Regarding the deplorable debate over the gun-bill, there may be a silver lining to the cloud of gun smoke that hangs over this country.
Since President Obama’s Feb. 12 State of the Union address, in which he promised to honor the victims of the Newtown Massacre by doing something about gun violence in America, much has been said but nothing has happened. The Vice President suggested that the general acquisition of shotguns might be a good idea. The NRA advocated for arming all of the nation’s classroom teachers. “Committed criminals” are identified as the targets of gun keep-away, when everyone knows that criminals will always be able to get firearms in a country that has 95 guns for every 100 people. Senator Feinstein’s proposal for a renewal of the assault-weapons ban, supported by President Obama, was shot down by Senate Majority Leader Reid—all of them Democrats. The President was so discouraged that he left Washington to take his message to the people, whom he felt he had to remind that the Newtown mass-murder—twenty children and six teachers—even took place.
Nonetheless, out of the crossfire has emerged one safe haven of general agreement: the need to increase the availability of mental healthcare—of which, I should note, clinical social workers are the majority providers in this country. Senators from both parties are rallying behind the mental healthcare standard, as a way of salvaging something useful from their otherwise dismal failure to address gun violence. A majority seems to like the proposals of Sen. Debbi Stabenow (D-MICH) for more community mental health centers, more training in recognizing people with mental disorders, and more Medicaid funds for mental health care, as well as suicide-prevention efforts and support for gun-trauma victims.
It was the gun lobby that steered the debate toward mental illness and criminals, rather than toward the widespread availability of the handguns that hundreds of Americans use to kill each other every week. Presumably, the gun lobby will support the Stabenow proposals. Given that the Senators cannot agree on anything else—including, it seems, tighter background checks on would-be gun owners—more mental healthcare facilities and better access to behavioral health treatment would not be the worst of outcomes.