America’s leaders must offer more than prayers in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting. President Trump, members of Congress and state lawmakers should be spurred to enact more effective policies that will reduce the risk of future massacres.
We’ve been here too many times before and heard the same excuses for inaction. Trump tweeted Sunday to blame mental illness, but this president has proposed a 20-percent cut in mental health care funding and has supported legislation that would let states discard mandates for insurance to cover mental health care.
One of his first acts as president was to sign a bill that nullified an Obama Administration rule that would have made it more difficult for 75,000 people disabled by mental illnesses to buy guns. That law, supported by the NRA, negated a rule that would have added persons receiving Social Security checks due to mental illnesses and people unable to handle their own affairs to the national background check data base, according to a Feb. 26 NBC news report.
Paul Gionfriddo, president of Mental Health American, was correct to call the Sunday massacre “a preventable tragedy.”
“One of strongest predictors of future violence is past violence,” Gionfriddo said. “Most people with mental health concerns are never violent,” he noted, adding that: “The system on which the victims of this horrifying assault will now rely — is broken. Many people who need treatment for a variety of mental illnesses, including PTSD, cannot get it due to lack of access and affordability — and policymakers force too many to wait until a crisis stage before asking for help.”
In the Texas case, the failure of the U.S. Air Force to notify the FBI of the shooter’s 2012 conviction for domestic violence allowed him to legally purchase guns from licensed dealers. How many other domestic violence convictions haven’t been reported? It’s a federal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison for “prohibited persons” to possess guns, but what efforts actually are made to ensure that felons and domestic abusers no longer possess guns?
Even when convictions are properly entered into the background check data base, guns can still be purchased from unlicensed dealers in 31 states, including Montana.
Federal law prohibits possession of firearms or ammunition by felons, drug addicts or persistent drug abusers, aliens, persons adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to mental institutions, persons subject to a domestic restraining order, persons with a prior misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, fugitives from justice, and persons dishonorably discharged from the military. In Montana, rights to gun possession are restored when the offender is no longer on probation or parole.
Using FBI data and media reports, Everytown for Gun Safety analyzed shootings involving four or more deaths that took place between January 2009 and December 2016 and found that 54 percent were related to domestic violence and 34 percent involved a shooter who was legally prohibited from possessing firearms.
In Montana, 75 percent of deaths reviewed by the state domestic violence fatality commission since the year 2000 involved guns. The number of deaths from domestic violence hit record highs of 18 in 2015 and 25 in 2016 in our state. Up to five people have been killed in a single incident of domestic violence reviewed by the Montana commission.
People who have a history of violence shouldn’t have guns. People who can’t take care of themselves shouldn’t have guns. People who have committed felonies shouldn’t have guns. Actually preventing these “prohibited persons” from possessing firearms requires action from statesmen and women who are willing to stand up to the gun-selling lobby.
If the murders of first-graders in a Connecticut classroom failed to move a majority of state or federal lawmakers to close deadly loopholes in laws, will the slaughter of innocent children at a Texas church service spur action?