Mental health issue getting swept up in gun politics

There may be another casualty after the latest mass murder: the focus on the need for mental health care.

Against the hopes of those who had hoped that the nation was finally willing to confront its negligence on the issue, mental health care is now a politicized issue. It’s being painted as the anti-gun-control issue.

“Mental Health Legislation, Not Gun Control, Focus of Congress After Navy Yard Shooting,” the headline on a U.S. News story says today. There aren’t enough votes for gun control; there might be for mental health legislation.

Another Mass Shooting Renews Mental Health Debate,” a headline in Texas says.

Some gun control advocates say they detect an intention to shift the focus away from gun control and onto mental health, one conversation I monitored via Twitter today revealed.

An editorial in the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle seems to provide a basis for the belief. The website GOPUSA today posted the Georgia editorial and ratcheted up the headline:  “Knee-jerk gun control reaction delays necessary changes to mental health laws.”

Columnist David Frum has heard it too and isn’t buying it. He sees no reason why mental health needs to be pitted against a gun control debate:

Suppose somebody had argued back in 1965 that the “real” cause of car accidents was drinking. Suppose they had argued that it was useless to improve roads and a violation of automakers’ rights to require seat belts — that the one and only thing to do was to crack down on drunk driving. They wouldn’t have been wrong about drunk driving. But had they been listened to, much less progress would have been achieved.

Yet this is exactly how the debate over gun safety unfolds. After a mass casualty shooting, gun rights advocates direct our attention to the gaps in the American mental health system. They’re right, too! But it is also true that the easy availability of guns enables mentally troubled people to do much more damage than they might in another country where guns are harder to come by. Shouldn’t we pay attention to both problems?

After the Newtown massacre, President Obama promised to make mental health a focus of his solution. He promised to convene a meeting at the White House.

In June, they came, they talked, and they went home.