Marc Lamont Hill: Recent acts of random violence - could they happen here?

A member of the Blue Mountain Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Bethel, Pa., lights a candle during a memorial service Sunday for the victims of the Aug. 5 massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
A member of the Blue Mountain Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Bethel, Pa., lights a candle during a memorial service Sunday for the victims of the Aug. 5 massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: August 16, 2012

OVER THE PAST month, the nation has been struck by a rash of gun-related violence. From the Colorado movie theater to the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin to Texas A&M University, we have received several stunning reminders that tragedy does not discriminate based on age, gender, or geography.

Since the tragedies, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that we could be next.

Although there's no foolproof way to predict or intercept random acts of evil, there are things that we can do to prevent a repeat tragedy.

First, we must confront our nation's mental-health crisis. In each of the recent shootings, the alleged perpetrators had clear mental illnesses for which they received little or no substantive support.

Thomas Caffall - Texas A&M - had mental-health issues that were well-known to his mother. James Holmes - Colorado - had not only demonstrated mental-health problems, but also looked for help and was unable to obtain it. Many argue that Wade Page - Wisconsin - was wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder from the time he spent in the military.

Even if they had never been formally evaluated, it's hard to imagine that anyone who could shoot numerous innocent people is not suffering a mental disorder. The only question is why no one managed to notice.

Sadly, this is a common occurrence in our country, where 20 percent of adults suffer from some kind of mental illness each year, and about 5 percent encounter a serious, disruptive disorder, according to a government report released in January.

But only one out of three gets help for it. There are many reasons for this crisis.

Since the 1980s, the government has taken away funding for mental-health care. At the same time, we have expanded our budgets for prisons and increased our penalties for crimes that often come from mental illness, such as petty drug use. In effect we've criminalized mental illness.

In addition, we continue to stigmatize mental illness by framing those suffering from mental-health conditions as weak, crazy or evil. As a result, we are often unwilling or unable to recognize and respond to warning signs like those shown by the shooters in the recent tragedies.

The mental-health problem is exacerbated by the fact that we have such easy access to guns. In Pennsylvania, gun-show sales and straw purchases continue to funnel illegal guns into the hands of dangerous people. Also, we fail to evaluate mental health as part of the gun-application process.

This is not about attacking the Second Amendment.

This is about common-sense forms of gun control that take guns out of the hands of people who present a danger to the public and themselves.

The fact that it is easier to get a gun in this country than mental-health care is a crime in itself. If we do not change this reality, it is inevitable that we will be struck by another tragedy.

We can pray that it doesn't hit home, but we also need to turn Philadelphia into a city that prioritizes mental-health care and make Pennsylvania a place that imposes sensible gun laws.


Daily News editor-at-large Marc Lamont Hill is an associate professor of education at Columbia University and host of "Our World With Black Enterprise," which airs at 10 a.m. Sundays on TV-One. Contact him at MLH@marclamonthill.com.

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