Should Gun Amendments Be Included With Mental Health Care?

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By Jerrisa Ching

Imagine that you are a patient in a mental health hospital. The H.R. 2646 Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act has been implemented recently, so you have open access to numerous mental health services. You decide to take an inpatient service, where a doctor will assist you in medication administration and group therapy programs. But one day, your doctor comes into your room to ask if you own a gun and whether you store a gun correctly. You feel perturbed by these questions, but respond with an honest, ‘No, I don’t own a gun’. The doctor looks doubtful at your response, despite what he suspects from your mental health record.

Although this sounds like a rare case, it can happen if gun amendments are included in the 2016 H.R. 2646 bill. In response to the 2012 Newtown, CT elementary school mass shooting and the recent 2016 Orlando, FL nightclub shooting, Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania introduced the bill to improve the gaps in the nation’s mental health care system. After several legislative evaluations, the bill was passed unanimously by the House of the Energy of Commerce Committee on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. Prior to Wednesday, several lawmakers offered the inclusion of gun amendments in the bill. The gun amendments proposed gun regulations that related to mental health cases. Representative Tony Cardenas of California also brought out a gun amendment that would lift the ban on gun violence research. This research would be used to help the public understand many psychological disorders from gun involvement. The gun amendments, however, were not passed with the mental health bill on the same Wednesday. While gun law amendments are a crucial issue to discuss in light of recent gun shooting events, gun law amendments need to be discussed separately from the mental health care reform bill.

Gun law amendments should be discussed independently to support all types of mental health situations. Tim Murphy mentions that “This is a disease, mental illness…I don’t want to see us taint it or demean it to say, ‘Let’s just talk about an object.’ That takes away from the importance and the meaningfulness of what people are suffering”. Murphy points out that the bill is not meant to only treat patients whose mental illness relates to gun violence. The bill treats patients that come from diverse patient backgrounds that include suicide, homelessness, victimization and incarceration. It is unnecessary to apply gun law amendments that address only a part of a population affected by gun violence. We need to leave diverse options for patients with different mental health histories. By juxtaposing gun law amendments with mental health, the bill limits its abilities to help those who suffer without mental health treatment.

The bill’s major issue is mental health. There are no political issues or cultural issues that tie into this bill. The inclusion of gun law amendments brings issues that are out of scope from the major issue. Jonathan Metzl, MD, PhD supports this point from his study on the relationship between mental illness and mass shootings. He claimed that, “notions of mental illness that emerge in relation to mass shootings frequently reflect larger cultural issues that become obscured when mass shootings come to stand in for all gun crime and when “mentally ill” ceases to be a medical designation and becomes a sign of violent threat”. The gun law amendments create a controversial label for mentally ill patients. The label can influence the public to assume all patients associated with gun violence are mentally ill. Although there is a possibility that this correlation exists, it doesn’t necessarily fall true for all situations. Patients should not feel threatened to face unnecessary questions that pertain to gun possession. Individuals deserve equality and safety through evidence-based practices. Gun law amendments will take away these rights and create questionable assumptions based on cultural perspectives. Thus, gun amendments need to be discussed individually to prevent the destruction of individual rights and security.

Critics argue that gun law amendments may enhance the grounds of the mental health bill. As Cardenas mentioned earlier, gun amendments can lift the ban on gun violence research to provide a better understanding of individuals’ motives in gun use. Gun violence research can discuss various mental illnesses, which include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder. Because there is limited research available on gun violence, the gun amendments could actually benefit the U.S. with more information about mental health issues.

The relationship between gun violence and mental illness is also considered with the inclusion of gun amendments in the bill. After the Orlando shooting, Sitora Yusify, ex-wife of gun shooter, Omar Mateen, was interviewed about her past marriage with Mateen. Yusify sheds light on this claim by accounting Mateen as “mentally unstable and mentally ill”. The interview provides a clear example that shares how the bill can address a case that relates to gun violence and mental illness. If a mental health case associated with gun violence arises, the gun amendments may protect both mental health professionals and patients from inequality and injustice. However, we need to recognize that the situation still dwells upon narrow parts of the mental health realm. If America citizens want to discuss gun control and regulation, it would be appropriate to leave gun amendments in another discussion.

We can understand that gun law amendments are appreciated separately from the mental health care bill. These amendments stand powerfully in political issues like gun control and regulation. It is understandable to express the urgency of gun law amendments in the mental health care bill. These amendments apply to an event that just happened. Fifty innocent people died and these deaths are not acceptable to the hearts of American citizens. But the purpose of the mental health bill does not stop at mental illnesses associated with gun violence. The bill is meant to address all psychological circumstances through funding and access to mental health care. The bill independently stands strong to resolve the nation’s mental health system. Gun law amendments and mental health care are both important issues to discuss from recent national events. Nonetheless, we need to comprehend that these issues in fact cover different matters that need to be individually considered.

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