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Friday, Aug 29, 2014
Commentary

Gun-control advocates should heed NRA’s words


Published:

Gun-control advocates think the only way to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them is to make it harder for everybody to get them.

They should listen to some of the things National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, their biggest nemesis, has been saying.

After so many tragedies — Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; Newtown, Conn.; the Washington Navy Yard — most NRA members are appalled by gun violence. But what is LaPierre saying about what it would take to stop or reduce it?

Here’s what he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” a week after a contractor — who had a security clearance despite clear signs of mental distress — shot and killed a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16: “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics.”

LaPierre said much the same thing after Adam Lanza killed his mother and then used her guns to slay 20 first-grade children and six adults in Newtown last year. His comments on mental health were brushed off, and he was ridiculed for saying schools would be safer with armed guards.

Yet he was making a valid point.

Better diagnostic and treatment systems stand a chance of preventing a disturbed person from descending into violent lunacy. That is the only way Lanza might have been stopped, because he didn’t buy any guns. Still, better coordination between state health authorities and the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System could more effectively prevent criminals and mentally ill people from buying guns — at least from federally licensed firearms dealers — by ensuring that their names are on the background-check list.

There are hopeful signs that some people in Washington are beginning to take the issue of mental health care seriously.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and her co- sponsors, including a handful of Republicans, are pushing the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which would promote emergency 24-hour psychiatric services and other improvements. Replacing services that were largely dismantled decades ago will take years and cost billions.

LaPierre should be challenged to put at least some NRA lobbying clout, or money, where his mouth is on the issue of improvements in mental health care.

Craig R. Whitney, a former assistant managing editor and foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of “Living With Guns: A Liberal’s Case for the Second Amendment.”

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