military weaponry. Or that target shooters and deer hunters and homeowners need the firearm technology that enabled a single gunman to bring carnage to two elementary school classrooms in just under 10 minutes.

So they prevaricate, waiting for this latest gun massacre to lose its political urgency. As U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida’s own champion of unfettered gun rights, tweeted: “I hope we can take a break from the politics of shooting for a few days to mourn.” Or, perhaps, to forget.

Deflecting the topic

Another tactic turns the conversation away from the insane proliferation of high-powered weaponry to another common factor in gun massacres — mental illness. Or rather, the national failure to provide adequate mental health services.

The mass murder in Newtown, like so many others, was about the confluence of a mentally afflicted young man and an availability of lethal, rapid-fire firearms.

The horribly troubled Adam Lanza was not so different from James Holmes, whose madness led him to a movie theater in Colorado. Holmes and Jared Loughner, who fired off 31 shots in less than 30 seconds at an Arizona political rally, and Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, were all unhinged and in urgent need of medical intervention.

The sad connection

They’re half-right, those who’d rather talk about mental illness than guns. Mental health services are disgracefully underfunded, particularly in Florida, which spends less treating the mentally ill than any other state but Texas.

Most of what little treatment Florida doles out is delivered behind bars. Need treatment? Then get yourself arrested. Get all the meds you need at a joint like the Miami-Dade County Jail, which, with 1,200 beds taken up by inmates with serious mental disorders, ranks as the state’s largest mental health center. Other urban jails are not far behind.

Florida, with its gun-fetish Legislature, has created a near-perfect formula for tragedy — too many easily obtainable, wildly lethal guns and too little in the way of mental health services.

Worse, in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, forbidding a psychiatrist, or any physician, from asking a patient — someone like Adam Lanza — about his access to firearms.

A federal judge declared that law unconstitutional, but the state, with Gov. Rick Scott’s blessing, with your tax dollars, has taken the fight to a federal appeals court, trying to get the gag law reinstated.

That way if a physician comes across a Florida version of Adam Lanza, simmering in homicidal delusions and thoughts of his mama’s AR-15. . . the doc can’t ask.

That’s another gun conversation that can’t be had.

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