Mental health, gun control debate reignited following Florida shooting

UPDATE — 2/20, 11:55 a.m. EST: A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday shows 58 percent of U.S. adults say increased gun control measures may have prevented last week’s high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

In addition, 77 percent said more mental health services would have made the tragedy less likely to happen, while only 42 percent believe having teachers carry weapons in the classroom would have had the same effect.

According to the survey, exactly half of Americans 18-and-older support a ban on assault weapons, while 46 percent oppose such a policy reform.

 

 

Controversy has erupted in the wake of yet another tragedy involving gun violence, the deadly shooting Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead and at least 14 injured.

In a subsequent national address, President Trump vowed to work closely with “state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”

The president has received considerable backlash for his relative silence on the issue of gun control, as critics have noted the lack of the use of the word “gun” during his Thursday statement.

The closest Trump came made reference to “reports of gunfire” early in his speech, but he made an abrupt exit as reporters shouted gun-related questions at his retreating form.

In a tweet posted shortly after the shooting, Trump spoke volumes via omission — choosing to underscore the necessity of local intervention rather than social reform or stricter gun legislation — while responding with a problematic personal charge to mental distress:

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Despite the GOP’s seeming emphasis upon tackling the issue of mental illness, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) noted the hypocrisy of Republican officials who voted in 2017 to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have made mental health care inaccessible to a significant portion of the American population.

Several experts in the mental health field have commented on the dangers of conflating mental illness with violence, as well as the apparent political drive behind putting mental health at the forefront while obscuring the question of gun control as a non-issue.

Authorities have also reported that the Florida shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, used a legally-purchased semiautomatic AR-15-style rifle, similar to the firearms deployed during 2017’s Las Vegas mass shooting, as well as the 2016 rampage at an Orlando nightclub.

To further complicate matters, despite Mr. Trump’s call for the public to report potentially dangerous individuals to authorities, Cruz’s red-flag behavior was indeed reported to the FBI prior to the attack.

According to FBI agent Rob Lasky, the Bureau investigated a comment that was left on a YouTube video in 2017, which read: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

While the account that left the comment used the alias “Nikolas Cruz”, the FBI was not able to identify the associated individual at the time of the tip.

Criticism regarding Mr. Trump’s mental health commentary has also been compounded by his signature of a bill in 2017 which worked to undo Obama-era regulation that functioned to make it more difficult for those with mental disabilities to purchase firearms.

Former President Obama responded to the shooting with an emotional plea for “long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws” via Twitter:

Parkland’s shooting ranks as America’s deadliest since the ruthless murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., in 2012.

Astonishingly, Wednesday’s incident has been dubbed the 17th involving gun-fire on school grounds in 2018, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a not-for-profit, pro-gun control organization. The statistic has been disputed however, due to differences in how school shootings are defined.

The same teenage students who survived the shooting spoke up at a gun control rally on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale and are in the process of organizing a nationwide march on March 24 to demand stricter gun control legislation and that civic leaders be held accountable to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

On Monday, the White House issued a statement that Trump supports strengthening the federal background check system and is in negotiations with the Senate on an already-introduced bipartisan bill that would streamline the reporting process to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals.

 

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