Can We Keep Guns Out of the Hands of the Mentally Ill?

We have to find a way to stop those whose symptoms have already presented themselves and shown an individual to be unfit to own a firearm due to mental incapacity. Several recent mass killings involved a shooter who had been, or was under professional care at the time of his crime. But mental health professionals don't look at the issue of gun ownership for their patients unless it is in the context of whether they can determine if an individual would be a danger to himself or society. Would the Aurora, CO shooter James Holmes have been foiled if his therapist had erred on the side of caution and put his name in the federal database? We will never know.

Another problem not easily addressed is our attitude toward mental illness. There is still a stigma attached to being diagnosed and this discourages some individuals and families who might otherwise seek help before a tragedy occurs. Educating society about the disease of mental illness being something that could happen to anyone is an ongoing effort, and despite making progress over the previous couple of decades, there is still a long way to go.

If there is any reform that needs to happen as a result of this latest tragedy, it is in the level of awareness and perhaps a change in procedure for placing seriously ill patients in the database that would deny them the right to purchase firearms. This won't deny them access to firearms -- it appears the shooter in Connecticut got the guns from his mother -- but it might prevent a future mass killing.

And stopping one madman from killing would be worth the effort.

Related: ‘Deinstitutionalization’: Mass Murder and Untreated Madness