Opinion – Increased mental health awareness and gun law reform necessary

by Xareni Palacios, Staff Writer

Many people, including students present during last month’s school shooting in Florida immediately began advocating for gun control stating that the accessibility of assault-style weapons is what causes mass shootings.

On the other hand, many claim it is the lack of resources dealing with mental illness in the U.S. that is to blame for such tragedies.

The fact is both arguments make sense: the shooter should not have had such easy access to such a powerful weapon, and he showed clear signs of mental illness that were not addressed adequately.

Nikolas Cruz legally purchased an AR-15 rifle although Parkland police had been warned about him multiple times. That is alarming; it is also alarming how those who knew about Cruz’s mental health issues did not do more to get him help.

According to USA Today, “Gun buyers are seldom turned down because of mental illness. From 1998 to 2014, the FBI rejected 16,669 potential gun buyers because a background check found a mental health adjudication, about 1.4% of the roughly 1.2 million background checks that resulted in a denial.”

The American Journal of Public Health states “60% of perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States since 1970 displayed symptoms including acute paranoia, delusions, and depression before committing their crimes.”

Even without having a criminal record, it is becoming increasingly clear that mental health screenings should become part of the prerequisites for buying a gun.

Not only should we encourage more strict gun laws, but equally important is a call for more attention to the way that mental health is addressed in our society.

In revelations about Cruz, many students knew him to be dangerous – the fact is that he was expelled for fighting, yet nothing was done to make sure he got any help. If a simple campus ban made him not an “issue” to the school anymore, why was there no follow up to make sure he was not causing harm to himself or others, especially in such a vulnerable state?  

While many may debate that it was not the school’s problem anymore since he no longer attended, whose problem was it? Whose job was it to make sure this recently orphaned 19-year old was not in trouble?

As a society, psychiatric evaluations should be made as common as a doctor’s visit or a trip to the dentist. More common mental health screenings would help everyone in our society understand themselves and other people more.

If mental health awareness was in the forefront and help for those in need was more accessible, mass shootings and other tragedies including suicides may be prevented.

Mental health is proving to be a subject that should be more commonly discussed alongside the subject of toughening up gun laws in order to prevent such tragedies.

It will not be until we realize that these aspects go hand in hand that we will see true change.