Guest Column: Mental health awareness, limits on access to assault weapons are key to solutions

2012-12-18T00:00:00Z 2012-12-20T15:04:02Z Guest Column: Mental health awareness, limits on access to assault weapons are key to solutionsU.S. Rep. Ron Barber Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

In the days since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., many of us have been asking what we can do.

There is no simple answer to that question.

There is no single law that we can enact, no single regulation that we can write, no single process that we can put in place that will address the many problems that come together to cause such a horrifying tragedy.

We do know that something must be done. We knew this after shootings in Portland and Aurora and Milwaukee and Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.

And we knew this when our own community endured a tragic shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman opened fire, killing six people and wounding 13 more including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and me.

But then, there was Sandy Hook: a gunman breaking into an elementary school, killing 20 children who were just beginning to learn about their world. Also slain, six teachers who wanted nothing more than to nurture and protect their students.

Who among us has not hugged their children tighter in the past few days and tried to comprehend what those parents of Newtown are enduring? As a father and a grandfather, this has saddened me in ways that I cannot express. As a member of Congress, this has strengthened my determination to prevent this from happening again.

So where do we go from here? What can you and I and all of us do so this never will happen again?

Here is what I know: The current system does not work. We are not addressing the many problems that come together to cause such a tragedy.

It is too easy for people who should not have weapons to get access to assault weapons, extended magazines and vast quantities of ammunition. People who are a danger to themselves or others should not be able to buy high-powered, rapid-fire weapons. Period.

I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. But the technology and killing power of weapons has far outstripped anything our Founding Fathers could have envisioned.

Times and weapons change, and we must adapt to that.

But that is only one piece of a complex and multidimensional puzzle.

Untreated serious mental illness combined with access to weapons that can fire many rounds in a short period are the two underlying causes in several of the recent violent incidents. We know that was the cause of the January 2011 shooting here in Tucson.

We do not have a complete picture of the mental health of the Connecticut gunman. But as details emerge, we must remember that more than 95 percent of people who are dealing with mental illness are not violent.

We must increase community awareness of mental illness and remove the stigma that prevents many people from getting the treatment they need. That has been the first priority of the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, which I founded after being wounded two years ago.

This year, I co-sponsored the Mental Health First Aid Higher Education Act, which would provide training to help people identify and respond to signs of mental illness and deal with psychiatric crises. The bill did not pass this year, but I am committed to reintroducing it next session.

We also must protect state and federal funding for mental-health services.

None of this will come to fruition without your involvement. Tell your elected officials - including me - what you want to happen. An engaged citizenry is the only way we can see change.

We can move forward if we follow the advice of one of my heroes, President John Kennedy.

He said: "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."

I am committed to a better future.

Contact Congressman Ron Barber, a Democrat who represents District 2 in Southern Arizona, via the "contact" link at https://barber.house.gov

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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