Don’t stigmatize the mentally ill; just restrict guns

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By Jeanne Southwood

Seventeen dead in Florida, countless others in Kentucky, Texas, Las Vegas, Charleston ... the list goes on and on. One cannot help but wonder, “Who’s next?” Because, like it or not, at the rate at which this is going, there will be a “next.” It is difficult to believe that, here in America, we are not safe in our schools, our churches, our concerts. Innocent people are being slaughtered by the hundreds.

“Thoughts and prayers” has become a meaningless phrase. Worse still is our president’s continual focus on mental illness as the cause of these unthinkable tragedies. It is shameful to cast suspicion on unfortunate people who struggle with mental illness. We are at risk of ostracizing and demeaning all those who suffer from bipolar disease, schizophrenia, or severe depression. It is ignorant and mean-spirited to suggest that we should fear those who are mentally ill. The truth of the matter is that, had any of the perpetrators of this unspeakable violence access to only knives or even handguns, there would have been far less carnage.

The problem, Mr. President, is not mental illness, but rather the outrageous failure to control the sale of semiautomatic weapons.

I have dear friends, here in Montana, who are hunters. I do not know anyone who hunts with an AR-15 rifle. Our Congress and our president lack the courage to speak the truth — lack the courage to act, even as the survivors in Parkland, Florida, mourning their loved ones and friends, plead for regulations to prevent future massacres.

Australia successfully took action after a mass murder there in 1996. The Australian government banned automatic and semiautomatic firearms and adopted new licensing requirements. The government bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian-owned firearms. The entire overhaul took just months to implement. The program had opposition, but the Australian government, unlike our own, had the courage to say, “ENOUGH!” And here are the startling facts: Incidents in which a gunman killed five or more people in Australia dropped from 13 in the 18-year period before 1996 to ZERO in the 19 years since. Similar action has been taken in Germany with similar success.

The world looks at America and wonders why we refuse to address this issue. Our politicians have said, in the wake of each disaster, that “this is not the time to discuss regulations of automatic weapons.” They are wrong. It is past time.

Southwood is a resident of Bigfork.

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