Ever since the Connecticut school shootings, there’s been a lot of pressure on President Obama to do something about gun violence. We’ve heard proposals to ban assault weapons, limit magazine sizes and increase background checks. We’ve even heard calls to limit violence in video games to help stop public shootings. But the truth is, Obama has already passed a law that will go a long way to stop gun violence. It’s commonly referred to as “Obamacare”.
None of the limitations would have stopped the shootings at Sandy Hook, the Colorado movie theater or the shooting of Gabby Giffords in Arizona. Those proposals may have decreased the carnage, but these shootings were done by determined people with mental health issues. The best way to address that is by making sure everyone has access to affordable healthcare and that we minimize the stigma attached to seeking help for this. Obamacare solves at least one of those problems. According to the National Institution of Mental Health, 50% of people with mental health issues will never seek treatment. Part of that is the stigma, but I would argue that a much bigger part is the cost of health care. If you don’t have insurance, you’re more likely to not seek the help of a doctor or therapist. If you don’t do that, you’ll never get access to a specialist and the medicine you’d need. But even if the stigma goes away and you want to seek treatment, you still can’t do that without access to affordable health care. Mental health problems require more than a shot of penicillin. They often require years of therapy and medicine that you would never be able to afford without health insurance.
The second part of this epidemic that Obamacare does not address is the stigma, but the Government can still assist. Some of the shooters I mentioned earlier were getting treatment, but they still committed their crimes. Part of this is because their friends & family did not want to address the problem or didn’t know what warning signs to look for. The “Ad Council”, which is federally funded, needs to launch a Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign addressing the fact that it’s ok to seek help for mental health issues and what to look for in others who may need help. I know that there are some limited campaigns out there on this topic, but they need to be much bigger. PSA programs may be considered “annoying” by some, but they’re affective at getting the message out. I know you’ve heard plenty of PSA’s over the years about “just say no”, drinking & driving, suicide, teen pregnancy, AIDS, etc… but did you know that May is “Mental Health” month? I didn’t, because nobody is talking about it. We’ve all seen the yellow bracelets for cancer awareness or the pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, where’s the symbol for mental health issues? Which celebrity will step-up and bring public awareness to the cause? Which non-profit groups can raise millions to help? Several have done so for gun control, but not for the sticky issue of what to do when you find one of your kids torturing the family pet.
So as we continue to put pressure on our elected officials to curb gun violence, let’s give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that Obamacare is in fact a form of gun control. We can’t seem to get background checks for all gun purchases, but it will help to get checkups for all Americans. In addition to the ongoing federal & state gun control efforts, the public pressure needs to shift to calling for more awareness of mental health issues. This won’t stop all gun violence, but it will stop some, and that’s a step in the right direction.