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We Must Examine the Causes of Shootings, Our Perceptions of Mental Illness

State Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood) talks about America's perception of those with mental illness, gun regulations and putting politics aside "to make a sincere and bold effort to prevent future tragedies," like the Newtown, CT shooting.

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Connecticut — which left 27 people dead — Americans have been trying to find some sense or understanding of how such a terrible act could have taken place. 

As the facts and evidence continues to get sorted out, we must ourselves sift through the speculation and consider that there were likely many factors that influenced 20-year-old Adam Lanza to commit such horrific acts. What we must not do is allow this devastating event to incite more hate and anger and contribute to our already overheated political culture.

While there will certainly continue to be disagreements on matters of policy and politics, we must come together to show support for those lost during the tragedy and engage in a sincere dialogue about how we can prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Fundamentally, this was the action of one man. At this point, there is no indication that mental illness was a factor in the tragedy, and it is important to not make assumptions or speculate in such cases. After all, the overall contribution of mental health disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small. It is important to understand — not further stigmatize — mental illnesses and individuals living with these conditions. What we must take from this is not a fear of those with mental health disorders, but instead a willingness to help those living with these treatable conditions. With treatment, people living with mental illness can and do get better.

As a nation, we need to seriously examine our attitudes toward mental illness. And more importantly, we need to recognize that our nation’s current system of firearm regulation is a real, constant factor in our repeated encounters with these tragedies. While we have long debated the politics of gun control, it is time for us to move past the political rhetoric and have a very serious conversation about implementing reasonable gun regulations.

Over and over again, we have seen the consequences, however unintended, of permitting ourselves nearly unfettered access to own and buy lethal weapons. In just the last few months, there have been two tragic shootings in Wisconsin alone. While these tragedies are themselves too frequent, we also live with the almost constant devastation that gun violence causes in our own communities and across the country. 

We need to put the safety of our communities first, and I am hopeful that in the coming session we will be able to sit down together, put politics aside, and make a sincere and bold effort to prevent future tragedies. This will involve serious conversations surrounding our attitudes about guns and our attitudes about mental illness.  Our children should never fear for their lives or safety in a classroom, just as people living with mental illness should never fear seeking the life-changing help they need. 

State Representative Sandy Pasch (D - Shorewood) represents Wisconsin’s 22nd Assembly District, is the Representative-Elect for Wisconsin’s 10th Assembly District, and serves as the Assistant Assembly Democratic Leader. She holds masters’ degrees in mental health nursing and bioethics. 

Vicki Bennett December 19, 2012 at 12:57 PM
It's really simple. Ban guns. I know the NRA and gun advocates all say that there are too many guns on the streets to be affective. We have to start somewhere. If you hunt, your gun should be kept at a sports club. The only reason anyone has a gun is to kill or target practice killing. Statistics already show that guns do not protect the average gun toting citizen. They are much more likely to be shot by their own gun or accidentally shoot a loved one.
Bob McBride December 19, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Simple but not going to happen. Unrealistic suggestions are no more helpful than doing nothing.
Bill Sweeney December 19, 2012 at 02:36 PM
For anyone who has been looking for an informative, balanced, and comprehensive story about guns in America, this may be the book for you, "Gun Fight: The Battle Over The Right to Bear Arms in America." In 300 pages, Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, covers all of the angles in smooth, readable prose. In the preface, Winkler states that the goal of his book “is to move beyond the stark black-or-white, all-or-nothing arguments that have marked the gun debate in America over the past forty years or so. This book shows that we can have both an individual right to have guns for self-defense and, at the same time, laws designed to improve gun safety. The two ideas--the right to bear arms and gun control--are not mutually exclusive propositions. In fact, America has always had both.”
CowDung December 19, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Banning guns in Chicago and Washington DC actually increased the amount of gun violence in those cities.

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