Last Friday, Marysville Pilchuck High School experienced a tragedy that we at Seattle Pacific University are all too familiar with. A gunman opened fire in the cafeteria, killing himself and two others and injuring three. In the United States, there have been 54 school shootings to date this year. While many politicians turn to tighter gun control as an answer to this national problem, the priority should lie in reforming the mental health care system.
On November 4, Washington state will vote on Initiative 594, a proposal that would tighten regulation on firearm sales. In light of recent events, the debate surrounding this controversial initiative has become heated.
While it is true that gun control needs to be re-evaluated, a bigger issue is at hand. The mental health system in the United States has continuously failed its patients and let disturbed individuals likes Aaron Ybarra and Elliot Rodgers fall through the cracks.
Take the case of the shooting incident in Isla Vista, Calif. last May. Before he went on a rampage, friends and family of Elliot Rodgers expressed their concern to county mental health officials and police, but this was not enough to get him committed. Aaron Ybarra has also battled mental health issues. Records show that Ybarra was hospitalized twice for hearing the voice of the Columbine killer telling him to hurt people but was discharged less than two weeks later. Both Rodgers and Ybarra legally possessed firearms.
We have a serious problem on our hands. Since guns aren’t going anywhere, the discussion needs to turn to mental health. Overhauling mental health and hospital commitment laws gives professionals more authority over decisions to commit or release a patient. Commitment laws can be a valuable tool in helping those who may be a danger to themselves or others and a tool that reduces the number of shootings in our schools.