Reforming the mental health care system is an important step in combating gun violence, according to Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. In Washington Monthly he wrote,
Newtown was an atypical crime, committed by an atypical offender, using a murder weapon that I hope will be outlawed but that remains pretty atypical for gun homicides. Even though we may not be able to stop an event like Newtown from happening again, it seems to be moving public policy more than the routine smaller scale tragedies that we could more easily prevent. Newtown has provided a genuine occasion for Americans to think seriously about gun policy, and to consider the very real challenges to our mental health system. We should make the most of this moment.
It's naive to believe that we could specifically identify someone such as Adam Lanza before he goes on a rampage, but improved policies could still prevent an unknown, maybe unknowable number of violent deaths. No one policy will dramatically reduce homicides, and the politics and administration of effective mental health policy are both daunting. But making these policies work would provide a fitting memorial to the victims of needless violence across America. While we may not be able to entirely solve the tragedies that occur at the intersection of mental illness and gun violence, surely we can do better than we're doing now.
Ron Honberg, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said preventing the mentally ill from owning guns could hurt efforts to get them the help they need.
"It's very hard to get people to come forward and get help," Honberg told The American Prospect. "If they're aware that by seeking help they're going to lose their right to have a gun, we're concerned it's going to have a chilling effect."
As part of our week-long focus on gun violence, we look at the ways in which reform of the mental health care system might help reduce gun violence.