It’s become a common theme with gun control opponents lately: the problem isn’t guns, it’s mental health. This is just a morphed version of “guns don’t kill people, people do.” It’s also a brilliant diversionary tactic, delaying the real conversation until the outrage over the most recent tragedy has faded.
If the political party most tightly affiliated with the gun lobby and resistance to gun control truly believes mental health is the crux of the issue with mass shootings, then why has that same party continuously gone after Medicaid, which is the single largest payer for mental health services in the United States? The Trump administration sought over a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, and hundreds of billions to Medicare, the second largest payer of mental health services. Billions more were targeted in substance abuse treatment programs, which go hand in hand with mental health. And then there is Texas, which you can read all about here. Governor Greg Abbott has singled out mental health as the reason for tragedies like the one in Uvalde. But he has also routinely refused to expand Medicaid despite being offered federal incentives that would have put the state ahead in revenue. Texas also moved over 200 million dollars from Health and Human Services to border protection, just this April. These are just a couple of the ways you get your state to rank last of all 50 states in overall access to mental health care. And in these ways, like so many others, Texas is a microcosm of the United States: let’s blame mental health without ever doing anything about it.
So let’s say we get everybody to magically agree that more money will be spent on truly solving the issues associated with mental health. What does the end state look like? Are mental disorders eradicated like some sort of viral disease? Of course not. Mental disorders are deeply rooted in the human brain, down to the cellular level, and how those cells interact with all the other parts of our bodies. They won’t evolve away naturally, and we may never understand their physiology well enough to completely prevent them. They are a part of the human condition. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to minimize their impacts, for both the afflicted and the people around them. But it also means there will always be folks out there with mental health issues, and there will always be a danger that one of them walks into a store to buy a gun, all the way up to and including semi-automatic weapons. It is never explicitly discussed enough, the speed with which any gun, much less a semi-automatic one, can turn a person in an agitated state into a killer. How anyone could think that power should not be curbed in even the slightest way for a person dealing with mental health issues is inexplicable.
We have come full circle: by asserting that the real issue is mental health, we have established the necessity to not only provide more resources to address mental health, but also to ensure that people dealing with these issues are unable to buy a weapon that can kill another human being instantly.