Confront violence and mental illness first

Miner / MCT

It should not take another mass murder, like the one that occurred at University of California at Santa Barbara, to make us realize that we have a sinister problem with violence and mental illness.

Apparently, it will take more violence before we seek the right solutions because so many are jumping to the wrong conclusions. Violence and mental illness are the problem; more gun control won’t solve it. The facts are disturbingly similar to the violent murders in recent years committed by young men, but they bear repeating in order to determine if more gun control will stop the next mentally disturbed would-be killer.

A troubled 22-year-old freshman attending the University of California at Santa Barbara turned against his family and society, specifically women who have rejected his overtures for sex. He left all this information in a lengthy 140-page manifesto full of misogyny and social resentment, in addition to a YouTube video. Dubbed by the media as “The Virgin Killer,” he stabbed his roommates to death using a knife, shot and killed two women in front of a sorority house, shot another man on a nearby street, then fatally shot himself. By that time, he had killed six and injured 13 others.

The mourning for the victims was immediate. Just as quickly came cries for further gun control as the solution to the problem.

If only it were that simple.

California has some of the most stringent gun-control laws in the country. Any gun purchase, including by private sale, loan or rental must be done through a licensed and certified California arms dealer. Purchasing a firearm is not so simple; it requires assorted identification, thumbprints, waiting periods and a handgun safety certificate which is given only after successfully passing a written test, valid for five years, that is administered by the state’s Department of Justice. All this before the gun can be taken home.

This killer purchased his guns legally and used his firearms for murderous purposes. He did not choose assault rifles like other modern mass murderers; he chose handguns. He used a knife, just as lethal as the handguns, to kill his first victims. His hate was deeply personal and he was steadfast in his intent to commit murder. There isn’t a more-restrictive gun law in the world that would have deterred this deeply disturbed man from killing innocent people.

By all accounts, he came from a privileged home. His parents appear to have been loving and aware of their son’s problems. He had been in therapy since he was 8 years old. Upon turning 18 and, legally, an adult, his mental welfare was out of their hands. It’s difficult to know what could have prevented the slaughter. We do know that it’s another case of a seriously disturbed young man who was unsuccessfully treated for mental disorders.

Instead of the focus being on gun control, which California has well in hand, the greater focus should be on mental health. Despite having the toughest gun control laws in the country, it did not protect the victims. What about knives, are we to restrict their sale, too?

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday suggests that the killer was overly influenced by violence presented by Hollywood’s entertainment industry. It could be: The killer’s father is a well-known assistant director of the movie The Hunger Games. These movies, however, are also shown around the globe, and massacres do not seem to occur at the same level as in the United States. What gives?

The core issue is that the policy makers and the medical community have been unable to address in real terms forcing treatment on adults who desperately need it but refuse to submit to it. In the past, forced treatment of mentally ill patients was abusive and violated personal freedoms. That must be avoided, but there is no question that we must find a necessary balance.

The issue is extremely complex and vulnerable to malicious manipulation, but violence at the hands of the mentally ill has made action an indisputable necessity. Sometimes policy makers have to take up the hard issues in order to save lives.

This is one of those times.

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