Gun Control

04.15.13

Gun Deal Is Done; Now It’s Time to Take On Videogames and Mental-Health Care

Kudos to Congress for inching forward on a gun deal. But if we are really serious about stopping the next mass shooting, it is time to take on violent videogames and ease access to mental-health care.

“It wouldn’t have stopped the shootings in Newtown.”

That’s the argument some Second Amendment fanatics are adopting to criticize the proposed gun-control legislation coming forward. And my response is, so what?

Though the specific language needs review and debate, if it's good legislation, doesn't encroach on our Second Amendment rights, and just makes sense, like closing loopholes on backgrounds checks for gun-show and Internet sales, of course our representatives should vote for it.

The bottom line is that it may prevent more people with mental-health issues or criminal records from being able to buy guns over the Internet or at a gun show. And, therefore, it will very likely prevent future Newtown-like massacres. If there’s a rational defense against this incremental, common-sense change in current law, I've yet to hear it.

But lost in the heat of the gun debate has been any public discussion about two other issues that everyone said should and would be debated and addressed in the Newtown aftermath: media and videogame violence and mental health.

Democrats love to criticize Republicans on guns, but they are generally mute when it comes to taking on Hollywood or the gaming industry.

“I do feel the response has been inadequate,” says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that studies the effects media and technology have on young users. “And the official videogame lobbyists have gone out of their way to deny responsibility, attempted to block funds for important new independent research (which Vice President Biden has called for), and obfuscated the clear relevance of the culture of violence issues. They seem to prefer a culture-of-denial approach, where these very important issues to families and are buried from public view.”

Yet while any real discussion about videogame violence appears never to have hit the radar screen, The New York Times reported Saturday that though it’s been relatively quiet, some significant progress actually has been made on the mental-health front.

Democrats love to criticize Republicans on guns, but they are generally mute when it comes to taking on Hollywood or the gaming industry.

According to the Times: “The emerging legislation would, among other things, finance the construction of more community mental health centers, provide grants to train teachers to spot early signs of mental illness and make more Medicaid dollars available for mental health care.

"There would be suicide prevention initiatives and support for children who have faced trauma. The sponsors of one of the bills estimated that an additional 1.5 million people with mental illness would be treated each year.

"President Obama has also joined the effort. His budget includes $130 million for programs that would help detect mental illness in young children, train educators to spot those signs and refer the students to treatment."

Unlike the fractious gun debate, this measure sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has strong bipartisan support, including from members of Congress who previously have fought strongly against any gun legislation.

And while mental-health advocates aren't entirely happy with the association of mental health and gun violence, they recognize that Newtown has created their best opportunity in years to get attention on critical, potentially life-saving policies they’ve been advocating for, for a long time.

So, it looks as if some significant good will actually come from the awful tragedy of Newtown. It is my hope that untold numbers of people who need help will get it, and untold number of future tragedies will certainly be avoided.