Grants Pass Daily Courier: Editorial: Seeking to help people before they pull the trigger

October 29, 2015
In The News

Editorial: Seeking to help people before they pull the trigger

It seems that after every high-profile shooting in a public place, the nation divides itself into two camps. In the first camp are those demanding tighter restrictions on guns, especially assault-type rifles. In the other camp are those who point out that law-abiding gun owners should not be threatened or punished because of the actions of a person who goes off the rails.

Often, these shooters are dismissed as "criminals" and, in some cases, that's exactly what they are. But there is increasing recognition that many of these people suffer from debilitating mental illness — which raises the next question: How do we reach these people before they open fire?

For U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., this is not a rhetorical question. He has introduced House Resolution 3717, legislation that would streamline the nation's mental health system in an effort to reach people before they become a danger to themselves and others.

The legislation aims to break down barriers to allow families to work with doctors and mental health professionals, and to help parents who want to be on the front lines when it comes to caring for their children. It would also provide funding for more psychiatric hospital beds, to treat people in an atmosphere that is both more effective and less expensive than a hospital emergency room.

If approved, the bill would also reach out to under-served rural areas (possibly including Southern Oregon) and would promote community-based programs. Most importantly, it would expand crisis intervention training for police and other law enforcement officials, so that people with mental health issues can receive treatment rather than being sent into the criminal justice system, where they may go undiagnosed and untreated.

Rep. Greg Walden, whose 2nd Congressional District includes the Grants Pass area, has announced his support for HR3717. "I am proud to support this bipartisan bill," Walden said in a news release. "Together, we can work to make sure that the millions of Americans suffering from mental illness, and their families, get the care they need before the worst occurs."

Although high-profile incidents like the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College are what people think of when they hear the phrase "before the worst occurs," the reality is that far more tragedies take place quietly, out of the media spotlight. According to numbers from the federal Centers for Disease Control, suicides involving firearms were nearly double the number of gun-related homicides in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Reaching these people with the mental health services they need is literally a matter of life and death.

HR3717 has the potential to make a real difference. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, patients with mental illness who receive treatment are 15 times less likely to commit violent acts — with or without guns — than those who go untreated.

Murphy's proposal may not be a panacea, but it is a step in the right direction and deserves support from lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.