Gun Control and the Mental Health in America
Valentine’s day, a time for love and endless happiness. A time of pure excitement and surprise for many throughout the country. Valentine’s day, 2018 was not the surprise wanted by the community in Parkland, Florida. This valentine’s day left many devastated, heartbroken and at a complete loss when a teenager named Nikolas Cruz took the innocent lives of 17 people, injuring 14 more with an AR-15 style semi assault rifle. Since the shooting in Parkland, a number of gun laws in South Florida have been added and changed, however no federal laws have changed, allowing for continued gun violence throughout the country. Gun safety is becoming an increasingly present issue throughout America today calling for a change in gun regulation procedures and processes specifically when it comes to mental illness.
Three weeks after the school shooting Governor Rick Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. This bill addresses and includes changes to many different aspects of gun safety, the first being the minimum age to purchase a long gun such as a shotgun or rifle. Originally the age to purchase a gun of this magnitude was set at 18, it has now been raised to 21. Another aspect that has changed is the waiting period to purchase a handgun, which is now three days, or after a background check is completed, whichever is longer. This of course has exceptions extending to police, those in the military, and licensed concealed carriers and hunters who have already gone through a background check process.
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The extreme risk protection order allows law enforcement to be able to petition the court for an order which temporarily blocks someone who appears to be a risk to themselves or to others, from purchasing, or possessing a fire arm. One important aspect of those who commit violent acts with guns is that majority of the time they suffer from mental illness. Through the newly enacted system, mental competency is evaluated allowing the court to prohibit those mentally unstable from possessing a firearm until the court deems fit. The two main school related additions being the school “guardian” program and the safe-school officer. The school “guardian” program allows superintendents and officers to train and arm voluntary non-full-time class teachers such as counselors and coaches to carry guns on campus in case of an emergency situation, while the safe-school officer program mandates superintendents cooperate with law enforcement to assign one or more officer at each school (Lord, Debbie, and Cox Media Group National Content Desk).
Though there have been many changes in gun laws in Florida since the devastation at Parkland, there is still a long way to go. To create a safer environment for not only the children, but also for the surrounding communities there are a number of additions and improvements to procedure that can be added. In Florida today, a permit is not required to purchase a gun, nor do gun purchasers have to register any guns. Florida also does not require a background check prior to the transfer of a gun between private parties which could lead to someone who should not have access to a gun getting a hold of one much easier. The state of Florida also does not regulate assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large capacity ammunition magazines, which allows those intending harm to be able to stockpile large assault weapons with loads of ammunition magazines (Lord, Debbie, and Cox Media Group National Content Desk).
The main problem for many is the mental illness aspect of being able to purchase and own a gun of any magnitude. Nikolas Cruz purchased the gun used on the students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas high school legally, a year prior to the event (Jansen, Bart). With no criminal record he was able to pass an instant background check the day of the purchase, even though he had previously been expelled from Stoneman Douglas for fighting. Between the time of the purchase of the gun and the shooting, Nikolas had posted the comment “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube video under his full name (“’Pure Evil’: 17 Killed in Mass Shooting at Florida High School.”). Perhaps if mental illness screenings became a normal part of the process of purchasing a gun, this, and similar situations might be able to be prevented. Due to the ever-changing state of mental wellbeing it would also be productive to have regular annual mental health screenings required for those who own firearms in order to maintain ownership.
Covering is defined as toning down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream. This can be changing names to cover ethnicity, hiding significant others to avoid societal consequences, and hiding mental illness as to avoid being deemed “crazy”. As Yoshino states “they were all bowing to an unjust reality that required them to tone down their stigmatized identities to get along in life” he goes on to later say “Americans have come to a consensus that people should not be penalized for being different along these dimensions (race, national origin, sex, religion, disability). That consensus, however, does not protect individuals against demands that they mute those differences” (Yoshino 539). This is a major issue throughout America today, especially when it comes to mental illness.
There is an extremely large stigmatism around mental illness, to the point where many avoid seeking help and treatment completely due to the fact that they will forever be labeled “crazy”. This leads to a large gap of follow through when it comes to taking prescribed medications, believing that not taking the medications takes the label off of them, when in reality it only causes increasingly significant damage to the sick and those around them. This also prevents others from reaching out when someone appears to be struggling with mental illness as they do not want to label someone they care about as “crazy” or “unstable”. Mental health is extremely personal which prevents many from getting involved as they do not want to overstep boundaries specifically because many people without mental illness are unsure of how to address it because of the stigmatism and lack of public education.
Throughout the past year a lot of progress has been made in terms of gun laws in Florida, though we are still far from the desired end goal. By utilizing Yoshino’s take on covering it might be possible to tackle one of the largest issues, being the stigmatism around mental illness. Utilizing this and mental health screenings as a requirement for gun purchasers and owners might be the difference between a happy holiday and a mass shooting. Perhaps if Cruz had not felt the need to cover his illness, he could have received the help he needed before it was too late for the 17 people who lost their lives on valentine’s day. Perhaps if annual mental health screenings for gun owners was mandatory, the weapon could have been confiscated from Cruz and he could have had the rest of his life to live, along with his victims.
The issue of gun control has been a large topic of controversy recently with all of the violent acts that have been carried out. Many innocent lives have been lost due to poor gun regulation policies and the stigmatism around mental health, allowing those with mental illness to purchase and use extremely powerful weapons. Change is needed, and the next generation is rising up to spread awareness about gun violence and mental illness to enact these new regulations which could very easily be the difference between life and death for countless people.