Investment in mental health might provide some answers

op frBy Bob Scott • Guest Columnist

After the killing of 26 children and adults by a young man using a semi-automatic gun best used for combat, the knee-jerk reactions have begun.

Politicians on the Democrat side of the aisle are calling for assault weapon bans. Some Republicans are saying we need more guns. Others are claiming that if we arm more people, they will stop a shooter. If more people carry guns, there will be less crime. Schools should have armed guards. All of these solutions are inconclusive. However, 19 mass killings in the past five years have produced no reasonable answer to this terrible national problem. Stronger gun control will probably have no effect as there are more than 300 million guns in our society. It would be impossible to round up these guns or even attempt to register them.

Mass killers are different from serial killers. Serial killers kill an individual and then kill again after a cooling off period. Mass killers kill as many people as they can in one incident and sometime kill themselves when law enforcement arrives.

There is no profile of a mass killer. There are patterns to mass killings. There are similarities mass killers share. Usually they are young white men, who are angry loners suffering mental disorders. Those close to them often know they very disturbed but usually feel helpless to do anything.

What triggers these acts? Is it violent video games? The mindset spread by the National Rifle Association that none of us should go out of our houses without being armed? Violent movies/TV? Permissive parents? Society?

We really do not know. We often do not see these violent acts coming. After the perpetrator kills himself or is killed by law enforcement officers, we can only look for clues in the young man’s background or at the crime scene. All too often the clues are there, but we had overlooked them until it was too late.

As a former deputy sheriff responsible for issuing concealed handgun permits, I can tell you that in North Carolina, the process is brief. The gun training and background check to receive a permit is cursory at best. Thorough background checks are non-existent. To do a thorough background check would put hundreds of officers out on the streets talking to neighbors, family members, and employers about a person seeking a permit. In addition, officers would have to check with private and public providers in the mental health fields. Therein lays another obstacle. The privacy laws that are out there could preclude anyone giving a true, objective opinion on a permit applicant’s mental stability.

Like so many of us, I lost sleep over what happened at Newtown, Conn. I am a proponent of controlling military assault type weapons and ammunition magazines that allow a gun to be fired over and over without reloading. I am also against the public being able to buy ammunition that explodes/expands in a person’s body leaving horrible wounds. That’s not sporting/target shooting ammunition. That’s ammunition meant to kill and maim. But any person can buy and shoot this stuff.

I believe politicians and the nation should wake up to the immediate need to look at our mental health system and the deficiencies in treatment of the mentally ill. There was a day when people such as these killers were put into state mental hospitals. They were taken out of society because they were a danger to society. But, as we’ve seen in North Carolina, the cutbacks to mental health facilities is appalling.

Medicating and strict supervision of the dangerous mentally ill is not protecting society.

Jails, prisons, outpatient clinics, tranquilizers and emergency rooms are no substitute for institutions that deal with the most dangerous in our society. All of the mass killers in the past five years were living and functioning in society.

Is it cruel to suggest we once again begin looking at taking the dangerous mentally ill off the streets? Is it not time to ask our legislators to look at the problems mental illness causes in society? Is it in society’s best interest to continue cutting mental health funds?

Bob Scott is a resident of Franklin. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, a law enforcement instructor and has degrees in criminal justice. He served as executive officer of the Western Carolina University Police Department until his retirement. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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