Alan Barry: No More Thoughts and Prayers, It’s Time for Action

Another school mass shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida and the response has become routine. Calls for gun control on one side and demands for better mental health care on the other. We are becoming almost accustomed to these horrific events and accepting that nothing will get done.

The United States tops the list of countries with the most guns, owning about half the world’s guns while making up only 5% of the world’s population. Only a quarter of Americans own guns, according to the General Social Survey and Gallup. American gun owners own an average of three guns.

We have to accept that gun ownership is a part of the American culture and is protected by the 2nd Amendment in the US Constitution. At the same time, we have to demand more responsibility on the part of gun owners and our government needs to put in place safeguards to protect us. There have been too many tragic events involving guns, especially assault rifles, for us to continue down this futile path.

Action starts with more intensive background security checks for those purchasing guns. It needs to include professional psychological testing. Any red-flag issue that emerges from the screening will require more follow up. It may take several days or even weeks to complete the background check but isn’t saving innocent lives worth it? The President’s proposal to ban bump stocks is a good start but there has to be a determination on why military assault weapons are available to purchase with few or no restrictions, such as age.

These weapons of mass destruction are now the go-to weapon of choice for these murdering rampages. Arming school personnel with guns will only exacerbate the problem and lead to even greater tragedy.

The issue of mental illness and the part it plays in these tragic incidents has become a pawn in this process.

Politicians have turned it into a blame game and finger pointing the problem at people with mental illness. In fact, research has shown that people diagnosed with mental illness are no more dangerous than those without mental illness and are more at risk of hurting themselves. Casting blame on the mentally ill only further stigmatizes them and deters people from seeking treatment.

It’s also a safe bet that raising the mental health issue nearly guarantees that nothing will get done because it requires increased funding for mental health services. Instead, commissions and task forces are formed that are supposed to guide the government on what to do. These well-meaning advisory groups author excellent reports with effective recommendations. By the time the report is delivered, however, politicians have moved on to other crises and the reports gather dust and are forgotten.

After the Sandy Hook tragedy there were two reports written with a series of recommendations. What happened? The state of Connecticut has made available $54 million dollars for school security. On the mental health side, a Child Mental Health Law was passed but with no funding. Effective prevention and mental health treatment programs continue to be under funded and are ironically being cut back.

So we have fallen into a far too familiar pattern of a mass killing, public anger and indignation about why it is happening, the NRA goes underground to wait it out but makes sure that its influence is maintained with contributions, political lip service is given to mental health and gun control and exhausted by the debate and stalemate we wait for the next tragic event.

Will the latest tragedy in Florida be the tipping point? Perhaps children will take the lead and show adults what needs to get done.

Enough is enough, no more thoughts and prayers. It’s time for action.

Alan D. Barry, Ph.D
Commissioner, Greenwich Dept of Human Services