After an Iraq War veteran took the lives of three other people at Fort Hood on Wednesday, President Barack Obama, Pentagon officials and others in Washington agreed more must be done to spot “insider threats” before they strike.
But what almost no one is saying: change gun laws.
The Fort Hood attack is the latest in a string of mass shootings, from the Navy Yard attack in September to a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin the year before, where the response from Washington has shifted from guns – to the shooters who wield them.
The push now is to identify those who might become violent before they act, especially when the military is involved — whether that’s a contractor who the police identified as unstable, like the Navy Yard shooter, or the gunman who had been treated by a psychologist at Fort Hood.
“We need to be honest with ourselves and with you and hold ourselves accountable,” Army Secretary John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday “If we identify new challenges, new threats that we hadn’t recognized before, we need to put into place new programs to respond.”
The approach is in stark contrast to just a few years ago, when Obama believed he could push a significant gun control package through Congress after a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut shocked America’s collective conscience.
But after that effort failed, talk of changing gun laws faded – and it is unlikely to return, especially in an election year when Democrats are already struggling to hang onto control of the Senate.
“The gun lobby is so strong that it will go after anyone who says changes need to be made, including anyone that says those with serious mental illness should not have a gun,” said Rep. Grace Napolitano, who co-chairs the House mental health caucus.
Even Obama focused on uncovering the specifics of Wednesday’s tragedy, not on a broader policy change.
“We need to find out exactly what happened,” Obama said, offering his condolences to families of victims.
The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.
Over the past few years, mental health issues have played a lead role in the shooting sprees from Colorado to Tucson. But the reality is that mental health does not make gun control easier to talk about.
Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), who was shot alongside former Rep. Gabby Giffords in a Tucson, Ariz., parking lot, said the mental health focus should be on treatment and prevention – not guns.
“That’s a much more complicated issue, and we need to go slow on that,” he said when asked about the need for new federal regulations that restrict the mentally ill from getting their hands on such. “The key is early identification, diagnosis and treatments and when we do that we can avert these tragedies.”
Barber said the man who shot him and Giffords several years back wouldn’t have been stopped by stronger gun protections because no one even knew he was sick. Therefore, he wasn’t on any state no-firearms lists that would have barred him from purchasing a weapon.
Currently each state has its own way of reporting mentally unstable people who may have violent tendencies onto a list, which is then supposed to be crosschecked by gun dealers. There’s a national list, too, but states aren’t required to report their names onto the federal one.
The result is that such names sometimes fall through the cracks, experts say.
Still, not many were talking about this issue Wednesday and Thursday.
Alex Rosenau, a doctor, professor and president of he American College of Emergency Physicians, said that’s because the issue of keeping guns from people who suffer from severe schizophrenia or bipolar, for instance, is nuanced and can be “very politically charged.”
“There is fear that if someone tries to talk in a nuanced way, they will be painted as red or blue, for- or against- gun control,” he said, noting that his organization supports firearm prohibitions on people with active psychotic conditions. “The reality is this issue is grayer.”
But Rep. Tim Murphy, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations and author of his own mental health bill, says the two topics—guns and mental health—should be addressed separately.
Murphy, the co-chair of the mental health caucus, even said linking gun control to mental health does a “disservice” to the bigger problem at hand: trying to get people treatment.
“We’re trying to focus on mental health issues so it doesn’t get caught up on other issues,” he said after a hearing on his new mental health legislation. “We want it to be about medical treatment … otherwise it gets us off track. … These are not gun issues, and if they go down the route of guns… it’s a disservice to mental health.”
For their part, mental health experts seem divided a bit, supporting beefed up regulations on the mentally ill who might seek to purchase weapons, but emphasizing that gun control is not the answer to the mental health crisis in the United State, which suffers from serious underfunding and lack of awareness.
They worry people may fall victim to writing off anyone with a mental health issue as dangerous.
“Having the scarlet letter saying you had a mental health issue… that prevents you from purchasing a weapon, I’m not sure that’s a wise policy statement,” said Mark Pearlmutter, an emergency physician in Boston and an expert on mental health issues. “However, anyone who has history of violence, incarceration, borderline personality disorder, or unpredictability, I would personally support those patients not having access to weapons.”
Of course, not everyone is silent when it com it comes to keeping guns away from the mentally ill — more than a few Republicans threw their weight behind the notion Thursday, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.)
“It’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons,” he said Thursday. “This is an issue we need to continue to look at.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) agreed but acknowledged that it’s a bit taboo to talk about.
“It’s a complicated issue… but idea that people who are dangerously mentally ill should not have access to weapons, I don’t think that’s a controversial position,” he said. “I think what’s controversial is how do you apply that without violating people’s second amendment rights.”
Then, there were Republicans who have mentioned guns following the incident — but took the conversation in the opposite way Obama tried to several years ago.
“The problem here, and with Fort Hood, the prior Nidal Hasan case, was that they couldn’t defend themselves because they were not allowed to carry weapons,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said on Fox News’s “The Kelly File”. “So I think the policymakers, Congress, we need to revisit this procedure, this policy, to see if we should arm them so they can better protect themselves.”
Sarah Palin tweeted her agreement.
Tucson cop who randomly slammed woman to the ground not so tough after receiving threats
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Cell phone video gone viral of a Tucson Police officer knocking a woman clear off her feet is turning the spotlight on officers’ use of force in Saturday night’s events on University Boulevard following the Wildcats overtime loss.
In the video (play the video above) you can see a woman getting shoved into a bench by a police officer.
The Tucson Police Department is aware of the video and has handed it over to internal affairs to investigate. Police say they have also reached out to the woman in that video.
In the aftermath, police say they are carefully reviewing any video sent in to the department and also video from “body cameras” the officers wore throughout the night.
But while police are now under attack for this video, it all started when police say unruly students attacked them on University following the game.
Fans chucked beer cans and firecrackers toward officers, the police cruiser and the crowd. Rowdy fans moved in on police until police said enough was enough.
They declared the situation an “unlawful assembly” and ordered everyone to leave. But the fans did not back down.
Police fired 200 rounds of pepper spray into the crowd and nine pepper canisters that filled the air with pepper spray. Some hacked, got sick and left.
But others were taken away by brute force, including Alexander Davidson, seen walking toward the police line as he is pelted with pepper balls, then taken down by several officers and hauled off to jail. He is charged with unlawful assembly and resisting arrest.
In all, police arrested 15 people, including 9 University of Arizona students. Those students will face not only Tucson Police charges, but also answer to University police and the dean of students.
Police say no major injuries or property damage has been reported.
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