TBO.com, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather
Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Guns weren’t the only problem in Santa Barbara killings

By
Published:   |   Updated: May 29, 2014 at 01:59 PM

Should more government money go toward researching and treating mental illness?

Yes
84%
No
11%
Not sure
5%

Total Votes: 64

What happened last week in Isla Vista, California, should be a warning to all Floridians about our state’s priorities.

I’m not talking about the hard divide on the gun rights issue, even after Richard Martinez’s powerful and direct rebuke of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.”

His son was one of those shot to death in Elliot Rodger’s psychopathic rampage. Martinez pleaded to inundate politicians with demands for stricter gun-control laws, adding pointedly, “I don’t care about your sympathy.”

Anyone with a dram of compassion can understand his pain.

There is a caveat, though.

While guns continue to be a debate worth having beyond the halls of state legislatures and meeting rooms of the National Rifle Association, it’s also true that three of Rodger’s six victims were killed with a machete or beaten with a hammer.

Some nitwits seized on that — hey, let’s ban knives too! Let’s ban hammers!

Oh wait, the killer used a car. Let’s ban cars!

❖ ❖ ❖

Shut up, already, especially Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (we know him better as “Joe the Plumber”), who callously responded to Martinez with this little jewel: “As harsh as this sounds — your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

That’s not harsh, it’s heartless.

It’s clueless.

This isn’t just about banning guns, or knives, or anything else. It should be about identifying seriously mentally ill people before the next Elliot Rodger sets out to prove, in his words, “I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male.”

And that, good people of Florida, should give you pause.

Florida’s funding for mental health treatment consistently ranks among the lowest per-capita in the nation. Let’s start right there.

Would a more comprehensive system, for instance, have helped stop Julie Schenecker before she murdered her two children? Certainly, there were plenty of red flags about the state of her mental health.

We don’t have that discussion, though.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2 percent of Americans 18 and over — about one in every four — has a diagnosable mental illness in a given year.

Obviously, you have to filter through numbers with some common sense. Mental illness can mean a lot of different things, most of which aren’t dangerous. Even when someone is tick-tick-ticking inside, people like Rodger can fool the system. He had been seeing therapists, and police had visited his apartment at the request of his parents. The police decided there was nothing to be concerned about.

Even if they had tried to commit him, Slate.com reported that it would have been difficult because California had closed 95 percent of its psychiatric beds for budget reasons.

Would more research have helped stop him?

We don’t know, but that’s why funding for research and treatment is needed — to find out. Things like cancer and heart disease used to be a death sentence before research found effective treatments.

Wonder why politicians would rather build more prisons than fund mental health treatment? If they vote to cut funding for treatment programs, no one notices or cares. If they vote for gun control, they could be voted out of office in the next election.

So you get stuff like this: The Miami Herald reported that mentally ill inmates at the Dade Correctional Institution were routinely tortured and abused by prison guards. It went on for years, and the public didn’t know.

Here’s what we do know: Florida has a problem.

It’s not sexy politics, especially in an election year, to spend a lot more money diagnosing and treating mental illness. It’s good public policy, though, because it might help stop the next Elliot Rodger before he kills.

Comments