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Gun control: mental health becoming larger part of dialogue

Headlines tell of a shooting.

Conflicting reports mention a shooter on the loose, the same shooter that another news agency said was dead on the scene.

Mothers cry on national television as they speak of their dead children.

Sound familiar?

It ought to. This same circumstance has played out in Virginia Tech, Columbine, Newtown, Charden and Northern Illinois.

They, however, are only a percentage of a wider spread issue.

In the past 14 months, there have been six mass shootings including the Navy Yard shooting on Monday. Since 1999, starting with the Columbine shooting, there have been 32 shootings in the U.S. Nine of those 32 occurred in 2012 alone.

And now the question is no longer why is this happening, but a matter of when will it happen again.

Mass shootings are becoming part of the rule instead of the exception.

But why?

Why do we have parents who are burying their first graders because a gunman shot up the school?

Why are movie theaters a place of possible attack instead of a place of entertainment?

Some people argue that what we have is a gun control issue, when really it’s a mental health issue.

Take the Aurora shooting for instance.

James Holmes, the accused Aurora, Colo. theater gunman who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, is now undergoing mental evaluation by the state psychiatrist.

And consider the attempted assassination of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that left 18 injured and six dead.

Admitted shooter Jared Loughner, who is now serving a life sentence, had become more angry and erratic in his behavior leading up to the shooting. But he never sought treatment for mental health problems despite urgings for an evaluation from the college he was expelled from, Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz.

Even Nidal Malik Hasan, former Army psychiatrist and convicted mass murderer of the Fort Hood shooting on Nov. 5, 2009, reportedly made coworkers and his superiors uneasy with his behavior and comments six years prior to the shooting.

Out of these shootings mentioned, only one was linked with domestic terrorism. They were not members of a secret terrorist cell, hell-bent on destroying the American way of life or making a statement against government actions. But they are sick individuals who didn’t receive the necessary help to address their mental instability that triggered these horrific events.

However, it must be recognized that each case is different. Other factors play a big role in how and why the shooters did what they did. But each case brings up important national discussions about gun control.

These are healthy discussions for a nation to have. How else will we know just how far the “right to bare arms” should truly extend? And how else will we know just what that gray line between a person’s right to carry arms and another individual’s right to feel safe in their environment is?

But talks of tightening gun control laws or protecting a person’s right to bear arms should only be a portion of the discussion, not the entire debate.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 there were approximately 156,300 mental health counselors in this country. Compared to other medical treatments, mental health treatment is the hardest to come by because of the low number of individuals employed within the field.

Early reports about Aaron Alexis, former Naval reservist-turned-civilian contractor who killed 12 people on Monday, show he may have been one of the many Americans affected by this lack of access. Alexis reportedly suffered from symptoms of paranoia, including hearing voices, but was never diagnosed as mentally ill.

Maybe a psychoanalysis would have pinpointed the schizophrenia or the anxiety issues or the depression the shooters may have been suffering from sooner. Or perhaps not.

That’s the problem. We’ll never know.

Eventually, we as a nation need to come to terms with the elephant in the room.

Because if the last few instances are an indicator, it’s not shrinking anytime soon.

Vision Editor Autumn Allison is a senior journalism major.

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